I could hear the whispers of everyone in the pool. All eyes were on me. They were staring at me like I was an alien they were seeing for the first time. They were uncomfortable with the unidentified blotchy red spots on the surface of my skin. I knew it as psoriasis, but they knew it as disgusting.
A representative of the pool approached me and asked what was going on with my skin. I fumbled over my words trying to explain psoriasis. She said it was best for me to leave and suggested I bring a doctor’s note to prove that my condition wasn’t contagious. I left the pool feeling embarrassed and ashamed.
This isn’t my personal story, but it’s a common narrative of the discrimination and stigma many people with psoriasis have faced in their day-to-day lives. Have you ever faced an uncomfortable situation due to your disease? How did you handle it?
You have certain rights at the workplace and in public regarding your psoriasis. Here are some helpful tips on how to respond when and if you experience pushback because of your condition.
I began this article with a narrative of someone being discriminated against at a public pool because, unfortunately, this happens quite frequently for people living with psoriasis.
I’ve researched the rules of several different public pools and none stated that people with skin conditions aren’t allowed. In a few instances, I read rules stating that people with open sores aren’t allowed in the pool.
It’s common for those of us with psoriasis to have open sores due to scratching. In this case, it’s probably best for you to refrain from chlorinated water because it may negatively impact your skin.
But if someone tells you to leave the pool due to your health condition, this is a violation of your rights.
In this case, I’d suggest printing out a factsheet from a place like the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), which explains what psoriasis is and that it’s not contagious. There’s also the option to report your experience on their website, and they’ll send you a packet of information and a letter to give to the business where you faced discrimination. You can also obtain a letter from your doctor.
Going to the spa
A trip to the spa can provide many benefits for those of us living with psoriasis. But most people living with our condition avoid the spa at all costs, due to fear of being rejected or discriminated.
Spas can only refuse service if you have open sores. But if a business tries to refuse service to you due to your condition, I have a few tips to avoid this troublesome situation.
First, call ahead and advise the establishment of your condition. This method has been very useful for me. If they are rude or you feel a bad vibe over the phone, move on to a different business.
Most spas should be familiar with skin conditions. In my experience, many masseuses tend to be free spirits, loving, kind, and accepting. I’ve received massages when I was 90 percent covered, and was treated with dignity and respect.
Time off from work
If you need time off from work for doctor visits or psoriasis treatments, such as phototherapy, you may be covered under the Family Medical Leave Act. This law states that individuals who have serious chronic health conditions qualify for time off for medical needs.
If you’re experiencing issues getting time off for your psoriasis medical needs, you can also contact the NPF Patient Navigation Center. They can help you understand your rights as an employee living with a chronic condition.
You don’t have to accept discrimination from people and places because of your condition. There are steps you can take to combat stigma in public or at work because of your psoriasis. One of the best things you can do is raise awareness of psoriasis, and help people understand that it’s a real condition and it’s not contagious.
Alisha Bridges has battled with severe psoriasis for over 20 years and is the face behind Being Me in My Own Skin, a blog that highlights her life with psoriasis. Her goals are to create empathy and compassion for those who are least understood, through transparency of self, patient advocacy, and healthcare. Her passions include dermatology, skin care, as well as sexual and mental health. You can find Alisha on Twitter and Instagram.