Most people wouldn’t put “celebrate” and “psoriasis” in the same sentence. Jennifer Pellegrin does.
The 35-year-old from California was diagnosed at age 15 and is celebrating two decades of conquering her psoriasis. That confident and upbeat attitude goes hand-in-hand with what Pellegrin tells others with the condition: “You have this disease, it doesn’t have you.”
That phrase may be hard to live by when you’re in the middle of a flare. Though the cause of psoriasis, inflammation, happens inside your body, its most visible symptom is on the outside for all the world to see.
“You wear your disease on your skin,” and that can be hard emotionally, says Erin Boh, MD, chairman of dermatology at the Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.
In fact, people with psoriasis are twice as likely to get depressed than those without it. Emotional problems hit women particularly hard. Nearly 60% say psoriasis interferes with their daily lives.
“Women are especially impacted because they’re judged for their appearance more than men are. To make matters worse, we women tend to be hardest on ourselves,” says Julie Shafer, PhD, a psychologist in Portland, OR, who counsels people with psoriasis.
But you don’t have to live that way. Lift the weight of psoriasis off your shoulders.
Treatment Benefits Body and Mind
Boh says people who get the upper hand accept the diagnosis and get proper treatment “You don’t just live with it,” she says. “If a doctor tells you that ... or says it’s just a rash ... find someone else who’s willing to help you.”
Treatment options include medications you put on your skin, light therapy, and drugs to calm your immune system.
If your treatment plan doesn’t work, ask your dermatologist about other choices. People whose psoriasis is well-controlled report a better quality of life.
Remember that your mental health is just as important as your skin. If you’re dealing with depression, treatments like antidepressant medication, talk therapy, or both can help lift your mood. Boh notes that many people can get off depression medicine once their condition clears.
People who might be most helpful to you are those who know what you’re going through. Talk to others living with psoriasis. They can steer you to the best doctors in your area and offer tips and other resources. Ask your dermatologist if support groups meet in your area.
“Support from those who have it is like none other. They get it: they know what it feels like to look like a snake shedding on your worst day and they celebrate your triumphs when you find something that works for you,” Pellegrin says.
Online support groups are a good choice too. “Social media makes it easier to find support at your fingertips, and that is what I find helpful,” Pellegrin says. “It’s amazing that a disease like this can bring people together from all walks of life and from all over.”
Pellegrin began volunteer work with the National Psoriasis Foundation in 2009. Today she’s a one-to-one mentor and a community ambassador, among other things.
She recommends others get involved, too. “It’s a way to stay proactive in your journey with psoriasis so you’ll always be one step ahead of the game and feel in control of your life.”
It’s also another way to meet others like you and listen to their stories. You’ll have people to turn to when you feel defeated and need a pick-me-up, Pellegrin says.
You may want to tell co-workers (or anyone you’re around a lot) that your skin problem is psoriasis. Educating others is even more important if they can see your condition. Explain that psoriasis comes from a problem inside your body, not an infection on the outside.
Sometimes, stares or comments from others are hard to take. Remember, you can’t control what other people do or say, but you can control how you react.
“If you’re in a good space, talk to the person who made the comment and let them know you have psoriasis and it’s not contagious,” Shafer says.
If the comment was rude, don’t feel like you have to attack with your own snarky one, she adds. Do this instead:
- Realize the comment says more about them than you.
- Recall a recent compliment that someone gave you or something you did well.
- Remind yourself of who you love and who loves you.
Also, it’s natural to assume the worst, but realize that you may not know exactly why someone is staring. “A person may have noticed the psoriasis and think you’re brave for putting yourself out there despite your condition,” Shafer says.
Take Care of Yourself
Eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. All three will help you manage your psoriasis better and help keep your mood positive.
Boh says to pay attention to what makes your psoriasis worse and avoid those triggers. For instance, “if you know alcohol sets your psoriasis on fire, then don’t drink,” she says.
Stress is another psoriasis troublemaker. Find healthy ways to manage it. Boh suggests mindfulness meditation or yoga.
Other tips to stay in a good head space include:
- Stay connected. If you avoid social situations when you have a flare, you let psoriasis win, Shafer says. If you let psoriasis get in the way of your life, it will limit you in other ways in the future. That said, if you just can’t push yourself to go out, invite family and friends over to your home.
- Find your joy. Whether it’s a ride on a rollercoaster or a dive into a good book, do what you love.
- Focus on gratitude. Set aside time each day to focus on what’s going right in your life.