Diagnosed with psoriasis when she was 14, Reena Ruparelia let the condition dictate her life and confidence level for nearly two decades. Then, she found an online community of like-minded warriors who helped her increase her self-worth and body positivity. Today, she is an activist for spreading hope and education to others living with psoriasis.
What was it like, at 14, to be diagnosed with psoriasis? The words that come up are devastating and heartbreaking. I was just about to start high school and, metaphorically, a new life. I was about to be a different person! And then, suddenly, I have these red spots all over my body. I was so concerned about my appearance that I really didn't care about how I physically felt. I was just like, “I need this to go away so people will be friends with me.” I was confused. I had so many questions, and, at the time, there was no internet so I couldn't Google anything.
My general practitioner initially thought I had chickenpox, but when the spots didn’t go away two weeks later, he said, “I think you have psoriasis, but you'll want to see the dermatologist to confirm.” I remember waiting for the magical day when this magical doctor would take all my problems away. Instead, I learned that psoriasis is an autoimmune condition in which my skin cells generate at such a rapid pace that my body thinks it's attacking itself. It tries to protect itself in the shape of these dry, itchy, sometimes raised skin patches. The condition creates an inflammation in the body that has no cure, only treatment.
At the time, 26 years ago, I was prescribed coal tar, which is a slimey, green paste that stinks like mothballs. I would also drive about an hour into the city to get a less than two-minute UV light treatment. I went from playing soccer and hanging out with my friends at the mall to spending my days after school going in for treatment. They worked for a little bit, until they didn’t anymore. The body gets used to one treatment, and then it's like, “Okay, you have to do something different now.” So, even when my treatments were working, there was always this fear. I always thought, “Ok, but when's it gonna come back?”