Newly crowned Rose of Tralee Nicola McEvoy has spoken about the agony of living with an agonising skin condition -- and how she has overcome years of insecurities and hurtful staring by refusing to allow it to ruin her life.
The beautiful 26-year-old described how, after developing the condition at the age of eight, she prayed every night that the painful skin condition would disappear forever.
"I used to pray every night: 'please let my psoriasis be gone forever when I wake up'. But it never went away. It covers my body quite extensively," said Nicola who is a teacher of history, geography and human science at the European School of Luxembourg.
Psoriasis is a non-contagious skin rash that can appear anywhere on the body, the most common areas being the scalp, elbows and knees.
"I had it on my legs to begin with. I did not know what it was. I remember trying all sorts of concoctions to treat it," explained Nicola, who was born and raised in Kerry Pike near Blarney, Co Cork.
She believes people's lack of understanding leads many sufferers to feel like social outcasts, as she recalls people's lingering gaze at the psoriasis, which covered her neck.
"I could see my classmates just staring at my neck, but not saying a word. I felt that was very hurtful and very torturing, mainly because I was imagining what they were thinking," said Nicola, who has two types of the condition, plaque and guttate.
Ms McEvoy, described how she suffered in silence, avoiding social gatherings.
"I remember after my Leaving Cert going on holidays with my year and literally having sleepless nights beforehand worrying about getting into a bikini in front of them.
"I was gripped with fear, but they were so understanding. I used to wear a T-shirt over my swimsuit back then, but not anymore."
Now she no longer despairs about what to wear and was adamant her skin condition would not prevent her from taking her place among other contestants in Tralee.
"When I entered the Rose of Tralee I wore long-sleeved lace tops and they were all on trend at the time which was great," she said, "and the Sally Hansen tan was a godsend because it provided make up coverage for my legs too."
She credits her father with helping her to overcome her deep-rooted insecurities.
"My dad, Michael, used to remind me how lucky I was that it was just psoriasis and not something worse. It made me see how having perspective is so important.
"I used to feel so angry about my psoriasis, but at the end of the day it is something I have and still carry on a perfectly normal life, that is imperative to remember."
Nicola is one of an estimated 100,000 people in Ireland who have various forms of the condition.
"Many people don't know what the condition is and I want to help individuals and the Psoriasis Association of Ireland in their efforts to create greater understanding and public awareness," she said.
"I would urge psoriasis sufferers to attend the forthcoming national Psoriasis Information Day in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone on Saturday, November 3 next."
However, she refuses to allow it run her life. "I control it, it does not control me," she said. "I have reached a new calm in my life in relation to it, it no longer consumes my constant thoughts."