Coping with Psoriasis

5 Ways to Handle the Stigma of Psoriasis

Having psoriasis doesn't mean you need to hide. Build an arsenal of smart replies to help you brush off insensitive strangers.
Many diseases show few visible signs, but psoriasis is not so respectful of your privacy. Because the disease attacks the skin and creates clearly visible lesions, people who live with it often endure rude comments, rejection, and discrimination by those who don't understand the condition.

"If psoriasis didn't manifest itself through the skin, it would be a different situation," says Anne Krolikowski, 35, of Milwaukee, Wis., the executive director of a national medical specialty association. "Because our society puts emphasis on beauty, it's difficult. In public situations, people sometimes blurt out things they regret."

The right strategies and support can help you to educate others about psoriasis, and they'll go a long way toward letting you enjoy your life.

What you can control: your reaction
When Victoria Gardner Nye was diagnosed with psoriasis in 1990 at the age of 17, the stigma she faced each day stung. "People talked; they said I had AIDS," she says. "They called me a leper and backed away. I cried because I didn't know how to deal with it. Now I just let them move away from me. It's their choice."

Unfortunately, Gardner Nye's college experiences are not isolated incidents and many people have similar daily brushes with ignorance.

"You can't control other people's behavior, but you can control your own reaction to them," says Rebecca Ross, PhD, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

It's important not to take rude comments personally, according to Ross. "Insensitive behavior reflects the other person's mood and temperament, not who you are as a person," she says. "And try to remember that people are fallible. Most of us have unintentionally made insensitive comments and have regretted it terribly."

According to Rob Traister, a 40 year old from Front Royal, Va., who runs an online support group, deflecting the unwanted attention gets easier with time. "The longer you have it, the thicker—pardon the pun—your skin becomes," he says. "You learn to not let rude comments bother you so much. Don't get me wrong; it still bothers me after 20 years, but now I have an arsenal of replies."

If someone asks him about his psoriasis in an obnoxious way, he tends to respond sarcastically. (He once told a fellow commuter on the Washington, D.C., subway that his lesions were the result of anthrax poisoning.) But in other cases he explains the condition in terms most people can understand. "My immune system thinks I have a wound there," he says. "It's trying to heal that spot by overproducing skin cells. Your skin sheds every 28 days. Mine sheds every 4 to 7 days in those spots. That's why it gets scales and turns red."

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Lead writer: Nick Burns
Last Updated: October 01, 2008

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