It all began with a dime-sized patch of scaly skin on my shin that itched pretty bad. This was several years ago when I was in my mid-20s.
At that point in my life, I didn’t have health insurance, but I wasn’t overly concerned with my health. I was more concerned with having a good time. I had self-diagnosed this patch of skin as a fungus. I tried a few anti-fungal over-the-counter creams, but nothing helped. The patch grew in size and after two years of hoping it would just go away I decided I needed to see a dermatologist. I learned I had plaque psoriasis. Now it all made sense.
By this time, my psoriasis had surfaced in my ears, some areas of my hands and both legs in my shin area. The itching in my ears was really bad and about 30 percent of my lower legs were covered. I tried a few medications – Topicort spray, Otezla (apremilast), cortisone injections – and a few natural remedies, but I was not happy with the results. On top of that, I was hesitant to use some of these medications due to the potential side effects.
This is when my psoriasis started to get the best of me. I felt like things were only getting worse. I would scratch my skin until I bled and I wouldn’t do any activities where I had to put on shorts and deal with people looking at my legs.
I turned to drinking to cope. I couldn’t help but feel that my psoriasis was going to spread and there was nothing I could do about it. I was overweight, unhealthy and I felt isolated. My primary care physician informed me that due to my weight and lifestyle I had early signs of fatty liver disease, diabetes and reactive airway disease. I was smoking cigarettes, eating whatever I wanted and drinking way too much. While we are at it, let’s go ahead and add depression to that list.
Kicking off the comeback
Right around this time I joined a couple of psoriasis support groups on Facebook. I quickly realized that I wasn’t alone. On top of that, I realized it’s pretty common and there are folks out there who are way worse off than I was. This was the first of a few turning points in my life. Here I was feeling sorry for myself, but not doing anything to improve my situation.
In December 2015 I was heavier than I had ever been at 235 pounds. I’m only 5’ 7”. By now I was married to my awesome wife and we had a beautiful little girl. What kind of example was I setting for them? I wanted to make some changes because I wanted to be around as long as possible for my family. I had let my psoriasis define me, and I wasn’t going to allow that any more.
I started off with some exercising and dieting. I cut out 99 percent of sugars and carbs from my diet and dropped to 205 pounds in about a month and a half. I started doing those outdoor activities I loved and missed like kayaking, swimming, hiking and biking. I maintained this weight for all of 2016 and the beginning of 2017.
Even with this weight loss I still had those health issues. I was still drinking and smoking. My doctor explained that if I got down to my target weight, stopped smoking and stopped drinking excessively, these health issues might go away completely.
The tipping point
Everything changed in one moment. My sweet little 5-year-old daughter looked me in the eyes and said, “Daddy, will you please stop smoking? It’s not good for you and I don’t want you to be sick.” Man, that hurt. That hurt really bad. I teared up, gathered my thoughts, kneeled down to her and said, “Yes baby. I will stop smoking.”
This was about four months ago and that short conversation changed my path, goals and priorities in life. I stopped drinking excessively, stopped smoking, got more serious about my diet and got a gym membership. I also needed to find something to occupy my time so I took those outdoor activities I enjoyed to the next level: kayaking.
You can follow me as I kayak to connect with other people with psoriasis, inspire people to get out there and live their life, raise awareness and raise funds for NPF. Follow me on Facebook and on my Team NPF page, where I’ll be “Adventuring for a Cure” in the Texas Junior Water Safari on Sept. 16 and other competitions in my home state of Texas and maybe in your state, too!
Gene Griffin has had psoriasis for roughly eight years. He is a true adventurer who loves to hike, bike, backpack and most of all kayak. He is the creator of “Adventuring for a Cure,” where he aims to inspire others with psoriasis to get outside, enjoy nature and break the constraints of psoriasis. Gene is not afraid to show off his psoriasis and use it as an opportunity to educate and empower others.
Driving discovery, creating community
For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.