Mediaplanet: You inherited psoriasis from your mother, with symptoms appearing as early as five years old. How difficult was it to cope with psoriasis at such a young age?

CariDee English: When I found out about my psoriasis at age five, it didn’t bother me too much because I just thought it was some sort of rash. My mother knew, of course, but even when the doctors explained it I didn’t fully understand. I didn’t really grasp that it was going to be there my whole life. I just thought it would go away after a while.

I also didn’t fully realize the stigma of having psoriasis and the life ahead of me as a sufferer from the disease. It didn’t become an issue until my early teens. My first bad flare-up happened around age 12, during my middle school years, and I finally understood this was something that was not going away, and that it was only going to get worse. At that age, all I wanted to do was fit in but I couldn’t help standing out.

MP: What physical and emotional obstacles have you faced and how did you overcome them?

CE: The biggest emotional hurdle of having psoriasis at first was feeling like I was the only one. I had heard of others who had it, but at the time I felt very alone. With 80 percent of my body affected when my psoriasis goes untreated, I felt like I stood out and that nobody could understand. It was also very hard not being physically comfortable in my own skin for so long. The moment I got relief from that was the moment I spoke out about my disease. Speaking about it started to set me free. 

After I spoke out, other people reached out to me to talk about their own struggles with psoriasis and that was really empowering. I was in a position where I was not only a patient, but a leader.

MP: With all of this going on physically and emotionally, how were you able to pursue your dream of becoming an international model, a profession where your image is constantly under public scrutiny?

CE: It was interesting. Although I was very emotionally affected by my psoriasis, it never seemed like an option to not pursue modeling. I didn’t want to be a model because of the glamour or the beauty of the industry; it was because of the performing and being able to let go of who I was. Being able to “be” a different person, even if it was just for a couple of seconds in a quick picture. Even with my psoriasis I loved the way I felt in front of the camera. I felt alive.

“My biggest piece of advice is that you may have psoriasis, but don’t let the psoriasis have you. All this means is that there are things out there that can help manage your psoriasis, but it all comes back to being yourself.”

I remember thinking that in the digital age of photography it would be easy to just touch up my skin, and that wasn’t the case at all. When I signed with my first agency in Miami, they kept getting complaints from designers saying that makeup had come off on their clothes during my shoots. For a while I claimed it was just fake tanner, but I eventually came clean about my psoriasis. They sent me home on a plane the next night. It was hard, but now I’ve realized that being honest and becoming a role model for others with psoriasis is worth so much more than just being a model.

MP: You were the winner of America’s Next Top Model - Cycle 7, and were open about being a psoriasis sufferer on the show. What motivated you to do that, and how did you feel exposing this personal information to millions of viewers?

CE: When the cameras were on me, I realized that everything I said and did had the potential of being viewed not only all over America, but all over the world. A time came during my cycle of the show where I wanted to talk to Tyra about my disease. There was a big part of me that thought I would be in trouble, but instead Tyra called me “brave.”

Even though I was under a medication that cleared up my skin at the time, up until that point I hadn’t been embracing who I was with my psoriasis. All the years of teenage torture surrounding my psoriasis came down to that moment, and it finally wasn’t a big deal anymore. I realized the positive impact I could have on viewers and I was so happy I was well received by everyone out there-- those with and without the disease.

MP: What types of treatment options have you used and how were they successful in managing your psoriasis flare-ups?

CE: If you’re suffering from psoriasis, it’s very important that you keep up with your dermatologist and try different treatments. My treatments have included topical, light treatments and biologics. Talk to your doctor about all of your options, because there are so many different kinds and everyone is different.

MP: What advice do you have for others living with psoriasis, who are trying to pursue their own dream career?

CE: My biggest piece of advice is that you may have psoriasis, but don’t let the psoriasis have you. All this means is that there are things out there that can help manage your psoriasis, but it all comes back to being yourself. Believe that something will work. If it’s a dream and it’s important to you, you can find a way to make it happen.

In the meantime, you should get out there and take an active role in treating your psoriasis. You’re not alone, and finding a community of those like yourself can be a very powerful thing when working towards something that may seem unlikely due to the disease.