Psoriasis is an anti-immune disease that affects over 17 million people in the U.S. Most of us are familiar with the term, we know it is a skin condition, and that it usually looks like scaly red patches on hands, arms, legs, back, and neck. What most of us don’t know is what it really feels like to have the disease – from a mental standpoint – not a physical one. And how do people who have this condition deal with it on a daily basis? August is National Psoriasis Awareness Month, focusing on educating the public about this disease, as well as bringing those who endure this condition together to share their experiences, philosophies and coping mechanisms.
People Can be Rude When They are Unfamiliar with Psoriasis
Many diseases show few visible signs, but psoriasis is not a disease that is easily hidden, especially in warm weather, because the disease attacks the skin and creates clearly visible red, scaly patches, spots and lesions. When people are uneducated about psoriasis, they can attach a stigma to the disease because our society puts emphasis on beauty. People who live with psoriasis often experience rude comments, stupid behavior, rejection, and discrimination by others who don’t understand the condition.
These reactions can be a lot more hurtful to a person with the condition than just staring, which is uncomfortable enough. People might move away from them in public situations, on subways, in line for coffee, at the pool, or at the movies. One sufferer said that when she was in college in the 1990’s, she heard people say (when they thought she was out of earshot) that she had AIDS, or leprosy. In the student union or when eating out, she said people wouldn’t give her change back directly into her hands. Rather, they would lay it down on the counter.
Another psoriasis patient (aka Sue) reports an incident at a market where a shorter woman was trying to reach a pack of gum. Sue asked the woman if she wanted help reaching it. The woman thanked her and affirmed the offer for help. Without even thinking about it, Sue used the hand that had psoriasis on it to take the pack of gum off the shelf and place it in front of the woman. The woman then looked hard at the spots on Sue’s hand, looked at Sue who just helped her, and looked at the gum. She smiled meekly, picked up the gum with a piece of clothing, handed the piece of clothing with gum to her friend and reached up to get a new pack of gum. All right in front of the person who had just helped her out.
Healthy Ways to Deal with the Stigma of Psoriasis
It is important for a person with psoriasis you learn to embody the concept that you can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can control your own reaction to them. Dr. Timani stresses that her psoriasis patients try not to take rude comments or insensitive behavior personally, because it really only reflects the other person’s fears and biased reactions to things they are not familiar with, not who you are as a person. Thoughtless comments and actions are often made more out of ignorance than actual malice.
Some advocates and fellow sufferers of psoriasis say that deflecting the unwanted attention does become easier with time. Their tongue-in-cheek motto is: “The longer you have it, the thicker (pardon the pun) your skin becomes”. Although it’s difficult to ignore mean comments and behaviors, having a stockpile of ready-made responses and in many cases, simple explanations makes it easier to deal with. In fact, surveys indicate that over 25% of people with psoriasis explain their condition to other people one to three times per week. The best defense is educating people about the disease. If people are willing to listen and learn about the condition, the stigma can be significantly reduced and the spots can simply become a part of what makes you “you”. Dr. Timani recommends some basic ways to cope with the disease as well as responses to comments and stares:
- Simply say “I noticed you’ve been looking at my _____. I have psoriasis” and then add that it is not contagious and your skin is simply multiplying cells and shedding them at an abnormal rate.
- When the situation is tense and it is clear the person is not willing to listen, simply walk away rather than insulting someone back.
- Take comfort in friends, family or a counselor to help decrease the effects of the behavior of uninformed people when you need to vent.
- Interact with other people with psoriasis in organizations or support groups who can relate to your feelings and provide unbiased emotional support.
- Dress how you feel comfortable and cover up when appropriate.
To Cover Spots or Not
Most people are self-conscious of the lesions to some degree and the National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that 40% of those with the disease consistently conceal it with clothing. However, not only can that be difficult in the summer or year-round warm climates where heat and humidity can aggravate the itch, some people’s psoriasis flares up on parts of the body such as the face, scalp, hands and neck where it may be harder to cover up. More attention may be drawn to a person wearing a turtleneck, long pants, boots and a scarf in the middle of summer than just letting it be exposed. However, in certain business or formal situations, avoiding bias and distraction by others may call for cover-up.
At Johns Creek Dermatology, Dr. Timani will diagnose your condition and the severity of the psoriasis. She will develop an effective treatment for you to help reduce the symptoms and discomfort, regardless of where your psoriasis is located.