Shrestha Tiwari loves travelling, scuba diving as an activity particularly entices her and she’s big on slow fashion and incorporating plant based food in one’s diet. Pretty regular, right? Except she does it all while tackling a skin condition, also known as psoriasis. Characterised by thick and scaly patches, courtesy a shorter skin renewal cycle, she doesn’t let this define or dictate the course of her life.
While most people offer pitiful stares, some prefer rolling their eyes in disgust and while this may serve as a deterrence for most folks, Shrestha’s over it. It does hurt, but she’s more devoted to sharing the silver lining and advocating for fellow psoriasis warriors on social media. We had a chance to sit down and discuss all about the condition, her experience growing up with it and a lot more.
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ELLE: How would you explain what psoriasis is, for a layman?
Shrestha Tiwari (ST): A normal skin renewal cycle lasts about 28 days or so. But for a person suffering from psoriasis, his or her skin cycle reduces to four or five days. So usually what happens is the dead skin gets accumulated in layers, and that causes a person to have thick and scaly patches. And if talking internally, psoriasis is defined as an autoimmune condition, where your immune system gets triggered because of your lifestyle or something undetermined, which then leads to the skin disorder.
ELLE: You were diagnosed at the age of eight. How was it growing up with the condition and how did it shape you into the person you are today?
ST: Before the diagnosis, I was a very chirpy and outgoing kid. And during the initial phases post the diagnosis, my patches were limited and I could easily cover them up under school uniforms. But as and when they started becoming visible to everyone else, there were a lot of questions and as a child, I wasn’t equipped to deal with those. I’ve lied about getting burns or falling off the bicycle as I thought the patches would go away and so will the questions. But eventually, as I grew up, I realised this is something unavoidable and that I had to live with it.
Although some friends were good to me, a lot of them would speak ill behind my back which unfortunately added fuel to my insecurities. During my flare up at 15, a teacher of mine told me to cover up by wearing the winter uniform in the summers, and that took a toll on me. I became very introverted and would not talk to anyone. That was the majority of my childhood. So only when I started accepting the fact that I’m going to have this condition for a while, that’s when I started opening up about it and wearing dresses and sleeveless tops again.
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ELLE: What’s your skincare/ medical routine like? Is it hard to find brands who cater to such specific concerns?
ST: Okay, so if you go by the allopathic route, you will get steroid creams and some ointments to use or to manage the skin condition. You’re told to moisturise regularly. So you constantly have this expectation that even though it’s an incurable disease, you will get rid of it. So that was not sitting well with me because it creates a false expectation in your head and it wasn’t boding well for my mental health. I was getting side effects and could see my nerves through my skin. So I later pivoted to natural homeopathy and now, only use olive or coconut oil to moisturise my skin. And if I find some beauty brand which is toxic-free, all natural, with no hidden ingredients, I give it a try and see how that goes.
ELLE: What troubles you the most about living with psoriasis?
ST: Okay, so usually if a person has psoriasis, they’re very conscious about how people look at them. From my personal experience, I’ve seen a lot of eyes follow me because people are always watching me and trying to evaluate what I have. Just because it looks different, people direct a lot of judgmental stares and that’s a little hurtful. In the time of celebrating people’s imperfections, you’re made to feel like an outlander when people blatantly stare and throw around comments which are uncalled for. They do make you uncomfortable, unfortunately.
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ELLE: What change do you wish to see in mainstream media and society overall to make it easier for people living with psoriasis?
ST: Nowadays, there’s a big movement about accepting differences and embracing different personalities. So, I would like for other people to be more compassionate towards people with skin conditions, or like any sort of life choice that they make. There are better ways to approach people with skin conditions. Let’s say, if you come across someone who just looks different, you might as well, instead of asking about what’s wrong with their skin, you can can try to make them more comfortable, and then ask them more kindly. That would be a better way to talk to them instead of just approaching them all guns blazing and making them feel like something is wrong. And please stop with the ‘how will she get married?’ and all of that jazz. It’s very uncomfortable.
ELLE: Your social media is a self-love haven. But like any of us, I’m sure you go through days which are rough and take a toll. How do you tackle such bouts of feeling low?
ST: I like to post about my insecurities and how I’m dealing with this condition. But a lot of times, there are days when I don’t feel good about myself. And I try to stay away from social media on those days. Because when I’m not feeling fulfilled, spreading fake positivity doesn’t make sense, right? I was going through a very intense flare up earlier this year around January, so I did not post much stuff then. And it’s a little difficult because as a content creator, you’re expected to put out content regularly. But at the end of the day, my audience is people with psoriasis and they are going to stick with me. So I think that’s what I’ve experienced. Till now, I never really got hate comments but just recently this one reel of mine went viral. I got a lot of comments and some were really hurtful. But the vital thing I noticed amongst all of it is that the post had about 2500 comments, and the bad ones were only like 20.
I could also see a lot of positivity radiate in my comment section and that made me realize that it’s not wise to let a small section dictate how you feel about yourself. It has to do with the strengthening of the human mindset, right? Usually, if someone talks negative about you and it’s more likely to stay with you for years and years. Pro tip: don’t let that happen.