Confronted about Psoriasis in the Classroom

I was once a sexual health educator for an organization in Montgomery, Al. My job was to go into all the middle and high schools of the district and to teach the students their sexual health curriculum, which was a two-week program. As you can imagine I encountered thousands of kids in a school year.

At this time my psoriasis was pretty bad, to the point where long sleeves and pants could not hide it. I had spots on my neck and hands. I always felt bouts of anxiety when I would enter a classroom because I feared the kids would be cruel and not understanding of my disease. During this time of adolescence, kids are still trying to learn what's appropriate and the definition of empathy and compassion; skills some adults have yet to master.

Is it eczema?

One day I was in a class full of high school students... and it happened. A student said to me in front of the entire class, "You must have really bad eczema..." At that moment the anxiety hit and I needed to think fast. I had 3 options:

Find a way to change the subject
Lie and say it was eczema so I would no longer have to talk about it
Educate the class on psoriasis

I guess my biggest concern at that moment, was someone noticed something I was working hard to hide, and they called me out on it.

Teachable moments

Well I decided to educate the class. I looked at the student and said, "No, it's psoriasis." At that point the class became quiet and everyone looked at me as if they had just seen a ghost. The student inquired that he wanted to know more, so I explained exactly what cause and effects of psoriasis.

Most of the students still looked confused so I ended with, "You know, Kim Kardashian has it..." And it was at that moment that the awkwardness of the room quickly escaped, all the students responded with "Ohh." Some students began talking about the episode when Kim first discovered what the name of her mysterious rash. Students also begin sharing some chronic illness that was prevalent within their family.

Although I do have mixed feeling about having to mention a celebrity in order for the kids to relate,  I guess it's a step in the right direction. It helped the students be more open to talk about the disease and also made me feel more confident about revealing that part of myself. I loved the fact that the kids were not only accepting but showed that they wanted to relate by sharing their own stories of struggles... that my friend is empathy. The situation wasn't as bad as I had once thought and gave me some hope for the future.

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