Here are ways to foster self-love when facing the challenges of living with psoriatic arthritis.
Self-love can be elusive, often ricocheting between soaring sky-high and hitting rock bottom.
The challenge of maintaining self-love may intensify when dealing with a chronic illness, particularly one that can affect your health internally and externally.
Psoriatic arthritis is one such condition that can turn developing a strong sense of self-love into a high intensity challenge. But it’s not an impossible one.
“When I was first diagnosed, I felt disgusted,” says Ashley Couto, a freelance journalist who received her diagnosis of arthritis at 18 months old before developing psoriatic symptoms at 15 years old.
“I was seeing someone at the time, and I could tell it made them uncomfortable,” she adds. “As a teenage girl, I just wanted to hold hands with my boyfriend like everyone else.”
A lack of awareness may mean that reactions to a visible condition can range from intrusive questions and awkward looks to disparaging comments and physical withdrawal. The unpredictability and brazenness of responses can have a harsh impact.
“I feel the most embarrassed when I have the pustules or large nodules that appear on my fingers,” continues Couto. “Imagine having a business meeting and sticking your hand out, and your fingers are just covered in giant welts. It’s embarrassing, and no one assumes you’ve got psoriasis. They think it’s something contagious.”
“Self-love means that you have confidence, compassion, and appreciation for yourself, who you are, and what you stand for,” says Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker. “It helps strengthen self-esteem and can empower you.”
Self-love can require regular introspection and paying close attention to our body and mind’s ever-evolving needs and reactions. Its importance may grow tenfold when dealing with psoriatic arthritis, which usually flares and retreats in cycles.
“It’s still something I’m becoming acquainted with as a 34-year-old woman,” says Couto. “It’s sometimes as small as saying ‘no-no’ to myself when I look in the mirror and I get self-critical. If I’m having one of those days, I’ll reorient myself to find things I like about myself.”
Self-regulation can be tricky for almost anyone, but calling ourselves out when judgmental thoughts creep in can be important for creating robust self-esteem. Try to be gentle and avoid scolding yourself, but be firm and focus on speaking and thinking kindly about yourself.
Developing a sense of self-love isn’t usually limited to our bodies, though. A person comprises countless parts, and it can be important to strike a balance between all the spheres of our lives, ensuring that the totality of our self-worth doesn’t anchor to a singular thing.
“I used to tie my self-love into how I performed in a work environment, and I’ve completely given that up,” explains Couto. “I still work very hard, and I get a lot done during the workday, but I have learned to value other parts of who I am — my resiliency, my sense of humor, etc.— as the keys that help me to love myself every day.”
“Think of self-love as self-care,” says Waichler. “Give yourself permission to engage in tasks and situations that make you a better person and feel better about yourself.”
“Engage in self-care activities and choose people to spend time with that are supportive and help you feel good,” she says.
Curating a life that allows self-love to flourish can be the first step. Self-care is usually necessary when living with a chronic condition, and self-love is often its fuel.
Make time for daily, weekly, or monthly check-ins, whatever you have the capacity for. Try to make room for the full spectrum of your emotions. You don’t usually need to be totally in love with yourself or deliriously happy 24/7 to have a healthy sense of self-love.
“I think a lot of it has come down to self-acceptance and to being old enough to realize that even if I try to change everything about myself, there are still going to be people who don’t like me,” says Couto. “I’ve spoken to a lot of friends and colleagues about this — you hit a point where you just stop caring, and other people also stop caring.”
“There will always be people who judge, but that’s a reflection of them, and I’ve learned it’s absolutely none of my business,” she adds.
Someone else’s opinion usually shouldn’t influence our self-worth, but the world can be a bully, and sometimes it hurts. That’s OK. How you respond to it is often up to you.
It’s OK to walk away. It’s not your job to educate the world’s people. Sometimes, calling it out internally or venting imagined responses to loved ones at home is enough.
If you confront someone, try to be clear and concise about the impact of their words. Try not to get drawn into a debate. You usually don’t need to validate their excuses for cruelty or ignorance.
“If you can afford to do so, seek mental health treatment,” advises Couto. “I don’t have many regrets about my life, but starting late with therapy is one of them. It’s so easy to fall into body negativity or to see your body as an enemy, and that becomes destructive very quickly.”
“You need to be in partnership with your body, so having someone who can help you do a wellness check and set a new course if needed is valuable,” she continues.
Be open with your loved ones. They’re there to uplift you, and they can’t help if they don’t know your concerns. Explain how psoriatic arthritis affects daily life, and try to accept help when they offer it.
“Find other people in chat rooms or support groups who have a similar or the same diagnosis,” advises Waichler. “Knowing other people with similar challenges can be a source of support and comfort.”
If all this sounds intimidating and you don’t know where to start, try taking a breath and just picking something — anything at all — to get started.
“If you can’t love all of you, find one part of yourself to love,” adds Couto. “Maybe you have great style, or you’ve got thick hair, or you’re a really fantastic friend. Use that as a stepping stone to build from.”
Medically reviewed on October 28, 2023
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