At the end of our family’s weekly video call, my wife, Lori, reminded us to perform a random act of kindness (RAK). She used to teach her middle school students about RAKs before she left her job to raise our kids, and today she is the family “RAKtivist.” I appreciate her efforts — after all, helping others is a big reason why I became a minister.
A CNN article on RAKs affirms some of the potential health benefits we receive from our altruistic activities: a sense of community, lower blood pressure, pain reduction, and happiness. It’s a win-win to practice kindness and volunteer to help others.
Still, as much as I value RAKs, when other people offer me kindness or help, I’ve always been reluctant to accept. I was raised believing it’s better not to owe others, that generosity always comes with strings attached. I internalized the message that I needed to go it alone.
And when my life became difficult or overwhelming, I was too closed off emotionally to ask for help. As a result, I turned feelings of failure against myself.
Having psoriasis compounded that self-doubt.
Psoriasis Can Harm Your Self-Esteem
Psoriasis isolated me in ways that I am only now coming to understand. As a child and teen with a stigmatizing skin disease I naturally pulled away from others. The teasing, insensitive questions about my psoriatic skin, and bullying became too much to manage. Withdrawal and avoidance seemed like the best way to protect myself.
Even though I became an overachiever in academics and sports, I thought of myself as dumb, unlovable, and inferior. I became my own harshest critic, especially when it came to my psoriasis.
I’ve blamed myself for having psoriasis, as if I did something wrong to get it. If my psoriasis flared, I would chastise myself for triggering it. When a medication didn’t work well, I wondered if I’d taken it incorrectly. Low self-esteem, shame, and doubt became the air I breathed each day.
I didn’t feel like I deserved kindness, either from others or myself.
Self-Blame Can Give Way to Self-Compassion
I began to put less pressure and lay less blame on myself as I grew in my personal faith. Even though others rejected me, I believed that God never did. I found a life-transforming acceptance in my wife and through my friends and faith community.
I could start to see that having psoriasis could be a life experience through which I could advocate for others in similar circumstances.
It still can be hard for me to accept help or kindness. But I’m learning that living in community with others means sometimes giving and at other times receiving. I now see the importance of applying self-compassion in a way that combats a lifetime of self-negativity and harshness.
Being kinder to myself has benefited my psoriasis, too. It’s released me to live more freely and have more capacity to care for myself. Since stress can trigger my psoriasis, the calm that comes with self-acceptance reduces the chance of flares.
Positive Self-Talk Is a Useful Strategy
My therapist once told me something that felt earth-shattering at the time: Not every thought you have is true. So much of my self-talk came from a place of negativity. Instead, he helped me identify when I needed to treat myself more gently.
I noticed the change in my self-talk after my psoriasis flared on a recent trip.
Traveling can trigger my psoriasis. For example, when I’m driving to see my parents in Southern California during the winter months, I worry about snow over the mountains heading toward Los Angeles, and I’m concerned about passing COVID-19 or some other illness to my elderly mom and dad.
On a recent trip, the rental car’s heavy air-freshener smell added to the list of hazards, since perfume can worsen my skin inflammation and allergies. At first, I scolded myself for not returning the car and getting a different one. When I felt skin discomfort, I blamed myself.
Then I reminded myself that I can learn from the experience by speaking up next time. The flare I experienced, I told myself, would eventually go away. Those thoughts helped me enjoy the trip despite the difficulties.
Downtime and Breaks May Be the Self-Care You Need
Taking breaks and making room for downtime are ways to show kindness to yourself.
For almost 25 years I worked six- to seven-day weeks with two weeklong vacations each year. I felt driven to succeed and not let others down. But by the beginning of the pandemic, I experienced burnout. I’ve wondered if the constant stress and lack of rest worsened my psoriasis and health in general.
I requested an extended break from work, which was reluctantly granted. In typical fashion, I decided to fill those four months with lots of activities. But with COVID-19 lockdowns looming I had to cancel trips and plans. That downtime at home turned out to be exactly what I needed to force me to slow down and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Later, I chose to be kinder to myself by incorporating more downtime. I switched to a more flexible job that came with less pressure. I also added breaks into my weekly work rhythms such as walks, coffee runs, or time out to read a book.
These changes have given me the capacity to handle what life throws at me, including better managing my health and psoriasis. I have time to think, exercise regularly, and prepare more healthful meals.
I’m glad my wife introduced random acts of kindness to our family. They taught me the value of kindness every day. By extension, showing kindness to yourself is important too, especially when you live with a challenging condition like psoriasis.