Living with psoriasis is difficult when those around you don’t understand and even more difficult when you don’t completely understand it yourself. Having to constantly explain to others becomes tiresome – no matter what you say, they’re still questioning; still judging. I had the honour of meeting my psoriasis for the first time when I was thirteen. Having just started high school, and the first stages of puberty, I was annoyed to happen upon a disease that for some reason had decided to remain dormant until this exact moment. Puberty, at its best, is a daunting time for any teenager but with the added frustrations of psoriasis and the negative stigma associated with it being a teenager was a whole different ball game. Other girls worried about what they’d wear on the weekends, find different ways to shorten their school dresses, which boys they liked and which bikini to buy; I was left to decide how I could hide my plagues, stop the scratching and wishing I were normal.
Growing up, I was never the outgoing type; I seldom spoke up in class, kept to a small circle of friends and never even took a compliment very well. Changing primary schools three times in three years probably added to my lack of self-confidence at this point – friends were not an easy thing to come by when you’re never settled in an environment for very long. Add to that, a family that has been close and never feling like you quite belonged and you’re bound to have issues arise and certain insecurities. And all this before high school.
In 2000, I was just turning thirteen and instead of beginning a battle with acne, I was beginning a battle with psoriasis.
During my years in high school I had plagues of psoriasis on my lower calves, elbows, ears, torso and back. Covering up my mid-section was easy enough; clothes provided a good hiding place. I would never be able to cover up my legs. My high school didn’t give the option to wear pants, unless it was for gym class and even then we were not permitted to wear our gym uniform outside of gym class. I remember classmates asking me “what the hell is that?” First of all, what the *bleep*? How is that in any way appropriate? When I tell them, of course they no clue what it is and the long explanations would follow. Honestly, I didn’t even know how to explain it accurately to them – I’d never been advised 100% either. The visit to the doctor for diagnosis was strange. She took one look at it and told me it was called psoriasis. That was about all. She prescribed creams and an anti-depressant (which I didn’t know at the time – way to be informed, I know) and that was that. We went on our “merry” way with all the new-found knowledge of my disease. I remember walking along with my friends before, during and after school with plagues on my lower calves – I’d always be the one walking behind because I didn’t want my friends to see my legs; I’m sure they knew why I was so often trailing behind. I hated every day of the school week because I was forced to put on a dress and forced to be at the wrong end of the staring stick. I can only be grateful that I attended an all-girls’ school; I’d imagined co-ed schools to be much harsher to their peers. Since, I wasn’t aware the oral medication I’d been taking was an anti-depressant I stopped it abruptly as I personally didn’t wish to rely on the medications as well as being advised by the doctor (upon second or third visit) not to take it continuously as it may have serious side effects to my liver and overall health. Going cold turkey affected my mood and I felt extremely depressed, easily agitated and just all-around awful! Like I didn’t feel bad enough about myself, I needed that extra medical withdrawal bump to push my mentality over.
In the summer months following the HSC and high school graduation my plagues cleared up and I felt like the world was perfect. It was only in winter that they appeared again and as unhappy as that made me – the plagues were far less widespread compared to the times in school. I’d live happily with what I had. I was finally free to wear shorts in singlets in summer without feeling like a leper. I went to the beach and I kept the plagues down. Everything was right in the world. Mild lesions in winter and all but gone in summer. Things stayed that way from summer 2005-2006 until the early autumn of 2009. Why? Well, simple. On March 16th 2009 my aunt (the one person who ever meant anything to me, the one person who I would give up my life for, the one who was my everything) died. She died and that triggered more stress and emotions in me than anything else in this world ever could. I had the worst plagues I’d ever seen in all my years since being diagnosed. They erupted all over my torso, scalp, elbows and face. I’d never experienced psoriasis on my face or scalp before and it honestly tears at every shred of self-esteem you have left. No, I don’t have dandruff – if only it were that simple – and no I don’t have a rash on my face. Thank God for make-up! I realise it’s not the best thing to clog up and cover up, but it was sure as hell better than having to catch a glimpse of the disgusted faces of others. At a distance of greater than an arm’s length you couldn’t tell I even had any facial psoriasis. I’m not usually a make-up girl but it was well worth waking up a few minutes earlier to lather it on. The scalp is more difficult to hide as winter clothes usually come in dark shades (I’m naturally a dark-shade-wearing person year round, I don’t like standing out), and the flakes are eye-catching on dark clothes. I tried my best not to scratch, not to flake and opted for lighter shades in my clothing choice where I could. Exam times were the worst – the stress, the lack of sleep, the caffeine. That year during semester 1 exams period my facial p was a wreck. It covered the majority of my face and the back of my neck was plastered with lesions.
The plagues have generally stayed with me, more or less, since 2009. When one lesion heals, another would appear. This year’s abysmal Australian summer really didn’t help either. Temperatures rarely rose above 25ºC, the sun was rarely seen, add sitting in an air-conditioned room at work for eight hours a day with that lack of heat, sun, sweat; and my plagues didn’t heal well. The blasting cool winds dried them out. The only thing positive about the winds is that it could blow away the flakes on my scalp. Today I have psoriasis covering my scalp, on my elbows, torso, back and face. I am grateful that I do not have any on my nails because I love nail polish and I may cry if it ever decided to ventured there. I still get asked what I have some times and I just ignore people now. If they don’t know what it is by looking at it – then they probably wouldn’t know even if I told them the name of my disease and I don’t plan on explaining what it is, and if they do know by looking at it, then there would be no need to ask. I realise it’s not ideal to hide what I have, but I’m just so frustrated with it and having to explain that it is not contagious. Perhaps one day I can speak more freely about it and be happy with myself and accept what I have, but today is not the day.