This is more than just a “kratom” story.
Nina Adjin was born in Bosnia during the Yugoslav Wars, and as a toddler survived extreme poverty, malnutrition, dehydration, and her family being fired upon while having to wait in long lines for bare necessities, like water. After the war ended, she was bullied in school because of her mixed ethnicity — beaten up, thrown down stairs, and thrown into piles of rubble. After a long process, Nina’s family received refugee status to come to the United States when she was 10 years old. Nina then developed eczema, a chronic skin rash, for which she was prescribed a topical steroid (Cortisone being the most popular, over-the-counter version). After years of using a topical steroids, her skin condition worsened. Doctors continued to prescribe the steroids, even though her condition was not improving. Eventually, Nina developed a physical addiction to steroids. When she stopped using the cream, she had a horrible and rare reaction known as Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW). Not only was her skin red and flaking, but she describes excruciating burning pain, life-threatening seizures, kidney stones, and other conditions that had her in the hospital several times a week.
After five years of TSW, Nina’s condition has improved. She uses topical kratom creams and soap, and consumes kratom to help with the complex PTSD, depression, and anxiety, that she struggles with today. As Nina points out below, kratom was far from a “cure” for her TSW, but, as she puts it, a “tool in my toolkit”.
KratomScience: So you’re close to Chicago?
Nina Ajdin: Yeah, I’m in the suburbs.
Your story is so amazing that it’s hard to know where to start.
My story is so complicated and sometimes people don’t understand it. I’ve honestly written it out so many times that I’m tired by now. I do it all the time. I’m writing my speech today because I’m going to the Ohio hearing.
(The Ohio Board of Pharmacy hearing on a statewide kratom ban is tomorrow, Friday August 9, 2019 10:00AM at West B&C, Vern Riffe Center for Government & The Arts 77 S High St, Columbus, OH 43215 -KS).
No shit! That’s awesome!
I keep writing my story over and over again and it’s like, how many different ways can I write it?
So, how long have you been consuming kratom?
I think it’s going to be about five years coming up. Since the end of 2014.
So I read that you were using a kratom cream for your TSW – is that true?
Yeah I was using kratom topicals but people kind of twisted it. Like when my story first came out – when people saw before and after pictures they just kind of assumed that it was just kratom that perfectly healed me, which was not the case. They assumed “Oh this kratom cream cured her.” But I really do use topicals like soaps and lotions and stuff like that. It’s very good for your skin.
Really? We’ve never heard of kratom topicals, that’s interesting.
Yeah, a lot of people don’t know. That’s something that should be touched on more often. I also use it internally. But it sounds so silly when you’re thinking about government trying to ban kratom… So I’m gonna be a felon for a bar of soap? When you put it that way it sounds even dumber than a tea or a supplement – a felon for a bar of soap
So you’re going to the Ohio hearing. From what I’ve read about you, I assume you’re heavily involved in kratom activism.
I’ve been advocating pretty much since I’ve started using it, but more heavily in the last couple of years. Last year I did the DC rally and stuff in Naperville IL.. News just came out today from the AKA that things are not looking good in Ohio.
I haven’t had a lot of hope for Ohio to be honest. It seems like in the places where the opioid crisis was the worst, like Ohio and Appalachia, the pharmaceutical money is still there, in a sense… via election campaigns and their own whitewashing campaigns.
They’re definitely being shady, that’s for sure. Supposedly there’s 50 to 100 people coming to this hearing. So hopefully we can show them some numbers. I was not planning on going, to be honest, but then my last article came out two weeks ago about my story, and somebody said “We could really use this story in Ohio” and I was like, it’s a 6 hour drive for me, so that’s not that bad.
From that article I learned about your background. You are originally from Bosnia…
That went into more detail about my childhood. I’ve never shared most of that stuff before. I never know what’s interesting to people or what they want to hear, or what to share and what not to share. Everybody around me already knows about my TSW story, so I thought maybe I should focus on something else – shine a spotlight on the use [of kratom] for PTSD, and mental health.
It’s definitely interesting. I know some people with interesting stories and I tell them they should write a book. You could write two books about your life, at least.
I could write volumes.
So you came to the US, you were about 10 years old?
Yeah, I was 10 when we moved here.
So I just want to get in your own words what topical steroid withdrawal is.
It’s an iatrogenic condition, which means it’s caused inadvertently by a medication. So it’s actually caused by the use of topical steroids such as hydrocortisone which you can buy over the counter.
It’s not like your typical drug withdrawal, where it takes a few days to get it out of your system and then you’re done. It’s much more complex. It takes years for the body to regenerate your entire skin. Your body basically gets addicted to the creams, then when you get off of the creams, when you stop using them, your body just goes frickin’ berserk, and just gets red, like you’ve seen in my pictures. And all of that sucks.
And you’ve said that you were in constant pain, and taking cold baths for several hours a day. So did the kratom help specifically with the pain or did it help with the anxiety and depression that goes along with the disease?
I don’t know why, but I’ve always reacted to medications and herbs differently than most people do. Kratom has actually never helped with my pain. I don’t know if that’s because of my body chemistry or the type of pain, which was very much on a nerve basis… I was always burning and itching. It never helped my pain, it just kind of lifted my mood a little bit, and gave me hope and the authority to process everything that was going on and deal with it better. That was such a dark time, it’s hard to even keep your mind afloat. You just want to die. You really don’t want to live at that point. Every night you’re going to sleep, you’re pretty much praying that you don’t wake up in the morning. And you wake up and you’re pissed that you woke up. So, kratom didn’t take that away completely but it helped with the depression and anxiety part.
In a lot of media stories they say “People are touting kratom as a cure-all”. But we’re really not. You’re just saying that it helps a little bit. Obviously you wouldn’t say it’s a cure all for everything.
No, absolutely not. There is obviously different levels to how much it helps people with different conditions and such, but I don’t think it’s ever “cured” anybody of what they have, it just kind of helps them get through it. I still have to implement therapy. I still go to a doctor. I also do Eastern medicine. I’m being treated with traditional Chinese medicine. For me, I always say [kratom] is a tool in my toolkit. I’m using all of these things together. It’s not like I can attribute my getting better to just kratom, because that’s not true. It’s just helped along the way. I know a lot of people said “It saved my life”. I wouldn’t even go that far to say that. Because [kratom] is so subtle. It’s just like if you maybe take, I don’t know, Vitamin B12, and you start having a little bit more energy.
“That was such a dark time, it’s hard to even keep your mind afloat. You just want to die. You really don’t want to live at that point. Every night you’re going to sleep, you’re pretty much praying that you don’t wake up in the morning. And you wake up and you’re pissed that you woke up.”
I’ve talked to a lot of people who have PTSD, and depression, and anxiety, and it just gives them a little boost to get out of the house and lead a normal life. The talk about “miracle drug” seems to be a red herring for the folks who want to ban it.
Especially the government thinking “It’s a drug, it’s curing all these people, and they shouldn’t be ‘self-medicating’”. And I just don’t look at it like that. You don’t go to the doctor and have to get a prescription for St. John’s Wort or lemon balm. You’re not technically “self-medicating” – you could say that about all herbs then, if you’re saying it about kratom. It’s just kind of ridiculous. There’s a lot of people who don’t understand why we have to use the terms that we do, and be honest that it’s not a cure, because of how corrupt the government is we can’t be completely honest at times.
And sometimes conventional medicine is what causes the problems. In the case of people with cancer, you wonder if its the chemo that killed them. Not to be against conventional medicine – anyone with a serious illness should go to the doctor. But in your case it caused more problems than the reason you went in for, to say the least.
I have one of the most severe cases that has been recorded, or that I’ve ever personally seen of TSW. It was really bad. It wasn’t just my skin that was affected. After ten years of using it, I was losing my hair, I was having life-threatening seizures, and I was in the hospital for kidney stones and whatever issues. I was literally in the hospital every other day. I had lost my job because I was having seizures at work and they just couldn’t keep me anymore. People were always like – oh it’s just skin, it’s not a big deal – but really that’s the biggest organ. So it’s really really important. People were like, oh it’s just a rash, whatever. It’s really not.
Is TSW still a thing you go through? Do you still have flare ups?
I do. Not as severe as I used to, obviously you can tell by the pictures. But I’ve been flaring for the past year and a half straight, but mild. It’s still TSW because it’s still burning red. But I started traditional Chinese medicine in January of this year. And that’s what’s been really getting to the core of it. So I still deal with the flare-ups. I’m not 100% healed. And it’s been over five years now, and that’s a long time. Usually by now most people would be healed, but I unfortunately have one of the most complicated and crazy cases. So I still deal with it. My face is a little bit pink still, and my hands are messed up. I have to wear gloves. But I can function.
On Monday, officially, I’m finally starting to work full time again, and that’s a huge deal for me. I’ve been working from home for the past year and a half, but I’m actually going to a full-time office job on Monday. So I have to go car shopping today, because I haven’t had a car in like six years. And I’m getting ready for this trip [to Ohio]. For me, it’s a lot. I’ve literally been in bed for five years. Isolated, by myself. To the point that I got scared to heal because I got used to being isolated. I was scared to go out. I still am. I’m scared to go out in public and be around people. I used to be very extroverted and I used to be really social.
And was that because of how people reacted to your skin condition?
Yeah. I already had PTSD prior to any of this because of my childhood. I was diagnosed when I was 15 for PTSD. After going through TSW that created even more PTSD so they classified it as “complex PTSD”. It’s basically like your PTSD is worse than most people’s so we’re just gonna say it’s “complex” but really we don’t know what that means.
This is just an aside question. I have a friend with diabetes and she always gets really stupid advice. Do you ever get stupid advice?
Oh my God. It is the one thing that I have zero patience with. I’m a very nice person and I don’t get mad easily, I really don’t. But oh my God, the things I’ve heard. Because I’ve been so public and vocal about my journey, I get people that are like, “Have you tried coconut oil?”
“Have you tried using lotion?” Like, no I’ve never thought of that. It’s funny but it’s almost insulting.
It’s definitely insulting.
“You need to drink binding stuff like algae and do coffee enemas” and this and that. People don’t understand it. And when people don’t understand something they want to pretend like they do, or they just completely shut it out.
I guess some people are really trying to help, but they’re just ignorant.
If you just Googled “topical steroid withdrawal” you would see that it’s different than eczema and psoriasis and these other skin conditions. Come on, at least Google it before you give me advice. It’s the only thing I can’t be nice about. Every time I post about it, I’m like, please do not give me unsolicited advice, and then somebody always still does it. I’ve been dealing with skin issues since I was ten. TSW is new, but I’ve been dealing with this pretty much my whole life. I’ve literally tried all sorts of crazy things that people wouldn’t even think of because I was so desperate. With TSW it’s mostly time that heals, which is something that people can’t grasp because they think there’s something that’s gotta help it. And they just want to jump in — I know it’s out of good intent but, oh God, it drives me nuts.
“You had to literally stand in line, while getting shot at, to get water.”
This might be an ignorant question but do you think you were exposed to anything in Bosnia that may have made your skin react like that, like chemical warfare?
It’s very possible. Not only that but there are people with TSW who were obviously not in the same country and in the same situation I was in. So we really have no idea why some people get it and some people don’t because we don’t have the research. But I do think the original problem of eczema, which was why I was prescribed the steroids in the first place, when I was four years old I was very malnourished. I literally looked like the kids you would see in Ethiopia, like tummy, skin, and bones. My ankles were swollen and I couldn’t walk because of the water retention. I weighed about nine pounds when I was four. At that time I spent months in the hospital. You have to keep in mind that this is obviously a third world country and there was a war going on, so the hospitals were not very sanitary.
And you could barely even get water at the time too, right?
Right. You had to literally stand in line, while getting shot at, to get water. So you could imagine what a hospital would be like.
I have some memories there, but I do know that I was given blood and plasma transfusions during the time which were not regulated. Nobody probably knew where it came from. So I‘ve always thought that could have impacted by DNA and my body chemistry because I was taking in someone else’s DNA, and it was not regulated. So they didn’t test the blood and the plasma and all of that stuff that they do in this day and age. It was kind of just done. I’ve always thought about it like, that probably weakened my body in some way, maybe I was exposed to something. I really don’t know. But I know that out of my entire family nobody had as bad of health issues as I had.
So I do think my childhood definitely played a role. And it was right when I had moved to the United States that I got eczema in the first place. Which was probably related to stress from moving to another country, kind of a big deal.
The war ended when I was five. The four or five years after that we lived there, my parents were working but they weren’t getting paid. We were getting evicted. We still didn’t have a lot of food. We were super poor, barely feeding ourselves. I was getting bullied in school, in first, second, third grade over there. And literally being pushed into piles of rocks, pushed down the stairs.
“I was being pushed down the stairs, getting hit in the head, ending up in the hospital with stitches, and all this stuff. So they deemed it as urgent. That’s why we were classified as refugees even though the war had ended.”
Was that because of ethnic issues?
Yeah. The war was kind of like between Muslims and Orthodox Catholics. Since my family is mixed, from different religious backgrounds, I was basically just targeted because of that. That was one of the main reasons that they even allowed us to come to the United States, was because they deemed that as life-threatening to me, and I was just a kid.
We had to go to an interview to actually be able to come into the United States, obviously we did it legally. I was being pushed down the stairs, getting hit in the head, ending up in the hospital with stitches, and all this stuff. So they deemed it as urgent. That’s why we were classified as refugees even though the war had ended, and that pushed us to the front of the list to move here.
So you said you’re doing Chinese medicine now. Can you explain what that is? I don’t know anything baout Chinese medicine
I’m working with this woman in Chicago, and she is one of 129 dermatology TCM specialists (Chinese Dermatology) in the whole world. I got taken up by her in January and I basically just drink herbs. I drink a lot of herbs.
What kind of herbs?
A lot of different stuff. It’s in Chinese so I have to translate it see what it is. You get this little vacuum pack of distilled herbs, extracted into a liquid, and you just drink it twice a day. But that’s actually really been helping and its pushed me to go back to work full time.
I wonder if these things are placebos but you can’t write placebos off, really. Because sometimes they do help, actually
They do, they do. And also in the past two months, I was working with this couple who are life coaches and they do training with your subconscious mind to try to heal the body. And that’s very “alternative medicine”. That’s obviously not “western style”. That also helps too. That was basically working with them on letting go of all the negative emotions associated with all the trauma that I’ve had in my life. And giving space for new things to happen. And that actually kind of helped more than anything else, to be honest, because that empowered my own mind to want to heal and want to fight for my life. Which is basically how placebos work – the mind is a powerful thing.
“Gratitude totally shifts your mind’s perspective. When you’re grateful, it attracts more of the good things. When I was going through the worst, I had my mind set on… in the morning when I wake up I’m going to at least say three things I’m grateful for, even if was just moving one finger.”
Definitely. There’s a perception that kratom just gets people high and it’s used recreationally and by kids to party with an whatnot. That’s not the reality, at least from the comments we get on our website. Most of us have access to the drugs that get us high. Kratom is just not a party drug.
I don’t even use it daily anymore. I just use it a couple times a week, when I need that little bit of extra. A little bit of a boost when you need to get your butt going. It’s just ridiculous with how the government is reacting. They make it sound like it’s this appealing thing – I really would not be drinking this nasty dirt tasting stuff just for fun. I really wouldn’t.
I understand that position too, with kids, and I do agree that it should be 18 and over, or 21 and over.
But also, at the same time, what kid is going to want to drink a bunch of powder?
I’ve watched a lot of your youtube videos. And you’ve talked a lot about gratitude. You’ve suffered through all of that stuff, and that you can still be grateful, that takes a lot of strength. I respect you for that, so I just wanted to say that.
Gratitude totally shifts your mind’s perspective, when you’re grateful. It attracts more of the good things.. When I was going through the worst, I had my mind set on, in the morning when I wake up I’m going to at least say three things I’m grateful for even if was just like moving one finger, being able to move one finger. Even as small as that. And it really can help you heal, help your mind.
The biggest healer of everything is our mind. I truly believe that.
I believe that too. Thank you so much for talking with us.
Of course, thank you.
I know you have to be in the mood to talk about this serious, heavy stuff.
I try to bring a little bit of lightness to it but it does get heavy. Especially when I was doing the article about my childhood. It’s like how do you talk about mass genocide and all these horrible things that you’ve seen, things that no human being, let alone a child, should ever have to see? It gets heavy but that’s not necessarily the point I want to get across – it’s more, no matter how heavy it does get, it can be better. And there’s always a light in there somewhere. Even if it takes you 20 years to find it. It’s there.
Follow Nina Ajdin on Twitter @Neenahh1