Jenny Parker partnered with us to talk about her personal journey and about Healthline’s new app for those living with psoriatic arthritis.
A gymnast and avid runner for most of her life, Jenny Parker was training 6 days a week with the goal of clocking in a 5-minute, 30-second mile.
She was close — coming in at 5 minutes and 42 seconds — when her body stopped moving at its usual speed in July 2019.
“My hips just wouldn’t move the way I wanted them to. It almost felt like I was rusted, and it was painful,” says Parker.
Still, her inner athlete didn’t let down.
Parker kept training for a few more months, then took some time off to give her body a break. When the symptoms didn’t subside, she saw her primary care doctor.
“I’ve had psoriasis on my scalp, elbows, and knees since I was 12, and I had been warned that if something felt funny with my joints, I should see a doctor right away, so I finally did,” she says.
After conducting a few tests that analyzed inflammation and arthritis, nothing came back positive, and the doctor recommended that Parker see a physical therapist.
“That didn’t help either, and at that point, my symptoms started looking like classic arthritis. I was stiff in the morning and it took a while to get moving,” she says.
Her condition started affecting her at her nursing job, too.
“I work 12-hour shifts, and the first 4 hours of my morning I was limping at work. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to run to another part of the hospital if there was an emergency. That’s when I knew I needed to see a specialist,” Parker says.
In November 2019, she was referred to a rheumatologist, who diagnosed her with psoriatic arthritis (PsA).
She was 26 years old.
At first, Parker was an endurance athlete without an outlet. Even exercises like jumping jacks hurt.
However, she recognized the need to get her heart rate up, as both psoriasis and PsA come with an increased risk for heart disease.
She tried riding a stationary bike for a while but missed running.
Once she found a combination of medications that worked for her, her condition improved. That meant it was time to lace up her trusty running shoes again.
“On medications, I can’t run every day, but I can jog,” she says. “The fastest I can do on a really good day is a 9-minute, 30-second mile, and I can run as much as 4 miles.”
“To go from being afraid to run across the street in time before a car came, to this, makes me so happy,” she says.
Wanting to connect with others her age who are also living with psoriatic arthritis, Parker created an Instagram account, @_cute_n_chronic, that was separate from her more filtered personal account.
“On my personal account, I was posting to the void, where people didn’t really understand me or engage with me,” she says.
While she found many accounts of people with other forms of arthritis, she wasn’t finding much that was specific to PsA.
“I wanted to be able to put my experience out there so others who were in the place I was could have a less bumpy road with going on medication and not being able to work out,” she says.
“I wanted to show people it doesn’t have to be as scary as our brains make it sometimes.”
She began holding weekly morning coffee chats on Instagram Live to share her struggles and successes, and quickly gained nearly 2,000 followers.
“There’s great engagement and I get messages from people saying they were in the same spot I was and I made them feel better,” says Parker.
Parker’s latest way to connect with those living with psoriatic arthritis is in her role as community guide for the free PsA Healthline app.
The app connects those diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis based on their lifestyle interests. By browsing member profiles, users can request to talk with other members within the community.
Members can also share what’s on their mind and learn from others in a number of groups, including:
- medications and treatments
- mental and emotional health
- flares and remission
- daily life and alternative treatments
There’s also a live discussions group, where users can chat in real time with Parker or another PsA advocate on a daily topic.
This feature is Parker’s favorite part of the app.
“I love that there are different groups for different topics because I think it helps keep things organized and easy for people to figure out,” she says.
As a community guide, she is especially happy to help users feel more connected with people going through the same thing.
“I had such a rocky start with my diagnosis, not only navigating medication, but also feeling alone, and the mental health component of grieving what I had to give up and couldn’t do anymore,” says Parker.
“I’d like to help people know they have someone here who cares and who is here to listen.”
As a nurse, being a compassionate listener comes naturally to her.
“I’m the empathizer, and that bleeds into the rest of my life,” she says.
For those considering partaking in the app’s features, Parker points out that it is a welcoming space filled with other people who really get it.
“It’s meant to be fun. Most importantly, it’s meant to add a positive thing to your life when PsA can sometimes add a lot of negative,” says Parker.
“Members can come exactly as they are with whatever struggles and triumphs they’re facing,” she adds. “This community is proof that you’re never alone.”
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, medical news, and inspirational people. She writes with empathy and accuracy and has a knack for connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.