Style: Guttate Psoriasis Gave Me a Superpower: Empathy

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  Guttate Psoriasis Gave Me a Superpower: Empathy © Getty

The first time I got a diagnosis for my skin condition, it was wrong: I was in the 5th grade, and a doctor told me I had eczema. The prescription he gave me didn’t work, and had to go to two more dermatologists before one of them finally ordered a skin biopsy that showed I actually have guttate psoriasis, a form of psoriasis that affects only about 8 percent of people living with psoriasis.

Guttate psoriasis—which often appears following an infection like strep throat or tonsillitis—is a less common type of psoriasis, and it’s awful: When I have a flare-up, my lesions are considered severe within two weeks. About 10 percent of my body will be covered in red spots that stretch from my head to my toes. (Many guttate psoriasis patients find their lesions are shaped like teardrops—gutta is the Latin word for drop.) The fact that my flare-ups are spread all over my body makes it really tough to treat with creams and ointments. Topical treatments, like corticosteroids, are almost impossible to apply head to toe, even if you’re vigilant. Guttate psoriasis breakouts aren’t isolated to smaller areas; they’re everywhere.

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Even though I was diagnosed young—most people with guttate psoriasis develop it as a child—it wasn't until I was a young adult and my condition worsened that I committed to learning as much as I could about guttate psoriasis and treatment options, and finding a community to help me through some really difficult times. Having people who understand what you’re going through is so important. Together, we share stories, laugh, cry, and stay hopeful for a cure. When I participate in walks for psoriasis, they always bring tears to my eyes because people are met with so much love.

As I reflect on being a patient for nearly 20 years, I know that guttate psoriasis is so much a part of my identity, which is something I resisted for nearly my entire life. I hid. I hated the way I looked. I was in pain, and I have felt a great sense of hopelessness being diagnosed with an incurable disease.

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I’m fortunate to have been in remission for three years now. But I also know that a flare-up will come at some point. I do my best to focus on living a healthy life, keeping my stress levels as low as I can, and surrounding myself with the people I love and who bring me the most joy.

Phototherapy (aka, light therapy, or exposing lesions to ultraviolet light) has also been a game changer. It’s a treatment option that works well for chronic psoriasis because it can target my whole body. I’ve joked that it’s like going to a tanning bed three times a week. (Biologics are also a treatment option for some guttate psoriasis patients because they work to combat psoriasis from the inside out.)

I have also changed my diet, and I found out that I have food sensitivities that affect my skin. While changing how you eat doesn’t work for every patient—because not all patients have food sensitivities—it has helped me personally avoid risk factors and stay in remission for longer periods of time.

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While I am in remission, I don't take it for granted and I try my best to look on the bright side of everything. I have a motto, which you might find odd. My motto is: “It could always be worse.”

When things are hard and your skin is having a tough time—or life in general is throwing you curveballs—it is easy to get down. But it can always be worse. And it is important to focus on how to make things better, rather than fall into dark thoughts—because I’ve had them often. I’ve dealt with some really deep depression from this disease and I never want to go back there.

Instead, I try to focus on the positives—and there are many. For example, while I told myself for years that my guttate psoriasis doesn’t define me, in many ways it actually does. I would never have the level of empathy I do for others if it wasn’t for this disease. I am acutely aware of others who have psoriasis or other skin ailments—those who feel so much shame for how they look or knowing the type of pain they endure because chronic psoriasis can be wildly unforgiving. While I wouldn’t wish this disease upon anyone, it has really shaped me as a person in so many ways.

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It has taken me almost two decades to figure out how to not let psoriasis control my life. The last severe flare-up I had was extremely difficult. I was very lucky to have coworkers, friends, and family who helped me get through it, as well as the best dermatologists I could find to start treatment right away. In the past, I would let my disease take over, feel sorry for myself, and do nothing but cry and be helpless because I was in so much pain. But I’ve vowed to come at this disease from a position of strength, to leverage my family and friends to help me, and to focus on healing and being outcome-oriented, because I know that I can make it to the other side.

Carleigh Morba is an executive recruiter living in New York City, enjoying life back on the East Coast after nearly a decade in Northern California. You can follow her on LinkedIn.

Visit the National Psoriasis Foundation at psoriasis.org for more information on treatment options and managing your psoriasis.

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I want to help other women of color live better lives with psoriasis.Being a Black girl with psoriasis also made me feel even more alone. Plaque psoriasis looks a lot different on darker skin, and I’ve seen through my own experiences that there’s a common misconception that Black people aren’t affected by psoriasis. I even went to a doctor who didn’t think I had plaque psoriasis because my flare-ups triggered purple and brown psoriasis plaques instead of red ones, which is how they usually look on white skin. These experiences all led to mental health challenges, including anxiety and panic attacks, which I struggled with as a child and a young adult.

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