I haven’t met anyone who wants psoriasis. My metaphors for psoriasis include a raging, unquenchable fire on my skin; an inflammation beast to tame; and a shape-shifting creature that eludes my every treatment arrow. You won’t catch me talking about psoriasis as a puppy to cuddle with on a balmy, moonlit night. It’s not a good time to have psoriasis yesterday, today, or anytime tomorrow.
To outline the many costs of living with psoriasis I wrote The True Cost of Psoriasis in April. Since then I’ve interacted with people on social media and in person about the topic. Some felt the social and relational costs hurt them the most. Others felt the emotional costs of psoriasis, such as anxiety and depression, severely hampered their quality of life. One response surprised me. This person asked me about the benefits of having psoriasis.
Benefits? I must’ve been in a negative mood when I saw that comment. I couldn’t think of any. I’m naturally a pessimistic, glass-half-empty kind of guy, so it takes extra effort to think about the “true benefits of having psoriasis.”
And it’s not just me. In another online forum, a patient posed the question, How has psoriasis changed you for the better? Many of the responders said that psoriasis had not changed them for the better, or that they were much worse off.
I certainly don’t want to make something like psoriasis sound good. But I’m a believer that some good can come of it. Others on the forum wrote that psoriasis made them more compassionate and accepting. Suffering either makes you a softer person or hardens you. I made a choice as a young adult to let it shape me into a better person — even as I searched for an effective treatment and longed for a cure.
I wrote a post for Thanksgiving titled Top 10 Things to Be Grateful for About… Psoriasis? It took me over a week of scribbling on napkins and scratch paper to come up with those 10. So now, instead of trying to come up with 10 benefits of psoriasis, I’ll share three ways it has shaped who I am.
1. It’s Allowed Me to Embrace All of Who I Am
I don’t hate myself. But there are parts of me, like those plaques and sores, I’d rather do away with. It’s not just a sentiment about psoriasis; it’s part of being human. Others have defiantly proclaimed how psoriasis does not define them. I agree. But it is a part of my life that influences who I am today. I once asked my college-age daughter if she would rather be rid of her bipolar disorder. She said no, it’s part of what made her who she. She’s happy with who she has become. Her courage inspires me to feel the same way about my psoriasis.
Psoriasis is hardly all of me, but it is a part of my history, my daily routines, and what compels me to help others with chronic illness. If I can embrace myself with psoriasis, I can embrace all of who I am.
2. It’s Led Me to Find Others Who Understand
The other day I spoke to a Christian college group about a story in the Bible in which Jesus touches and heals a leper. Leprosy back then is not equivalent to Hansen’s disease today. It represented all kinds of skin disorders, most likely including psoriasis. Lepers would be hidden away from the populous, often isolated and abandoned. That’s how I’ve often felt about having psoriasis — untouchable.
I next told the students about the time when, as an undergraduate, I shared that I had psoriasis in front of a few hundred students. I identified with that leper who was touched and experienced deep healing. The response and outpouring of support overwhelmed me at the time. Since then, I haven’t shied away from opening up my heart to others about the “heartbreak” of psoriasis.
Sometimes people would give me treatment ideas, or try to sell me a skin product. But much more often, people, who have been touched by psoriasis or other chronic illnesses would tell me their stories. They would say I’m the first person they’ve told about their own or their loved one’s condition. By opening up myself to them, I gave them permission to do the same. It reminded us that we’re all in this together, and we all have something to manage in life.
Ironically, the psoriasis that at first isolated me actually allowed me to connect with others in deeper and more meaningful ways.
3. It’s Helped Me Rise Above My Circumstances
Circumstances don’t always line up the way I want them to. Traffic happens. Alarms don’t go off. I’m not always chosen. Deals go badly. Psoriasis gets in the way of what I want to accomplish. A lot.
I’m not a quitter, but I’ve wanted to quit many times. Ten years ago, I failed so many treatments in succession that I wanted to give up. The final insult came in the form of a deep skin burn from a phototherapy session. It flared psoriasis all over my body, and my skin burned for days on end. Toweling off after showering stung. Putting on clothes hurt. It was all too much and I broke down in tears. Some months later, I bounced back from that horrible episode, though I’ve never forgotten how low I felt.
When I face difficult situations, or a series of unfortunate events, I remember how I made it through that time. Living with a chronic condition like psoriasis can prepare you for anything that life throws at you.
You probably can think of other ways living with psoriasis or chronic illness has benefitted you. It’s never a good time to have psoriasis, but if you do, it has a strange way of showing you something about life you wouldn’t otherwise have seen.