Alisha Bridges, 29, knows psoriasis can affect a person as a child and an adult. She first encountered the disease at age 7, after a bad case of chicken pox caused a psoriasis flare that she would battle for the following 20 years. In honor of Psoriasis Awareness Month, Alisha shares her experiences and advice on what it’s like to have psoriasis as both a child and an adult. She also lends her tips for parents and children struggling with the disease._
What’s the difference between having psoriasis now vs. having it as a child?
I was diagnosed with psoriasis at the age of 7 back in the early 90s. Although I understood the bases of the disease and what caused my plaques, it was difficult and uncomfortable for me to articulate this to other people when they inquired about my disease. As I approached puberty I started to lie about my psoriasis, claiming to have eczema because people were more familiar with that. I also did not have many options when it came to medicine. Also there were only so many drugs that a child could use at that time. My treatment options included topicals and light treatment, which really had no effect on my disease.
Now, as an adult, I have the tools to explain my disease in a clear way and to answer any questions. I also have a lot more options when it comes to medicines which allows me to be more proactive.
Growing up, what was the hardest thing about having psoriasis?
Trying to not be concerned with what others would think of me and my disease. I was always very worried about what others would think, and that’s something I’ve only recently started to let go of. I shaped my life around hiding my psoriasis, and that lowered my quality of life.
I stopped myself from participating in a lot of activities if they required me to show skin. That included playing sports, going swimming, and hanging out during the summer. But over the years I gained a variety of hacks to hide my psoriasis, and that caused me to be an over-thinker even in the areas of my life that don’t include psoriasis (there aren’t many areas of my life that don’t include it though, lol).
If you could go back to your teenage tears, what would you do differently?
I believe that everything happens for a reason and is a part of divine purpose. If it wasn’t for these difficult moments I wouldn’t have a story to tell. But if I could go back I would definitely speak out about my disease more. I look at how confident and resilient I am now and I wish I had that confidence back then. I think about all the opportunities I missed to educate people because I was afraid of what they would say or think. Since I’ve spoken out I have had several classmates to reach out to tell me either they or someone close to them has psoriasis. I realize that a lot of those fears and negative feelings were due to my own rampant thoughts.
What advice would you give to a child dealing with psoriasis?It gets better. It may seem as though the disappointment of having psoriasis will never end, but it can. You must surround yourself around others who love you, understand you, and won’t judge you. Become involved with the National Psoriasis Foundation. They have programs just for children to give you the tools to cope, gain confidence, and meet others just like you! Also know you are not alone: there are 7.5 million people in the United States with psoriasis, many of which are hiding and you would never know.
What advice can you give to parents with children who have psoriasis?
Realize that your children will not tell you everything, especially if you don’t ask. I dealt with mental and emotional issues, and my family had no idea. These included depression and anxiety.
For some reason I was under the impression that I should keep those feelings to myself and that one day they would just pass. I never shared that I had low self-esteem and felt inadequate compared to my peers, nor did I reveal some of the rude comments I endured at school.
It’s important to have deliberate conversation, specifically about psoriasis. You must ask more than “how was your day?” You should ask questions involving your child’s disease, self-esteem, and mental health and follow up with action if necessary. Also role-play with your child on how to handle questions about the disease, including rude comments. You must equip them on how to stand up for themselves when you are not there. Push them to go a bit beyond their comfort level, finding ways for them to do the things they love, but remain comfortable.
Alisha Bridges has battled with severe psoriasis for over 20 years and is the face behind Being Me in My Own Skin, a blog which highlights her life with psoriasis. Her goals are to create empathy and compassion for those who are least understood, through transparency of self, patient advocacy, and healthcare. She is currently a post-bachelor’s student at Georgia State University pursuing a career as a Physician's Assistance—her passions are dermatology and sexual health. Alisha also shares her passion as a Social Ambassador of the Psoriasis HealthCentral Facebook page where she shares timely tips, stories and insights on living with psoriasis. You can also find Alisha on Twitter.