Facing the Heartbreak of Psoriasis
A couple of months before I met my wife, I had my heart broken by my girlfriend of almost five years. We started dating at the end of high school and ended up in different universities about an hour apart. A few years later I caught her dating my best friend and roommate — adding to the heartbreak. I can't adequately describe the amount of hurt, loss, and pain I felt at the time.
That was many years ago, and I'm glad to report that my wife Lori and I just celebrated our twenty-second wedding anniversary. As one of Shakespeare's plays is titled, I suppose “All's Well That Ends Well.”
Over the years I've experienced another heartbreak of sorts: the heartbreak of psoriasis.
I don't remember when this phrase was popularized (it's a bit before my time), but I've seen advertisements from a company that coined it. In a Life magazine from 1972 I found online, one advertisement asked, “Is it ‘just dry, flaky skin’ . . . or the heartbreak of Psoriasis?” Their medicated products guaranteed symptomatic relief from itching and scale removal.
The phrase “the heartbreak of psoriasis” has withstood the test of time. It rings true to those who live with psoriasis each and every day. Psoriasis has an insidious way of spreading from the skin and joints into the core of who I am. Study after study reveals its impact on quality of life, relationships, self-esteem, productivity, mood, and sleep. Whoever lives with this chronic, often unpredictable, condition doesn’t need to consult a study to know the truth. Psoriasis breaks your heart.
I see the loss and pain of living with psoriasis in some ways as being similar to the feeling of losing my girlfriend and best friend in college. Both experiences left me feeling empty inside. I regret the amount of investment in something that didn't turn out. With psoriasis I'm not sure where to begin to measure what it has cost me emotionally, relationally, and financially. That's not to mention all the time and energy lost in skin management or traveling to phototherapy and doctor visits. Psoriasis takes but doesn't seem to give much back.
The main difference is that psoriasis is an ongoing, chronic condition that I still live with today. I haven't heard from my ex-girlfriend in ages. I wish I could say the same for psoriasis. I'm not sure exactly how my relationship with psoriasis ends either. What can be done with a heart facing the losses that come with psoriasis?
Every person with psoriasis experiences it in unique and individual ways in their life. I had psoriasis as a child and needed to overcome low self-esteem from constant bullying and teasing. My father’s diagnosis came in his seventies, impacting his retirement plans. That being said, I refuse to lose hope. Here are a few things I’ve done to help overcome the heartbreak of psoriasis.
Take the Psoriasis Hurts and Losses Head On
It's natural to avoid facing those unpleasant areas of life. Psoriasis counts as one of those areas for me. It took the support of friends and family to begin to name and acknowledge psoriasis's impact in my life. As a young adult I felt like psoriasis stole my childhood from me. As a working adult I couldn't help but think that without psoriasis I could achieve so much more.
Healing that pain began when I stopped running from those thoughts, turned around, and looked at them honestly. What happened to me really did happen—I couldn't deny how much pain I experienced. But I could finally begin to talk and work it out when I faced it.
It's Okay to Cry or Scream
My dad had a policy for his two boys—no crying allowed. When I started to peer into my past, though, I couldn't stop the emotion welling up in me. I had a lot of questions that started with “why.” I had so few answers. I wanted to scream in anger at times. I felt sad other times.
Lingering in anger and sadness too long won't lead to health. But suppressing that negativity won't work either. Getting those feelings out in a healthy way (for example, by journaling, talking with a loved one, seeing a therapist) can go a long way in the healing process.
Summon the Courage to Step Out
Those living every day with a chronic illness or disease are some of the most courageous people I know! It sometimes takes courage to just get out of bed, and even more strength to get out the door with a psoriasis flare. That kind of courage isn't recognized as much as it should be.
It took courage for me to wear shorts or short sleeves in the summer, exposing my psoriatic skin for the world to see. It took resolve to go get a haircut after I moved and needed to find a new barber. Simply put, you need to summon that kind of courage to step out when you’ve felt pushed down. When you do, you find that you rise above the heartbreak.
The heartbreak of psoriasis is real, but it doesn't have to be the whole or the end of the story. As my wife, who is a reminder heartbreak isn't forever, said to me, “Be courageous. Don't accept those negative thoughts like ‘I'm all alone.’ The reality is you’re not alone. Millions have psoriatic disease.” I couldn't agree more, knowing I have a lot more say on how this story ends than I previously thought.
Any suggestions made are not intended to replace the advice of a qualified medical professional. Please consult your healthcare provider prior to making any changes to your treatment, exercise or diet routine.