Unmasking the Effects of Psoriatic Arthritis

I like to think of myself as a smart, independent woman. I’m not bragging; I’m just trying to lift myself up because there are so many issues with having psoriatic arthritis that bring me down. I often put on a mask to hide the pain, fears, and frustration psoriatic arthritis brings me. Smiling, saying “I’m fine,” and pushing through pain are the masks I’ve created for myself over the years to avoid letting friends, family, and even strangers know what I’m really feeling.

Navigating my disease and living up to others’ expectations – not to mention my own expectations – can often bring resentment. When you have an invisible illness like psoriatic ardmthritis, explaining how your disease affects you physically and emotionally can be difficult, especially when experiencing eye rolls, sighs, and whispers of “faking it.”

Here are some straightforward answers I use to help take the mask off and have real conversations about how psoriatic arthritis affects me.

It can’t be that bad. You’re not in a wheelchair.

True, today I do not use a wheelchair, but four years ago, I wouldn’t dare go shopping without putting the wheelchair in the trunk of the car. I am in a much better place now due to current medications, but since I don’t have a crystal ball and psoriatic arthritis is so unpredictable, I have no idea what the future holds.

How bad can it be if you still exercise?

Yes, I hit the gym five days a week. Yes, I kickbox. But I still experience pain afterward. I still have to modify my workouts and be extra careful with inflamed joints. Exercise, in general, is good for arthritis. It increases flexibility and strength and helps to reduce joint pain and stiffness. Exercise is part of my psoriatic arthritis treatment.

What do you mean you’re tired? You haven’t done anything all day.

Indeed. I haven’t done anything all day. Psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning my body is fighting itself constantly. Imagine a war going on in your body day after day. You’d be pretty tired, too, and some days it is just worse than others. Unfortunately, I have no idea when I will need rest. I have to listen to my body and rest when needed or I will pay the price in days to come.

Change your diet and your symptoms will get better.

Well, yes, it is important to eat healthy and have a balanced diet. This is true for everyone. However, to say that going gluten-free, dairy-free, avoiding nightshades, or embracing a paleo diet will make me all better is just not true. How do I know? I’ve tried them all. I have friends who swear a certain diet put their disease in remission. I wish I could say it works for everyone. Unfortunately, changing your diet isn’t a sure fix.

You don’t look sick.

True, I don’t look sick. Psoriatic arthritis is considered an invisible illness. What you don’t see are my inflamed joints, pain and total loss of energy. I smile to hide my frustration, pain, and bouts of depression that are so common with psoriatic arthritis.

Can’t you take some aspirin to feel better?

Yes, sometimes aspirin will take the edge off, but more often than not with psoriatic arthritis, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologics are necessary to minimize joint damage. All medications come with side effects, and some can be severe. Insurance will often dictate which medications I can try, and biologics usually come with a hefty price tag. Taking aspirin will not cure psoriatic arthritis because there is not cure for this disease.

Psoriatic arthritis isn't all doom and gloom. I do have quite a few good days, and I make the most of those. Like I said, I’m a pretty independent person, and I try to show arthritis who’s boss, even if I have to hide once in a while behind a mask of smiles.

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