Each year the summer heat here in California’s Central Valley reminds me that Psoriasis Action Month is coming in August and that my schedule is about to become even more hectic.
After getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 I was hoping I could throw myself into patient-advocacy projects for Psoriasis Action Month. But with the extra infectious delta variant dominating the news and COVID-19 rates ticking up in my area, nothing feels normal quite yet.
In fact, the emotional impact of the pandemic is hitting me harder now than ever before. So I’m taking a different approach for Psoriasis Action Month. Instead of getting busier, I’m planning to rest and de-stress.
Relief Gives Way to Fatigue
A colleague once shared with me that you don’t really feel the full effects of a stressful or traumatic event until it’s over. That’s when relief dawns like the rising sun after a dark night — when you can finally let go of fear and anxiety. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine felt that way for me.
I experienced this relief two weeks after my second Moderna jab. Before, trips to the grocery store or the clinic laboratory for a blood test left me worrying about potential coronavirus exposure and imagining what it would be like to end up in an emergency room or on a ventilator.
Even though my conscious mind told me to relax, I couldn’t stop fixating on worst-case scenarios. The stress made my skin explode with psoriasis and eczema.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine did ease my anxiety, but I didn’t find myself feeling exuberant or energetic. To my surprise, I mostly felt exhausted.
As I looked at my friends’ social media posts from their travels, there was no way I could envision myself taking that anniversary trip to Hawaii I canceled last spring.
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The Pandemic’s Impact on My Psoriasis
I haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, but the pandemic impacted my health in other ways, draining the emotional reserves I rely on to cope with my psoriasis effectively.
In June, post-vaccination, I attended my first in-person gathering with people outside of my family: the National Psoriasis Foundation’s Pstamp Out Psoriatic Disease event in Sacramento, California. The organizer asked me that evening if I could address the challenges I faced with my psoriasis in the past year and a half.
I began by talking about how much I appreciated seeing everyone in person. Staying home for months on end had left me feeling isolated from others in the psoriasis community, and I missed the support and the opportunities to stay connected.
I also addressed what it was like to give up in-person visits to my dermatologist and switch to telehealth sessions. Although I was dealing with flares during the pandemic, my dermatologist and I decided that it would be better not to change medication until I could resume in-person appointments.
But the stress associated with my flares, including the disruptions to work and church life, no doubt made my psoriasis worse.
As my wife, Lori, and I drove home from Sacramento I remarked how much I enjoyed the event — but also just how tired I still felt.
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Rest for a Weary Body, Mind, and Soul
The message to prioritize rest and emotional recovery came from unlikely sources. Even though I’ve been learning the ropes at a new job, my supervisor encouraged me to slow down. Work conferences where I expected to hear about goal-setting instead emphasized the importance of self-care.
When I felt pressure to be more productive, I told myself to take breaks until I felt up to the task. Indeed, I’m recognizing how every part of me needs rest.
My body is telling me to sleep more and more actively manage my insomnia. With the summer heat I haven’t been doing as many of my usual walks, which help me wind down at the end of the day. Those excursions out in the neighborhood relieve stress from my body and provide a mental break from my daily responsibilities.
My mind needs time off from continual bouts of worrying. Scrolling through news feeds and articles on my phone as a distraction from mounting concerns doesn’t help. It might even worsen periods of brain fog that can make it hard for me to focus in virtual meetings or read a book.
My soul needs to recover from the sadness of the pandemic. So for Psoriasis Action Month, I’m blocking out time to process the losses I’ve incurred.
Not being able to visit my parents, who live in Southern California, is one of them. Feeling guilty for letting my overall health suffer as I delayed getting care for various chronic health conditions is another. It hurts to think about how my three young adult children struggled mentally, socially, and academically these past months.
RELATED: Living With Psoriasis During the Pandemic Can Have a Side Effect: Chronic Guilt
Take Action This Month to Prioritize Self-Care
This Psoriasis Action Month, if you’re feeling anything like I am, you understand the need for rest. You sense how hard the pandemic has hit you and your physical and emotional health.
Giving yourself permission to rest might be one of the most powerful things you can do.
You can read more about my experiences on my website, PsoHoward.