Living with Psoriasis, but Comfortable in My Skin
“So, you think you’ll be OK? Your skin will be alright?”
These are my husband’s concerned words for me the evening after hours in the sun. We’d arrived in Florida the day before and, thrilled to escape northern Michigan’s snow and frigid temps, our family of five excitedly spent all afternoon at the sugar-sand beach. As fun as it was splashing in the rolling waves, we all ended up with varying degrees of sunburns - even after applying generous amounts of high SPF sunscreen, though clearly not enough of it.
Back at our condo that night, my husband’s worry stemmed from knowing that at times when I’ve had too much sun, I have a psoriasis flare. I worried some, too, but I tried to think positively and reminded myself that I’d taken extra precautions in using the brand of sunscreen that has worked well with my skin (I generally can’t use the same products my husband and three kids use; through trial and error, I’ve found one that suits my ultra-sensitive skin).
This was last week, and thankfully, I’ve not experienced a flare. Which just goes to show, I suppose, how finicky this auto-immune disease can be. I’ve often thought that psoriasis simply has no rhyme or reason to it.
I’ve had psoriasis since the age of 14. The first time I noticed the patch of red, dry skin on the inside of my left ankle, I remember scratching somewhat distractedly at it, figuring that this rash, bug bite or whatever it was would go away soon. Sure enough it did, but through the next year, new patches appeared elsewhere.
My first experience with a flare followed a bad sunburn during that year’s summer vacation. A smattering of the scaly circles suddenly took over my torso. I recall being horrified and attempted to keep myself covered – it was summer after all, and the town in which I grew up in is along the shores of Lake Michigan. It was the increasing flaking on my ears and scalp that led to a visit to a dermatologist, who confirmed that I did have more than just dry skin. I had psoriasis, which I was told needed to be managed.
I’m now in my 30s, and while my psoriasis mostly has been what I’d call mild, I have endured two head-to-toe flares, one lasting nearly nine months and the second one continuing for a couple months before I took the biologic drug Enbrel to clear it up. Both episodes were devastating.
Through the years, I’ve tried a slew of things to battle the dry, red patches on my body – diet change, herbal supplements, super-strong ointments, light therapy and injections. I’ve found the most success with my in-home UVB light box and Enbrel. While I’m currently not taking any drugs, and my psoriasis is mild enough that I don’t need the light therapy much at all, I realize I’ll continue to manage this disease throughout my life until a cure is found.
I’ve learned that stress plays a significant role in worsening my psoriasis, which is one of the reasons I am so dedicated to taking care of myself emotionally and physically. I am passionate about exercise, though this wasn’t always the case, and nowadays find great joy in getting outside and running. I’m currently training for my first marathon on May 28 in my hometown of Traverse City, Mich. I focus on what I can do to ensure my body and mind are strong. I believe I’ve come to peace with this disease, knowing that it’s a part of who I am but something that not even in the slightest defines who I truly am.
I’m eager to help others who have psoriasis, or who know someone close to them who lives with this disease. It’s as much an emotionally-draining disease as it is a physical one, I believe, and support and encouragement can make all the difference in a psoriasis patient’s life.
I look forward to engaging with others here and focusing on how best to live a full, satisfying and healthy life.
Heather wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Psoriasis.