She always managed to show up right before a big event in my life, “Do you really want people to see your nasty looking skin?” she’d ask me.
“You are going to regret this.”
One of my worst encounters with her was during a dress rehearsal—I was competing in a pageant and none of the other girls were aware of my psoriasis, which covered nearly 90% of my body.
For the evening gown segment, I had picked a beautiful floor-length strapless white dress with sparkly flower embellishment’s which ran down the front and back of the gown. She came to me while I was changing into my gown, “Alisha, you can’t do this. You’ve never had the courage to show your psoriasis before; why start now?” Tears welled up in my eyes. She was right! I stood in the bathroom stall, trying to find the courage to overcome my fears of revealing my patchy, flaky, itchy skin to the world. I took a deep breath, pulled the dress over my small frame, and headed out towards the stage. In a last attempt to stop me, she whispered, “You are going to regret this…”
Jittery and nervous, I made it onto the stage for the dress rehearsal, continuously repeating her words, “You can’t do this…your skin looks horrible…everyone is staring at you in disgust.”
“What’s that on your skin?”
I can recall another time when I was working in Alabama where summertime temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. During my break, I went out to sit on the trunk of my car to decompress and feel the sun’s rays dance on my face. A co-worker, who I did not know well, approached me for what seemed like general conversation. After his initial greeting he asked, “What’s that on your skin?” As I fumbled to explain, he cut me off, “You know, you’re pretty, but your skin is ugly.” His matter-of-fact words jumped at me like a deer in headlights. The long sleeves and pants I wore couldn’t conceal the psoriasis on my hands and neck.
I heard her voice again, “He’s right; look at you, trying so hard to hide your psoriasis, and people can still see it.” Overwhelmed with those same panicked feelings I had during the pageant, I ran to a stall in the restroom and cried for the rest of my break.
Holding me captive
She appeared often. Every time I had to push past my comfort zone with psoriasis, she was there to remind me why I shouldn’t, why I couldn’t, and all the negative things others may feel. I couldn’t escape her taunts because she was me. She was the voice inside my head, telling me horrible things. She was anxiety and panic. She was fear. She consumed my confidence and held me captive. In the beginning, I used to think of her as a necessary presence–to remind me of the misunderstanding ways of the world. I thought this was tough love. I thought this voice inside my head was normal.
Silencing her whispers
In 2011 I attempted to end things with her in a blog titled, “My suicide letter.” It was an attempt to say farewell to the voice that plagued my soul, the voice that had suffocated my life. The day of that letter, I became a new woman. NOW I stand up to her. NOW I can combat that ruthless voice. NOW I know the hurtful, negative things I hear are not true, but come out of internal insecurity—it’s what anxiety feeds on.
She hasn’t vanished completely, and sometimes still appears—it takes an army to combat my inner self! The biggest arsenal has been the National Psoriasis Foundation. When I decided to make the foundation’s resources an ally, my battle against psoriasis totally changed. I finally found the courage to tell my story; but most of all, I realized I was no longer alone.
Experts by Experience is a collaboration between Inspire and Mayo Clinic Connect, online support communities for patients and caregivers. By sharing their stories, patients and caregivers awaken, inform, and strengthen the capacity to partner in their care. The stories also help clinicians and non-medical professionals in health care implement patient-informed practices in their interactions and communications, by uncovering opportunities for quality improvement. The series showcases the value of shared experiences and features contributors from around the globe.
About the author: Alisha Bridges is a freelance health writer on the topics of sexual health, skin care, and psoriasis. She has lived and thrived with psoriasis for over two decades. Alisha is the creator of Being me in my own skin, a site dedicated to sharing what it’s like to live with psoriasis. She is also a student at Georgia State University, pursuing a career as a physician assistant with a focus in dermatology. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @alishambridges.