While prevention may be the best medicine, sometimes flares just happen. When they do, having a plan in place to ride the wave of symptoms, speed healing, and shorten the experience can be one key to living well with a chronic condition. In a health context, the word “chronic” indicates a long-term, constantly recurring, and difficult to eradicate illness. In other words, not fun.
For me, a psoriasis flare can start with a tiny tingle on one of my palms and I know instantly it’s going to happen. The tingle is followed by incessant itch, tenderness and redness, and finally a small split in my skin that will evolve into an angry fissure in a matter of days. Before I know it, all four limbs are involved, and I am in full bloom -- inflamed, in pain, miserable, and potentially out of commission. Sometimes, as an extra bonus, my scalp will feel like it caught fire at the same time and I’ll be burning, itching, and shedding a humiliating trail of flakes for the duration of the flare.
Managing a chronic disease often feels like a continuous stream of trials and errors. We stumble, we fall, we rise, and if we’re lucky enough to be in tune with ourselves, we learn some lessons for the next time. For much of my adult life, I was out of tune, out of touch, and out of options for taking any kind of meaningful care of myself. I had deprioritized my health to the point of neglect, and as a result, I was almost always flaring in one way or another. If not psoriasis, then one of myriad other chronic conditions was inflaming my stomach, bowels, uterus, or ovaries. Again, not fun.
I have lived with psoriasis and other inflammatory conditions for more than half my life, and like many people living with chronic disease, I have devised various methods for coping with flares and minimizing the misery.
Preparing for a flare helps me feel more in control of the situation and reduces my anxiety about its onset. I have developed “flare kits” that are ready and waiting for when the time comes. For psoriasis, my kit includes Vaseline, coal-tar and baby shampoo, antibiotic ointment, steroidal ointment, fresh socks, cotton gloves, liquid bandage, and aspirin. I like to keep it all in one bin, so that I don’t have to worry about having what I need to take care of myself during a flare.
For me, less worry equals less stress, which I believe can speed healing and lessen the overall time frame of a flare. When it’s all over, I replenish the kit and store it away for the inevitable next time.
This Too Shall Pass
Living with a chronic condition can be physically and mentally draining, and I work to ease this burden through compassionate self-acceptance. Coming to terms with my body’s limitations and not resisting “what is” prevents an added layer of suffering for me during a flare. This can help reframe the flare as simply another part of my life experience.
It’s not always easy, but trying to maintain a positive and grateful mindset, even while experiencing pain and fatigue, can be a surprisingly soothing salve. For me, acceptance invites a gentleness that acts as an antidote for the harsh reality of a flare and the blame, shame, and victim self-talk that can sometimes surface along with it.
The Best Laid Plans
Managing my expectations and going with the proverbial flow is a way of life with chronic conditions. There are good days, not-so-good days, and downright wretched days. During a flare, life gets upended.
Oftentimes, this means cancellations, opting out, and saying no to people, places, and things to allow for more rest and recovery. I find that this level of self-discipline requires, ironically, a serious commitment to flexibility. And, the more I learn to surrender, the more resilient I become.
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