4 Ways Psoriasis Is Even More Heartbreaking Than You Thought
In 2016, when we (hopefully) try to avoid every kind of discrimination, you wouldn't think a skin condition would turn a person into a social pariah. You would be wrong -- just ask anybody with psoriasis.
We did. "Courtney" has this condition, which turns most of her skin red and itchy. If you don't think that sounds like the kind of thing that can totally change the direction of your life, you're underestimating the disease and overestimating the open-mindedness of the average person:
You Leave Piles Of Dead Skin Wherever You Go
It sounds so minor, on the surface. Someone with psoriasis simply creates new skin cells at a significantly faster rate than the average person. Unfortunately, rather than an eternally youthful appearance that inspires vampire rumors, the result looks like this:
So less 'Sexy Twilight-esque' vampire and more 'Locked out of his castle on a sunny morning' vampire.
It's a sort of full-body dandruff, with the excess piling up around you like tiny snow drifts. "I have a broom I keep in my bedroom to sweep up because my skin flakes off so much on my bed," Courtney says. "I've also learned to shake out anything that generates heat. I had so much flake dust get into a space heater that some of it started burning and charring." If you've ever smelled dead burning flesh, stop reading right now and go turn yourself in, but if not, suffice it to say "that heater went into the trash."
She also has to avoid sharp things, which is generally good advice for everyone, but it's particularly dire for someone whose body is going to throw a big scaly hissy fit at every dermatological disruption. Courtney's boyfriend, who also has psoriasis, "was once slashed by an iguana smacking him with its tail," she says. "And you know exactly where it happened because on his arm is a straight line of red psoriasis scales." The important thing to take away here is, holy shit, stay away from iguana tails.
If there were animals who'd be compassionate to those with skin issues we thought it'd be you, traitors.
So they're already dealing with reenacting Voldemort's death scene for their entire lives, but that's not the worst part.
People Treat Sufferers Like Lepers
Psoriasis isn't contagious, and coming into contact with someone else's skin flakes is harmless, if not entirely desirable. Still, humans have a gut-level reaction to the site of festering skin, and psoriasis sufferers can get kicked right out of a swimming pool on sight. "I need to cover myself when I swim," says Courtney. "I used to wear a bikini, but I would get so many stares from people around me. Not a lot of people see a huge red splotch on someone's skin and think, 'Oh, it's psoriasis, it's non-communicable, so I'm safe.' No, they'll assume it's something or something drug-related."
Must be from one of those drugs that you shoot into all the unreachable parts of your fucking back.
In fact, an employee at her local library once called the cops on Courtney, figuring somebody with skin that bad had to be Dancing With Walter White. "She gave me a funny look going in, and I don't know what made her want to do it, but fifteen minutes later, I noticed a cop behind me, who asked me to come with him," she remembers. "Once we were outside, he told me that someone had reported me to be using meth. I was shocked and I told him no. He asked about the psoriasis and I told him what it was. I even showed him my medication cream I had in my purse."
Yeah, when we said this condition turns you into a social outcast, we fucking meant it. It even determines your career path. "For jobs where you need to look presentable ... you have a big streak of psoriasis on the top of your head, you aren't going to last long," she says. "I worked at a Walmart for summers between college, and I was moved from cashier to stock. The official explanation was because we needed more help back there, but my coworker (and best friend) who replaced me was honest about what the manager told her -- that was something customers didn't want to see."
"They're already sad enough having to be in a Walmart to begin with."
Yep, they were actually hiding her in the back room, like an American Horror Story character. But hey, it could be worse: People with psoriasis used to be burned at the stake. So there's that?
This has such a damaging effect on the psyche that an NYU study declared it second only to depression in detracting from quality of life. Courtney "was a social butterfly growing up, but once my psoriasis became noticeable around high school," she's become a much more withdrawn and anxious person. And wouldn't you know it, psoriasis is worsened by stress, because the human body is a ticking time bomb of ironic evil.
Sufferers Wind Up Dating Other People With Psoriasis
It's a pretty safe bet that no one reading this is the living embodiment of human perfection -- but if so, we'd love to interview you -- so you've probably got something that makes you nervous about taking your clothes off in front of someone new. The difference is that nobody's probably told you, "Actually, please lose my number while I burn these clothes I was wearing." But that's actually happened to Courtney. "I've had boyfriends in the past break up with me on the spot, or pretend to be OK with it only to break up shortly after." Even supermodels with psoriasis, such as Cara Delevingne, have stories of dates who would only touch them with gloves.
For those not up on their supermodels, someone felt they needed gloves to touch her.
This is such a problem that the National Psoriasis Foundation actually has a tip page on how to build relationships and handily advertises a dating site exclusively for people with psoriasis so you can be unlovable monstrosities together. Remember Courtney's boyfriend who also has psoriasis? They're just often the only people who will accept each other. Again, we're talking about a condition that is completely harmless to other people. In this, the year of our Beyonce 2016.
That's not to say a relationship between two psoriasis sufferers isn't without its challenges. To put it delicately, psoriasis gets everywhere. You know, everywhere. That can make sex painful. So "if we're in the mood for something, the first thing we ask is what our psoriasis is like in those areas," Courtney says. "He knows about the dead skin flakes everywhere, the social ostracizing, and yeah, psoriasis attacking his dick. It's what made this relationship great." Yeah, once you can casually throw out a "not tonight, honey, my peen flakes are really acting up," you know you've found the one.
Nobody Wants to Cure Them -- Just Make Them Look More Acceptable
Psoriasis has no known cure, which is pretty bad news, considering that its effects don't stop at flaky rashes. It comes with a higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, Parkinson's disease, kidney disease -- basically everything that kills people in high numbers, with some "debilitating" joint problems thrown in for fun. "But who cares about that," says medical science, "let's fix that gross skin of yours."
"The first symptom we need to address is the pain in my eyes from looking at you."
"That's what the treatments are for -- to clear up our skin," Courtney says. "Not cure it, but just make your skin look like skin for several days." And even that is the same maddening game of "take this pill and see what happens" that treating any disease involves. "My dermatologist specializes in psoriasis, and in the waiting room I'll see people with those reddened areas and scales in places they aren't covering," Courtney continues. "I'll overhear them talking about the latest treatment they tried. Personally, I've tried three types of pills, two UV methods, and differing strengths of topical creams. It can take a while to find the right balance."
That sounds like a crazy number of treatment options that, it cannot be stressed enough, doesn't treat shit long-term -- but that doesn't even scratch the surface. There are more than 230 pills on the market for symptom relief, mostly scary-sounding steroids, and that's just the conventional medicine. UV therapy under medical supervision has been found to be enormously effective in preventing outbreaks, but it's also expensive, so many sufferers have instead chosen sessions in a tanning bed. You'll recognize that as something that can super kill you, but it's such a popular treatment that the National Psoriasis Foundation had to come out and say "hey, don't do that."
Alternately, you could cut right to the horror and submerge yourself in hundreds of flesh-eating fish.
But the people doing that aren't stupid -- they realize they're putting themselves in a cancer oven. That's legitimately preferable to being treated like infectious human waste by other people. It's too bad we can't just invent a cure for the willies.
Evan V. Symon is a Personal Experience Team interviewer, writer and interview finder. Have an awesome job/experience you'd like to share? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org today!
For more insider perspectives, check out 6 Horrific Realities When Your Skin Falls Off For No Reason and 6 Weird Realities Of My Life With An Awful Superpower.
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