Suitcases and Psoriasis: Merritt’s Story
Although it can be tricky, traveling with skin disease is not impossible. Merritt is sharing her story of tackling three cities in two weeks with psoriasis.
Merritt Ward is one of our community writers and currently lives with psoriasis. She resides in Boston, Massachusetts where she works as a public relations specialist, and she hopes her personal stories will help uplift and empower others in the psoriasis community.
My flight itinerary is printed, hotel confirmed, and passport tucked safely in my purse. The only task remaining is the carefully planned, well-strategized packing. The next day I will start my hectic but exhilarating two weeks out of the office.
First stop: Fort Lauderdale, Florida with my best friend for much-needed relaxation filled with the beach, sun, warmth and food. Second (and best) stop: Johannesburg, South Africa for a work/cultural exchange program sponsored by my company. Final stop: Toronto, Canada to present my week in Johannesburg to all company management, including the senior executives. No pressure.
Open and empty, my suitcase stares up at me. I assess how to prepare for three different climates, a range of dress codes and loads of travel.
On top of this, a big consideration nags at me: my psoriasis.
It has flared earlier this season due to a biting-cold winter, sprouting like cherry blossoms in bloom all over my shins, back and chest. Knowing that, here I am pulling out sundresses, shorts and bikinis – these may not be the best items! I hold out hope that the sun, salt water and relaxation may alleviate my psoriasis, if only a little.
I meticulously roll up each item, packing what I believe to be are safe bets: maxi dresses, jeans, cardigans, favorite leather jacket and a summer scarf. The sundresses, shorts and bikini are also there because, after all, I’m going to enjoy the Florida heat, and I want to be as comfortable as I can when doing so.
Florida was everything I knew it would be (and better) coming from a cold New England winter. Although I’m excited, I always get a little nervous when the warm weather hits me. Warm weather = bathing suits = more people seeing my psoriasis. I try not to think about it in hopes of shaking off my nervousness. After changing into our bathing suits, my best friend and I walk out of the hotel and onto Fort Lauderdale Beach. I lather on sunscreen, tuck my hair into my hat and stretch out on my towel. I feel my skin getting warm, so I slip into the unexplainably refreshing Atlantic Ocean and float awhile.
Within a day, my psoriasis seems to be improving. Some spots actually disappear. I wear the sundress, the jean shorts and all the tank tops. While my skin wasn’t 100% clear, I began to feel confident and comfortable – aka the perfect headspace to be in before embarking on a 20-something-hour trek to South Africa.
My week in South Africa starts off on a high note: sunny and 80°F! I visit our Johannesburg office the first two days to meet colleagues from across the globe, join meetings and learn about business in South Africa. Fortunately, my psoriasis is generally a passing thought; it was still doing well from the sun and salt water.
As the week goes on and I soak in all the culture of the beautiful city, I still worry about my psoriasis. I’m in a new place, far away from any dermatologist that knows me. What happens if I have a terrible flare-up? Just as I start to get anxious, I remember that stress may sometimes cause my psoriasis to flare. So, I take three breaths, relax, and continue on with my day.
The week flies by and before I can stop and relax, I touch ground in Toronto. I check into the hotel and start to prep for the presentation. I feel ready and comfortable with the material; I know it’ll be a success. As I dress for the presentation, I notice the oh-so familiar red spots on my legs. Naturally I panic, since I’m going to be presenting within a few hours. “Great,” I say to myself, “I’ve gone almost my whole vacation without a flare-up and here it is, right before my presentation.” What do I do? I recall my most recent flare-up incident and do exactly what I did last time: I take three breaths, relax, and continue on. This presentation is going to get the best part of me, psoriasis or not!
The presentation was (thankfully) a success. I head home with my suitcase – and this time, I’m taking items out. I have some new items with me: a big beach hat, a bracelet made by women in South Africa and ornate, beaded serving utensils. These treasures are physical representations of everything I’ve acquired over the last two weeks: quality time with my best friend; experience of new customs and culture; and the realization that while my psoriasis travels with me, it doesn’t lead the way.