I’ve been living with psoriasis for 14 years now. I was first diagnosed when I was too young to be bothered by it, but the older I got, the harder it was to ignore.
I was nine when my parents noticed me endlessly scratching at my scalp until it was red-raw. The first dermatologist we saw diagnosed me with seborrheic dermatitis. A few months later, we saw another doctor, who said it was psoriasis.
Psoriasis is a skin condition where red, flaky, crusty, itchy patches develop on the skin—usually on the scalp, elbows, and knees, but they can appear pretty much anywhere. It’s an autoimmune disease—your immune system attacks healthy cells, which triggers production of new skin cells at an abnormally fast rate.
I guess my parents weren’t too surprised when they found out. Psoriasis runs in my dad’s side of the family. His mother and her sister both have it only minimally, but my dad has a cousin who has patches all over his body like I do. As far as I know, my dad’s cousin treated himself by taking tar baths. If you’ve ever used a tar-based shampoo or soap, you’d know how smelly that stuff is. It wouldn’t be fun to dunk yourself in a warm bath of tar every evening.
Growing into my skin
For the first four years of my psoriasis journey, my whole scalp was one big plaque. The patches spread down to my forehead, nape, and ears.
Being so young back then, I didn’t think much of it, nor was I very alarmed by the discomfort. It was only once I started treating it with oils and ointments and I had to go to school with a very greasy head and face that people started commenting on how weird it was. I was often picking at the dry skin on my head, too, so much so that it distracted me from school.
After many trips to dermatologists, my family and I soon realized there was a massive disinterest in treating autoimmune skin conditions like psoriasis. Dermas would just give you a cream and send you off. If it didn’t work, they’d tell you to come back and try another cream. So within the family, we had to do our own research online and find people who were passionate about getting to know the illness. Luckily, we found someone in Davao where I live who was keen on psoriasis research. He was the only doctor who treated my condition the way I liked, which was by not making a big deal out of it. It wasn’t going to kill me, after all.
Over the years, I discovered that psoriasis isn’t just a skin condition. Thanks to an overactive immune system, about 30 percent of people with psoriasis go on to develop psoriatic arthritis, which is characterized by inflammation in the joints and tendons—and I was one of them. This made my condition even more difficult to explain to people. Most times I would put off explaining it and just call it a genetic illness or say “sa amoa ning dugo (it’s in our blood).” They’d usually offer unsolicited advice such as “maybe you’re eating too much chicken” or “you need to bathe in guava leaves to heal.”
A funny piece of advice I’ve gotten is that I shouldn’t go out in the sun anymore because it’s burning my skin.
A funny piece of advice I’ve gotten is that I shouldn’t go out in the sun anymore because it’s burning my skin. On the contrary, week-long trips to the beach are my favorite way of clearing my skin without medication. The combination of bright sun, salty water, and rough sand would leave me feeling smooth for weeks after.
Through it all, I never tried covering up my patches or scales. If there’s anything my doctors, friends, and family would always compliment me on, it would be my stubbornness to hide my patches. I wore them like an accessory, even when I was flaring up or bleeding. In hindsight, I see now that it could be off-putting to many people, but it didn’t bother me because frankly, I can’t do much about how my skin looks.
But this doesn’t mean that I don’t have days when my skin gets to me.
Flare-ups and downs
Some days, it would be painful to even move or lie in bed because my skin would be pulsating and red-raw from a flare-up. Days like these, it’s difficult to change your mindset because you’re in intense, hopeless pain—hopeless because painkillers make flare-ups worse, and lotion is the only immediate relief.
The years 2017 to 2019 were the worst my psoriasis had ever been. My scalp, face, nape, ears, back, chest, arms, and legs were covered with patches. I lost most of my toenails, too. I didn’t actively hide my skin, so I heard a lot of nasty comments. People would ask me if I had cancer or leprosy.
In 2018, I noticed a lot of joint pain in my fingers, toes, and legs. The pain hadn’t eased a year later, and I was having difficulty doing even simple activities like driving or opening jars. I knew I had to see my doctor. After a lot of bloodwork, an MRI, and an X-ray, he diagnosed me with psoriatic arthritis. He also suggested I apply for a PWD card since the condition was clearly affecting my daily life.
When I started using my PWD card, I received so much flak for being a young girl with green hair and tattoos in the PWD lane at supermarkets and government offices. Security guards would try to verify the legitimacy of my ID because I didn’t “look” disabled by my condition, even with my raw skin and all. All I ask is for people to be a bit gentler when they approach me with questions about my skin; the same can be done for absolutely anyone with a visible condition. I’d recommend not bringing it up—not everyone is open to having uncomfortable conversations in public as they go around their daily business. And please, try not to stare. (I can see you staring!)
Anytime I’m hit by a wave of nerves, I tend to pick at my patches. If I’m really going down the “hole of darkness,” I’ll cry and scratch at my elbows and legs until they bleed.
Anxiety makes my skin even worse—and I’m a naturally anxious person. Anytime I’m hit by a wave of nerves, I tend to pick at my patches. If I’m really going down the “hole of darkness,” I’ll cry and scratch at my elbows and legs until they bleed.
But I always get through days like these. I’ve always known that if I let the appearance of my skin get to me, then I’d be doing myself a disservice, because ultimately, it’s a part of me that I have to live with for the rest of my life.
A solid support system
Thankfully, I’ve had so much support from my dad throughout my psoriasis journey. We tried absolutely everything: diets, supplements, ointments and creams, oils, tar products, bleach baths, phototherapy, and biologic injections.
Between my dad and I, so much research and time had been put into my condition, so it didn’t feel right to be disheartened when I had someone in my life who was so keen on the topic and who consistently checked up on how I was emotionally. I never felt alone.
I’m also blessed to be surrounded by people who understand my condition fully and would never blurt out an ignorant comment regarding my skin. With my friends around, I have no excuse to be affected by whatever horrid thing a random passerby has to say about me. We always laugh off other people’s disgusted faces together.
I’m grateful to have such people who support me by treating me as normal as possible, who aren’t so shallow that they can’t look past my red-raw flare-ups.
Beauty beyond skin
Over the years, my patches have spread more throughout my body. But I haven’t changed how I deal with them. I still wear whatever I want and go to the beach in a bikini. I still love my naked self. I always say this, but my patches seem to bother other people more than they bother me. What has destroyed me is the psoriatic arthritis in my hands; losing the strength to do my mindless daily activities like walking my dogs made me lose a lot of meaning in my life for a couple of months. But I’ve always embraced how I look. It’s a part of me.
I still wear whatever I want and go to the beach in a bikini. I still love my naked self. I always say this, but my patches seem to bother other people more than they bother me.
I’m pretty open about my psoriasis on Twitter. Psoriasis is such a huge part of my life that naturally, I want to be vocal about it. I want people to take a glimpse into what it’s like living with it, to show them that it’s not as horrible as it looks. I know some people see my skin but don’t feel comfortable asking me about it upfront in case they say something rude. But if it’s out on Twitter, anyone can read and interpret it as they wish. And I want to let people know that I’m someone they can turn to if they need any advice. Being open about my skin has made other people suffering with similar conditions open up to me about their own experiences.
Living with psoriasis has taught me to not be so harsh on myself, because it’s easier to work with what you have when you take yourself as you are. When my skin gets to be too much, I always find beauty in other things within myself.
I’ve been living with psoriasis for 14 years now. It’s a constant in my life. I don’t think I would be as confident as I am now if I had perfect skin.
We are officially on Viber! Be part of the Cosmo Viber Community by clicking here! You can also visit the Sticker Market and download the "Cosmo Girl Sticker Set" here to be automatically part of the group. The stickers will only be available until April 27, so don't miss out on the fun!