A friend asked me once, upon learning that I had psoriasis, "Are you heartbroken?" He was trying to be funny, but it was really hurtful that he was so flippant about it. I guess what he didn't realize (how could he?) was that I was trying to share something about myself that was a trauma, a huge part of this neurotic, slightly kooky person that I have become.
I was reading the news today, and ran across this feature. If you don't want to take the time to look at it, it's about CNN international anchor Zain Verjee and her struggles with psoriasis. The article also includes a photo array of other household names who have psoriasis. When I saw it this morning, my immediate thought was, "Wow, I really wish the YOUNG Tamara had known about other people!" I never would have known, even now, that any of them do.
I haven't always known this, but I'm pretty lucky as far as severity goes, now more so than ever. It can be a pretty debilitating and painful disease, and still sometimes is, especially in the winter. It could be much, much worse, but it's hard to get a seven year-old to understand that. It's even worse for an adolescent.
The psychological and emotional pain was always a really big factor in my life when I was a kid. My childhood was full of doctors' visits, often to a specialist at U.Va. when the local doctors were at a loss. When I was my son's age, I spent every night slathered in greasy coal tar ointments and then wrapped head to toe in Saran Wrap to prevent bedclothes from being stained. It smelled terrible and felt worse. If you want to know how it felt, slather your arm in Vaseline and then wrap it up. Then, imagine your torso, both arms, and both legs the very same way. We bought the plastic wrap in industrial-sized boxes from a friend of my grandmother's. I can't stomach the scent of plastic wrap to this day, and try to only use aluminum foil because of it. There was a separate cream for my scalp, and we'd put that on at bedtime, too. Writing this brings back how awful it felt to have something with the consistency of Crisco plastered on my head. My mom would try really hard not to get it in my hair, but when your whole head is covered, it's just impossible. Some mornings, Mom would wash my hair in the kitchen sink before school, but when that wasn't possible every day, I learned how to take the greasiness out of my hair with baby powder. But I was always worried about it, every single day.
Kids are mean, and I endured my share of bullying. I hit a few people, mostly boys, as a result. I learned to make wardrobe choices that allowed me to cover up, and I never wore dark colors. (Now that things are under control, I expose myself whenever I can and rarely wear anything but black, but that's beside the point.) I was very defensive about it, so much so that I got very angry and hurt by my mother when she had my senior pictures airbrushed to hide blemishes exposed by my drape.
As I've aged, things have improved drastically. So has my ability to handle it. My gynecologist once told me that the psoriasis would miraculously clear up if and when I could get pregnant, and he was right. It's always struck me as ironic...knocked up, but with flawless skin. Priceless. Thankfully, it hasn't really come back full force. It's still there, but I ignore it. And now, people like Cameron Diaz and Kim Kardashian are flaunting their heartbreak, too. Which brings me back to my original point, which was that I hope that kids (girls especially) with psoriasis KNOW that it's okay, that there are many, many others, and that it's not a curse forever. That they don't have to be as ashamed as I once was, that they don't want to hide. And also, that they should deck all the bullies anyway.