March 24, 2022
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Jimena Roquero/Stocksy United
My entire life, I was told to be myself. Then, my first psoriasis plaque showed up, and ‘being myself’ took on a different meaning.
From a young age, we’re taught that people are created in all different shapes and sizes. We’re taught to love one another for who we are, and we’re told that our differences connect us as human beings.
So, where along the way does that concept get lost?
Being diagnosed with psoriasis in your early 20s is no walk in the park. Before my first scale appeared, I was at what I thought was the beginning of the best years of my life.
Little did I know, the mysterious spot I found on my leg would change my life completely.
The comments I received about my perfect skin quickly turned from, “your skin is so clear, I’m so jealous,” to “oh… but you can cover that up with makeup… right?”
As my condition worsened, I watched as looks of disgust and pity washed over the faces of my friends and family.
In those moments, I realized that all those times I had been told to be myself, I had missed the subtext: Be yourself, so long as you fit our mold.
Now, along with this life-altering diagnosis, I also needed to quickly learn how to navigate the insensitive remarks from others. It was especially difficult when these remarks were coming from people who I thought would be the last to judge me.
Within 2 years of being diagnosed, my face was covered with red patches that resembled third degree burns, and my scalp was as flaky as a holiday snow globe.
The ongoing slideshow of picture-perfect “Instagram” models with aesthetically pleasing social media feeds made it harder and harder to accept this new “imperfect” version of myself.
During the first few years of living with psoriasis, my mental health started to waver. I avoided taking photos with friends and family, and started wearing clothes that covered more of my skin.
When I did force myself to go out, I would pile on makeup in an attempt to conceal the redness and cover my scales. Still, even the best concealer couldn’t mask what I was feeling on the inside.
I stopped looking people in the eye when having face-to-face conversations. I couldn’t bear to see how they looked at me. It was as if the bright red patches on my face caused them pain. I was embarrassed to be out in public.
I felt scared, and I found myself thinking that, because I now lived with this chronic condition, I was no longer good enough.
It wasn’t until I found a community of other psoriasis warriors online, when I started feeling more comfortable in my own skin.
After years of feeling isolated, finding the online psoriasis community allowed me to feel genuinely connected to other people in a way I hadn’t for a long time.
I was able to have effortless conversations with complete strangers who were going through the same thing I was. It felt like such a relief to not have to explain that my red marks weren’t contagious or to be interrupted mid-conversation and told, “stop scratching.”
These conversations helped me build confidence. For the first time in 3 years, when people would ask me how I was, I didn’t just resort to the autopilot response, “I’m fine.”
For the first time in 3 years, I was tired of hiding. I have psoriasis. Psoriasis does not have me.
I started sharing my experiences with this newly found community. I spoke up about how dermatologist appointments made me feel unheard. I opened up about the unbearable itch that keeps me up all night and wakes me from my sleep.
I shared stories about bloodstained sheets from scratching, and the fact that I haven’t been able to wear undergarments for 4 years. I wouldn’t wish genital psoriasis on even my worst enemies.
I spoke about my struggles with depression and anxiety. For once, the responses I got back weren’t riddled with shame or pity. I found mutual understanding with strangers. For the first time since I had been diagnosed, I felt heard. I didn’t feel alone anymore.
There, among the endless stream of “perfect” posts that I swiped through on social media every day, I found a sea of “imperfection,” just like me.
The connections I made online helped me find my voice and the courage I needed to make my first public social media post about psoriasis.
I remember lying on the floor in my living room, flaky scales and red patches scattered across my face and chest, willingly taking a picture of myself for the first time in years.
As I pressed the “post” button, a million thoughts ran through my head. I was sharing one of the most unedited parts of me for everyone to see.
My anxiety waved at me from the sidelines, still there. It felt good to be sharing something real, but the fear of not being “filtered” lingered in my mind.
If perfectly edited photos of an afternoon’s brunch and photoshopped celeb shots are the norm, what response would I get from my post?
I really didn’t expect what came next. Old friends I hadn’t spoken to in years started reaching out, sharing that they too had been diagnosed with psoriasis. They applauded me for the strength I had to speak about it publicly.
I was shocked and actually somewhat disappointed. If I had known that there were people so close to me with the same condition, maybe I wouldn’t have felt alone for so long.
But really, how can I blame them for hiding too, when there’s a constant stream of influencers only sharing the good parts of their lives?
It’s time we start sharing it all: the good and the bad. The reality is that none of it is actually bad or ugly, it’s just real. We go on and on about being our true, authentic selves, but the moment we want to share something unfiltered, we slip back into our shells out of fear that we’re too different.
It’s time to break that shell. Maybe we would all feel a little lighter if there wasn’t the constant need to perform all the time. It’s time to start celebrating our differences.
It’s time to scrap the subtext: Be yourself.
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