How can we change the discourse on social stigmas against diseases? Especially those which manifest physically?

It has taken me many years to become more aware of the psychological burden that psoriasis has taken on me. The first time I confided in a close friend about this disease marked the beginning of a long journey towards self-acceptance. I remember very clearly how her calm disposition helped me to experience compassion as I opened and how the questions, she had asked showed her genuine concern for my wellbeing.

Recalling how much I struggled after that to explain to others why there are so many flakes stuck in your hair or what’s that all over your skin? I have realized how I really played into the social stigma of un-acceptance. Consequently, it was clear that I had then directed my frustration and anger onto my body. So, how can we change the way our society or at least our immediate surroundings of people regard physical diseases?

The Case For Non-Judgement

Very simply put, the message we can communicate to those around us is that we are not beneath or inferior to you despite looking different in your eyes. Judgmental or averted gazes may leave us irritable and hurt but we can help our friends open their eyes by closing this knowledge or awareness gap. All it takes is a willingness and some courage from us to turn psoriasis into a conversation. I’d like to believe that the end goal should be as easy as stating, “I had a bad day today.”, how are you doing?

What I found particularly helpful in the beginning was to start with people I trust and feel very comfortable confiding in. There’s no need to push yourself to educate those who’ve been the hardest for you because you’ll need to get used to talking about it anyway. Best to start on a good note to feel encouraged. Be patient with the process and I assure you that you’ll notice things change, like I have.

Show Compassion, Not Pity

Are you getting the help you need? Is this what we need to hear? Or do we want to hear “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” Because soon they’d understand that they will remain pitiful towards us for a very long time. We don’t expect them to completely understand what we experience but every effort to empathize would certainly go a long way.

I’ve had wonderful people in my life who always remind me not to fret over the tiny flakes I leave behind on their sofa when I’m there as a guest, or people who are actually just more ready to listen than I think they are. The most common response I’ve received so far has been “Wow, I’ve never heard of this before but thank you so much for sharing this with me.” At the end of the day, compassion empowers but pity discourages.

For as long as only one person is willing to open up and ignite a call to solidarity and support, nothing will change. Gandhi knew exactly what he was talking about when he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Make a commitment to yourself to speak to one or two people about psoriasis this week and let your journey towards self-acceptance be set in motion.