How the Film "Free Solo" Reminds Me of Psoriasis

I know a small group of people who attempt to watch all the Oscar-nominated movies before the February Academy Awards air. Well, at least from the big categories! This year I too attempted this feat, and I dove into the nominees for “Best Documentary Feature.” One of the five nominees is “Free Solo,” and I couldn’t help but watch it and think “this reminds me a lot of psoriasis!”

Free Solo

On the outside, there doesn’t appear to be any common ground (haha) between free soloing and psoriasis. Free soloing is, in a nutshell, rock climbing without any ropes, harnesses, or other protective gear. The documentary Free Solo follows Alex Honnold as he attempts to solo climb El Capitan, a rock face in Yosemite National Park. El Capitan (El Cap) is over 3,000 feet tall and no one had successfully solo climbed it until Alex. It’s an incredible documentary, so definitely watch it if you have a chance. But how did this film remind me of psoriasis?

The isolation

The first thing that struck me was the description of people who choose to solo climb. They tend to keep their free soloing private, personal. They also tend to be more isolated, sometimes even reclusive. In my experience, those of us with psoriasis are often this way as well. The circumstances are vastly different, but we have that in common. In addition, due to the risk of death or injury, many climbers don’t tell their friends or family members when they are solo climbing, to save them any worry. I know I deflect the severity of my psoriasis symptoms if I think it will spare the feelings of my loved ones. For obvious reasons, it was also difficult for Alex to maintain romantic relationships. Relatable!

The community of those who “get” it

Although often private, free solo climbers have a small, tight-knit community. They connect and relate to each other in a way that outsiders can’t because of their shared experience. They have a short-hand. They understand one another. This too is like our psoriasis communities, especially Every day members of this community meet each other with empathy and many “oh my gosh, me too”s! I don’t have to grasp to find the words to explain my struggle, because you “get it.”

Knowing which path to choose isn’t obvious

We both face obstacles and must make hard choices in situations where there is no “right” answer. In Free Solo, Alex describes one section of El Cap where climbers have two routes to choose between – neither of which is easy. Route A is slippery and there aren’t many footholds. Route B has a section where you must jump from one rock to the next. There is no obvious choice, and both are hard passes. So too it seems to be with treatment choices. How to choose between this biologic or that systemic, or even how to choose between treating or not treating. There isn’t "a best way," and both choices have their own consequences. As in free soloing, the choice is personal.

Living with fear and mortality

My favorite parts of the film are where Alex talks about fear, death, and his relationship with both. Obviously to be a successful solo climber you must be a master of fear, and to have a healthy relationship with the possibility of death. It’s something I don’t think many of us ever achieve until we are forced to – maybe not even then. I think often about psoriasis comorbidities, how my lifespan might be shorter because of them. I worry that each new pain is the onset of psoriatic arthritis, or some new autoimmune condition. I even fear when our editorial team releases an article about a new “connection” – psoriasis and heart disease, or psoriasis and cancer. How do we co-exist with these fears and move past them? For Alex, he describes fear as a great driver for awareness – fear makes him more alert, more present. Perhaps we too can use our fear, as a reminder to stop dwelling in the future and the “what ifs.”

In conclusion

As the movie finished, I thought about metaphors. If Alex successfully scaled El Cap, what was our equivalent? What was our summit? I think our summits are all our personal victories. Maybe I found a great new lotion, or biologic, or shampoo. Maybe I stepped outside of my comfort zone and shared my diagnosis with a friend. Maybe it was as simple as getting out of bed, even though itching and pain kept me up the whole night and fatigue is like a heavy blanket. I think these are good comparisons because even though Alex was successful in his climb, his journey isn’t over. Tomorrow there will be new challenges, new summits, and new mountains to climb. As it is with us.

Wishing you all the very best on your climb today.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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