We Want You! (Unless You Have Psoriasis)

November brings with it Election Day and Veterans Day. If ever there was a time to beam your patriotic spirit, this is the month!

As much as I like to stay positive about my disease, this time of year always brings up one painful memory that still stings when I think of it today: the day I was denied the honor of serving my country because of my psoriasis.

When my psoriasis met the military

My family has a long history of military service. It has always been a point of pride in my family, so when I was a senior in high school, it seemed to be the right next step for me. As I have mentioned in past articles, high school was a hard time for me. I lacked self-confidence, and that lead me to struggle in school both socially and academically.

Joining the Navy seemed liked the perfect solution. I would finally be able to make my dad proud by following in his footsteps, and I could gain a sense of purpose while doing it. I excitedly scoured the internet to find where my local recruiting office was, then promptly called to make an appointment to talk with someone.

In my mind, I already had the next four years of my life mapped out. Between that first phone call and the date of the meeting, I daydreamed about being able to do something that would make a positive impact. Not to mention, I would be able to get a proper education after my service was complete thanks to the GI Bill. Life was looking pretty sweet, folks—pretty sweet.

The day finally came, and I was full of hopes and dreams as I stepped into the office. Strong, commanding men filled the small space; the kind of men I had always wanted to be. I was sure to wear clothes that would hide my scaly lesions that day, but when the medical questionnaire portion of the interview came up, I knew there was no hiding my disease any longer.

Yet another psoriasis defeat

I was told before the start of the assessment that not disclosing medical conditions could cause me to be dishonorably discharged if found out about later. I am not a person that condones lying by any means, but before he told me that, I had flirted with the idea of concealing my disease.

As I reluctantly, like an admonished schoolboy, confessed my diagnosis of psoriasis, I could see something flicker on the recruiter’s face. He looked up psoriasis (after asking me to spell it) and found out that according to the Standards of Medical Fitness, “unless mild by degree, not involving nail pitting, and not interfering with wearing military equipment or clothing”, it would disqualify me from being able to join. I nervously made a joke—something about 85% body coverage being mild—and then thanked him for his time.

I went home deflated and defeated. I understood the reasons why they couldn’t recruit me, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. My stupid skin was holding me back from yet another thing in my life. Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why did I have to be cursed with this life-sucking, limiting, controlling, wretch of a disease?

To add insult to injury, my younger brother was able to join the Army. He became the apple of my father’s eye, while I sat speckled and flailing to figure out how to live with a chronic illness.

Hope rooted in accepting reality

I think everyone with psoriasis can relate to the burning, angry questions I expressed and felt after receiving the news I could never serve my country. The circumstances might be different, but the feelings are the same. Accepting a disease that has no cure is no easy feat, and when it keeps you from your deep-rooted ambitions, it can feel like a death sentence.

I still feel a pang of pain and disappointment when Veteran’s Day comes up, knowing that I will never have that title, will never know the feeling of fighting for freedom. Thankfully, I am in a better place now. Although I am not able to serve in the military, I am able to serve others with psoriatic disease by raising awareness, listening to stories, being open with my own story, and helping to organize events to raise money for a cure.

Once I got to the point of accepting my disease, I was able to focus on all the things I could do, instead of the things I couldn’t.

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