Appearance is something we’re all concerned with at one time or another. For those who suffer from conditions and diseases that affect the look and feel of their skin, such as psoriasis, physical appearance can turn into a constant source of worry or stress. Last year for Psoriasis Awareness Month, we discussed the autoimmune disease at its surface. This month, we are digging deeper, and getting an up-close perspective on what it’s actually like to struggle and cope with the disease, and everything that goes with it.
Navigating your late teens and early twenties can be difficult and scary, to say the least. Dealing with the stresses of schooling, figuring out a career path, and then struggling to achieve your goals can amplify your insecurities in ways you never dreamed. For some, the stressors of this time period can also bring about health issues and illness. For Alyssa Bryner, this is exactly when the disease of psoriasis began to rear its ugly head into her life.
“My experience with psoriasis started when I was diagnosed in college after a stint with strep throat,” Alyssa says. While she was able to manage it with medication for a few years, it began to resurface in full force after she had relocated to Chicago post-graduation. “I was dealing with a lot of stress. It started small and would get inflamed if my diet changed or stress was involved,” she says. In an already stressful situation, Alyssa then had to figure out how to both cope with and manage this disease from affecting her life as much as possible.
“It’s an incredibly hard disorder to deal with, not only physically but mentally as well,” Alyssa says. “There was a lot of depression, as well as body aches and pains when it was at the height of its severity.” What makes a disease like psoriasis extra frustrating and stressful is that 1—everyone responds to the array of available treatments differently, and 2—people outside of the psoriasis community do not always understand the disease or respond to it in ways that are helpful. Going through the motions of everyday life becomes exponentially more difficult, both due to the pain and discomfort, and the public’s reaction to the visible symptoms.
“You notice when people look at it, and you feel self-conscious when people bring it up or mention it,” she says. “You’re also confused because you don’t really know what to do to help it or what can make it worse because everyone’s body is so different.” The scaly, red, raised skin patches can appear just about anywhere—the scalp, knees, elbows, ears, eyelids, hands and feet, or mouth area—and they can be very painful, itchy, and dry. While they aren’t contagious, they tend to elicit stares, questions, or reactions from others which can bring about feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment for the person affected.
“It’s a very hopeless position to be in,” Alyssa says, “you feel like you may not be able to talk to anyone about it because you’re embarrassed, and you feel like no one could really understand.” Rather than continually attempting to educate others on the disorder, it can be tempting to simply hide it from the outside world. “I would ignore a lot of my feelings as a defense mechanism and wear things that would cover my skin to avoid discussions or stares,” she says. While this can feel like a short-term solution, it doesn’t always work in the long run.
As Alyssa began trying out different treatment methods, she learned that what you’re putting in your body can be just as important for treating psoriasis as what you’re putting on it. “I have found that combating it with diet and exercise, as well as skin-care with prescribed ointments has helped the most,” she says. “For long-lasting consistent clearance, following a plant-based, low inflammatory diet has proven the most successful.” Giving up meat and animal-based foods has made a world of difference in Alyssa’s life, and has made her focus on her overall health more than ever before. She’s also learned to eliminate as much stress from her life as possible as a way to fight the inflammation and cope with everyday life.
As time progressed, Alyssa began to explore new coping methods, and most importantly—made herself a top priority in her own life. Between self-care and finding a community of people who truly understand what she’s going through, it has made a world of difference in how she views and deals with the hand she’s been dealt. “Self-care and support have taught me what I need to do to heal my body, as well as my mind, and made my skin the clearest it’s been since my symptoms worsened,” she says.
Not only is she no longer hiding the disease, but she’s now empowered to educate and help others who may be fighting the same battle. “I think a common feeling is ‘this will never get better’ or you may feel a lack of looking forward to anything because of the pain or questions you are going to inevitably encounter,” Alyssa says, “but they are not alone, and there IS a solution!”
Alyssa’s legs before and after treatments
Her message, first and foremost is to take care of yourself. Know the effect your diet has on your symptoms, and try new things. And perhaps most importantly, she says “TALK ABOUT IT! Find people who support you and support your healing process!” It can be incredibly difficult to open up at first, but keeping your psoriasis in the dark will only make you feel more vulnerable, frustrated, and isolated. Communication, community, and support, on the other hand, will help more than you know!
Do you have any questions for Alyssa, or additional suggestions and tips for coping with and treating psoriasis? Comment below! We would love to hear from you!
To view our previous blog on Psoriasis Awareness, visit http://chsstaff.com/blog/psoriasis-awareness-month-4-things-you-may-not-know-tips-for-living-with-psoriasis/
Author: Michelle Adams
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