Developing a Thick Skin: Coping with Psoriasis as a Kid
Everyone always said I was a pretty little girl.
My parents were often complimented on my beautiful olive skin and big brown eyes, and my cheeky grin always got me out of trouble.
Then, at seven years old, I developed psoriasis. It first appeared on my knees, and elbows, easily mistaken as schoolyard war wounds.
Months later, it covered 70% of my body.
It became so aggressive and uncontrollable; I was admitted to hospital at eight, for several weeks of intensive coal tar and UVB light treatment.
I still remember; I hated the food, the smell of the coal tar, and being very hot with full-body bandages on under my pajamas.
I guess maybe they thought it would cure me. Not for life, but for now, so I could go on and have a normal childhood. That wasn’t to be.
As I was diagnosed at such a young age, I didn’t really understand that I looked frightening, or that people wouldn’t want to be around me because of it. I just wore my little dresses, and got on with my game of Barbies.
It was at around ten years old that things started to change.
Simply, I started to like boys. And I wanted them to like me.
I didn’t have much luck, so I sat back and watched as my friends played ‘kiss and catch’, or involved themselves in day-long ‘relationships’ that consisted of standing near one of the boys from class, and maybe, just maybe, holding hands.
Unfortunately, as I’d been so carefree with uncovering my skin in earlier years, everyone in my school had seen it, made their judgments, and weren’t interesting in coming near me.
While kids are, of course, going to be cruel, it was comments from adults that still sting in my mind from this period.
I remember attending a swim meet at another school, and standing beside the pool watching a race in my swimsuit.
A parent came up behind me, and gasped.
“What’s wrong with your back dear, my gosh, that looks horrible, is that a burn? Oh, my, that looks painful.”
Yes, lady. It is painful, and no it’s not a burn. The 11 year-old me wanted to scream at her for bringing attention to it.
“Gosh, it looks like a jellyfish sting or something. Oh, my gosh.”
It was times like those growing up in New Zealand was tough – the disease isn’t common, and there’s a real lack of awareness.
I was an alien.
But when I started at highschool, I had another shot.
The kids from my old school were lost in the crowd, and I had a chance to be seen as ‘normal’ among those who hadn’t known me as a child.
I tried to hide my skin wherever possible, and finally got some attention from the boys.
But it was the girls; that saw me getting changed in gym class or in my swimsuit at the pool who made me feel worthless.
One jibe in particular stayed with me;
“If I looked like you, I’d kill myself.”
I’ve never been able to forgive that girl. I was fourteen, and you can bet I cried myself to sleep that night, and many nights afterwards.
The one thing that kept me strong through my school years was my good, close friends. They accepted me as I was, protected me and stood up for me, and I’m not sure I would have made it through without them.
My parents had no experience with psoriasis, but did their best to comfort me – they were always there for a cuddle when I’d had a particularly bad day at school, and were quick to snap me out of it when I slipped too far into self-pity.
Today, the painful comments and looks I received as a child and a teenager still sting. The way people treated me has impacted my interactions with others as an adult hugely, and it wasn’t until I went through a course of therapy six months ago that I finally started to let go. I wish I’d done it earlier.
At 25, I feel like I’m only just now coming into my own, accepting myself with my skin condition, and moving on from past hurts. I’m stronger now, and my opinion of myself is far more important than what others have to say about me.
There’s a lot of irony in psoriasis giving you a thick skin!
You can follow Hannah on Twitter at @prttyimperfect.