A Lust For Life

Life can be a mess but it’s a lovely mess – my journey to loving the skin I’m in

My name is Natalie, I’m 32 and what I’d describe as a lovely mess. I’m too nervous to sleep right now so it’s an ideal time for a brain vomit. In the morning I’m going to meet my real mother. I’ve decided to do this now because I’m finally getting to know myself. Life’s just starting to feel real. Let me tell you why without sounding too much like an Alanis Morissette track!

I’m not sure what physical contact I received in my first few months on this planet. I’m pretty sure it was in a plastic box, incubated, and that’s kind of how I’ve felt since. I was born a whopper 10 weeks premature and immediately taken from my birth mother. She’s been in a psychiatric hospital since. I’m trying to figure out what the hell actually happened. I’ve just realised she was in care when she fell pregnant. I’m not expecting any fairy-tale stories but I need to find out the truth and so that’s my mission at the moment.

At 6 months the foster family I ended up with fell in love, adopted me and I stayed with them. I’ve been very lucky overall. I’ve seen 42 children pass through the house, all those little humans with their own fluffy jigsaw to put together. I think because of everything I’ve been exposed to I can accept anything with ease. Hardwired for survival but with that there’s an emotional glitch.

Growing up has not been easy. I’ve always felt like I’ve been trapped in a bubble, watching my life through a lens. I was disassociated from my feelings, actions and memories. A walking contradiction. Both fearless and consumed by fear. A self-destructive perfectionist.

In the past the only way to escape feelings of isolation was with extreme behaviour. Too much partying, too much work, too much fitness, too much everything. Self-destruction has left me lucky to be alive. I liked pushing boundaries and avoiding reality. I could never fully settle. It hasn’t changed that much however slowly but surely I’m now chasing life rather than avoiding it.

I’ve grown up with an underlying battle of paranoia. I have never felt in any situation that I was supposed to be there, feared I wasn’t wanted or wasn’t good enough. Connection overwhelms me. If I did get close to someone in the past my over-empathic nature swallowed me up and I felt a new isolation. This is calming now as I grow but making strong connections has been extremely difficult. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise as I’ve managed to filter out other like-minded ‘free spirits’ and I feel like I know the most incredible people in the world.

So along with isolation and paranoia comes Psoriasis. It’s something a lot of people don’t understand, even those who have it. After explaining a bit about my personality I’d like to shine some light on recovery.

My Psoriasis started when I was 7. I was bullied in school. Kids threw stones and muck at me, called me Pakistani Pat as my skin was a little darker than the ‘normal’ shade of Leitrim. It’s looking probable I’m half Irish. My body was covered in Psoriasis and my hair even started falling out. I had regular trips to the hospital, suffocating my skin with steroids, tars or other symptomatic treatments that don’t address the actual problem. I’d carefully apply acid treatments during the day to burn off the plaques. Spent months in hospital trying to get a handle on it where ultraviolet light therapy seemed to be the only temporary solution. The condition is agonising. The lesions basically feel like burns. Even now the advised medical route for me is systemic treatments. Methotrexate to be specific. As I understand it’s an immune system suppressant that kills abnormal cell growth along with normal cell growth, similar to cancer treatment. This particular drug damages your liver. Doctors believe prolonged inflammation psoriatic patients suffer from an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and increased risk of stroke so the treatment is extreme.

I was on this for a while when I started college and it left me in a heap with no energy. I was really unhealthy. After that I went back on steroids to try and alleviate the pain. I was at an event one evening and noticed bleeding under my arms. Imagine being in so much pain anyway that you don’t notice your skin tear. My skin had essentially ripped underneath both arms where it had been thinned from steroid use. I had to be really careful with my weight for a long time for fear of more tearing. This had such a rotten psychological impact on me. Any time I’m struggling in life I have highly detailed nightmares of my skin ripping, nails falling off, teeth crumbling and roots growing out of everywhere like a potato germinating. It horrifies me. My dreams seem more vivid than being awake. I decided that day I would only follow natural routes for healing.

Doctors don’t fully understand the cause, it’s generally thought to be a genetic disease which is triggered by environmental factors. From having it for most of my life I can say it’s a direct response to stress. I don’t externally respond to major stress so my skin does it for me. It’s like I just hold onto it inside, rattling my nervous system. I have a light tremor in my body, what I could describe as a constant fear. When I’m stressed or unwell my body tries to heal itself by over producing skin cells. I have to stop my brain from sending those attack signals. Working from the inside out. Rewiring my brain! The path to recovery is calming my nervous system completely. Finding balance.

I’ve largely had control over the condition for the last 15 years. By just keeping calm, getting quality sleep, staying fit, strong and nourished. This was until about 4 years ago. I was cycling to the gym. Life was great, I was finishing my MA, enjoying work, great house, healthy and independent. A driver failed to see me in the dreary weather and I was hit. My body and bicycle ricocheted along the road for what seemed like forever. My legs were battered. The car hit my back rattling my ribcage. Pretty sure I lost consciousness or was in some sort of shock. I spent a night in hospital but I’ve been in agony since.

I was in bits. There was no position I could lie in to relieve my pain. I couldn’t sleep and could barely go to the loo on my own. But worst of all within 24 hours my skin was ruined from head to toe with psoriasis from the trauma. The years of effort I spent getting it under control and it blew up worse than I could ever imagine. I used to get patches in certain places but now everything was covered, my entire body, my face, my dignity.

Everything went to shit crippling my self-confidence. Fitness was my rock. I felt so ugly I literally wanted to die. I lived on Valium, Difene and Tramadol. Down to my bubbled nature I decided to hide away instead of seek connection. I was incapable of working, just scraped through my masters botching all my work together, lost all security including somewhere to live. After 2 years of immense struggling I hit a massive low. I couldn’t escape the darkness. All I wanted to do was die.

I decided I had to remove myself as far as possible from my situation and myself as I could. I got some money together and with remote work organised I booked a one way flight to Thailand. The plan was to work away, get stuck into yoga, get my body back in shape, practice meditation and heal my skin in the sun. A solid plan but down to my impatient nature and struggle with finance I turned to Muay Thai, a Thai combat sport. I have never challenged myself as much and it literally knocked some sense into me.

It was the most liberating feeling in the world and I started to feel again. With an actual punch in the face I felt some love in the world! I stopped taking painkillers and focused on healing. My plan was to stay there forever! Being on my own had enabled me to face some fear of loneliness. I had nobody and it felt great, no-one was watching. I felt like I could breathe for the first time. A noise in my brain stopped. I learned how to cry. I learned how to get angry. I actually became so full of rage.

I had opened the flood gates and I unleashed the fury through fighting. Quite perfect really.

Perfect for a time, but not sustainable. I had to come home three times for weddings and it broke me financially and so I couldn’t go back. Everything was a shock to the system. I was pretty devastated but this time I was finally able to express anger and so with me came this new facade that people weren’t used to. I fell out with a lot of people. I had a forced post travel come down with a financial struggle and once again nowhere to live. Then when I decided to cycle again I unbelievably became overwhelmed or startled in heavy traffic and got hit again. I won’t even get into that in detail but with everything happening my skin got increasingly worse. Once again my natural positivity and bright outlook on life stopped.

I started to freeze with fear on occasion and at one point I was in my room for 5 days without eating. I literally couldn’t move. After that I with all honesty stopped swimming in the sea in case I would choose to stay there. I had to go to the doctor for help. She put me on 10mg of Lexapro which was a lifesaver. It calmed my mind and skin and I found some peace and strength. I managed to get my shit together slowly but surely. I found a work balance and healthy environment. I finally got off the drug. It’s an incredibly nasty thing when you don’t need it, living through a fuzzy filter with no creativity or zest for life. Then the brain zaps, there’s nausea and loss of balance from withdrawals. I thank the drug for getting me over the hurdle but welcome myself back with open arms. Things are great now. I’m full of love again.

I’m still trying to get my body back to where it was pre-accident, progress is slow but I’m determined to bounce back. I’m getting a handle on my skin again. When I do feel discomfort now some sea salt, apple cider vinegar and milton baths do the trick. I feel meditation will cure me when the time is right.

I can share all this now because that little prick of a bubble is finally bursting! One’s head is removed from one’s hole. I’ve learned how to feel properly. I’m making my extremes healthy ones. Starting to trust and take judgment constructively. Releasing the endless love that I’ve absorbed from others.

Life can be a mess but it’s a lovely mess.
Horrible endings are beautiful new beginnings in disguise.
Realising the grass is greener where you water it.
Realising the word Sonder.

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