It is said that we spend around a third of our lives at work, so finding the right role, team fit and culture is understandably high up on our agendas. But how often do we look at how psoriasis-friendly our jobs and working environments are? I work in a fast-paced, high-pressured corporate job, where the hours are long and the stress levels are as high as the expectations to meet deadlines, manage workloads and act and dress in a certain way. Whilst I thrive off this environment and take a huge amount of satisfaction in my daily achievements, my psoriasis doesn’t always agree with my choices. With long hours comes little or broken sleep, meals on the go – which can be difficult to keep healthy, layers of clothes that often irritate my skin and limited time to apply creams to all the curves and creases that need regular bathing. The continuous deadlines can also often make it seem impossible for me to make those much-needed doctors or dermatologists appointments too.
And that’s just the physical impact – the part I find easy to show and explain to my boss and colleagues. But as we know, psoriasis is so much more than that, so what about the rest?
...low moods and occasional anxiety associated with psoriasis can leave me feeling deflated and panicked, not wanting to face the world at all that day.
I’ve always been very open about my skin at work, explaining what it is, what it looks like, what makes me flare but I’ve never been very good at informing people of the ‘invisible’ side effects or implications such as the chronic fatigue, which sometimes make it almost unbearable to even think about getting out of bed, especially when my skin is flaring. My unexpected and unpredictable irritable bowel syndrome can often disrupt my morning routine making it hard to leave the house or get to work on time, whilst low moods and occasional anxiety associated with psoriasis can leave me feeling deflated and panicked, not wanting to face the world at all that day.
As these symptoms aren’t visible, for a long time I felt guilty associating them with my psoriasis and chose to suffer in silence, only really flagging my psoriasis when I had a very visible flare and was unable to put a top on to go to work. I worried that my manager wouldn’t understand or sympathise with me as she was unable to see my symptoms and would think I was exaggerating. This was the worst approach I could have taken. As a result, I put myself under a lot of pressure to continue to perform to the same level; I took on a new role with more responsibility and work, the hours increased, my skin got worse and I was completely exhausted and deflated. I felt trapped, as though I was running through a dark tunnel, frantically looking for an exit, but there was no light in sight, which continued to make my skin worse – I was stuck in a vicious cycle.
On a return journey from London I finally broke. The train was delayed, I was sleep deprived, my skin had been flaring for days and no matter what type of cream or how much I applied, nothing would calm it down, plus I had a mountain of work ahead that would see me through to the early hours. I felt completely overwhelmed with the physical and emotional effects of psoriasis and broke down crying, unable to control my breathing or calm myself down for the two-hour journey back to Manchester.
This was a wake up call for me – this couldn’t continue and I needed to listen to my body and more importantly my psoriasis by taking time off to relax and figure things out. I spoke to my boss that evening and briefly explained the situation and requested a few days off to rest and recoup. Whilst this came as a surprise to her as she was unaware of the symptoms of psoriasis, she understood and fully supported my decision. Following a doctor's appointment a few days later, I was signed off work and due to the condition of my skin I was finally given the dermatologist referral I had been asking about for months.
I used those two weeks to completely switch off and recharge my batteries. I returned to yoga, cooked deliciously healthy food, read a mountain of books, enjoyed the sunshine and did all the other things that I knew would help my psoriasis to heal. I also spent a lot of time thinking about work, and the realistic changes I could request in order to make my role more psoriasis friendly.
When I returned to work I sat down with my manager and explained the physical and emotional impacts of psoriasis, even showing her my @fixmypsoriasis account and other accounts from the community to help her understand – and together we agreed to a number of changes that would help the situation, including the flexibility to work from home when needed. This would give me the chance to let my skin breathe, keep cream on for longer and reapply throughout the day, and stay in my psoriasis-friendly cotton t-shirts to avoid irritation. It would also mean that I could control my food intake a lot better, preparing fresh meals and juices throughout the day.
My advice would be to keep talking, or writing it down if easier, to help you come to sense with it. Since opening up and explaining how I felt and the impact it was having on my career, it feels as though a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
Whilst some people find it easy to talk about the emotional side of psoriasis, I’ve heard from a lot of people, like me, who don’t. It can be really difficult to try and explain how you feel to somebody else, when you’re not entirely sure how it is making you feel yourself. However, the more I spoke about it, the more I was able to start to understand it and figure out ways to help myself. My advice would be to keep talking, or writing it down if easier, to help you come to sense with it. Since opening up and explaining how I felt and the impact it was having on my career, it feels as though a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. A couple of weeks into the changes and my psoriasis has stopped flaring, it’s a lot calmer and I feel a lot better within myself.
Now I know that flexible working isn’t always a suitable or available option but there are many other ways to make work more manageable:
- Try carrying mini moisturisers in your bag
- Don’t be afraid to ask for five minute breaks to breathe, clear your head and reapply your cream
- Switch seats so you don’t sit directly under the AC unit, which can often dry your skin out
- Ask for more support on your team with the possibility to reduce your hours
- Suggest ‘dress down’ days once a week so you can wear more psoriasis-friendly clothes
It’s important to remember that Psoriasis is still very unknown and often misunderstood, so while we may worry that people won’t get it as they can’t see it, unless we talk about it and do our bit to raise awareness of what it is truly like to have psoriasis, it will take a lot longer for us to help ourselves and for the people around us to truly understand.
Lianne Hunter has had psoriasis for over 25 years. With the aim to raise positive awareness of psoriasis and empower others to feel comfortable in their own skin, she can be found blogging at http://www.livingwithpsoriasis.co.uk and sharing her experience of living with psoriasis on Twitter and Instagram.
This content is not intended to advise you about your health. Always seek advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professionals.
UK/IE MAT-05108. Date of Prep: September 2016