‘I wanted to rip my skin off after my shingles took over my body’
‘The rash was spreading like wildfire – every time I looked at my body, it just kept going.’
Chanelle Sadie Paul remembers the King’s Coronation in great detail – but not because of the royal family. Instead, it was the weekend her life, and her body, changed forever.
The 34-year-old was visiting family in Northamptonshire for the Bank Holiday when she noticed a small red mark on her armpit. Not thinking anything of it, she went about the rest of the day with her family.
But later in the evening she saw the mark had started to bubble and puss. A couple of hours later, she checked it again and noticed more random red dots had started to spread around her back.
‘It was spreading like wildfire,’ recalls Chanelle, ‘it was just getting redder and redder. It was such a surreal experience – every time I looked at my body, it just kept going.’
The next morning the rash had spread to Chanelle’s chest.
‘I think by Sunday it had started to spread – and was bubbling and getting thicker. And by this point it was getting tender to touch,’ she tells Metro.
After Googling her symptoms, Chanelle realised she might be experiencing shingles – an infection that causes a severe, painful rash.
Once she returned home to London on the Bank Holiday Monday, a trip to A&E confirmed this diagnosis.
The 34-year-old was prescribed antivirals as well as pain medication and sent home, but this wasn’t the end of the story for Chanelle.
For the three weeks that followed, she was left with an oozing rash and constant tingling sensation covering her armpit, back and chest.
‘It wasn’t a stinging pain, but it was just so much discomfort and it was almost like an out of body sensation,’ she recalls.
‘I just wanted to rip my skin off and start again. I think my main concerns were: when will it stop and how far will it go?
‘By the end I think it was about a good 2-3 week process from it starting, to it finally scabbing over. I remember when I got to the end of it, I just wanted to peel it off and go back to a smooth surface.’
The shingles rash, and subsequent scarring, has also had a huge impact on Chanelle’s mental health and body image. She said it also presented issues, due her work as an artist in TV and film.
‘I cried every day. I think I was fortunate in the sense that it was mostly at the back of my body,’ she added.
‘But, I just remember every day looking in the mirror and bursting out crying. I think it was obviously partly the sight of it, and partly how it felt.
‘I also knew with my skin type, I’d scar easily anyway.’
At first Chanelle was scared to show her scars at work, so she took outfits for wardrobe departments that covered her skin.
But as the months have passed, Chanelle says she’s started to accept her scars as well as the changes to her body – and is now finally comfortable sharing her story.
Chanelle continues: ‘Obviously, if I could turn back time and never got shingles, that would be 100% a choice that I would make. But it’s definitely changed me – it’s shaped me.
‘I wish the marks weren’t there – but I still, I’ll leave the house now and I’ll show them off.’
What is shingles?
Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. The NHS says you should seek advice from 111 as soon as possible if you think you have it.
The first signs of shingles can be:
- a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin
- a headache or feeling generally unwell
- A rash will appear a few days later.
If you have shingles, you should try to avoid:
Try to avoid:
- Pregnant people who have not had chickenpox before
- People with a weakened immune system – like someone having chemotherapy
- Babies less than 1 month old – unless you gave birth to them, as your baby should be protected from the virus by your immune system.
As well as the scarring, Chanelle has been left with nerve damage and sensitivity in the areas that were affected.
Now, she’s determined to share her story and spread awareness about how life-changing shingles can be – both physically and mentally.
‘It was traumatic,’ adds Chanelle, ‘but I’m glad I’m coming out the other end.’
Chanelle says that when she informed her local GP of her shingles outbreak, she recalls the doctor asking her if she was in any pain from the nerve damage – but not anything else.
She was also keen to get a shingles vaccine after her traumatic experience, but was told she wasn’t eligible.
‘It was a bit like, unless you’re in pain, deal with it,’ Chanelle recalls.
‘My doctor literally came back and said “oh, you’re not in the age category for the vaccine.”‘
She also asked about products to help with scarring, but felt like her GP didn’t offer any advice on the topic.
With the shingles vaccine now available to anyone aged 65 or over, Chanelle feels more needs to be done to spread awareness of how life-changing shingles can be as an adult.
Especially as, even privately, the vaccine is only available to those 50 or over.
‘I really don’t want to go through this again,’ she added.
‘I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.’
According to the NHS, in some cases, the illness can cause blindness, hearing loss and nerve pain – and can be fatal to those most vulnerable.
Chanelle adds: ‘There isn’t much awareness on it and the impact of how severe it really is. But it has given me a new outlook of life and how I do things going forward – that’s my silver lining.
‘It gave me strength and I have gratitude. I try to take time to try and be calmer about situations and things now.
‘It definitely could have broken me, but it hasn’t.’
For support on shingles, get in touch with the Shingles Support Socieity.
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