Kathleen Storemski is a 27-year-old nursing student in Washington, D.C.
One Saturday last spring, Kathleen Storemski awoke from a nap on her boyfriend’s couch and noticed bright red spots on her legs. Then she started to itch. “I called to my boyfriend, ‘Oh my gosh, you have mites! Your house is dirty! You have fleas!’”
She took an antihistamine and applied a topical cortisone cream, but her skin worsened dramatically. “Within two weeks I had itchy red spots on my scalp, back, chest, abdomen, arms, legs, tops of my feet—everywhere but my palms and my face,” Storemski says. “I looked like a Dalmatian with red spots instead of black. I felt like I had to hide it. I’m a girlie girl. I live my life in dresses and skirts, and here I was wearing turtlenecks, long sleeves and pants everywhere, and I bought tights in every color. I didn’t tell anyone at first. Instead I relied on ‘Dr. Google.’ I typed in my symptoms and self-diagnosed, which is something I don’t recommend for others. At different times I was convinced I had mites, then scabies, then shingles.”
At the time her symptoms began, Storemski was working as a manager of a medical spa in Boston that provided services including Botox, cellulite treatments and laser hair removal, and she worked closely with a primary care physician. When she finally confided in him and he examined her skin, he diagnosed her with guttate psoriasis, a form of the condition that causes small individual red spots mostly on the torso, arms, and legs. “My grandparents had psoriasis, and my father has psoriasis, and I have a cousin with psoriasis, so I should have suspected that I had it too,” says Storemski. “But they all have plaque psoriasis and my symptoms looked really different from theirs.”
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), about 80 percent of people who have psoriasis have plaque psoriasis, which is characterized by raised, inflamed, red lesions covered by a silvery white scale, and is typically found on the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. To treat her guttate psoriasis, Storemski’s doctor prescribed a medication called pimecrolimus (found in Elidel cream). She asked her boyfriend to help her apply it every night. Gradually, her psoriasis lesions began to clear up.
Psoriasis, the Sign She Needed
Since her diagnosis, Storemski has also had time to reflect on her condition and why her skin flared when it did. “At the time, I was living in a new city, working 60 hours a week and I was very unhappy in my job,” she says. “It’s ironic that I got a skin disorder while working in esthetics, a business in which the goal is to help people look better. Psoriasis made me realize I didn’t want to do that job anymore, because people don’t need to be perfect. Everybody wants to feel better about themselves, but trying to have flawless skin isn’t the way to do it. Having psoriasis opened my eyes to the fact that we need to love ourselves and love our lives and be thankful for the people who are in [our lives] and experience them, rather than dwelling on how bad we feel or look. Psoriasis was the sign that I needed to move forward.”
For Storemski that meant moving to Washington, D.C., where she is working toward becoming a nurse anesthetist. Her psoriasis has largely cleared, but she occasionally gets as many as a dozen spots on her legs and back. “My skin flares when I’m stressed,” says Storemski. “I’ve reduced my stress a lot by switching careers, and I also try to do Ashtanga yoga; it’s a type of yoga that emphasizes synchronizing your breathing with your movements, and I feel like a new person each time I do it.” She does yoga a few times a week and takes ballet twice a week.
Finding Support and Love
Storemski believes having the support of her family and her boyfriend has been the key to managing her psoriasis. “I’m lucky because I was already dating my boyfriend when my psoriasis first occurred,” she says. “It’s been a journey that we’ve taken together. There were days when I would wake up and my psoriasis would look worse than when I went to bed and I would cry. My boyfriend would wrap his arms around me and tell me, ‘You’re fine. It’s just skin. It’s no big deal. I love you and everything is going to be okay.’”
Storemski also found information and camaraderie by joining a psoriasis support group sponsored by the NPF on Facebook. “When I first looked for a support group online, it seemed like most of the people were older than me. Facebook tends to have a younger audience, and it was helpful to read comments from people my own age who were dealing with problems similar to mine,” she says. “My advice to other women with psoriasis symptoms would be to consult your doctor right away. Don’t try to self-diagnose on the Internet. Also, seek out the wisdom of other people who have psoriasis. And keep looking on the bright side—it’s just your skin and it will get better.”