A woman who was constantly asked by strangers if she had been “bitted by bed bugs” is sharing her story to raise awareness of her extreme skin condition.
Bree Pease was just 15 years old when her psoriasis started appearing, which she believes is linked to the stress of her parents splitting up, moving schools and a “toxic” relationship.
It started on her left elbow, about the size of a 10p piece, but within a year, the itching, red patches had spread all over her body.
The now 21-year-old advocate and model is using her social media platform to help others understand just how severe psoriasis can be (@psoriasis_beauty ).
“At every stage of my life my skin would progressively get worse before going into remission after 6-12 months,” Bree, from Australia, told NeedToKnow.co.uk.
“At first I was told it was a fungal infection, despite my dad also having severe skin problems – with the prescribed creams of course having no effect.
“As my symptoms got worse, I went to a dermatologist who eventually diagnosed me with psoriasis.
“I was given steroid creams, tar ointments, methotrexate and started UV therapy, but nothing worked long-term.
“It was hard when people looked at me strangely or asked questions like ‘what’s wrong with your elbow?’”
”I’ve had people move away from me on trains, tap me on the shoulder in grocery stores while I’m listening to music just to ask what’s ‘wrong’ with me or stop me in the street.
“People ask if I have bed bugs or if it’s mosquito bites.
“But it actually motivated me to spread awareness for my condition, in hopes that the next person they see with psoriasis they approach in a more positive way.
“I started to realise that people are only asking questions and looking at me out of curiosity!
“All I had to do was explain my disease to them and that would break the ice.”
To make matters worse, Bree’s skin was constantly red and itchy.
She said: “Psoriasis is more than just skin deep! It effects me in all aspects of life.
“It effects my sleep, work, stress levels, anxiety levels, depressive thoughts and can cause other inflammatory diseases in the long run!
“During a flare up my skin is warm to touch, itchy to the point of bleeding and can spread rapidly.
“Some fabrics and clothes are incredibly uncomfortable to wear and all of these combined can make daily activities very hard.
“In the past I’ve taken block sick days off work, skipped social events and avoided playing group sports.”
Despite constantly having to fend off curious strangers and unwanted comments, Bree was determined to remain confident in herself.
As a child, she remembers her Dad, Andrew, 46, also suffering with psoriasis and using biologic treatments.
She said: “As a child I remember my father being in a lot of discomfort so I am very happy he’s found something that works for him!
“Dad would love me to follow in his footsteps and get approval for a biologic treatment.
“Of course, as a father and feeling the same pain I’ve felt, he wants me to be free from it all!
“I see that while I’m young, there are a lot of things that I can be doing to improve my overall health.
“I reassure him that it’s never too late for me to start on treatment!”
In the hopes of taking control of her condition, she decided to take the same approach as her dad by thinking of ways to calm her skin and looking for “patterns” in breakouts.
Bree said: “Thinking into the long-term, suppressing symptoms of my disease and becoming dependent on medications for the rest of my life did not sound enjoyable.
“I also started to get early symptoms of psoriatic arthritis.
“A type of inflammatory arthritis. It causes stiffness, pain and swelling of the joints and can cause permanent deformity and/or disability if left untreated.
“Everything changed when I realised that maybe I have more control over my skin than I thought.
“I decided to focus on my physical heath, mental health and confidence.”
For herself, Bree found it scary weaning herself off medications, but knew it was for the best.
She said: “After using these creams for years I didn’t know what to expect and was worried about how I could deal with the itchiness.
“I am now 100% off medications and despite it being hard at first have found ways to manage the itch!
“A cold shower, plenty of rest, gentle exfoliation and a lot of moisturiser is the best I can do in a flare up but I’ve found an overall holistic approach to life has given me the best comfort.
“I meditate, journal, eat well, sleep well, drink plenty of water, exercise daily and make sure I have supportive people around me!
“Since I’ve been health focused, I might still have visible spots, but the itchiness has all gone!
“I’ve been lucky enough to avoid it getting really bad, but some people who have used steroid creams for an extended period of time can experience steroid withdrawals.
“This is when the skin has become dependent of the steroid’s and can result in an extremely aggressive flare up for years on end.”
Thanks to her holistic methods, Bree has not required treatment from a dermatologist for the past three years and “couldn’t be happier” – though she stresses that there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help.
She added: “If things progressed to a point I couldn’t handle I wouldn’t hesitate to see a professional.”
Bree is now determined to share her journey so that she can inspire others to love their body, regardless of any differences they may have.
She said: “It used to feel like a curse but now feels like my biggest blessing.
“I’ve realised that my psoriasis isn’t me – I am not my body, I am the thing living inside.
“I go out every day with the hope that I can change people’s minds to be more accepting and loving!
“I don’t blame people for not knowing much about psoriasis.
“There is no cure for these diseases and people often are quick to give their remedies or advice but the best thing you can give to someone who is clearly struggling is love and acceptance.
“Everyone has something they are insecure about, whether it is visible or not.
“You are beautifully unique and have so much to teach yourself and others.
“What used to be your insecurities will become your superpowers!”