Cruising Out from the Stigma of Psoriasis
My parents made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: join them on a Panama Canal cruise. They saw me go through the most difficult season of psoriasis and thought going away for vacation could help me feel better. Two years of trying one medication after another left me literally covered in psoriasis. A couple weeks away began to sound wonderful as I started yet another new medication.
At first I didn’t want to go on the trip. During those days I didn’t want to do much of anything. When I tell others I’ve been depressed with psoriasis, I think of that time in my mid-thirties. Everything else was going great. I had finished graduate school with a job waiting for me. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better life with three young children and a supportive wife in our first house. Except for the psoriasis—it made me want to hide in withdrawal, avoidance, and embarrassment.
Covering Up and Hiding Out
When I think about the stigma associated with psoriasis, the arcade game where you whack the mole that pops up comes to mind. I’ve often felt like the mole popping its head up, only to have it knocked down. When I popped up at school as a child or teen, I faced incessant teasing and questions about my skin. I stopped going to the pool after I noticed other swimmers keeping a healthy distance away. Eventually I was told to leave.
One of my worst memories at school happened in the locker room. I enjoyed running cross country and track in high school, but I hated changing in the locker room. One day two other athletes mockingly questioned me about my skin. They asked me if it was AIDS, and if I would give it to them. That moment I wanted to both beat them up, and crawl in a hole.
Eventually I began to wear shorts and t-shirts despite the prominent plaques on my arms and legs. It helped that my skin improved some with newer treatments. Better psoriasis control allowed me to feel more confident to step out and calmly explain my condition to others. But when all my treatments stopped working, I felt like that child or teenager once again. I wanted to hide and withdraw in isolation.
Out of Hiding
The Panama Canal cruise became a turning point for me. I needed a vacation like anyone under a ton of stress and emotional turmoil. I relished the time with my daughter and parents who joined me on the trip. But most of all I needed to step out in courage to do what I wanted and needed to do despite the potential backlash from others.
At first I found a relatively secluded spot on the ship to sunbathe. Some people did walk by, but I told myself to ignore them. Then for dinner I abandoned the anonymous buffet to eat at the dining table with two other families. I even found the nerve to join my daughter on a swim in a crowded small stream and waterfall. Each time I took the risk to expose my skin, and found it wasn’t so bad after all.
That trip I learned a few ways to face the stigma that can come with psoriasis. Education is so important. I need to be educated myself so I can know that what others are saying isn’t true. Then I can tell them the truth that psoriasis is an autoimmune, non-contagious condition. It’s another chronic illness that needs to be well managed and treated.
I also figured out that reacting negatively to others, like I wanted to do in the high school locker room, is a waste of my time and energy. “Let it go,” is a good mantra to live by. Finally, being with people who already know about my psoriasis, or who are willing to learn about it lessens the impact of those who do not. My daughter and parents love and acceptance supersedes any rejection I might face from strangers.
Over those two weeks I cruised out of hiding with psoriasis. The stigma of psoriasis stings a lot less with education, understanding, acceptance of friends and loved ones, and a let-it-go attitude.
Any suggestions made are not intended to replace the advice of a qualified medical professional. Please consult your healthcare provider prior to making any changes to your treatment, exercise or diet routine.