I was 12 years old when I first developed psoriasis. I had a patch that started growing at the hairline along the back of my scalp. I had no idea what it was or what was going on. It was a bit scary, and even as a child, I knew I needed to get answers. Let me show you a quick glimpse of my journey with psoriasis.

I remember telling my mum about the patch because I was concerned. She thought that it was likely just dry skin, which was a reasonable assumption. I brushed it off, and went about being my 12-year-old self. Looking back, I can see some of the triggers that may have led to that first psoriasis flare. I was in a stressful environment at school, I had just started puberty, and I was told my family would be moving away from the town where I had grown up. Talk about a big year!

It wasn’t until I moved to my new town, started at my new high school as a freshman, and developed even more scales that I started to think something else was going on besides dry skin. My mum decided it was time to take me to a dermatologist for a professional opinion.

“Psoriasis.” That was the dermatologist’s verdict. At the dermatologist’s office, I was told, “Put this steroid cream on, avoid the sun, and you’ll be fine.” In hindsight, we were naive to think it might truly be that simple.

We had never heard of psoriasis before. My mum started a search for more information and answers on the internet. It was a lot of research! Her hope was to find some alternative treatment options that would allow me to avoid steroid creams as much as possible.

I started eating differently to help manage my psoriasis. We cut out certain foods, and I began taking some vitamins and supplements that were thought to potentially help with the condition. I wasn’t always great about sticking to these options. I was a teenager, and naturally, I had “better” things to worry about. Years later, I took part in a clinical trial with a medication that was effective in treating my psoriasis. But when I stopped taking that medication, my symptoms came back. Needless to say, there have been a lot of ups and downs in my psoriasis journey.

Throughout all of high school, I hid my scales from my peers. Only close friends and family knew about what was hidden under my long sleeves, stockings, and bangs — or at least so I thought! I was ashamed when someone would ask me “why I was so flaky,” or other comments along those lines. I worried that I wouldn’t be accepted if people knew about my psoriasis, and that I would be seen so differently.

I specifically remember one time in high school when a friend wouldn’t give me a hug because she didn’t want my skin to touch her. It was as if she thought I would taint her with my noncontagious chronic illness. I was absolutely mortified.

It wasn’t until I had graduated high school and started college that I realized that I was sick of hiding from the world. I was tired of the comments and the questions. I was tired of finding reasons and excuses for my skin — something that I had no control over.

So, I took a big step. I took pictures of my back, my stomach, and my face with thumbs up. I wrote a caption that I thought would be best suited for the unveiling of my six-year secret. It was a caption about self-love and about accepting yourself. It was everything that I wish I had been able to feel and see in my mind, all of those six previous years. Then I sent out the pictures and caption to be seen by every single person who I knew on Facebook.

Here’s a little snippet of what I had to say: “I have Psoriasis, & I have spent multiple pointless years of my life hiding my body any way I could. But now, I am proud of the body I have, & wouldn’t give it up for anything. It has taught me to be confident & really not care what other people have to think about me.”

Once my post was up, I received the most overwhelming response of love, acceptance, and congratulations. I had done it! I had overcome the fear of what people might think of me! And I let the world know about my biggest secret!

You can just imagine the incredible feeling of relief I had. I released the most gratifying sigh. It felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my chest. I wasn’t afraid anymore. It was amazing!

Since that moment of release in 2011, my life with psoriasis has been forever changed. Although I’ve still gotten a few nasty comments and strange looks along the way, now I embrace my skin. I can always tell myself to remember my own bravery and self-love.

I’m often questioned about how I can show my skin in public and how it doesn’t bother me. To be completely honest, I love my skin! Yes, there are moments that I wish I had clear, supple, and glowing skin. However, I wouldn’t be the confident woman I am today without my strong relationship with my psoriasis. My psoriasis gave me a sense of individuality. It helped me to learn who I was, how to be strong, how to be different, and how to love myself.

If there’s one thing that anyone can take out of my story, I hope it’s this: Find your sense of self-love. We were given the bodies we live in for a reason. I believe that a higher being knew that I could handle life with a chronic illness. I persevere through life’s obstacles with a sense of purpose, as well as empowerment.

This article is a favorite of the following psoriasis advocates: Nitika Chopra, Alisha Bridges, and Joni Kazantzis

Krista Long is the host of the Instagram page @pspotted. She has been living with psoriasis since her teenage years and psoriatic arthritis since early adulthood. Her primary goal with sharing her disease with the world is to help others who are not as confident in their own skin, scaly or not, to feel as though they are not alone. She hopes to inspire others to feel more accepted in their day-to-day lives with their disease.