This week's guest blog is from Amara Howe, who shares her experiences on how immunosuppressants have helped manage her debilitating eczema.
I’ve been on immunosuppressants for three months… this is my experience and how I’m doing now.
In summer last year I was approached by a large beauty brand to appear in an advert about skin conditions. In order to be in the chance of appearing on the big screen I had to send in a video of myself explaining what I love about my condition. I told them my eczema had made me appreciate everything else about myself, from my little waist to my slender neck. Unfortunately I didn’t get the part and we all know why… I don’t love anything about my condition.
The problem with eczema is when you’re constantly in pain and people feel empathy for you, it is not something you want to embrace. After eight years of the condition and constantly sweeping my skin I eventually took a trip to the dermatologist and have been on immunosuppressants for three months.
When I attended the dermatologist in early December I knew exactly what I wanted. After a long time considering the side effects of immunosuppressants, I knew my mental health was a lot more important than the possible yet not definite effects of the drug. After a lot of back-and-forth conversations, a complaint sent to head office over a woman who looked me up and down and told me “you might not improve” when I told her my insta-warriors had, I finally got what I wanted. And the truth is, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been - most days.
Immunosuppressants are a drug which weaken your immune system. So for anyone with severe psoriasis, eczema or any autoimmune disorder, this drug is often the alternative for when you’ve tried every cream, steroid and allergy tablet there is.
I take 6 immunosuppressant tablets once a week (that’s 15mg) on the same day and one folic acid tablet once a week on a different day. Alongside this I have to have my bloods done every other week to check for any abnormal readings and to make sure I’m not getting poorly. The likelihood of catching a cold is a lot more common when your immune system is suppressed so it’s important to have these check ups. For someone who used to faint every time they had a blood test, I’m proud to say I haven’t fainted once since my journey - apart from the occasional dizziness.
When I first began my course I was incredible scared of the side effects. Hair loss, diarrhoea, nausea, hair loss, HAIR LOSS! Luckily I have lost no hair and apart from slight nausea in the first week, I haven’t suffered with anything too dramatic, not even a cold.
Within the first month my skin improved dramatically. From my knees which were always slightly wrinkly to my belly, which always had an itchy line from where my belly folded, I have very oily healthy skin in most places. When I came back from my Christmas break into work, my colleagues all noted how much happier I seemed… my personality was back!
As I have previously discussed in another blog, eczema has given me severe body dysmorphia where I only find myself attractive when my skin is clear. This is an incredibly emotional and difficult condition and hearing my colleagues comment on my appearance and mood has been extremely up-lifting.
In the past three months the biggest changes for me have been being able to sleep comfortably at night, no longer moaning (as much) about my skin and NO MORE HOOVERING! I can’t explain to you how severely dry my skin used to be every single day and it’s wonderful to no longer feel like a lizard.
While I am incredibly happy I am still suffering facial flares for some very odd reason! Whether it’s a side effect or not I am really hoping within the next few months this will improve. The fantastic thing is that while my face might be itchy I no longer feel the need to wear long sleeve shirts and I can walk comfortably without being in pain - I even joined the gym!
As someone with anxiety bought on by my skin condition I have found my anxiety attacks to be a lot less frequent. I am also practicing meditation which is really helping me keep calm in stressful situations whether this be at work or on the tube commuting to work.
Immunosuppressants are a very serious drug and a discussion with your dermatologist and/or doctor is incredibly important if you are considering this option. Luckily I am a very healthy girl and besides my skin condition I rarely get ill which is probably why I have had a fairly breezy journey. The side effects are serious however I knew nothing could be as bad as my severe eczema.
My dermatologist expects I will be on immunosuppressants for a few years until my body sees overall improvement. What I hope to see in the next year is a stop in my habitual scratching which is going to be hard for someone who has scratched every day for the past eight years. After those few years, if my skin is ready I will slowly taper down on the drug.
For now, I am incredibly happy to have seen such a change in both my skin and myself. I feel attractive 90% of the time, I no longer wear turtlenecks 24/7 and I feel a lot calmer on a regular basis. I’m taking each day as it comes and am so grateful that this medication exists. While it may not be for everyone it has certainly been a life changing drug for me and I couldn’t be more grateful.