Reena Ruparelia is a beautiful, confident and inspiring woman who has been living with the debilitating skin condition Psoriasis for more than two decades. She’s opening up to Lumity about her painful, but ultimately enlightening journey to acceptance and self-confidence.
When Reena Ruparelia was first diagnosed with Psoriasis 25-years-ago she knew nothing of the skin condition which would, at times rob her of the ability to even move. Scared and ashamed of what it was doing to her body she desperately tried to hide the painful, itchy and red patches the inflammatory condition left her with, and her self-esteem took an unimaginable nose dive.
But when she bravely launched an Instagram page ’Psorasis_thoughts’ in a bid to find others facing the same struggles, she was overwhelmed by the support, and after years of agony she could finally start to heal physically and mentally.
She now openly shares the ups and downs of living with Psoriasis with her thousands of followers and has learned to love herself, just the way she is.
Here she talks to Lumity about her skin struggles, how she finds body confidence and why living with Psoriasis doesn’t have to rule your life.
You were diagnosed when you were 13-years old. What were your initial symptoms?
“It all came about 25-years-ago when I returned from a short trip abroad and I had a strep throat that went untreated,” says Canadian based Reena. “My skin started to itch and I noticed red dots on my stomach. They were itchy and looked like chicken pox – when I went to the doctor he told me I had Psoriasis and sent me to the dermatologist”
Did you know what it was from the beginning or did you think it was eczema?
“I had no idea what Psoriasis or Eczema was at that point. I never had any skin issues prior to being diagnosed so it all came as a shock to me. I thought I had chicken pox.”
How does it physically feel to have Psoriasis?
“It felt very itchy! My skin would burn, crawl and itch. It was red and it flakey. Everyday the spots looked like they were multiplying and growing bigger and joining. It feels very uncomfortable to be in the skin when it flares and is changing constantly.”
Did it effect your self esteem, because it can’t have been easy for you?
“Psoriasis effected my self-esteem on so many levels. From the smell the coal tar left to the way my skin looked. I was very self conscious for most of my Psoriasis journey. I didn’t want people to see my skin or look at me. I felt ashamed and embarrassed.
I stopped playing sports and doing activities because I didn’t want to risk my skin being spotted. When summer came, I covered up in long pants and tops. I didn’t think I would ever get better.
Sometimes when I would go on vacation and my skin would calm, I would feel free. I spent much of my days dreaming about having clear, smooth, perfect skin.”
I know you tied to hide your skin condition for a long time. What made you decide to take control and not let Psoriasis rule your life anymore? It’s a big move…
“I don’t think it was a choice for me. If anything I was pushed into taking control of the way my skin was dictating how I lived my life. And indeed it was a very hard time.
I was flaring really badly at the end of 2015. I couldn’t move my hands and my feel were completely covered. I looked like a was wearing red socks and glove. I had a panic attack at work because I couldn’t move, think or feel my body.
I took time off and started to look online to get support from others. I would chat with people and look at photos and inspiration from other ‘Psoriasis Warriors’. Then I started my own page, sharing how I was feeling and putting my struggle out into the world.
Through my Instagram page, I connected with 100s of other people who were also living with Psoriasis. I finally felt like I was in a community and I eventually started to feel more confident in my own skin. It was the support and love of others that helped me.”
How did you feel when it began gaining so much traction?
“I never started this Instagram to grow a following – I did it to get support so when it did start to gain traction, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe that there were people like me and that my story was helping others
In a way, it made me feel responsible for living well in the skin I was in. I challenged myself to wear shorts and have more conversations with people in my life and so the Instagram growing really forced me out of hiding and into a role of supporting and giving hope to a larger community.
Many of my friends had no idea I was struggling and so as they found the page and started reading my posts – they connected with me on a deeper level.
This page has taught me that it’s perfectly safe to be myself.”
I imagine you have helped so many people by being open about your skin condition. So what would you say to someone who might be at home struggling to come to terms with it?
“To the one who is struggling. You are loved. You are worthy. You are in a tough spot. Things can change. Things will change. Keep sight of that, even on the darkest days. Talk to someone about how you are feeling. Reach out online to those who are sharing their stories. Help yourself feel less alone. Give yourself a place to open up. You deserve happiness. You deserve comfort. You deserve peace. And you are perfect – JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.”