Psoriasis is a visible disease, yet it comes with many invisible factors, including depression and anxiety. I have had psoriasis since I was 10 years old and I can remember experiencing racing thoughts, sweaty underarms, irritability, and discomfort.

It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I realized what I was dealing with was anxiety. As a teenager, I thought these unidentifiable feelings were something that came with having psoriasis. I had low self-esteem, and I didn’t realize there was an actual name for what I was experiencing. These feelings were at their highest whenever I wore clothes that revealed my skin and showed my psoriasis.

The following are two important moments in my life that each taught me lessons on how to cope with my anxiety and my psoriasis.

A few years ago, I became overwhelmingly stressed. A friend told me about a spa here in Georgia that stayed open for 24 hours. There was a side for men and a side for women, and everyone walked around aimlessly in their birthday suits while enjoying the different services.

I was covered with psoriasis at the time, but I was at a point in my life where I felt like I could handle the stares and comments. The spa was about an hour from my home. As I drove there and got closer, my anxiety hit. I started thinking about what people would think of me, how uncomfortable their stares would make me feel, and how they’d treat me when they saw my skin.

I pulled up to the establishment, parked, and burst into tears. “What did I get myself into?” I thought. I got out of my car, approached the customer service desk, and asked the woman at the counter if they were familiar with psoriasis. She said yes. Still, that wasn’t good enough for me. I told her I would be right back, went to my car, cried, and drove back home. I never went back.

There is an annual summer event that takes place in my hometown in Michigan called the Belleville National Strawberry Festival. People come from all over the state to attend this carnival-style event. One of the main attractions is a pageant, where girls between the ages of 12 and 16 compete for the crown.

There are four categories that the girls are judged on: dancing, talent, modeling, and an interview. The modeling part consists of wearing an evening gown. I don’t know what possessed me to enter this pageant, but I did. At the time, 90 percent of my body was covered with psoriasis. But I didn’t talk about it, and I didn’t show anyone. I figured I would worry about wearing the dress when it was time.

Everything about this pageant gave me anxiety. When I had to go shopping for the dress, I had a panic attack in the store and started crying. When it was time for the dress rehearsal, I broke down crying, afraid of what those around me would think. About a month or two into rehearsals, I had made the decision to quit the pageant because the thought of showing my skin became too much.

But then my grandmother suggested using body makeup to make me more comfortable. I continued the pageant, used the body makeup, and guess what? I won! It was one of the most exciting moments and accomplishments of my life thus far.

Even though I struggled with my anxiety in these two specific moments, I’ve learned to cope with it. Here are three tips that have helped me and may also help you:

  • Think ahead. I encourage you to go out and flaunt your spots, but I understand how overwhelming it can be. If you decide to go out in shorts or a sleeveless shirt, carry backup clothes, such as a jacket or cover-up, just in case you suddenly become overwhelmed or self-conscious.
  • Carry psoriasis cards with you. I designed psoriasis cards for those living with the disease. On the front they say, “Don’t panic,” and there are important facts about psoriasis and where to learn more about it on the back. One of the reasons why I was so reluctant to go out in public with my skin showing was because I knew I might not have the time to explain my condition to everyone I saw. These cards will do the talking for you. Pass them out to anyone you see staring.
  • See a therapist. I am a mental health advocate and I encourage everyone to talk to someone. Much of what we deal with starts internally and has very little to do with outside forces. If you are dealing with anxiety due to psoriasis, a therapist will be able to give you tools to manage, cope with, and process your thoughts when these moments arise.