Everyone has cringe-worthy moments when they want to disappear or crawl up into a ball. Those with psoriasis no doubt can point to some of those embarrassing kind of moments. I know I can. I never get used to people staring at my skin, or asking, “What’s that rash on your leg?” Sometimes I’d rather just stay home than face a potentially awkward moment.
The emotional cost of psoriasis rivals the physical discomfort when considering the potential social stigma and challenges in relationships. However, I believe in redeeming and learning from those situations no matter what they cost. Below are three of the more embarrassing occasions I’ve experienced with psoriasis, along with the outcome of how they shaped me today.
Free gym membership
I understand why those with psoriasis often avoid the public gym or pool. I didn’t learn how to swim until college after being asked to leave pools as a child and teen. So, when my wife suggested we check out a local gym, I balked at the idea. At the same time, I didn’t want to disappoint her or discourage her from exercising.
The gym offered a tempting introductory deal and reasonable first year rates. All along I hoped my wife wouldn’t like it or would think that going regularly was impractical. But she loved it. I had a decision to make—face the potential embarrassment of showing my psoriatic skin at the gym, or that of exposing my fears to my wife.
I decided to tell my wife the real reason that I didn’t want to join the gym: I feared what others at the gym would say or think if we joined. At first, she tried to argue that my fears were overblown. Eventually, though, she came to understand my hesitation. We decided to buy an exercise machine to use in the house instead.
Early in our marriage, I learned the value of communicating my feelings with my wife and became aware of the real emotional toll that years of stares and questions at my skin exacted.
Haircuts in public
I hate looking at my elementary and junior high photos. With raging scalp psoriasis, I never went to a public hairdresser or barber. My dad first cut my hair. We set-up a chair in the garage where I donned a large plastic garbage bag with a hole cut out for my head to catch the hair. He said that cutting hair is like trimming a hedge, which showed in the way my hair turned out.
When I outgrew my dad’s haircuts, we found a family friend from church who cut hair in her garage. She was a dear church lady who would passionately pray in Jesus’ name that my skin would be healed. The haircuts turned out okay, but her shaking my hands passionately while praying frightened me—not enough to go to a barber outside though.
As a young adult, I graduated to stronger systemic treatments that improved my scalp psoriasis. With less psoriasis came less embarrassment—and getting my hair cut outside of garages. Though I still need to tell the hairdresser I have psoriasis, it’s much better than the alternative.
A few years ago, my mentor invited me to join him in England to fill in as a guest speaker at a conference he organized. I don’t mind short trips domestically, but international travel brings a certain level of anxiety. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to go to England and spend time with my mentor, I said yes to his invitation.
I needed new luggage for this special trip. At Costco, I found a large duffle bag that perfectly fit all my medications, clothes, and supplies. I duplicated everything I needed for psoriasis care in a carry-on as well. The bag, though large, rolled well enough for me to get from London Heathrow airport to central London where I stayed with my friends for a night.
The conference went well, and I would travel with my mentor back to London in a friend’s car. When he saw my bag, he pointed to his small carry-on and lectured me about traveling light. Cars in England, he told me, are much smaller and those driving us would be hard pressed to carry us and the luggage. I tried to explain how I needed everything for my skin care, but it just wasn’t the time.
I did feel embarrassed at the time about how I packed. While I do consider others, who might be driving me, or my ability to move quickly on my travels, I don’t apologize for taking everything I need to care for my skin.
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I smile when I look back on these few moments. At the time, they seemed so important and huge. But now it’s a gym membership fee saved, a series of bad haircuts to chuckle at, and a harsh word from an authority figure that is in the past. It’s good to be able to laugh at those moments living with psoriasis and learn from them.
Confidence and assertiveness with a chronic, visible skin condition don’t come easily. But with a little distance and perspective, they can become the way to respond to those inevitable embarrassing instances.