The body; ephemeral, temporal, and transient. Though all words synonymous, these have been some of the terms used to describe its very nature but yet its characteristic to clutch at the very essence of ones being remains overwhelming.
Glory Edozien and I have become very close friends just within a few years and in moments of reflection; I’m inclined to believe our bond comes from a certain internal crossroads we shared at the time we met. A time of self awakening, awareness and re-discovery. I often describe her as naive, neurotic, and a bit of a princess of which after much debate, she has come to accept the ‘Princess’ label.
Years ago Glory was diagnosed with Psoriasis, an autoimmune condition that affects the skin, the immune system mistakes the skin cells as a pathogen which in turn speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells causing scaly patches to cover the skin. Glory’s psoriasis covers most of her body to her nails and feet. I have watched her through the greasy door knobs, the itching and the stinging psoriasis flares. Often times, I wonder about her own experiences of watching her body morph from the confines of supposed normalcy to someone you can barely recognise. We talk about Psoriasis, body image, societal ignorance and the in-betweens.
The first time we had dinner together, I remember you trying so hard to resist the urge to itch your skin as your skin would flake every time you itched, however, I observed you were doing and saying things to deflect. What are some of the things you find yourself doing to deflect attention away from your skin?
Perhaps, I was just overly conscious the first time we had dinner or it’s something I have learn’t to do without even thinking. I honestly don’t think that I have consciously tried to deflect attention away from my skin. I’ve itched when I felt like itching. I only make extra effort when I’m in public, or around new friends who may not understand. But around family, I’m known to itch away!
My mum, always tries to distract me with conversation anytime she spots me itching. Mind over matter, she says ….but as with all things it’s much easier said than done. Sometimes when the itching gets so bad, there is hardly anything that can distract you. I remember once when I still lived in London, the itching got so bad and I had taken every relief medication the doctor could prescribe, he started prescribing sleeping pills. As that was the only way I could get any kind of relief.
For me, dealing with my own weight issues almost feels like you’re fighting a public battle, it isn’t a battle you can hide consequently making it both external and internal. Does it ever feel like that for you sometimes?
I think the internal battle is far worse and much more draining than the external. As someone who had grown up with high praise for her ‘butter like’ skin (girls would come up to me on the road to ask what cream I used!) to suddenly wake up and find, scaly rashes all over her skin was a massive blow to my self confidence.
Sometimes I would look at self in the mirror not knowing who the person looking back was. For 8 years I couldn’t wear anything that showed my legs and I have tried every type of concealer, cream and medicine recommended. I went to almost every church healing meeting, till I all but almost gave up. Psoriasis took away the inner me. The girl who was confident and carefree, that was the biggest battle. Psoriasis is a vicious circle. The scars and itching make you depressed, which in turn stresses you out and makes the scaling much worse! So you are constantly trapped in this internal stress ball.
It was only after I started winning some of my internal struggles I started to battle the external ones. The looks I got from people who saw me for the first time without make up, as well as the stares from friends at sleepovers. As usual with these things, the problem is always with women. Never men! I remember recently I went to a spa to get a wax done, a spa I had been going to for almost 6 months, and I complained about the level of the service I was being given. The lady looked me straight in the face and said “yes, Glory. Maybe the reason we don’t attend to you quickly is because we don’t want to catch your skin problem”. This is the level of ignorance one has to put up with.
So now, I almost feel I have to announce myself anytime I go to a new spa, salon or over to a friends place. I give them what I call the psoriasis talk. “I have psoriasis, no it isn’t contagious. Something happens inside me which causes excess skin to appear and instead of falling off like normal people, it forms scales on my skin. And yes, like I said before you can’t catch it from sitting beside me”. That usually helps!
Oh and how can I forget the people who stop me on the road offering a miracle cure. “Aunty have you tried such and such cream. Aunty, if you take this herbal mixture (which usually smells like cow dung) and mix this cream every night, this thing go disappear, my sister had it when she was small”. These people usually haven’t got a clue what they are talking about.
I will admit though that the external battle would have been much harder if I hadn’t made any headway with the internal ones.
My coping mechanisms when it came to dealing with body image insecurities especially as a teenager included being the funny one, the smart one, the overly nice and friendly one. Did you ever have any coping mechanisms during the earlier days of dealing with psoriasis?
Hmmmm…..I’ve never had to think about this before but I’d say I have 3 types of coping strategies, though I am not sure you could actually call them that. The first was my relationship with God. I used God as a punching bag really. Anytime I was upset about my skin or the way I looked, I blamed Him or at the very least gave Him an earful. Another coping mechanism was my cousin Elaine. The amount of tears that girl had to wipe off my face! She was the one who would encourage me. The one, who I could tell exactly how I felt about myself without feeling judged and sometimes that was all I needed. Someone to talk too who wouldn’t offer me yet another concoction with a promise to heal me in 3-7days!
My final coping mechanism is what I call my happy place. In my happy place, there is no psoriasis. It is me, a dotting husband, 3 perfect children and a perfect world. This make believe place is somewhere I escape to anytime life gets me down, whether it’s psoriasis, work or financial pressures…. I just lie down and day dream, and before long I am asleep.
Do you ever feel like you carry round with you extra skin that refuses to obey to your demand?
Hmmm….that’s more in line with my weight issues than psoriasis. The amount of times I have wished the excess skin around my tummy to fall off! Seriously though, I don’t see psoriasis like extra skin I see it sometimes as a real nuisance! Other times, I don’t see it at all because I’ve learn’t not too.
The body is an element of our being that seems quite temporal and transient, yet its interconnection with the heart, mind and spirit is way too evident. I remember when you told me that there was a point; you stopped praying for yourself because you felt it was a bit of a waste, so prayed for other people instead. How did your perception of your physical self affect the other elements of your being?
Wow, this is a real further maths question! I guess like I have probably alluded to in previous questions, psoriasis messed with my self esteem a whole lot. There are portions of my life now that are blank, because they were so painful that my mind has done away with those memories. But I don’t think I would be the Glory Edozien I am today without psoriasis. It’s weird. The journey to finding your inner self is paved with various challenges and I think sometimes God allows us go through things to birth the real us. Call it growing pains if you like. I still have psoriasis, granted it isn’t as bad as it was in the earlier days but I have learn’t to look in the mirror and love myself.
But before I got to this place of newness, I fell down many times. Like you said, I got to a place where I stopped praying about my skin, perhaps there was a part of me that gave up but also accepted it. So it was easier to pray for someone else and have faith for their healing instead of having to face the disappointment of not getting the healing I so desperately wanted.
I remember the last time I broke down in a doctor’s office about 3 years ago. My father, who is also a medical doctor, had been wondering for a while if I had been misdiagnosed. So my dermatologist in London sent me to a consultant at the London Centre for Tropical Diseases. After a consultation, blood sample and skin graft analysis, the result was ……PSORIASIS! surprise! surprise! I sat down at the lobby and wailed into the arms of the student doctor. Wailing doesn’t quite cover what I did, there was mucus and all types of things coming from my nose and my head hurt for days after. I guess that was the day something inside me broke. From that day, I never took any other recommended prescription that wasn’t given by a board certified dermatologist. Even now, I have a drawer in my room filled with various creams and potions from friends all promising miraculous healing. I take them and throw them into the drawer or into the bin if I feel so motivated. When they call to ask how I’m faring on the new regime I tell them I have seen no change and hopefully that is enough.
I guess what I am trying to say in a rather round-about way is that psoriasis broke me in a way I find difficult to put into words. There are pictures of myself that I can’t look at or have torn up because I can’t believe I looked that way. It made me envious of other girls with nice skin and at times made me question my own sense of self. Made me over analyse everyone else’s opinion of myself. Today though, I’m in a very different place. Not sure if that answers your question.
Tell me about the process and journey of coming to terms with psoriasis
Haha! Coming to terms with psoriasis was (and if I’m honest, probably still is) a daily battle. Because with this disease, one day your skin can be clear and then in 2 weeks, you see new scabs! There isn’t a cure yet, so all drugs just help manage it. But like I said before, I have learn’t to love myself through everything and look at the benefits it has brought.
I think a big part of that was coming to a place of acceptance. Saying ok Glory, you’ve got psoriasis, there isn’t any cure. So what are we going to do about it? And the answer was NOTHING. I can’t do anything about it except live my life anyway. So I take my prescribed medication and carry on with life. The thing with being broken by an event or situation is after you’ve accepted the situation the rebuilding process begins. I learn’t to rebuild my self esteem, by valuing who I was not what I looked like. I know it may sound like a beggar’s prayer to some but I really learn’t to value and appreciate non physical aspects of myself. I focused on who I was and the person I wanted to become and when I saw things I didn’t like about myself, I started working towards changing them. I began to value things and people I had taken for granted. Psoriasis showed me who my real friends were, and what true friendship is about. Believe it or not, but those are the things that give you a richer life- your experiences, the people you love and those that love you.
So the cycle to rebuilding me continued and one day, I didn’t care if I had scars on my legs, I wore a skirt to work after 8 years. Then I wore a dress and now I can’t stop wearing things that show my spotty legs. Off course I still get stares, but now, I am confident enough to not care what the next person really thinks. As long as I look at myself in the mirror and I feel amazing, that’s all that really counts.
Has age had any effect on your body image and sense of self?
They say when you turn 30, certain things don’t matter anymore. Maybe that also contributed to my new sense of self and life in general. I’m more aware of whom I am, the person I want to be and the things I want to accomplish. So I pay little attention to things I may have done in previous years. Don’t really care what the girl I met two weeks ago said about my skin or if someone made a snide remark about my weight. I’m learning to take care of me and enjoying myself, life and my loved ones in the process.
We often talk about self acceptance and self love when it comes to promoting positive body image. It seems like one of the easiest things to do, yet the hardest. What has your experience with that been like?
I think we all spend an awful amount of time hating ourselves and the circumstances we are in. We wish we were skinnier, taller, slimmer and richer. We spend all of our lives waiting for the next best thing to happen to us, chasing the next big achievement and very little time enjoying were we are. Achievements are good things, aspiration, ambition, drive and self awareness are all relevant aspects of character, but they will drive you crazy if you let them run you. Personally, I am learning to enjoy life. Enjoy were I am, who I am and where I am going. I am very self critical, but these days I am coming to realise life is all about process. Baby steps, child like faith and learning to laugh at myself once in a while are just as necessary. I think once you gain that sort of perspective you begin to appreciate that you weren’t built to be perfect, that you will make more mistakes than you care to admit and that nothing is ever accomplished by hating yourself. Like you said it’s the hardest thing to do, but the rewards are substantial.
I should also say that self acceptance isn’t a hiding place for mediocre thinking or a shield to hide flaws which you have the power to change. So for example, I got to a place where I was deeply upset about my weight. I didn’t just sit back and accept that I was fat and so the world should continue to feed me burgers. I’m now actively pursuing a much healthier lifestyle, one that however isn’t dependent on what Beyonce or whichever slim super star looks like. I set my own achievable realistic goals of what I want to look like and I actively pursue them.
Earlier, you shared the experience of the spa visit where your regular beautician was unavailable, then you were tossed around by the other beauticians only to eventually be told that they were afraid that what you had was contagious.
How did you feel when that happened and how do you deal with the public reaction, especially amongst us Nigerians who aren’t the most subtle at expressing ourselves?
I was deeply hurt when that incident happened, which is quite strange because one would think I would be used to it by now. But I think, it took me back to days which I would rather forget. The lady did later call me and send me text messages apologising (after I had almost turned the spa upside down with my shouting). On my better days, I have found it much easier to ignore people who offer crass comments. On days, when my patience needs a top up, I am much less accommodating, and offer similar crass comments in return.
What has psoriasis taught you?
I think from all we’ve discussed it would be evident that psoriasis gave me a firsthand course in self love and acceptance 101. It taught me that only I have the power to put myself down, and no one else could do that unless I let them. It gave me an inner confidence that isn’t necessarily based on fleeting physical attributes but on the woman I am. That to me is quite a gift.
Follow Glory @MisGloryEdozien on twitter