I know my friend didn't mean to offend me when she took one look at the red patches on my legs and told me bluntly, "You should really put some lotion on those."
She didn't know I had psoriasis - back then, that summer I was in my early 20s and had my college roommates visiting my hometown during summer break, I wasn't open about having this disease. I'd been able to hide any patches I had throughout the school year under long sleeves and jeans. Also, that summer I had experienced a flare following a bad sunburn; for the first time my psoriasis was out there for all to see.
My friend simply hadn't known any better (and well, she always had a way of saying whatever was on her mind). Still, looking back on that encounter, I realize I didn't reply in the best way. I'm pretty sure I mumbled something about having extra-sensitive and dry skin. But don't recall actually explaining that it was plaque psoriasis covering my lower legs. I wish I would have, though. I wish I would have taken the time to educate her - and my other roommates - about this autoimmune disease.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, and truthfully it's taken me years to become more comfortable about sharing this disease with others. If I could go back in time and tell my 20-something self how best to deal with comments about by skin made by friends and strangers, I'd say this:
• Remember that most people aren't trying to be disrespectful or mean - they simply don't know enough about psoriasis. Take the opportunity to share what you know. I've learned over time that the more I talk about it, the easier it gets to say to the world, "Yep, I have psoriasis."
• Have an "elevator speech" ready. You've heard about the importance of an elevator speech, right? It's the short and sweet summary of what you do for a living. We've all gotten asked that question, about our occupation, and ideally we should be able to answer in the time it takes to ride up or down a few floors on the elevator. The same goes with talking about your psoriasis, I figure. You don't want - or need - to go into great detail, unless the other person is especially curious and you feel comfortable sharing. My simple answer goes something like this: "I have psoriasis. It's a non-contagious, chronic health condition." If I'm experiencing a flare, I might add: "Right now I'm having an a bit of an outbreak. But with treatment, it gets under control."
• Often times, after you explain your psoriasis, people will tell you they know someone in their family or circle of friends who has it, too. They've likely seen it before, but just didn't know exactly what it was. I think it's helped that a few well-known individuals - country music singer/songwriter LeAnn Rimes and pro golfer Phil Mickelson, for example - have come forward and spoken about having psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. More people may be aware of these diseases thanks to awareness campaigns, such as those by the National Psoriasis Foundation, among others.
I admit that I still get a little embarrassed when called out about my psoriasis. Even at a health conference recently, talking with others about their own health issues and concerns, I found myself growing flush in the face when someone asked me about my psoriasis. I wondered if the group would start inspecting me head to toe in search of a psoriasis patch. I felt their eyes looking me over. But then, I took a deep breath and remembered that this was yet another opportunity to talk openly and confidently about something that, yes, I struggle with, but is also something that doesn't have to define who I am. I hope that each time I do this I help educate someone about psoriasis, and in the process help them show empathy and understanding toward anyone else they meet who also has this disease.
Published On: July 12, 2011