Ever since she was a little girl, CariDee English knew she wanted to be a model. But psoriasis that started at age 5 threatened to dash her dreams. And sentenced English to a life of wearing long sleeves and pants.
English grew up in what she calls an “outdoor lake country” in Fargo, North Dakota. So her first symptoms of psoriasis – itching and redness – were thought to be bug bites or poison ivy.
“Even though my mom has psoriasis, since I was always outside playing, everyone thought my early symptoms were a product of Mother Nature,” she says.
But her symptoms didn’t ‘go away’ like poison ivy or a bug bite might, and English’s parents began to fear their daughter also had psoriasis.
She says having psoriasis as a kid was tough. “I was constantly trying to hide my skin so I didn’t have to answer questions and could seem ‘normal’ and pursue my dream.”
But having psoriasis and the dream of becoming a model seemed near impossible.
“I knew it would limit my chance, but I wanted to model so badly,” says the winner of Season 7 of “America’s Next Top Model”
When she was 18, English graduated high school early to pursue her dream in Miami. But when the heavy make-up English used on her legs to conceal her psoriasis ran off during a photo shoot in the ocean English saw her dream of modeling get swept out with the tide.
“I was fired and almost quit the business.”
A year or so later, English went to dermatologist who prescribed medicine that she now relies on to control her psoriasis.
She also relies on these tricks to deal with the emotional side of psoriasis.
How I deal with embarrassment
English says her humor is what helped her deal with embarrassment when her skin looked red and flaky. “I know it’s a defense mechanism, but I think you have to have a sense of humor about psoriasis so it doesn’t get you down,” says English. If you’re feeling awkward about your skin, instead of hiding it muster up a huge grin and make light of it. “Act like it’s no big deal,” says English.
How I deal with a break-out
English says she refused to live in fear of a break out or flare of her psoriasis. “I take life one day at a time and I never take clear skin for granted.”
So on days when she can wear shorts or short-sleeved shirts, she does so proudly and without worry. “I have the physical tools like my medicine and the confidence to handle my psoriasis and not let the disease define me.”
How I deal with other people’s curiosity
When people ask English about her skin, she gives an honest answer. “I used to lie or try to cover it up to avoid talking about it at all,” she says. “I learned that honesty is disarming. And a short straight response like ‘I have psoriasis which makes my skin red, etc.’ is really the best approach.”
English suggests educating people about psoriasis to combat stereotypes as well as curiosity. “If you explain they can’t ‘catch it’ and that it’s treatable with medicine, you can really disarm a situation.”
How I deal with negative emotions, i.e., anger, depression, etc.
“It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one in the world dealing with psoriasis if you don’t know another patient,” says English. “Even if logically you know otherwise.”
She used to suppress her feelings of anger, disappointment, worry, etc. and says that was horrible. “I felt alone and didn’t think anyone would understand what I was going through physically or emotionally.”
Building a support system helped. “I found people with psoriasis and support groups through the National Psoriasis Foundation. That support and outlet for my feelings was wonderful,” says English.