Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's not polite to stare. Just Ask. I Have Psoriasis.

With 125 million people worldwide suffering with psoriasis, chances are that you know someone who has it, have it yourself or at the very least have seen someone with it.  On the off chance you haven't and you do someday, it's safe to say that if the person has moderate to severe psoriasis, at first glance it may be "alarming", for lack of a better word.  But in my book of manners, just following "always use please and thank you", say "excuse me and pardon", "DON'T STARE" is right up there.

Typically, what people don't understand or "know"...they are usually afraid of.  I can totally appreciate the human instinct to take a  "peek" when someone with something out of the "norm" is in clear view.  I don't blame or judge.  I have been guilty of the "curiosity gander" on more than one occasion.  It is when people feel the need to stare.  S-T-A-R-E.  It's just rude.

Children are by nature, curious little beings and while you may think they are the ones I find staring the most, they are not.  In actuality, it is mostly children who will come up to me and ask me in a very innocent and genuinely caring tone, "What's wrong with your arm?".  I can't tell you how relieved I am when someone asks me this.  The parents usually look mortified but I am writing this to let them know not to be.  For two reasons.  The first is because I am more than happy to "educate" others about what psoriasis is and perhaps more importantly, what it is not.  The second is because usually there are several people within ear shot and I always make a point of saying, "Thank you so much for asking me."    Now,  I know what you must be thinking.  That's rude.  And while I can not speak for everyone, I think that most would agree with me...if we are wearing clothing that shows our skin condition, we are not "annoyed or insulted" if someone asks us what it is.  Aside from it being very uncomfortable to have clothing rub against my skin when my psoriasis is at it's worse, I am not ashamed of it and welcome questions about it.

Of course, there are polite ways of asking and not so polite ways of asking.  I will talk more about that a little later on.  What I want to share with you is two interactions I had over the weekend with children while I was out and about. 

The first was at a birthday party with Ave & Bryce.  There was this little boy there who was 5 years old.  I "caught" him taking a "peek" at my arms when he first came in.  I began talking and playing with him and within a few minutes he simply pointed and asked, "What's on your arms?". 

(I have mastered the short explanation I provide to children)  "I have psoriasis.  What that means is my skin grows faster than yours that's why there is all these red spots and white skin on top."

The little boy came closer and looked more closely at it.  I could see some concern in his eyes so I added, "It looks scary but it's not.  It hurts but it won't forever."  Then he looked up at me, smiled and ran off to play.  I never "caught" him looking at my psoriasis again. 

The second was at the grocery store.  I was in line waiting to check out and this little girl was ahead of me with her mom.  She came over to my cart and started counting the bottles of pop (soda) I had.  When she got to the number five, I held up my hand and said, "That's right FIVE! You are a great counter." 

Her smile faded quickly as she saw my psoriasis.  Her joy turned to "pure and innocent" empathy.  She came over to me and started to gently touch my arm while saying, "Oh no! That looks VERY sore." 

My immediate reaction was to say, "Please don't touch."  Not because it's really painful to be touched but more because I wasn't sure how her mom would react if she saw her daughter touching my scaly plaques of red skin. 

Her mom came right over and said, "Tia, you need to be gentle.  Psoriasis hurts and that woman probably doesn't want you touch it honey."  She looked up at me and said, "Sorry, she doesn't understand how painful it is to have psoriasis." 

I am sure my jaw dropped to the floor.  Not only did this woman know what my skin condition was, she didn't totally freak out that her daughter had touched me.  I leaned down to the little girl and gave her the same explanation that I had given the boy the day before.  Afterwards, Tia very gently touched my arm and said, "I sure hope this goes away and you feel better soon!"

My heart melted.  "Thank you." was all I could say without busting out in tears.

Both of these are examples of how to engage or ask someone something you are curious about.  Straightforward, non-judgemental, innocent questions or observational statements.  A lesson from children we can all learn from.

Not two minutes after the wonderful interaction I had with Tia and her mom, I noticed immediately that the cashier couldn't stop staring at my arms. She finally took a moment to stop staring and looked up at me with this contorted face of disgust and in an equally disgusted tone said, "WHAT is THAT on your arms?".   (That my friends, IS NOT the way to ask someone!)
"Psoriasis.  Trust me, it hurts me more than it hurts you."  was all I could respond with.  Perhaps, I should have taken the time to "educate" her as well but sadly, even after "explaining" my condition to adults they sometimes still look disgusted and make me feel like the pariah of society.  I wanted to be a little selfish and hold on to comforting interactions I had had with "The Children" over the weekend.

If  you take anything "away" with you today, I hope it's the following three things:

#1) It really is OK to ask.  (Just be nice about it.)
#2) Don't be embarrassed if your child asks.  Truth is, they are likely to be less judgemental and more sincere about it.
#3) Please don't stare. 

Happy Tuesday Everyone!

I had over 150 "hits" yesterday when I shared my personal story. .  I can't tell you how comforting everyone's comments have been.  Thank you.  It was an eye opener to hear how many people also battle with this and other skin conditions.  Sending well wishes your way as well!


  1. As a fellow psoriasis sufferer i can totally understand where you are coming from and the feelings it causes! I guess we do have something to be thankful for and that is that we CAN cover it up if we choose imagine the people out there that cannot cover up there imperfections and MUST subject themselves to the staring and rude comments everytime they are in public! I feel terrible for those people knowing how we feel imagine being them!

  2. Ging... Can I just say that you ROCK! I'm glad you "educate". (and it's not rude at all) I have to hand it to you for not slapping that cashier right across her ignorant face. I would have had a hard time holding back.

    Your kids are very lucky. They'll grow up with more than just manners. They'll have something even more important. Empathy. And that, my friend is because they have a mom who ROCKS! :~) XOXO



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