A lit match dangerously close to the fuse of a bundle of dynamite

When Grief Triggers a Disease Flare

Last updated: September 2022

For many years, my psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis were considered mild. Over-the-counter medications worked beautifully. I was very lucky. In fact, I had a daily reminder of just how lucky I was.

My son was diagnosed at age 4 with psoriasis and at age 5 with juvenile psoriatic arthritis. His flares were common and often severe, landing him in a wheelchair temporarily and sometimes even in the hospital emergency room. I saw him struggle with joint pain and itchy plaques that covered him from head to toe.

So, yeah, I knew just how lucky I was to manage my diseases with barely any medication. That was until life happened. And it hit hard.

The enormous impact of grief

It’s never easy to lose a family member or friend. Grief is real and such a strong emotion, and often that leads to stress. In my case, three deaths of people close to me occurred in the first half of 2012. This put my mental health and physical health out of whack and fueled a large flare of both diseases.

Grief is a difficult emotion. It might be easy to spot if there is a life event, like a significant death in the family, but it can also creep up when you don’t expect it – when you’re not even thinking about it.

Sometimes it shows up as sadness. Other times, it can cause anger, anxiety, depression, fatigue, loneliness, pain, and even cause trouble sleeping. Just as each patient’s disease is different, so can the grieving process and the symptoms that go along with it.

Falling victim to the grief-pain cycle

I could usually weather stress pretty well. I do kickboxing, and there’s almost something therapeutic about hitting a heavy bag and taking the weight of the day out with your gloves at the gym. It was my go-to exercise for mental health.

But 2012 was different. The grief from the deaths, increasing job stress and planning my upcoming wedding vow renewal in Las Vegas (cheers to Elvis!) were more than my body could handle. It was getting increasingly difficult to get to the gym.

My go-to stress-reducing exercise wasn’t working – mainly because it was too painful to kick the bag like I used to. I was in a cycle of stress - disease flare – pain that just kept going around and around. And now, I wasn’t only grieving the deaths in my family but also the pain-free life I was accustomed to.

The added stress of finding a rheum to help

Our family dermatologist was excellent, and seeing him was never a problem for my skin symptoms. My psoriatic arthritis was mild for many years, so I didn’t exactly have a rheumatologist. I needed to find one fast because this flare was not slowing. I needed to call in the joint experts because I needed help.

Luckily, my primary care physician referred me to a rheumatologist, and I didn’t have to wait too long to get an appointment. She immediately put me on steroids - which turned out to be an enemy of my body - and started me on a biologic.

This new rheumatologist wasn’t attentive and dismissed me often. I needed a new doctor – and fast. My psoriatic arthritis was still flaring, and I knew it was important to get it under control before irreversible joint damage set in.

It's all a part of the journey with psoriatic arthritis

Karma must have been on my side because I again found a new rheumatologist with just a few weeks' wait time for an appointment. My new doctor set me on a course to manage my psoriatic arthritis with another biologic. This one was starting to work, and I started to see improvements.

Over the years, my psoriatic disease had many ups and downs. While it is likely that stress and grief started the first big flare, I feel pretty confident in saying that if I didn’t experience that grief, something else would have triggered it.

2012 wasn’t good in many ways, but I used this year to better understand my disease and how to start recognizing my reactions to stress. It’s a constant learning process, but I get a little better all the time – that is, until life throws me another curve ball.

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After getting diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, I felt more

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