When my three children were teenagers they liked to call me an old man. I’d try to tell them that I was once their age, too, but my words fell on deaf ears. To them I belonged to an older generation, out of touch with their reality.
Still, some memories from my teen years remain as clear to me as if they happened yesterday — especially ones that concern my psoriasis.
The doctors diagnosed me with psoriasis in elementary school. As a teenager, I coped with severe psoriasis at a time when there were few good treatment options. I experienced some of my most challenging moments with this condition during those years.
I can describe my journey in four words.
The best way to understand the embarrassment I felt with psoriasis is to picture me on a sweltering summer day, awkwardly wearing long pants and a long-sleeve button-down shirt in the 100-degree heat.
A condition like psoriasis that shows up on the skin is tough to hide. Feeling embarrassed, I avoided many social situations when I could, becoming shy and somewhat withdrawn from everyone but my closest friends.
It wasn’t until college that I truly felt accepted by my peers, and they in turn helped me accept myself. The boost to my self-esteem allowed me to talk more openly about my psoriasis with those who asked.
I wasn’t always able to hide my psoriasis underneath my clothing, and one painful memory of high school stands out.
During my junior year, I ran track and cross-country. One day, while I was changing my clothes in the boys’ locker room, two students from another sports team rudely asked me about my skin and began taunting me for having a contagious disease. (Even today too many people think that psoriasis is contagious.) I seriously wanted to punch them. I felt angry and alone, wishing I could just disappear.
Friends and family tried to console me, but I felt no one could truly understand what I suffered.
Happily, there are many more resources for teens now. It’s incredible to see programs such the National Psoriasis Foundation’s Our Spot site for kids. Through social media, teenagers can connect with others who have similar conditions and backgrounds much more easily than I could.
As a teenager, I seemed to always have a high level of frustration with psoriasis. I needed to see doctors and undergo messy treatments like coal tar and phototherapy, and I worried constantly about my health. It didn’t seem fair that my friends didn’t have to go through all this stuff.
One day in my journal I angrily wrote, “I HATE PSORIASIS,” ripping the paper under the pressure of the ballpoint pen. After a few weeks at the psoriasis day-care center, I had hit my limit. Instead of traveling that summer after high school graduation, like my friends who went on family vacations, I was spending six hours a day, five days a week sitting in pajamas with a burning paste called anthralin on my skin.
Everyone at the psoriasis day-care center felt frustrated with my lack of response to the medication, including the nurse who impatiently applied the anthralin to my psoriatic lesions.
It helped when I found good outlets to express my feelings. I could freely and safely write those angry thoughts in my journal, and I confided in a couple of close friends when I needed to. Doing something positive for others, such as volunteering at church, also helped me take the focus off myself.
I learned about the endurance needed to live day after day with psoriasis through long-distance running. Pushing myself mile after mile in the summer sun, I desperately wanted to stop to rest; it’s so much easier to give up than to continue in discomfort.
But instead of stopping, I trained myself just to slow down for a stretch to catch my breath. I kept the goal of my workout or race in mind, and eventually picked up the pace again. It’s important to know when to rest if something hurts, but otherwise I kept going. It also helped to run with others who encouraged me to finish strong.
Life with a chronic illness like psoriasis is like a long-distance race: It requires endurance. It isn’t always excruciating, though at times it can be. You need others to cheer you on and keep you focused on the goal of living life as fully as possible.
Finding Strength to Face Life’s Challenges
Every stage of life comes with challenges, the teen years included, and psoriasis adds yet another dimension. If you are a teenager reading this, I hope you know that you are not alone.
You are a valuable person no matter what health condition you might have to live with. If you keep going, you’ll find you’re stronger than you think you are. When you look around you’ll see that others with psoriasis have survived and thrived.
Keep a positive attitude and learn what works best for you in managing your condition and coping with your psoriasis symptoms. You’ll be another step further in the journey toward fulfilling your goals and dreams.