How Psoriasis Changed my Career
I recently made a career change. While there were a lot of good reasons to pursue a different path, my family and friends know that one big reason was my psoriasis. I’ve written previously about how my old job presented obstacles to treatment, but this year I made the active decision to set my future up for psuccess (see what I did there?).
My psoriasis story
I had my first outbreak of guttate psoriasis when I was in grade school, but I wasn’t formally diagnosed until high school. Like many psoriasis folks, I cycled through a roster of increasingly potent steroids, which over the years became less effective, and more difficult to apply (how many of you have had to apply steroids twice a day to a thousand tiny spots? It’s the worst!). A few years ago, after I came back from a big backpacking trip, I flared all over. I was covered head to toe in itchy, painful, weeping, guttate psoriasis. I was totally miserable. Any oral immunosuppressant was out of the question because of my job, but I was lucky enough to be treated and experience total remission with phototherapy. Still, that fear of having such limited treatment options never left me, and I started to wonder what my future would look like.
A life in the laboratory!
You see, I worked in a laboratory with pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites every day for my job. I’m a microbiologist by training, and I truly loved my job and my co-workers. But, when your occupation carries a high risk of infection, anything that suppresses the immune system is out of the question. After my remission with phototherapy I began to worry. What if it comes back? What if I have to take biologics and can’t do my job? How will I support myself?
A trip to the hospital
Last year I also participated in my first clinical study. A teaching hospital nearby was looking to investigate ways to detect early signs of psoriatic arthritis in psoriasis patients. I sat with two Rheumatologists, a Physiotherapist, and the study coordinator to discuss my risk factors. Did I experience stiffness in the morning and after periods of rest? Yes. Did I have enthesitis? Yes. Did I have an early onset of psoriasis? Yes. Did I experience joint pain? Yes. They ran lots of X-rays, bloodwork, and even an ultrasound looking for inflammation or joint involvement. The conclusion? I didn’t have signs of active arthritis, but I remained at risk. Come back. Follow up. You know the drill. Although I was relieved by the news, that fear started to creep back in. If my pain and stiffness worsen, how will I perform the lab tasks that require manual dexterity? How will I manage with repetitive movements? How will I sit comfortably at the lab bench for hours at a time?
The decision to make a change
The truth was, I had not prepared myself for a future with persistent psoriasis flares, or for psoriatic arthritis. I was suddenly aware that if things were to take a turn I wouldn’t have any career skills that would accommodate my necessary treatments, or possible disability. I had a unique (and fortunate) opportunity to start down a different path knowing what the future could have in store, and I didn’t want to waste it. I applied to a new job and was hired right away. I almost couldn’t believe how fast everything changed! I still use my lab skills, but now it’s in an administrative capacity. I help to develop lab standards for my province, and manage the operation of lab services. My new company is incredibly accommodating. They have a very progressive policy to manage accessibility needs, and have a flexible work-from-home policy. I consider myself very lucky.
We talk a lot about being advocates for our health, but mostly in the context of fighting to be heard in our Doctor’s office, or at the pharmacy, or with our insurance companies! If you are able, don’t hesitate to extend that advocacy to other areas of your life. While I always hope for the best, I feel safer knowing that I’m taking steps to prepare for the worst. When life gives you lemons, you try to make lemonade. And sometimes, your crystal ball tells you it might be a good idea to go ahead and get the pitcher ready.
Does your psoriasis skin feel out of control? How are you managing?