Valentine’s Day: Love, Life and Psoriasis (+ 5 Relationship Tips)
Valentine’s Day is around the corner.
What are your plans? Are you out with a loved one or indulging in some you-time with a bar of choc, Netflix and a furry friend, like I did a few years ago?
This year, I’ll be staying in, hopefully grabbing a take away with my boyfriend and snuggling down to watch Stranger Things. It should be a good night.
But Valentine’s Day hasn’t always been something I’ve looked forward to. When I have been single, the day would remind me that true love was probably something I wouldn’t experience. After all, I considered myself way too inflamed and flaky for a relationship.
Those times were incredibly lonely. No-one in my family had psoriasis and in the early 2000’s, online psoriasis communities were like a barren desert (which is pretty fitting for us dry skin types).
Three’s a Crowd
But even when I was in a relationship, when I should have been content, it used to feel like there were actually three entities involved: Him, me and my ever-present sidekick, psoriasis.
It was always there, sabotaging any confidence I had and constantly reminding me that I wasn’t as healthy as I could be. I don’t care how many times you read how ‘beauty is only skin deep’ or ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’, when you’re a girl in your teens and twenties, living in an image obsessed world and you have psoriasis, you simply don’t buy these platitudes.
So, now I’m in my mid-thirties (ahem) what have I learned from the world of dating and relationships when you have a ‘third person’ involved?
Like all good stories, let’s start at the beginning.
My Psoriasis Love/Hate Story
I was 17 when I was diagnosed with psoriasis. I had a boyfriend and honestly, the patches were so small, they were barely noticeable. Just a few spots in my left knee and elbow. That was it.
That relationship ended when I was 19. I met someone else (we’ll call him BF2 in this blog) and by this point my patches had got larger.
I figured I’d just hide them.
(Of course, when you’re 18 and in a relationship, you can only hide them for so long.)
One day, he saw the patches.
“That’s psoriasis,” he said.
“Yes, it is.” I replied, “How on earth do you know what psoriasis looks like?” (As I’d never heard of it until I was diagnosed).
BF2 replied, “My mum has it. I sometimes have to rub the cream into her back.”
The relief I felt was indescribable. Someone who finally understood! Someone who didn’t just know what it was, but had a family member who had it! I was over the moon. And it was fantastic to speak to BF2’s lovely mum about psoriasis.
‘But thank goodness it’s not on my back or all over my legs,’ I thought. ‘It must be awful to have it everywhere.’
Naturally, that thought would come back to haunt me.
The relationship with BF2 ended and I moved onto serious boyfriend number 3 (BF3).
By this time, my psoriasis patches were even more obvious than before. I was going to have to say something straight away… but when should I mention it?
Too soon and he might be put off? But if I leave it too long, then it becomes awkward.
We’d started dating in winter, so I knew he had no idea of the extent of my skin; I was covering it up in opaque tights and tights jeans.
But I knew I was going to have to talk about it.
So one day in the local pub, and aided with Dutch courage (which, back in 2001 translated to several bottles of Smirnoff Ice), I broached the subject.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: “So, yeah, um, you might have noticed my skin…”
BF3: “No. Why?”
Me: “Errr…. I have a skin… err… condition” (desperately trying to avoid the word ‘diesease’ at this point’)
Me: “It’s psoriasis, its an autoimmune thing, it makes my skin inflamed and scaly, sometimes. It’s not contagious, it just looks gross.”
BF3: “Oh, I hadn’t noticed it”
Me: “Ok… but it’s on my knees and elbows. And there’s a patch on my wrist, look”
BF3: “Right, well – does it hurt?”
Me: “Sometimes, but I can manage it with creams and stuff”
BF3: “As long as you’re ok, I don’t care about stuff like that. I like you, for you, even with your… seri.. soria…
BF3: “Yes, that’s it*
*bit of an awkward silence*
BF3: “So, another Smirnoff Ice, then?”
I was with this guy for a long time. Although he said he was cool about it, I certainly wasn’t. I was constantly paranoid about my skin. I was always trying to hide it, cover it in camouflage concealer, wear jeans and tights in hot weather. It was exhausting.
I never wanted to take my clothes off in front of him. It was too embarrassing. Whilst most girls were worried about the size of their boobs, or a bit of weight round the tummy, I had patches of red, flaky skin to deal with. It was incredibly difficult. But I kept my feelings hidden. Humiliated and ashamed.
Then, about a year after dating, my skin cleared up (through the use of a steroid cream). I was elated! I spent a fortune on new skirts and dress, grasping every opportunity to get my skin out.
But, as is the deal with steroid cream, my skin became thin and I was bleeding very easily. Soon, my psoriasis returned.
By the time I was with the next guy (what? I’ve had a few bf’s!) psoriasis had been part of my life for so long, I was used to all kinds of well-meaning questions (as well as cruel comments). Sometimes I was lucky and had a witty comeback. Other days, I just explained it was a non-contagious skin condition… blah blah blah…
I was using a messy concoction of creams, ointments and lotions and as a result, spent a small fortune on new bedding and pyjamas. Sometimes clearing, sometimes not. ‘This is just psoriasis life’, I thought.
Then I met James, who I have been with for six years now. When I met him, my skin was clear, albeit for a 5p size patch on my stomach. Again, I explained about my skin. He hadn’t heard of psoriasis, but told me his mum had vitiligo, so he knew how skin could affect a person’s confidence.
Life is great when you’re psoriasis-free, but around three years ago, I noticed it coming back. Old faithful ointments were no longer working. It was like lava, slowly creeping to cover more of my skin than ever before.
Soon, my back, legs and scalp were covered.
My mind raced back to conversations with BF2’s mum, when I remember thinking, ‘Thank goodness it’s not on my back or all over my legs. It must be awful to have it everywhere.’
It was worse than BF2’s mum.
I dealt with it how I always had done, by using a cocktail of lotions and ointments and spending a fortune on creams I’d seen advertised on the Internet. Even just a few years ago there was no other choice! I did feel like I was going round in circles…. but I couldn’t stop. I was desperate to get better.
The Present Day
Now, I’m going through another bad flare up. It’s very painful, but thanks to innovative new treatments, like Philips BlueControl, the days of messy bed linen and greasy hands are largely behind me. Now, psoriasis treatment getting in the way of my love life is a thing of the past. It’s just one less thing to worry about.
James is totally onboard with me getting better. I think that’s the deal with psoriasis, you quite simply have to be with a person who is understanding and patient. I mean, regardless of psoriasis, you should be with someone like that anyway, but especially when your skin and morale is in pieces; there’s no other option.
Your Psoriasis Love Story
If you’re in the early stages of a relationship, your psoriasis conversation needs to be had early on. But it doesn’t have to be awkward like mine.
Do it within the first three or four meet ups. Rehearse it. Be matter of fact about it. Now is not the time for the tears to be tumbling down your face.
Honestly, I’ve never had a date or boyfriend be horrible about my skin. Most of the time, they just ask questions and are curious.
Try and be positive about your condition. We are lucky really. It’s 2017 and the Internet offers a tonne of advice and opportunity to connect with other guys and gals with psoriasis.
Also, in recent years, treatments have come on in leaps and bounds. There are ways of treating your skin that don’t involve creams or lotions. A miracle for those of us suffering with psoriasis. The Philips BlueControl unit I mentioned earlier is one of those treatments. Lightweight, painless and easy to use, this is one way of treating your skin, so you can get on with day to day (or should I say date to date!) activities without cringing every time your beloved notices greasy marks left on leather sofas and clothing.
There’s also heaps of psoriasis themed blogs you can turn to to boost your morale and get tips, whether it’s fashion, sex or learning how to be confident with psoriasis, you can bet your bottom dollar someone has been through it and shared their experience online.
5 Quick Tips
Of course, you don’t need me tell you that you can date and find love whilst dealing with psoriasis. Living with a chronic condition, especially psoriasis, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve love or should have to wait until your skin is better before you start dating.
Your time is now. Moisturise, buy yourself a new top, get your smile on and get out there. You just have to remember few things:
Questions are Good: Most people aren’t nasty. They are just curious. So expect questions. If you prepare for questions, you can come up with some pre-prepared answers in your psoriasis mental bank. (The internal bank of answers we all start building once we get diagnosed.)
Be Bold: So the object of your desire hasn’t noticed your psoriasis yet? Good. That means the ball is in your court and you can be the one to bring it up at a suitable time. But do it sooner rather than later. Try to be confident, even if you feel scared. Remember, I had to down several Smirnoff Ices when I told BF3 back when I was 19. I was petrified he’d run a mile. But like most people, he just had questions. And questions are good.
Get Them Involved: So, you’ve told your date about your psoriasis and you’ve had a positive, sympathetic or at least curious reaction from them. (If it’s any other reaction, put this date down to experience and count yourself lucky you’re not going to pursue anything further with this moron.)
Get them involved with your psoriasis management. I’m not necessarily talking about them rubbing ointment all over you (not sensual, just sticky), I mean in terms of emotional support and research.
Get on the web together. Read articles. Go on forums. Go to events together. Encourage him or her to be involved with your psoriasis and seeking new treatments. When you’re in a relationship, you shouldn’t have to deal psoriasis by yourself. Any decent person will be proud to hold your hand metaphorically (as well as physically) whilst you walk the psoriasis road.
Explain The Full Story: Some days you just want to curl up in a ball and cry. That’s fine. Other days, you want to go out in hot pants and dance to Spice Girl songs. (Or is that just me?). That’s also fine. Just explain that having psoriasis doesn’t mean you’re going to be sad/confident/optimistic/pessimistic/lethargic all the time. It’s not just a skin disease and they need to know that too.
Appreciate Their Down Days As Well: Yes, I know you have psoriasis and it’s just the worst, but y’know, this person you’re with has their own stuff going on as well. Work, family, friendships… they will have their own internal struggles too. So if they moan about a new spot, don’t get upset or angry about it. They are entitled to feel crappy from time to time too.
Dating and psoriasis isn’t easy. But, dating without psoriasis isn’t easy either.
The key is to communicate. And you don’t have to down copious amounts of alcohol to do that effectively.
Good luck with your dating journeys. I’d love to hear your experiences, so do let me know in the comments!