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How I Run Through the Psoriasis Stigma

Although warmer weather is a blessing to some, for those with a skin disease it can often seem like a curse. Read Melissa’s story about how she rocked her running shorts and her psoriasis.

Melissa

Living in NYC and former professional dancer, Melissa developed psoriasis at only a few months old. What had begun as a small patch on her cheek covered 90% of her body by the time she was diagnosed at the age of three. Although psoriasis has largely impacted on her life, Melissa views psoriasis as just a small part of who she is. Melissa gives us a very honest account of the emotional impact of psoriasis and how she has overcome the challenges she has faced.

A current student in NYC and former professional dancer, Melissa developed psoriasis at only a few months old. What had begun as a small patch on her cheek covered 90% of her body by the time she was diagnosed at the age of three.

Although psoriasis has largely impacted on her life, Melissa views psoriasis as just a small part of who she is. Melissa gives us a very honest account of the emotional impact of psoriasis and how she has overcome the challenges she has faced.

If you have psoriasis, you may have been socially stigmatized at one time or another. Sometimes remarks are misguided attempts at harmless questions, other times the words are direct and glaringly hurtful.  I’ve had extremely severe psoriasis for twenty-three of my twenty-four years, so I’ve learned to take uncomfortable social situations in stride.  I’ve always believed that people are compassionate when provided with knowledge.

So on the first warm day of spring last year, I decided to wear shorts on my morning run in spite of the thick plaques that covered my legs.  I was feeling a mixture of spring joy and general bravery.  As I stopped for a coffee on the way home, I waited in line and suddenly became acutely aware that a woman was blatantly staring at my legs. I froze for a split second, the way I always do when I’m suddenly confronted with the fact that my skin looks unsightly. Still, I smiled at this woman, determined to show her that I’m not a creature to be feared.

But the stares from her continued, and the wheels in my head started spinning:

She’s staring at my plaques.

She’s going to say something to me and I’m not going to like it.

She’s going to scream and then run for her life out of the café.

My positive mood started to break down.  Why couldn’t I just wear what I wanted without feeling like a freak? Why did I need to hide my skin when I had done nothing to deserve this? Why was I once again being reduced to a disease? 

I’m not proud of it, but I actually started to feel angry. 

And then I saw her approaching me. I put on a now-forced smile, and prepared to give the speech that I’ve given thousands of times: “I’m not contagious, it’s a genetic autoimmune disease…” The regular spiel. But that’s not what happened.

The woman simply asked me where I had gotten my sneakers. She explained that she loved the unique colors, and that she had been looking for running shoes just like them. She even complimented my toned runner’s legs, and commented that she was working hard to get into shape herself.  I was thrown for a loop. Psoriasis never entered the conversation.

As she walked away, I realized just how quickly my guard had instinctively gone up. Sure, had she commented on my psoriasis, I would have been pleasant and gently informative, but it would have left me feeling sour. Why was I so defensive?

Well, I was defensive because I’ve had a lifetime of bullying and criticism.  Even though I can often brush off the questions and remarks, I also don’t blame myself for feeling angry at times too.  There are always people who are unwilling or unable to see anything beyond your skin, but these people are among the genuine others who understand the universality of insecurities, sickness, and concerns. I don’t know anything about her, but the woman who asked me about my sneakers was enjoying the beautiful spring morning, just as I was. 

This occurrence might have been the exception rather than the rule, but it was everything I needed.  If someone seems to be staring at me, I remind myself that it isn’t always about my skin.  I can’t downplay the hurtful moments because I’ve endured over two decades of them, but living with psoriasis doesn’t mean living within the confinements of your disease.  Don’t reduce yourself preemptively.  Because even when the pain is all consuming, you are so much more than your psoriasis.

Spring is here again, and I will proudly wear shorts. Will you?

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