Psoriasis affects 7.5 million people in the United States. That includes 12-time Olympic winner, author, and retired swimmer Dara Torres.
She was officially diagnosed with her conditions back in the early 90s after an unexplained “rash” appeared on her skin. HealthCentral blogger Alisha Bridges talks to Torres about her battles with psoriasis, playing sports, and why she decided to partner for the Show More of You campaign. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I read that you didn’t encounter psoriasis until the early 90s in adulthood. What were you initial thoughts on learning about your condition?
Well I didn’t know what it was at first. I had red flaky patches on my elbows and my back. I kind of let it go for a month, but after a month it got really irritable. I went to my dermatologist and he diagnosed me with psoriasis. For me personally, my work is at the pool, so my business suit is a swim suit and obviously everything is exposed when you wear a swim suit. I had to sort of overcome the possibility of people thinking “ohhh, what’s that on her skin? Am I going to catch it if I touch her? If I dive in the pool am I going to catch whatever she has?” So that was sort of the first step to realizing you are who you are, you need to be comfortable in your own skin, and not worry about what other people are saying.
How did you keep the momentum to pursue your goals, while having psoriasis and wearing your spots proudly in addition to building your career as an Olympic swimmer?
Well, this is one of the reasons why I’ve team up with Celgene and Otezla, which is to launch this “Show More of You” campaign. If you go to www.ShowMoreofYou.com you can go on there and upload pictures. I have a picture of myself, an inspiration message on there. Others have done so too. It’s to raise awareness about psoriasis and to also celebrate the accomplishments of people living with psoriasis.
So for me personally, mine would flare up when I got really stressed, so it would come about during big swim meets. Now that I’m done swimming and I’ve retired, flares are due to the everyday stresses of work, kids, and travel. So you know, I have to be very careful. I really try to exercise a lot. I try to do things to avoid being stressed out so I don’t have flare ups.
What advice would you give to parents who have kids with psoriasis, but the kids are avoiding sports, not because they don’t want to play, but because they don’t want to show their skin?
Well, this is why we have this website. So parents can go on here, kids can go on, and see that it’s ok that you have this condition. You can be yourself, you can live in your own skin. Hopefully there aren’t parents out there who are embarrassed by their kids that have this, I mean, it’s just who you are. I would never not allow my daughter to compete just because she had a rash or red, flakiness on her skin. That’s just not who I am. So hopefully these parents, if they are struggling with this, can learn more by going to Show More of You!
I’ve spoken to some patients who have been discriminated against at different pools due to having psoriasis. Can you tell me about a time you faced stigma and misunderstanding from others? And what advice could you provide to those who may encounter people who don’t understand the disease?
Well I think initially when I first had it back in the 90s – I don’t think people would come up to me and say “ew what’s that, what’s that on your skin?” A perfect example, actually, my daughter’s dad has psoriasis all over his body. When she saw it flare up on me, which she has never seen before, she was too young to understand it. But she is 10 now, one day she pointed at it and said “Mommy is that the same thing dad has?” and I said yes.
I kind of had to explain to her that you can’t catch it by touching others, or if we are using the same water you aren’t going to get the disease. I think it’s all about education. If anyone has a question, I wish they’d come up and ask someone with psoriasis, so they can understand that this isn’t contagious. It’s just something we have to deal with every day.
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.