"You have to have a lot of patience."

Joni Kazantzis
Chapter 1
The Long Haul

I was diagnosed with psoriasis when I was just 15, so I've been living with this disease for 18 years. I remember like it was yesterday going to the doctor to get checked out, because my very first flare came on so suddenly. Like, overnight suddenly. One day in the spring I woke up and I was literally covered with spots. As a kid I had a lot of allergies, so we initially thought that it was something I had eaten, or something I had encountered outside. I played lacrosse, I was on the kickline team, I played soccer, so I was outside all the time, and we thought that maybe rolling around in the grass had triggered a reaction of some sort. We just didn't know.

But when my pediatrician told me I had psoriasis, and then a dermatologist started talking to my mother about how we would start with this drug, and if that didn't work we'd try another -- that's when I started getting concerned, and frustrated. You know, I was a teenager. The idea that I might have something that medicine or a pill couldn't fix in two weeks was totally alien to me. Gradually it dawned on me that I might be in this for the long haul.

Chapter 2
Best of Times, Worst of Times

I don't think there's a good time to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, but part of me is thankful that my first flare occurred when it did. Don't get me wrong -- it wasn't easy. Like most teenage girls, I wasn't exactly overflowing with self-confidence, and suddenly I have to worry about whether I can wear shorts, or a bathing suit, or if a flare will keep me from going to prom or to lacrosse camp in the summer. Not to mention boys! All these things are deadly serious when you're in high school, of course.

On the other hand, I've grown up with this disease, and I've learned how to live life with it and how to think about it. I had it when I went to the prom. I had it when I graduated high school and when I graduated college. I had it when I got married it and when I had my first baby. So psoriasis has been with me for most of the major milestones in my life. Some days it's been better than others, and some days it's been far worse. But it's always there.

In that sense, I do think that being diagnosed as a teenager rather than later in life made it easier to live with the disease. If I was diagnosed now, with my job and a baby and everything else I have going on? I think it could be far more stressful -- and, of course, stress can trigger a flare as surely as anything else can. So that could be a vicious cycle, right there.

Chapter 3
Balance Is the Best Medicine

You have to have a lot of patience to handle psoriasis. It's a very frustrating and challenging disease, because an approach or treatment that might work really well for one person might not work at all for someone else. Sometimes you have to try a medication for weeks and weeks to see whether it will be effective -- but six weeks later you're still covered in spots, and you just spent a month and a half of your life pursuing a course of action that turned out to be completely ineffective, and now you have to start again with some other medication.

Besides patience, though, another critical part of taking care of yourself is just paying attention to your own body. Really listening to it, to the clues that it gives you about whether you're getting stressed or over-tired. It's really hard for moms, for example, to take time for themselves and take care of themselves, because there can be a lot of guilt associated with that. But I've learned, gradually, that taking care of my own skin and my own body ultimately makes me a better mom, a better wife, a better friend. It's all about not letting stress eat away at you, working with a doctor you trust, understanding your own body, advocating for your own health -- all of those things that help you maintain some balance in your life. And that sense of control can be really great medicine, too.