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How I navigate dating with a chronic skin condition

IMAGE VIA PANSY

WORDS BY MAGENTA PORTER

Psoriasis taught me to truly love myself. It also changed the way I think about relationships.

On a sticky October morning in 2015, I woke up itchy. I was in the middle of my year 12 trial exams and I had just entered my first ever grown-up romantic relationship.

I was the most stressed out I had ever been in my very sheltered, very privileged life. I thought that the marks I ended up with post-high school would not only determine the rest of my working life, but define who I was as a person. 


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I fell ill with tonsillitis for the first time during those anxious exam weeks. After a trip to the doctor, I was sent home with a course of antibiotics, and I thought I would be back on track in no time. But a week later I was covered in a red, raw rash from my scalp right down to my toes.

I had never been so itchy in my entire life (and that’s coming from a girl who caught chickenpox not once, but twice). I distinctly remember lying on my bed covered in ice packs on Halloween, the eve of my first final exam.

As it turns out, the internalised stress and pressure that I was trying so hard to hide from everyone else, including myself, had manifested on the outside of my body. It felt like a sick little joke my immune system was playing on me.

People’s stares and comments didn’t compare to the pain I was feeling throughout my entire body. It took everything within me to hold myself back from scratching my skin raw. Not only was my skin inflamed, but so were my joints internally. 

After a number of tests, I was diagnosed with psoriasis, a genetic, chronic autoimmune skin disease, triggered by sickness or stress. No one could have predicted the impact it would have on my life. My dermatologist, who has decades of experience with this incurable condition, labelled it one of the most severe cases they had ever seen. 

But unlike many other chronic conditions, this disease wasn’t just physically painful. With my unpredictable rash flaring up at the most crucial moments (just my luck), my confidence took a major hit. My self-esteem and self-worth were directly linked to what was showing up on my skin. Whenever the rash reappeared, all I wanted to do was hide away from the rest of the world. 

Back then, my diagnosis made me feel like my life was crumbling all around me. It was a stark contrast to the excitement I had been experiencing just a few weeks prior, a giddy 17-year-old who had just nabbed her first boyfriend. 

There’s nothing quite like a skin disease to absolutely kill the honeymoon phase. I remember wanting to be completely covered up at all times because I was so embarrassed by what had happened to my skin. I went from being an affectionate, crop-top and shorts-wearing gal, to someone who was embarrassed to be touched or seen.

Sometimes my skin would ache so much that even hugs weren’t exactly comfortable. Luckily for me, my boyfriend at the time was the most supportive and loving companion I could have asked for. If he was at all grossed out by what was going on with my body, he hid it very well. 

He knew that this was just going to be something that we had to deal with, and he was happy to be there for me, in whatever capacity I needed. After exams, naturally, my stress levels dropped and my skin slowly started to calm down. With each new week, I slowly gained my confidence back.

Yes, people asked what was going on with my skin, but it was rarely in an offensive way. In fact, multiple times, other people were more excited to meet someone else suffering from a skin condition, like they had found a comrade among the masses of smooth, moisturised bodies that seemed to surround us.

Going to the beach was probably the most daunting step I had to take. Ironically, sun and saltwater are the best natural remedies to soothe psoriasis, so to get better, I literally had to strip down in public and face my fears. 

After a few years of dealing with psoriasis within the confines of a relationship, I realised I had never really given much thought to what it would be like to date new people. Of course, all good things come to an end, and in the final year of my undergrad degree, I found myself newly single, with little to no rashes at all.

As I partied my way through 2018, once again, the stress and excitement of assignments, exams, dating and socialising started to weigh on me and – you guessed it – my skin reflected it.  

But despite the regular flare-ups, navigating dating with a skin disease has actually been a lot easier than you might think. Firstly, it acts as a great screening process for dud men. I still recall one of my guy friends telling me that if a person couldn’t look past a few spots on my skin to see how amazing I was, then they were never going to be worth my time.

That statement, a throwaway comment to boost my confidence before a date, has been the one thing that has stuck with me to this day when it comes to dating with a skin condition. And surprisingly, most people are very understanding, caring and mostly just intrigued by psoriasis when I tell them (or if I’m in the middle of a flare-up, show them).

I don’t see the point in hiding such a huge part of my life from a potential partner. I have finally gotten to the stage where I wear the skin I’ve been given with pride because there’s no other way forward.

Don’t get me wrong – there have been times when I have cried at the sight of my reflection in the mirror and cancelled whatever plans I had with friends or the newest Hinge boy on my radar, but I try to take each day as it comes.

I no longer place so much value on my appearance, because I know that all it takes is one bad cold or stressful situation for my visage to completely change. Like a chameleon, my skin has a mind of its own (stressing about rashes, endless steroid creams and immunosuppressant injections definitely wasn’t what I expected my early twenties to involve).

But psoriasis hasn’t stopped me from growing and experiencing everything that I have wanted to. Instead, it has brought my relationship with myself into the spotlight. I’ve truly had to do the work and learn to love and accept myself before even thinking about loving another person. In a way, it’s been a blessing in disguise.

Head here for some helpful tips on how to date with psoriasis.

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