Diagnosed as a medical student: Amy's journey with psoriatic arthritis

09 July 2021

Amy, 29, balances a busy lifestyle as a mum and her work as a doctor.

Here, she shares her story of living with psoriatic arthritis from the first signs of psoriasis, the pain and swollen joints to finally getting her diagnosis, and now life 8 years on.

“When I was a medical student, I noticed I had psoriasis on my scalp.”

I really thought my psoriasis was stress related but by 19, it was getting worse, my psoriasis was bleeding and I had smaller versions of psoriasis, called guttate psoriasis spreading all over me. I went to my doctor and was told it was because a virus and that I would be fine in a few months.

Months later I was still covered, and my GP referred to me to a dermatologist. I was told not to worry and that it would clear up on its own within a year.

“I developed a limp which I thought was from too much exercise.”

A few months later, I had pain in my lower back, and I was really struggling to get out of bed. I went back to my doctor, and they thought it was a muscle strain, told me to take anti-inflammatories, which I did, and it helped.

When my psoriasis did eventually clear up, I thought I was ok.

Just over a year later, when I was 21, my psoriasis and limp came back. I was a third year medical student working in rheumatology and that’s when I first heard about psoriatic arthritis.

A consultant I was working with mentioned that I should get tested and the MRI scan results confirmed arthritis. It showed that my pelvis and back were mostly affected.

I was in the right place at the right time and the consultant was lovely. I was given a leaflet and told to read more about the condition.

“It was a shock to the system to get the diagnosis.”

I was on my own in York with all my family still in Belfast when I was diagnosed, and I felt very isolated.

I don’t think I appreciated that this would be something that I would have for the rest of my life. In my mind, I would go on the medication and crack on with life.

“In my first year as a doctor, I wanted to make a good impression.”

I was ok at first with being on methotrexate but then everything changed.

I was doing 90-hour weeks, working nights and very long days and my hair started to fall out, I was feeling sick, and my pain was increasing.

I couldn’t bend my fingers properly and this meant I couldn’t do basic things in my job like putting in cannulas. I didn’t tell anyone, I just kept on going but I was exhausted and would just sleep on my day off. I didn’t want anyone thinking that I couldn’t do my job.

I was just so focused on doing my best as a junior doctor and setting up my career.

This was a job I had always wanted. When I was 3 years old, I said to my family I want to be a doctor.

In the end, I crashed and took time out from the NHS.

“I have learnt to be more forthcoming.”

I work a lot in private practice and if patients notice my arm is in a sling or they see the psoriasis, I explain it. I say this is what it is and how it affects me.

I think that it helps to strengthen my patient relationships and gives more humility.

My little girl is three and she just says, “You have spots on your tummy mummy, is it your arthritis?” - and I am open with her.

I shared photos on my Instagram and said this is what I live with, and it’s helped me to feel less conscious about it. I have also had responses from colleagues and students who’ve had similar experiences.

Instagram is so often used to show people’s best self, that it’s refreshing to just say this is really crap and horrible.

“I am being kinder to myself.”

In the past I have always gone at everything 100 miles an hour.

I have worked at striking a better balance. I find exercise is good for me. I do yoga, the peloton bike and weights. If I do feel tired, I have to accept it and take the time to rest.

The fatigue is like nothing else, you could sleep for a week, and I really used to stress about taking time out. My husband has been so good and says, “go and chill out on the sofa.” It’s nice to have that.

Having my daughter has been game changing. When I saw how excited she was when I dropped her off at pre-school, I just thought life is too short, I can’t miss these things.

“When I started my new job, I told them I had psoriatic arthritis.”

People think you are fine as you look well most of the time. I now say what I can’t do, whereas before I would have just tried and gone home and been in pain. If I can share more, it will help others to understand psoriatic arthritis better.

I try to be a positive person. I know that how I feel in a moment won’t be forever. This feeling will pass.

My husband is a great support, and he picks up on how I am doing. He’ll say, “do you want comfort or solutions”. I really appreciate this as sometimes you don’t want solutions; you just want someone to listen.

I will never be able to thank him enough for everything.

“My advice to others living with psoriatic arthritis would be...”

  • Don't panic. It is life changing but you will find your own way.
  • Use the #psoraticarthritis and look on social media. It can give you comfort to see other people’s stories and to know you are not alone.
  • Build up your online and offline network of supportive people.

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