Snake Skin: The Itchy Elephant in the Room of Having Psoriasis
I found another patch of psoriasis on my body a few days ago. I was putting on my leggings, my fingers brushed against the small of my back and I knew it instantly. There it was. Another patch of dry, cracking skin, not quite scaly yet but with all the signs of impending itchiness. I’m now at that point in my life where I’m less horrified by this discovery and more exhausted by the weary inevitability of it all. Sure, what’s one more patch?
I had eczema as a kid, like many children do, but I never grew out of it. I started developing red patches on the sides of my face next to my ears that would often itch to the point of pain. It soon formed across my scalp, and scratching to alleviate the frustrating ceaseless itch inspired schoolyard rumours that I was riddled with lice, that I was Patient Zero in some unknown disease, or simply that I didn’t wash. Nowadays, most of my psoriasis is on my face, throughout my hairline, around and inside my ears, across my T-zone, and every now and then, on my eyelid. Sometimes, I have outbreaks on and around my lips, which is especially aggravating for someone who loves to eat spicy food. I have two dots of it on my left elbow, and an increasingly large patch on my right arm that can’t decide if it wants to bloom into full psoriasis or not. Sometimes, I get it on my chest and my knees and my neck. I don’t have it anywhere near as bad as some people, but I have enough of it that people still stare from time to time.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease characterized by excessive growth of the epidermal layer of one’s skin. your skin naturally repairs and replaces itself, but if you have psoriasis, it does this often ten times quicker than it’s supposed to. Nobody really knows what causes it, although it’s widely believed to be triggered by environmental factors. If you’re stressed, it can lead to breakouts. There’s no cure but there are plenty of treatments to help keep it in line, from steroid creams to UV light to good old fashioned moisturizer. Psoriasis isn’t contagious, and it’s often associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Crohn’s Disease, and depression. According to one study, about 30% of individuals with psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis, which leads to swelling of the fingers and toes, thickening and detachment of the nails, and permanent damage to the joints. Ever seen The Singing Detective with Michael Gambon? He’s got psoriatic arthritis.
For me, living with psoriasis is a daily nuisance that I’m fearfully aware could become an unbearable problem in the near future. The itching is such a steady constant in my life that I often forget what it’s like to not be itchy. On especially bad days, I can’t wear black or dark clothing because flakes of it will gather across my shoulders. Whenever I meet someone else who has it, we share that look of acknowledgement, knowing how much it sucks, especially during hotter and more humid seasons. In terms of pop culture, there aren’t many reference points to find sympathy in. Things don’t end well for Gambon in The Singing Detective, and the world’s most famous psoriasis sufferer, Kim Kardashian, has a lot more resources at hand than the rest of us.
As someone who has happily accepted their less-than-attractive state and doesn’t wear make-up, I often wonder if it’s hypocritical of me to feel self-conscious or vain about my psoriasis. I’d be no beauty without it so why do the red patches and flaky skin bother me so much on a purely aesthetic level? When I was a teenager, I had incredibly bad acne, so I was used to stares, but at least with adolescent acne, people knew what it was with a mere glance. With psoriasis, strangers are prone to the most paranoid conspiracies about my health. One kid at my high school spread a rumour that I had AIDS because of it (interestingly enough, while HIV patients are no more or less likely to get psoriasis than those without HIV, it does tend to be more serious for them, but I’m not sure the bully who started that smear was aware of this. I think they were just stupid).
Strangers love to offer me unsolicited skincare advice. I got that a lot when my acne outbreaks were more frequent too. One person, who I was serving at a bookshop I worked in one Christmas, recommended all sorts of oils and soaps, but condescendingly assured me I’d grow out of it once I left my teens. She didn’t have a response to the revelation that I was 20 at the time. Some people love to regale me with that one time they got eczema or a bad spot of sunburn so they totally know how I feel. Others are quick to reassure me that it doesn’t look all that bad, which mostly leaves me wondering how bad it actually looks.
Having psoriasis is one of those things that makes you feel like the whole world is staring at you, and no matter how much you tell yourself that people truly don’t care all that much, it’s not a comfort you can believe in. It’s a contradictory challenge to be mostly comfortable in one’s skin, except for the skin part. I’m not currently on any medication or creams for it - the downside of steroid treatment is that it burns like hell if you use it for too long - and am mostly reliant on keeping myself well moisturized. As I said earlier, I don’t have it anywhere near as bad as some psoriasis sufferers. I have family and friends who are covered in it, and some have scaly patches all up their limbs in ways that are often agonizing. However, I can never escape the reality of the condition and how worse it could and probably will get. It’s not life threatening, but it doesn’t have to be for me to hate it. One day I will bite the bullet and ask for a referral to a dermatologist but I’m nervously waiting to see how much worse things get. Ideally, I’d like to keep my fingernails.
Header Image Source: Youtube // Paramount