The first time I remember knowing my mom had psoriasis, I was probably 10 years old. I overheard her on the phone, lamenting how she'd always had perfect skin and then — BAM. I didn't really understand. I saw the spots on her arms and legs, had asked if they hurt, but vanity hadn't really burrowed beneath my own skin yet. I didn't understand why it mattered.
My comprehension increased dramatically after mom volunteered at my elementary school book fair. When a friend asked if she was hurt because of the red spots on her arms and legs, I replied confidently, "Oh, no! She just has chicken pox."
After my mom recovered from shock I gave her sharing that exchange (and made a phone call to assure school she hadn't exposed tons of kids to a contagious condition), I realized my wording needed to be more, shall we say, accurate.
But still, it didn't really affect me. I mean, my mom was my mom. I heard her crying about the condition once, but in person, she always reassured me that the splotches didn't hurt and didn't bother her.
"Spots won't kill me," she would point out. Made sense. Life went on.
During my freshman year of college, Mom was hospitalized with severe psoriasis. Yes, it can actually get that bad. She spent a chunk of time in a hospital, as doctors tried different treatments, ointments, and wraps. When she returned home, she assured me by phone she was "so much better!"
During my next visit home, I expected her condition to be much like the last time I'd seen her — or even better. After all, she'd said it was "so much better."
I wasn't prepared. Her legs were covered with angry, red, scaly splotches that melded into one another and seemed to be taking over her limbs. They looked itchy and painful, raised and menacing. I tried to conceal my shock, and she tried to assure me that it was, indeed, so much better.
Her legs were covered with angry, red, scaly splotches that melded into one another and seemed to be taking over her limbs.
As all moms do, mine has perfected the art of driving me nuts. Now, as a mom myself, I realize that's part of our job description. My 4-year-old daughter has already rebuffed my attempts to share information with scoffs that I know not of which I speak.
But beneath that requisite layer of mother-daughter conflagration, I've always deeply admired my mom and her (sometimes unrealistic) positive outlook. She always puts on a brave face for us. She always assures us she's not in pain. That she prefers to wear long sleeves. She prefers to wear long pants. The spots don't bother her. The spots won't kill her.
As moms will do, she assured me I would never develop the condition myself. And, for years, I didn't.
When the first few splotches appeared on my shins two years ago, I used cream and massaged them away. I remember fretting a bit but quickly steeling myself. "Spots won't kill me," I thought, remembering my mom's mantra.
Then, several months ago, I caught strep throat, which can trigger a psoriasis flare-up. Suddenly, it was my turn to look like I had chicken pox. My arms and legs were covered. It was still cool outside, but springtime in North Carolina merges quickly into summer and oppressive humidity. I was horrified by the idea of showing my skin in public.
I had renewed respect for my mom's ability to brush away self-consciousness and keep perspective. How did she simply not care what people thought? I finally understood the inner strength that required.
When I visited the dermatologist, I was determined to attack the condition aggressively. "Give me whatever you've got!" I said.
He instantly held up his hands with a wary look. "You need to understand the range of treatments," he warned. "You have topical creams, which may or may not help but don't have bad side effects, and then you have the other stuff. Biologics. And they're serious. They can have some rough side effects."
Whoa. I had no idea. My education was quick and eye-opening. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. Nutrition plays a tremendous role in keeping it managed. And my diet was definitely less than healthy.
'Spots won't kill me,' I thought, remembering my mom's mantra.
I weighed a mere 100 pounds in college, so didn't think twice about zipping through the McDonald's drive-through for lunch and then mixing things up by bopping through Wendy's for dinner. Life went on like that for years, with little weight fluctuation, until I had three children, uncontrolled gestational diabetes, and a metabolism that got the last laugh.
This time, a stronger spray reined in the spots. For a time.
Then, one morning, I woke up feeling like I had broken both feet. I hobbled to get the kids out of bed and spent most of the day on the couch, wondering what I had done wrong. I've lived with chronic pain for years thanks to ruptured disk spine surgeries, but that pain hasn't hobbled me. I can live through that pain. I'm used to that pain.
Blood test results confirmed I have psoriatic arthritis, which is a form of arthritis that affects some people who have psoriasis. I'm 43. I have three children, ages 6, 4, and 2. I don't have time to be old. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I don't have time to be in pain.
Because my oldest son has Down syndrome, I've written at length about disability and how it's the one minority group we likely all will join one day. Did that just become me?
We recently began planning our first family trip to Disney, some six months away. Will I be able to walk through the parks with the kids? Really enjoy the experience the way I imagine?
It's time to get to work. My eyes have been opened. I've dramatically changed my diet, and I am also figuring out how to reduce stress and incorporate yoga into my life.
In some ways, I feel like the pain is a punishment for my dive into vanity — caring about the spots on my legs and arms. I know that's illogical, but sometimes moms have no time for logic, either. Mostly, I just want to get this pain managed so I can feel like — or be — a good mom who isn't irritable. Who isn't hiding in the house because I'm too vain to show my spots and too sore to play with the kids.
As much as I appreciate my mom's protective nature, I want to go beyond teaching my kids that spots won't kill us. I want to talk about the spots and teach them how to take care of their bodies from the inside out.
What I've realized is that we each do have a spot that can kill us: It's the blind spot we allow into our minds where we should be taking care of ourselves. All the things that, over time, catch up to us.
I wish I had paid more attention to that spot.