For years I suffered with psoriasis in silence. It wasn’t until I started to share my story online that other people I knew "came out" about having this disease. Eric H. is someone I know from our time as students at Alabama State University. We saw each other and often spoke every day on campus, neither of us knowing that we shared a condition that affects 125 million people worldwide. Here, Eric and I discuss his life with psoriasis — including his dating life — as an African-American male. (The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Alisha: Where is your psoriasis located? When were you first diagnosed, and what are your triggers?** Eric:** It mainly affects my face. So I’ll get patches on my lips, around my nose, my right eye, on my forehead, and on my hands. But the hardest part is the fact that it’s on my face and I can’t cover it. And I’m a guy, so it’s not like I can wear makeup.
I was diagnosed when I was 13, but I’ve had dry skin issues all my life. My dad had dry skin, too, so we just kind of figured my problem was simply dry skin. We decided to visit the dermatologist when my flare ups started to appear on my face and lotion just wasn’t doing it.
I experience flares most often when I’m stressed about life issues, like being worried about money.
**** Alisha: How do you feel about your disease?**** Eric:** I've gone a good six years without being concerned about my psoriasis. This is after having 12 years of psoriasis being the thing that I would think about every time I looked in the mirror. I’m so happy I’ve gotten to the point where I see everything that I love about myself, rather than only the negative stuff. I used to hate even looking in the mirror, because I would see the psoriasis, and it always made me feel like the ugliest person in the world. It got to the point where I would hate seeing my reflection, because it was always a reminder of my disease.
Alisha: How is your dating life with psoriasis?** Eric:** The women I have dated have never had an issue with my psoriasis. I got my first girlfriend at 17. I had never had a girlfriend in middle school or high school. I was really controlled by psoriasis. I felt like if I even approached a girl she was going to look at my psoriasis and be like, "Ugh, what’s that on his skin?” I’ve always had this fear to approach women because I had breakouts on my face. And it always felt like people would look at it as if it was 10 times worse than it actually was. I felt like people would think that if I came up and I touched them on the hand, they would get what I had on my face, and I always assumed that this would be the same case for girls.
For a long time, I was afraid to approach a girl and ask for her phone number, so I’ve only dated girls that I’ve worked with or went to school with — people I saw every day, so I would have a thousand chances to work up the nerve to speak to them. A lot of these insecurities are really just your mind broadcasting what it thinks other people are thinking of you. No one I’ve ever been friends with, and none of the women I’ve dated, have ever looked at my psoriasis as if it was something they had to be scared of. They've always embraced me.
Alisha: What words of inspiration would you give to a guy dealing with psoriasis, and what unique challenges can you warn a newly diagnosed male about?** Eric:** I think the biggest thing for men, since we can’t wear makeup, is you just have to love yourself, regardless. Learn how to be okay with your flaws. A lot of your feelings is just what your mind has made up. I think back on all the things that have happened in my life, e…. When it comes to living life, and even though bad things happen, they're rarely as bad as you might have thought they were going to be what you were thinking. I don’t think the way that I thought people looked at me was ever the way people REALLY looked at me.
Growing up, you will have a few people that can be mean and they’ll joke on you. But the majority of the time people are not thinking what you think in your mind and they WILL embrace you. At the end of the day, you can’t feel embraced if you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin. I can’t feel like you're accepting me for what I have going on if I don’t accept myself. The most important part is just to accept that you have this disease, and be okay with it. Then you can start to see that other people are okay with it. A big turning point in my life was just being okay with who I am as a person, and not being afraid of people picking me apart.
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-bach 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.