Alex is a fighter. The 29-year-old from Denmark has been living with psoriasis for the past nine years, and he’s battled depression since his teenage years. Now, for PsoHappy, Alex shares his story and tips for coping with the emotional issues that can accompany psoriasis.
Psoriasis and depression
I was really young – 14 or 15 years old – when my depression started, and I’ve carried it with me since. Psoriasis came on top of that when I was 20. Until then, I’d had no symptoms, but suddenly psoriasis was just there. My symptoms became worse and I was so stressed out that it wore me down – it was just one long downward spiral.
When I started researching, I realised how much psoriasis is connected to your emotions and your thoughts about it. My psoriasis is much better now than it was. I’m slowly learning to live with it, but every day when I’m interacting with other people, I’m thinking about whether they’ll notice my flare-ups. And if they do, what do they think about it – will they think it’s contagious? You’ve got all these semi-paranoid thoughts going on which don’t do you any good. The trick is to educate yourself a little bit and realise that psoriasis is not as bad as you sometimes make it out to be.
Friends and family support
It’s not the first thing I tell people – “Hi, I’m Alex. I’ve got psoriasis”. But I can’t really hide it from the people who are closest to me. My friends and girlfriend are actually very supportive. I’ve been lucky; my symptoms aren’t so bad that people would notice immediately. I’ve seen other people with psoriasis who have it far worse than me, and I can imagine they have a much harder time trying to live with it.
Psoriasis has had quite an effect on my dating life. I used to think twice about inviting someone home—realising that they’re going to see me without my clothes has definitely made me a bit more anxious. But you also get to the point where you can’t really escape it – that’s how I look. So you take a chance and hope that they don’t burn you at the stake – that they appreciate your honesty or at least accept you for who you are.
The most common misconceptions
There is lot of stigma, and a lot of misconceptions about psoriasis – for example, that you’re flaky all over. I’ve also heard that psoriasis is super hereditary and that’s not the whole truth either, it might actually skip a generation. Many people think that psoriasis is only a skin disorder, but it’s a genetic immune disorder. It could lead to heart disease and diabetes. Skin is the least of it, and not many people know that. Creating more awareness about psoriasis would definitely be helpful.
Using happiness to measure the impact of psoriasis is really beneficial, I think. Psoriasis can make people depressed or even suicidal – you start believing that you’ll never learn to live with it or that no one will ever love you because looks matter so much. Psoriasis can lead to isolation, loneliness and sadness, because you constantly worry about what other people will think of you. To deal with psoriasis, it’s really important to stay positive and happy.
Relationships with dermatologists
General practitioners have a lot of patients throughout the day, so I understand that they don’t take much more than five minutes with you, before sending you to a specialist. But it’s much more frustrating when the specialist rushes you through a standard book and one kind of treatment that probably isn’t going to work. Maybe you’ve even tried it before, but the dermatologist still insists on going through the same seven or eight treatments that they always use, instead of looking at your individual situation. You feel as if you’re being treated as an overall psoriasis patient.
It’s a strange feeling coming to see a doctor and realising that he’s not really trying to understand what your problem is. It takes some extra energy from the dermatologist’s side to actually listen and not rush the patient through a ready-made solution. Everyone appreciates being listened to, and if people felt their dermatologist was really listening to them, I think they would have a greater trust, not only in their doctor but in the whole treatment system.
Advice for psoriasis warriors
I have a bad habit of overthinking, and that has led to a lot of the anxiety I’ve felt having psoriasis, and the fears about people noticing it. I’ve tried to stop listening and just tell myself “Calm down, it’s not as bad as you think it is, and people don’t notice”. Calling my own bluff has really been my major coping mechanism. My particular psoriasis symptoms are stress-related, so for me it’s more important to focus on my way of thinking, and less important that I follow a certain diet or get the right amount of exercise. So the coping mechanism for me is to relax and stop myself from running amok mentally.
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