Childhood & Self-Esteem: My Longtime Battle with Psoriasis
To say I’m a bit obsessed with summertime and the sun is an understatement. In fact, on a recent vacation with my husband to the Bahamas when we landed into rain, it took every ounce of self-control to not burst into tears. I spend almost every sunny summer day sitting on the beach. What many people don’t know is that for a very few short months, I am guaranteed to live pain free in my own skin…in part, because of the sun. But it’s taken me a long time to be able to do that confidently. Here’s my story.
My Childhood Battle with Psoriasis
1982. That was the year, as a young child, I started seeing a dermatologist for what would later be diagnosed as psoriasis. Back then, it felt like most people had never heard of psoriasis, let alone knew how to spell it. By 1986, there were pages of medical records about treatments such as UVB light therapy and countless topical treatments. For me, that year is painfully memorable. I was in grade school and during recess someone pointed out my strange-looking skin. My teacher sent me to the nurse – he insisted I had chicken pox. While I knew I didn’t have chicken pox and said so multiple times, the nurse sent me home as a “precaution”. Just in case I was contagious. The next day when I returned to school with a doctor’s note, the kids still thought I was contagious. Why wouldn’t they? During some of my worse outbreaks I would be covered with “scaly” skin on my legs, arms and torso. My scalp would even be covered which would cause me to appear to have dandruff.
Throughout my youth, on doctor’s orders, I was encouraged to take trips down south during those really hard winter months – time spent in the sun was considered medically beneficial. Over the years, I’ve actually been told on occasions to skip the sunscreen, although now, as the medical world has learned how dangerous sun can be, I’m encouraged to go no longer than 10-15 minutes without sunscreen and only on the affected areas. I spent most of my teen years hiding my skin – except in the summers when I bared just enough to overdose on vitamin D. You would have NEVER caught me in a bikini. By the end of the summer, when the power of the sun gave a positive effect, I would wear a little less without feeling self-conscientious.
I think what worries me most (and has for most of my life) is how to explain my psoriasis to kids. As a child, it was most difficult trying to explain to other kids why my skin looked strange. I often avoided the question, coward away not knowing what to say. As I grew up and learned more, I would just say “I have eczema” (not true but more recognizable), “a skin disorder”, “a vitamin D deficiency”, “dry skin”. I really struggled with how to explain what people visibly saw. Every time I knew people would see my psoriasis, I would agonize over the best way to quickly explain it. I never did learn how to best explain this as a child to another child but adult-to adult, practice and my own matter-of-fact attitude has made this easier over time.
I’ve now been battling psoriasis for nearly 35 years. In all those years my confidence has grown. I’ve learned not to let it define me. I focus on the things I can control like staying phyisically fit, eating well, wearing clothes and accessories that make me feel good about myself and having a positive attitude. It’s certainly helped that the friends who have been in my life a long time don’t even bat an eye when the psoriasis is visible, and of course, it doesn’t hurt the my husband isn’t phased by it at all.
In a few weeks, we’ll be having a revolving door of friends with kids visiting us at the beach. I will be wearing a bikini which they’ve never seen me in before. Naturally, I’ve already been worrying a bit about how I will explain my condition to the other children there. But it will be ok. For all different kinds of reasons, it can sometimes take a lifetime to be truly comfortable in your own skin – my battle with psoriasis has taught me this. But with time, the self-confidence builds and the battle lessens.
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