Experience: I didn’t shake hands for a year while dealing with Psoriasis
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune starts mistakenly attacking your own body.
There are some diseases that sneak into your body, turn your own immune system against you, and then turn your entire life into a living hell. That’s what Psoriasis did to me. That’s what Psoriasis does to everyone who suffers from it.
Recently, I read a report that dermatologists based in Hyderabad are trying to raise awareness about this autoimmune disease because 2-5% of that city’s population suffers from Psoriasis. With a delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis and misguided treatment, Psoriasis can get worse and even cause comorbidities or associated diseases like cardiovascular issues, diabetes, arthritis, malignancy, anxiety and depression.
The itch that grows, painfully
Reading this immediately transported me back to the time when early and accurate diagnosis helped me understand what was happening to my body, specifically to my hands and feet. It started at the tip of my fingers in June 2018. A reddish, rough patch that itches like crazy all day long is not something you can easily ignore.
For about a week, I assumed it was a rash. I even joked around that I was probably getting that famous disease from Game of Thrones called 'Greyscale'. Then the patch started growing, spread to my other fingers, and I noticed that my feet were also itchy. Alarmed, I went to my general physician immediately, and he suggested that I consult a dermatologist. I did so, and the dermatologist diagnosed it as Psoriasis and explained what to expect.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system — which is supposed to fight invading germs and bacteria — starts mistakenly attacking your own body. The skin cells, which are supposed to grow over a month or so, end up growing much faster and dead cells build up itchy and painful plaques on the surface of the skin. There is no cure for Psoriasis, but the symptoms can be managed by topical treatments and improving lifestyle conditions. The disease is not contagious, and its precise causes are yet unknown.
Some problems are more than skin deep
The dermatologist immediately put me on a course of a hydroxyzine variant to ingest daily, a corticosteroid ointment to apply on the affected areas, and a soothing lotion to keep my skin hydrated. This worked to reduce the itchiness and the pain, but the scaly patches kept growing. Whenever I didn’t put the ointment on, I scratched the patches involuntarily.
Even attempting to wash my hands with soap before or after a meal was turning out to be painful since the patches burned every time they came in contact with any irritable agent. I was not getting better in any way. If the patches in one hand receded then more would show up on the other. My hands looked diseased, all red patches and peeling skin, and just wouldn’t stay moisturised no matter how much lotion I applied.
By August 2018, I had stopped shaking hands with people or even waving back at them. Being an anxious person, in general, did not help either. The more I worried about how my hands looked and felt, the more isolated and unsociable I felt. Scathing and insensitive comments by workplace colleagues about the way my hands looked and how they interfered with my professional life hit me hard. My self-esteem hit rock bottom, and the medications I was on, paired with my increasing feelings of self-loathing, made me irritable, deeply-dissatisfied and angry.
Making a change
I decided then that I had to take better control of my situation. The first thing I did was take some time off to consult more dermatologists so I could better understand the condition I had. One of them asked me to get my complete blood work done, explaining how Psoriasis can lead to other diseases as well. We discovered I had a vitamin D deficiency, cholesterol levels just above the borderline and a slight sodium deficiency. She immediately changed my medication to better suit my specific needs.
Once I understood the comorbidity aspect of Psoriasis, I tried working on my social anxiety and stress levels. I discussed my feelings with friends at work and family members to deal with my sense of isolation. These helped to a large extent, and so did my new medications. My hands and feet looked better and the pain was manageable, even though relapses continued happening until August 2019.
The ultimate break came when I understood that I had to make some drastic changes in my life to stop the relapses altogether. I worked in a high-stress professional environment, consumed alcohol socially, smoked, barely exercised, had irregular sleeping hours and ate whatever I could lay my hands on (hello, stress eating!). A 20-something can probably get away with this lifestyle for a while, but a 30-something person suffering from the autoimmune disease cannot.
I quit all of the above at once in September 2019. Three months later, there wasn’t a single patch left on my hands or my feet. My skin smoothed out, and I have not experienced a relapse since.
What did I learn from my harrowing experience of living with Psoriasis? Accepting and understanding what ails you is the first step you need to take. Devising a plan of action and fighting back should follow right after that. And while professional success can give one a sense of achievement, you need to put your health first, always. When your own body becomes your biggest enemy you need to do whatever it takes to repair your relationship with it.
This article was written by Shreya Goswami, a food writer associated with myUpchar.
For more information, please read our article on Psoriasis: Risk Factors, Prevention, Treatment.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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