Testimonial by Gina M
I’m forty years old and was diagnosed with psoriasis five months ago. Despite my late diagnosis, psoriasis has always been a part of my life and has taught me valuable lessons in empathy and self-confidence.
My first distinct memory with psoriasis was at a very young age watching my sister develop the skin condition as she went to college. Within a short period of time I watched someone who I knew as a popular, vivacious, and outgoing young adult seek life situations where she could remain covered: she stopped going to the beach, avoided dating, and refused to wear clothing that exposed her legs.
I remember thinking how unfair it was that someone who is otherwise healthy can be stricken with an emotionally debilitating disease. It’s true that psoriasis causes physical discomfort, but it’s largely an appearance-driven condition. I believe that because psoriasis doesn’t impede a person’s ability to lead their day-to-day life, people without psoriasis have a tendency to shrug off the depth of its impact.
In reality, psoriasis can be a life-changing disease. In my sister’s case, she was diagnosed at an age when she was starting to explore the world as an independent adult. During this impressionable time she created scenarios where she could remain covered ¬– even during the hot, humid summers. As she covered her skin from public view, it seemed she began to cover herself emotionally as well. I knew this was true because during the few times when the symptoms were in remission, I’d get a glimpse of her former vibrant self. She’d radiate confidence…at least until the white flakey scabs and inflamed skin resurfaced.
An array of treatments became part of my sister’s life. Eventually, the symptoms slipped into various stages of remission that have lasted about twenty years. Yet her psoriasis became so much a part her life and thought process, I ceased to recognize it. For example, I remember shopping with her and found her a perfect dress. She turned it down because it wouldn’t cover her legs. I was exasperated at what I believed was her overly-sensitive sense of shyness. The truth was, she wanted to wear a dress like that but didn’t want to expose her skin and reveal the evidence of her years battling psoriasis. Her scars and symptoms had been part of her for so many years I stopped noticing them. The same was true with my father. My father had psoriasis since he was a young boy. His skin condition was always part of who he was, so while I was growing up I never really noticed anything different.
Then it happened to me. Two years ago I noticed a dry spot on my skin about the size of a pencil eraser. The spot went away. This happened several times over a couple of years and I began to realize that psoriasis could happen to me. Early this spring we moved to a new house. The stress of moving weakened my immune system and the week we moved I caught strep throat. The cumulative effect of a weakened immune system, strep throat, and constant stress proved to be too much and my body responded by developing guttate psoriasis.
When the first symptoms, in the form of red, raised bumps, showed up on my abdomen, I thought it was poison ivy. Even though I knew my body was predisposed to psoriasis I was in denial. Within three days 90 percent of my body was covered in red bumps. My head was the only part not affected.
I went to the doctor who confirmed it was psoriasis. Eventually the guttate psoriasis morphed into plaque psoriasis, which is what my dad and sister have. I had red, scaly spots covering my legs and body. It was my turn to experience first-hand what it was like to have people stare. I went on vacation and in the pool I watched people stay away from me as if I had the chicken pox and could transmit a disease.
Of course my sister was empathetic and worried. For my part, I realized how much I didn’t appreciate what she was struggling with for all those years. At that point I made a decision. There was no way I could let psoriasis affect my self-image and confidence when I enjoyed so many years free from the disease.
There are several things that helped me make this mental shift. First, I developed psoriasis in the spring when I could wear clothes that covered me up without drawing attention to myself. Second, I’ve had forty years to develop a strong foundation of self-confidence which is bolstered by my husband and kids who love and support me. Finally, I use my passion for horseback riding to keep me centered. Fixating and worrying about the psoriasis causes stress, which makes the symptoms worse. Instead, I spend my energy on my riding, which keeps me happy, healthy, and strong.
My advice to anyone who is newly diagnosed with psoriasis is to focus on what keeps you relaxed and happy. Spend your life energy on what you love, not your disease. Let treatments take their due course. Between staying positive and being consistent with your medication, you can improve your ability to manage your disease.