"Oh, psoriasis," was a saying that could frequently be heard in the halls of a house I shared with five roommates during our second year of university (why we thought six theatre majors should live together in the same house is beyond me). It was a catchphrase and an inside joke we would use when one of us was having a bad day or something was going particularly wrong. I had no choice but to be forthcoming about having the disease, as it was usually quite visible.
Large red patches of dry skin, sometimes with silvery scales covered my arms, legs, and upper body. There was also a constant snowstorm of flakes falling from my scalp. Everyone knew it was the bane of my existence but since I brushed it off as joke it allowed them all to join in. That's what I always did, use humour as a defence mechanism. Neutralize it before it could be used against me. Psoriasis, though, is not so easily contained and although considered a physical condition the emotional effects can be very deep.
I was first diagnosed in my first year at theatre school. These red patches of dry skin seemed to be spreading with no sign of it going away. I went to my GP who gave me the bad news: it's chronic, and there is no cure. Not exactly a boost to the old self-confidence when wanting to enter a profession where physical appearance is certainly a factor. Not to mention added pressures of the very social aspect of university life.
For example when is the right time in the relationship to bring up the fact that you aren't a leper? It didn't help that stress and a poor diet, part of any student's life, exasperated my symptoms especially when some of the stress was from anxiety over my psoriasis. It was like a snake eating its own tale.
For a long time I just coasted with the disease. It was like the little annoying brother you were forced to bring along with you everywhere you went. I'm not surprised that a large percentage of the one-million Canadians living with psoriasis don't seek treatment. It can wear you down, make you feel complacent, hopeless and feed depression. I have pulled myself from auditions because they called for the removal of a shirt or to dress in a tank top and shorts. Not on principle, but because I was having a flare up and didn't want the casting directors to see me like that and have it taint their judgment for other projects.
I would love to tell you that it came to a head and I had an incredible epiphany that lead me to take control of my psoriasis. In reality it was simply getting older and becoming more health conscious. Having kids will do that to you. It also helps that my wife is a nutritionist and is always pushing me to become more of my own health advocate.
I began educating myself about the disease, discovering the triggers for flare-ups, and learning about possible treatments. Next I partnered with a great dermatologist and went in to my appointments completely armed with everything that I had learned. Together we were able to tailor fit a treatment plan that was right for me and gave me results that satisfied me. Balancing my diet and becoming physically active was also pivotal to taking control.
People living with psoriasis need to know that they don't have to live with the embarrassment, the depression, and sometimes the physical pain. You can't let it stop you from doing the things you love to do. You need to take control and live the life you want live.