When I was just 11 years old, I asked my mom to look at my scalp. “It feels strange,” I worried. It was mildly itchy and had a tingly, almost burning sensation. Additionally, I had felt quite a few bumpy patches that I couldn’t keep my hands off. “Have you been picking?” she asked, knowing that I tended to scrape and pick at scabs. “Yes,” I admitted. “It’s very itchy!”
(That was only partially true. Have you ever seen the payoff from psoriasis scabs? They’re like the size of cornflakes and I found them so satisfying to peel! Disclaimer: Don’t do this!)
My mom marched me to our family doctor who a) diagnosed me with psoriasis and b) suggested a coal tar shampoo of which I can still recall the smell to this day. Faithfully, once a week, I tipped my head over in the bathtub while my mom massaged the shampoo into my hair and scalp. When I was older, I took over the duties myself, and weaned myself off the regimen when my psoriasis improved – though it never completely went away.
While I tried not to let my psoriasis get me down, it nevertheless affected me psychologically throughout my teens and twenties. I rarely wore my hair up, concerned that the scales and scabs would be more visible if I pulled my locks away from my scalp. I panicked when my hairdresser went on vacation, knowing I’d be too embarrassed to have a new stylist do my hair. When I dated, I freely disclosed my condition out of fear that a man would nonchalantly run his fingers through my hair – and draw back in surprise.
It’s obvious that while I thought I was “managing” my psoriasis, I was still allowing it to control my day-to-day. Fast forward to 2014, when, after decades of letting my psoriasis symptoms wax and wane, my joints flared to the point where I was disabled with swelling and pain for over six months. The diagnosis: psoriatic arthritis (PsA).
Today, I have mild flares of psoriasis on my scalp, lips and elbows, but I’m considered to be in clinical remission thanks to the medications I take for my psoriatic arthritis (which have the added benefit of keeping my psoriasis in check). I regularly see both a dermatologist and rheumatologist for my conditions, making sure to advocate for myself when I need to. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Geeta Yadav, a dermatologist based in Toronto at Skin Science Dermatology.
In the days leading up to the interview, an idea started to form – I wanted to share with you some things I wish I knew about psoriasis decades ago (that I know now). Dr. Yadav was knowledgeable and thoroughly answered my questions, which in turn allowed me to create the following list for you!
1. Psoriasis is a lifelong condition.
If I had clearly understood that my psoriasis would likely be with me for the rest of my life, I would have taken more definitive steps sooner to get my condition under control (and certainly before it progressed to PsA). …