I've always had spots, ever since I was seven or eight years old. I was told back then that I was allergic to fleas, and I would occasionally have small spots, some itching, but that was about it. Years went by before I was finally diagnosed correctly with psoriasis.
I was 19 years old and had just given birth to my first daughter. When she died 13 days after birth, the stress was terrible, of course, and that's when I had what I consider my first real outbreak, when I broke out from head to toe. I said to myself, "Okay, something has to give here. This is definitely not normal."
When my dermatologist told me that I had psoriasis -- in fact, after one of my cousins had suggested that I might have it -- I really didn't even know what it was. I had to look it up. And when I did, I was like, "Okay, well, mine doesn't really look like that." Also, when I was looking it up, researching it, it seemed like you didn't see any black people with it, at all. So my reaction, of course, was sort of, "Well, it can't be psoriasis then." In my head, I kept telling myself that my dermatologist didn't know what he was talking about.
Of course, he did. I had it, all right.
So, we're talking 15 years ago, from the time I was diagnosed, and a lot has definitely changed in that time. Not only treatments, but just sort of the awareness around the disease. Back then though, I was a young woman, I didn't know anyone who had this condition, this chronic illness, and I went through all the emotions, as you might expect. Anger, fear, frustration. Often I dealt with those all at once.
Also, at the time, I already had image issues, because I was darker than pretty much everybody else around who I saw on a daily basis. So now I had this new problem to deal with, and my whole reaction was basically, "Okay, what else? What more do I have to take on here?"
Now, though, I do have good days when I feel okay. Days when I'm all right with the psoriasis. It's me. It's who I am. It's not ALL that I am, but it is part of me.
On the other side of the coin, though, there are those times when you have to deal with insensitive people who, with just a word or a look, can make you feel awful. For example, I went for a job interview and the woman I was speaking with told me to cover up my tattoos. I told her I didn't have any tattoos, that what she was seeing on my legs was psoriasis. And she just said, "Well, next time you need to wear pants."
So you can definitely have those kinds of setbacks. But I've learned to make sure that those kinds of situations don't set me back too far. Instead, it's more like an annoyance. Just, "Ugh. Okay, today's a bummer now."
It's kind of amazing what I've learned, not only about psoriasis but about myself. For the longest time, I really cared what people thought of me. Now, my attitude is that people need to accept me for who I am. Period. You can like me, or you can hate me. You're going to think about me either way, so I'm okay with that. Even if you don't talk to me, if you just see me out somewhere, there might be a moment where some people will see my psoriasis and think, "Okay, I don't like that." But you know what? I'm good with it.
I've overcome the shame -- for the most part -- that I used to feel when people looked at me and asked me if I had chicken pox, or if they just pointed and said, "What is THAT?" Years ago, I wouldn't talk about it. I didn't want to deal with it. But now, even though I still usually wear pants, I don't wear a jacket all day, anymore. Before, I was wearing a jacket all day, walking home in the Florida heat. But even if I break out on my arms now, I'm okay with just wearing my short-sleeve shirt, and feeling comfortable. People can accept it or not. What matters is that I've accepted it.