Going off to College with Psoriasis
In September 2005, I was a freshman at Alabama State University. I was so unsure of myself. The majority of college freshmen seem to be worried about future careers, making new friends, and grades. Me? I was worried about one thing - my psoriasis.
It consumed my thoughts, my fears, and my expectations. Regardless, I was determined to have the best college experience possible.
"Hello, I have psoriasis"
I grew up as an only child with a family who understood my psoriasis and all that came with it. This includes scratching, bleeding, and flaking.
Now as a college student I would have to introduce this to someone new, a person who may have never come in contact with the disease. I was a nervous wreck to say the very least.
All the college students arrived on campus the third week of August. I met my roommate, someone I didn't know. A young woman from Wisconsin who appeared happy-go-lucky. I didn't know how or when I was going to tell her about my disease.
I was embarrassed and nervous about what she would think. At that time I was very uncomfortable explaining my condition, but I knew it was something that had to be done.
Here's how it went down
So the moment had come. My hands were sweating, and butterflies began to move around in my stomach. I sat down and told her I had something to tell her. I said,
"So, I have psoriasis. Do you know what this is?"
"No, never heard of it."
"It's basically a disease of the immune system where my body produces extra skin cells I don't need. It's not contagious though..."
I remember it kind of being awkward. I could tell she didn't really understand. I didn't want to explain any further so I left it at that, which in hindsight I regret.
I wish I told her the whole story
While I told her the premise of the disease, I didn't give her the full story. I didn't tell her that sometimes at night I scratch excessively and because my skin is so dry, you can hear it.
I failed to mention that because of my skin flaking the room could become really dusty. I didn't tell her that there might be blood stains on my sheets from scratching too hard.
Even as I write these words it's really embarrassing to admit those issues, but that is just a small glimpse of the reality of this disease, the part that some people are too ashamed to talk about.
Spreading plaques and spreading rumours
Well, it didn't take long for my roommate and me to find out that we couldn't stand each other. I'm not exactly sure where it went wrong or what caused it, but we couldn't find a way to simply get along. Living with strangers when you're fighting insecurity and a new sense of independence is really difficult.
What followed next between her and I will never forget. She began telling people on campus she believed my condition was contagious, including the dorm supervisor. Luckily, I had already spoken to them. They were already aware of psoriasis and knew exactly what it was.
Shortly after, my roommate and I moved apart and I was able to room with a close friend I had met that semester.
Getting the conversation started...
At that time I had such low self-esteem, and was very unsure of myself, and didn't know how to properly defend myself in a non-conflicting way.
If you are trying to figure out how to tell a roommate or a new friend about your condition, here are some tips I hope can help. I know that they would have helped me.
Have a conversation before you move in together.
Some college campuses will give you information about your roommates, such as email or telephone numbers. If this option is available to you, take this time to chat and get acquainted before the move in. This would be a great time to explain your disease.
This also gives them time to do research on their own if they feel it is necessary. This would be a good time to inform their parents too so everyone is on the same page.
Have the conversation in person, but be prepared.
Before you have the conversation with your roommate, know exactly what you want them to know about your disease so that you don't miss anything important to you. Tell them what it is, how it makes you feel, and how it may affect them.
If necessary provide them with pamphlets or print-offs from the National Psoriasis Foundation that contains information you may miss or maybe too nervous to explain.
Write a letter
If verbally explaining your disease is a no-go, try writing a letter outlining everything stated above.
Inform residential assistants and dorm administrators.
It's good to have everyone on the same page. I was extremely relieved that I had had a conversation with the supervisor in the dorm about my disease, therefore she was able to address my roommate's misinformation immediately.
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