October 29 was World Psoriasis Day. Who knew? I have lived with this disease my entire life, and didn’t know there was a day of awareness for it, but I’m glad.
Because psoriasis is such a visible disease — scales, plaques, and flaking skin that can be difficult to hide. It can cause intense self-consciousness in social and intimate situations and lead to feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and shame.
Research also shows a strong link between psoriasis and depression, as well as anxiety and stress, which can trigger psoriasis flares. And so the cycle goes around and around.
It’s an all too familiar vicious disease that cycles until you feel exhausted and hopeless over a condition you have very little control of.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes plaques, which are itchy or sore patches of thick, dry, discoloured skin.
While any part of your body can be affected, psoriasis plaques most often develop on the elbows, knees, scalp, back, palms, and feet. Mine also would show up on my neck and sometimes my face, which was deeply distressing.
Like other autoimmune diseases, psoriasis occurs when your immune system — which normally attacks infectious germs — begins to attack healthy cells instead. It feels like your body is attacking itself.
Nearly everything you do, or don’t do, can potentially worsen or improve your symptoms.
Take diet, for example. There is no medical evidence to support a specific psoriasis diet, but many people have found that avoiding certain foods and eating others seems to help fend off flares and reduce inflammation.
Other elements of daily life can impact psoriasis, too, including sleep quality, exercise habits, social connectedness, and stress. Of course the big “S” (stress), comes up all the time. If I had a flare-up, everyone assumed I was under great stress and would tell me to “just relax.” Well, that attitude always stressed me out. Funny, but not.
If it was as easy as that, I would be living on a beach somewhere tropical in a hammock, but it is not.
Medical knowledge about autoimmune diseases has come a long way over the years. Medicines have been developed to help manage outbreaks, psoriatic arthritis, and keep the symptoms of the disease at bay. I’ve been lucky to find such treatments helpful, but they are expensive and require constant monitoring by specialists. Sometimes I think the side effects of the medications are more dangerous than the disease itself, but the relief from symptoms and pain seems worth it so far.
People have come a long way in their attitudes over the years too. When I was a child and had horrible outbreaks, people would look away when they saw me. As a child, it hurt, and I didn’t understand. As I went into my self-conscious adolescent years, it was brutal. Kids’ teasing could be cruel. Sometimes I wanted to hide or disappear.
Somewhere in my late teens, I took a lesson from my little brother, and developed the attitude that I could either feel sorry for myself, wrap up and hide, or go out and live life, and try not to let others’ behaviour change mine.
As an adult, if people stare, I tell them what is happening to me and it eases the awkwardness of the moment. I find others would share more freely that they too suffer from different conditions. It has helped.
As research continues, it brings hope with it. Hope that since this is a genetic disease, none of my grandchildren will ever live with the same pain as I did, and as did my grandparents before me. Hope of cures and of public awareness and kindness.
As I have said before, you never know what kind of pain lies behind a masked smile.Be kind.