Psoriasis Hits Me Right in the Feels
“What does psoriasis FEEL like?” This is a question I have been hearing since I was about 15 years old. Back then I would just mumble something like “dry skin” and move on. I knew it would be too hard to explain it to someone who has never experienced the disease, and honestly, my teenage head was too full of girls and food to really give any thought into how to put it into words.
Now that I have doubled in age, I have had much more time to think about how to put into words this disease that I have lived with so long. It’s funny though—to me these symptoms have become the norm. I don’t know anything else, so I will do the best on comparisons based on conversations I have had with friends without psoriasis. Also, you will notice that I divided this article into three sections: physical, mental, and emotional. This is important because psoriasis is NOT just a skin thing.
I’ll start with the physical, because when people ask me what psoriasis feels like, this is usually what they are alluding to. The best way I can explain it is that it feels like I am constantly wearing clothes that are a size too small. You know your favorite, most comfortable, perfect outfit? Imagine that you made the grave mistake of washing it in hot water and throwing it in the dryer on high. Now when you put it on, it just doesn’t feel right. You try to reach for something, but your shirt sleeves are too tight and restrictive.
This is what my skin feels like all the time. Even when I am experiencing a break from the active plaques, I still feel like the fat guy in a little coat. Someone took all the elasticity out of my skin! It’s constantly threatening to rip at the seams if I move too much. Because of this, I subconsciously do everything with as little movement as possible. Showing off cool dance moves (I’m talking Napoleon Dynamite level) is not worth the cracked and bleeding skin that will take weeks to heal.
The itch is the other physical symptom that is unrelenting. This isn’t a normal itch either. I’ve had bug bites and the chicken pox, but this itch is entirely different. It’s more like a constant mild burn. I’m not a pyro, but I believe it is akin to holding a flame right up to your skin without touching it completely. It’s annoying, uncomfortable, and usually tough to remedy. The weird part is that it is there even when plaques are not.
Psoriasis is associated with depression. I have experienced this first hand throughout the years of living with this disease. For me, the depression is usually linked to periods of time when I have been plagued by fatigue. One may argue that fatigue could fall under the physical category, but I think it does way more mental damage.
When I am suffering from fatigue, I feel like a big loser. No sugar coating it. I can’t find strength to play with my kids, go get exercise, make healthy food, or anything else that I enjoy. I basically have to save my energy just to work, so that I can provide for my family. This brings on a lot of guilt. I agonize over all the things I can’t do.
During these times, I often hear, “just snap out of it! Change your attitude.” I can tell you that it isn’t that easy. Sure, sometimes I am able to feel better with support through friends/family/a counselor, but not always. Know the signs of depression, and don’t feel any shame if you need extra help.
I always like to save the best for last. Although most people want to know what my physical symptoms feel like, I always think of the emotional feeling of psoriasis when I am asked that initial question. That is because it feels like I am always wearing a scarlet “P” on my chest. I have always found it funny that the “P” in psoriasis is silent, because often that is what it causes sufferers to do: stay silent, hide, and reduce their existence.
When anyone sees me, regardless if it is the first time or not, my plaques are the first thing they notice. Those who know me seemed to always make comments like, “wow, your skin looks like it hurts today!”, or “Is your skin getting better? It’s not as red.” Those who are meeting me for the first time either question what is all over me, or simply stare. My skin has been the topic of conversation for so long, that I used to think it defined me. It was all anyone knew me for.
But you know what? It isn’t. My skin isn’t me, and it isn’t you either. All the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms are simply that: symptoms. They affect our daily interactions and routines, but they can’t touch our personalities, our sense of humor, or capacity for love, or our beliefs.