Joni Kazantzis was 15 years old when she woke up one morning covered in red, scaly patches that looked a lot like chickenpox. It happened overnight, so her mom thought it might be an allergic reaction. But that same week, she was diagnosed: guttate psoriasis. This is a type of psoriasis that appears as small, round spots called papules. Papules are raised, sometimes scaly.
As a freshman in high school, coverings in places made Kazantzis feel incredibly self-conscious and affected her self-confidence. In fact, she says she has no photos from that time because she wouldn’t let anyone take them. The treatment was also an ordeal.
That was more than 20 years ago. “When I was first diagnosed, I was sent home with a package of creams—really greasy and gross creams—with instructions to put it on before bed and put it on a Saran Wrap to make sure it stayed on all night. I I just remember feeling disgusted and appalled.”
Research shows that psoriasis can negatively affect body image, self-esteem, and quality of life. It may also affect your mental health and cause anxiety in social situations.
There is often a level of stigma associated with the condition, notes Rebecca Pearl, PhD. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida.
“One of the common stereotypes documented in the literature that we hear from patients is the assumption that skin disease is caused by poor hygiene, and that people get dirty at the sight of these physical lesions,” she says.
Howard Chang, an ordained minister who has had severe psoriasis since the age of nine, says he was bullied in high school. There is still an accident in the locker room of the boy standing in front of Zhang, who is now 49 years old.
“Two boys from the soccer team started coming up to me. They asked me if I had AIDS and said, ‘Get away from me.’ He says… ‘I thought they were going to be violent.’” I was really depressed and socially withdrawn, especially during my younger years in college. .”
The Kazantzis had a very receptive and supportive group of family and friends. It was the rude assumptions and comments about her skin by adult strangers that left her feeling so uncomfortable. As a teenager, she remembers a middle-aged lady scolding her for being on the beach with what she thought was chickenpox.
“A simple question could have changed the situation,” says Kazantzis.
Something as simple as choosing what to wear every day can be challenging. This was true of both Kazantzis and Chang. Each of them tried to hide their red, scaly skin as best they could.
“I was wearing pants until it was probably over 80 degrees,” Kazantzis says.
For Chang, who grew up in Northern California, long sleeves and long pants or long pants have become a wardrobe staple despite sweltering 105-degree summers. The only time he didn’t have a choice was when he ran track in high school, a sport he loved. Zhang just wanted to run but couldn’t feel “self-conscious all the time”.
“Always being careful,” Pearl says, can take a toll on your mental health and affect your quality of daily life.
“These kinds of fears about being judged by others, or being rejected by others, are a form of stress. And the kind of rejection that is expected from others, is [it] On one’s body or on one’s stigmatized qualities, it can be a kind of constant threat in one’s daily life,” says Pearl.
Joining a faith fellowship in his sophomore year of college and finding a supportive group of friends, along with his wife, was a turning point for Chang.
“I found acceptance there,” he says. “They saw me, including my skin.”
“As I got older, I realized that psoriasis was just a part of my life and it will be a part of who I am,” Kazantzis says.
While treatments such as light therapy, lotions, creams, and other medications can slow cell growth and prevent the skin from flaking too much, there is no cure for psoriasis. But there are steps you can take to make peace with your skin.
Start with self-acceptance. “I still don’t like psoriasis,” says Chang. “But I also understand that as hard as it was, it has probably made me who I am.”
Pearl says this does not mean giving up. Instead, it’s a way to get familiar with the situation.
Even just saying it out loud, [like]“I have psoriasis,” and sit with that, because those kinds of statements can be really hurtful,” she says.
Join the psoriasis community. Connecting with others with similar conditions helps remind you that you’re not alone and brings you a “sense of belonging,” Pearl says.
Kazantzis does this through her blog, Just a Girl With Spots, where she shares personal experiences living with and navigating day-to-day psoriasis.
Chang turned to blogging and advocacy to share his journey — whether it’s doctor visits, new medications, or social stigma — with the online psoriasis community.
If you’re not sure where to start, visit the National Psoriasis Foundation website. You can also ask your doctor. They may be able to direct you to a local support group or other resources.
Practice And he eats well. One study found that regular exercise may help reduce the severity of symptoms. If you are overweight, losing those extra pounds may help as well.
“It’s not just what you put on your skin, but it’s what you put in your body. And also how you manage your stress and your mental health. It’s all just connected,” Kazantzis says.
Talk to your doctor before choosing a new exercise regimen or diet plan. You can always start with a light exercise like walking and work your way up. If you have any pain or flare-ups of psoriasis, tell your doctor.
Practice mindfulness. Skin exposure exercises can help you become more accepting of your condition, Pearl says. This may include standing in front of a mirror, even if only for a minute.
“[N]Notice if negative judgments arise, such as about one’s appearance, and let them go and not hold on to them,” says Pearl.
You can also build body positivity by focusing on what your body does for you rather than what it looks like. It also helps describe fresh lesion spots from a neutral emotional setting, Pearl says. Mindfulness practices such as mediation and tai chi may also relieve any tension you may have.
Get professional help. Tell the doctor if you feel depressed or anxious because of your psoriasis. There may be new treatments you can try. They may also be able to refer you to a mental health professional. This person can help you deal with how you are feeling. If you have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). Trained advisors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help.