If you have psoriasis, you’re probably used to hiding. You spend so much time covering up and camouflaging inflamed areas of your skin that the thought of coming out and talking about psoriasis—even to your loved ones—can be daunting.
“When you have psoriasis you can experience shame, embarrassment and feeling stigmatized,” says San Diego-based clinical psychologist Vickie Dowling, Psy.D., C.G.P. She herself has had psoriasis since she was a young child. “Some people even develop a shyness from living with psoriasis.” Instead of withdrawing, try discussing your condition with people you love and trust. It not only makes you feel better, but it can give the people around you an understanding of what you’re going through and how they can help. Here some tips to make those conversations go smoothly:
1. Educate yourself first. Learn everything you can about psoriasis. Talk to your doctor; ask what literature he or she recommends, and log onto the Web sites of the National Psoriasis Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatology.
2. Consider joining a psoriasis support group. If there’s one in your area, use it to get used to talking about psoriasis. You may feel more comfortable at first with other people who have the condition. Your doctor may know of one in your area, or look at the support group directory on the National Psoriasis Foundation Web site to see if there’s a group near you.
3. Share just a little information at first. Pick the people in your life you feel you can trust the most. Be confident and nonchalant. Say something along the lines of, “My skin looks like this because I have an autoimmune disease called psoriasis. I am not contagious and I’m getting treatment for it.” Then if it looks like they want more information, give them more details if you feel comfortable enough to do so.
4. Watch their body language. “Whether it’s family and friends, coworkers or strangers, their movements can tell you how receptive they are to hearing more information,” says Dr. Dowling. “Are their hands tightly closed? Are their arms crossed? Are they averting their eyes, picking at their fingers or hair, looking uncomfortable? Those are signs that they probably are not receptive. If they seem to be genuinely interested and listening—leaning forward, looking at you, asking questions—you should feel safe to share a little more and give them the opportunity to ask questions.“
5. Have printed information handy. Whether you pick up information at your dermatologist’s office, print articles off of this Web site, or ask the NPF to send you some pamphlets about psoriasis, keep some written material about the condition handy. If your family and friends have more questions, you can give them information to read at their convenience.
6. Accept their help, if you want to. For example, family members may offer to help you with chores around the house when your hands are flaring with psoriasis. A good friend might keep an eye out for flakes when you’re wearing your little black dress at a formal event. Other times, your answer may be as simple as, “I just really appreciate your willingness to listen. Sometimes I just need to vent about this.”
The more you talk about your psoriasis with the people who love you, the less anxiety-provoking it will be, and you’ll probably feel relieved and less stressed. Chances are, they’ll feel better, too and want to help you. Once you take that first step to reach out, it all gets easier.