In the summer after eighth grade, I noticed dry, scaly patches of skin on my scalp. When they didn’t leave after a few weeks, I started to panic. I went to the doctor, but he didn’t know what it was. But they were very evident along my hairline on the top of my forehead, and I was laser focused on one fact: High school was about to start and I wasn’t at my best.
Those early teenage years are a pivotal time, when even the smallest things – not to mention visible skin disease – can really ruin your self-confidence. Determined to fix it, I went to see several doctors. Most told me I had dermatitis (a skin irritation) and prescribed a medicated shampoo. It helped, but the patches never completely went away so I tried to cover them up with hair extensions.
At the age of 16, I was finally diagnosed with psoriasis – an immune disorder that causes skin cells to multiply up to 10 times faster than they should, creating scaly patches and itches. It took longer to figure out what it was because on my African American skin my spots weren’t red and inflamed like they would have been if I had fair skin.
Feeling completely exposed
When I got to college, patches started growing elsewhere on my skin. I would have a flare in my back, then it would get under control. Then patches would appear on my arms, and when they were gone, they would appear on my legs. It happened all through college.
When it was time to shop for a fancy dress, I knew I should not only find a dress that I liked, but one that would cover my flares. Looking at dresses on a rack, I had to think, “I can show my arms, but I need to cover my back.” This thinking dictated what would buy. It was tiring.
One day in my senior year, I got a really bad rash on my face – and there was just no way to hide it. I don’t think anything can prepare you for someone looking you in the eye and asking, “What is this? wrong with your skin? “I didn’t know how to react, so I cried.
Have visible plaques (the technical term for patches) on my face it was hard to believe people could see me without seeing my psoriasis. After all, how could they do not see my plaques if the light spots on my brown skin were so obvious?
My solution – which honestly wasn’t a solution at all – was to avoid social outings as much as possible – not easy when there are projects to present, job fairs to attend and many parties.
I even spent energy hiding my condition from my best friend – to the point that I changed in the bathroom when we got ready to go out so she wouldn’t see my plaques or blemishes.
It was so hard to hide something like that from him. One day it got too hard, so I opened up. She was immediately so understanding and helped me realize that when she looked at me, my psoriasis was not what she was seeing. It was a defining moment, and made me realize that my illness was much more serious for me than for everyone else.
Take back control
With new support from my best friend, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I started researching common triggers on my own and found that stress and certain foods could cause flare-ups. So I started changing my habits, especially dealing with a high stress situation – and it worked. This feeling of empowerment made me feel more confident and comfortable in my body.
The year after I graduated from college, my mom found a National Psoriasis Foundation sponsored walk in Atlanta, where we live, so we went. Until then, I had only really spoken about my condition with a handful of people, but the event gave me the chance to connect with other people with psoriasis.
Suddenly I was part of that group of people who knew exactly what I was talking about – they immediately became friends. I asked them what worked for them and talked about what worked for me too. We also have so easily discussed things that other people without psoriasis just don’t understand. It was liberating. That day was my second real turning point for psoriasis: the first time I felt I could really relate to others.
The following year, I created my own team and raised funds.
Accept my condition
I would be lying if I said I never wonder if my psoriasis is the first thing people notice when they see me. In fact, more often than not this thought crosses my mind if I am having a relapse and interacting with someone other than my husband.
Despite these moments of insecurity, I am so much more confident than before. In fact, there are times when I choose not to cover up my psoriasis – and when that happens, the feeling is pure release. At these times, I might have psoriasis, but my psoriasis didn’t.
Over the past year, COVID has not been good for my stress, which as I now understand is a known trigger for psoriasis flare-ups. At the start of the pandemic, the uncertainties gave me a pretty bad escape. But now I prioritize taking time for things that relax me, like taking a bath, taking deep breaths, and drinking green tea. As the wife and mother of a one-year-old daughter (with another baby on the way!), I know stress is inevitable. But now I am able to handle it better.
More than anything, my psoriasis has been a teacher – something that has shown me the importance of being myself. Now I am able to believe that my character will shine through any type of outbreak.
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