After my skin condition, I had to learn to love myself again
Growing up, I was always complimented on my skin. I was pale in the winter, but tanned quickly in the summer by playing out in the sun, thanks to my Cherokee and Danish/Polish heritage. Even through puberty I rarely had blemishes. I would get the occasional bruise here and there, and a breakout of acne every once in a while, but for the most part, I had clear, smooth skin. Strangers and family alike would compliment me, telling me how gorgeous my skin was, how clear it was, or how much they wished they could have skin like mine. My skin was a point of pride. It seems weird to be fond of one’s skin, but I was proud of the small dusting of freckles, the deep tan that would progress through the summer, and the fact that I looked great in shorts and tank tops. I rarely wore foundation or makeup, because I really didn’t need it.
My senior year of high school was a little different though. During the winter, I began wearing sweaters more frequently, because seriously, public high schools can’t get a handle on changing temps in the South without freezing us. One day, I noticed a small rash, a dry spot on my elbows, which I assumed was from wearing sweaters on my bare elbows. I tried to wear more soft t-shirts, and began moisturizing my elbows obsessively.
At first I wasn’t bothered. As much as I loved my skin, I figured it was like all breakouts – it would flare up, and eventually go away. So I waited it out, figuring warm weather would be the end of my skin mess. But instead of getting better, it got worse. My elbows, once dry, began getting rough and incredibly itchy. Each elbow was one big circle of dry, itchy skin – and the spots began to spread down my arms, in small circles. This was when I began to panic, as it was April, and senior prom was fast approaching – meaning a strapless dress and tons of pictures.
At this point, I decided to go to the doctor. I went to my pediatrician first, who said it was likely eczema, and prescribed me some ointments to help clear it up. These helped, by making the skin less itchy, but it didn’t clear up the rash. I started to feel desperate. I didn’t want to be vain, or seem self-absorbed, but I didn’t want to have to go to prom with a huge, scaly rash that looked like I was turning into lizardman.
Unfortunately, I ended up going to prom with the still vaguely diagnosed rash, as I couldn’t get into a dermatologist in time. I wore my strapless dress, and tried to angle myself in pictures so nobody could see the psoriasis, since I did NOT want the photo evidence. When I finally got a chance to get into the dermatologist, the diagnosis was actually quick. My so-called rash had progressed into blotchy, itchy scales that covered most of my body, with the exception of my face – it was even on my scalp. The dermatologist barely glanced at it and told me I had something completely mysterious to me: plaque psoriasis. There are several options for treatment, although some had scary side effects, or were way expensive. So, I chose using a topical cream that I had to Saran wrap myself every night to keep it from evaporating. That’s right folks, I got to go to college, with random roommate selection, having to explain why I crunched and crackled every time I rolled over.
I began to avoid pictures – in fact, my sister and I had professional pictures taken around this time period, and I remember being mortified about having my psoriasis pictured, which is quite visible in the picture. This was partially out of vanity and shame for the “ugliness” of my skin (because at this point, I was starting to feel very ugly), but also because of the relentless QUESTIONS. People tend to be insensitive and ask rude questions, without thinking that they may be hurting the feelings of the person they are interrogating.
I had started my first job working with the public at this point, which meant I got to deal with cruel stares, comments and looks from both the customers and coworkers. Customers would routinely ask me not to touch them, because they didn’t want to catch my disease. One woman even thought I had chicken pox. Children were scared of it, mostly because of their innocence and the cues from their parents, but I did have a few who asked if they could touch it – which was actually pretty adorable. Most memorably, one coworker would frequently bemoan how beautiful my skin would be, and therefore I would be, if only the psoriasis was gone.
Unfortunately, psoriasis is sort of life sentence. It can go in “remission” through treatment, but it will never be cured, and could come back at any time. That left me with two choices: grow a thicker skin and learn to love myself the way I was, or mourn the loss of my clear skin and feel self-conscious forever. So, I vowed to stop freaking out over my skin. I used questions about my skin as an educational opportunity, to explain psoriasis, and how it affects me.
Gradually, I learned to be confident in my skin, the way it was. It was difficult, but I began to accept my uniqueness. Right now, it is clearing up, which is nice because it doesn’t itch anymore, but I honestly don’t care about how it looks anymore. Of course, there are days where I still feel self-conscious, so I just remind myself that it’s not worth the stress to obsess over my body, especially something I can’t control. It definitely took some time, but I learned to accept and love my body just the way it is.