Comfortable In My Own Skin

It’s no secret that we live in an era where perception and vanity dominate society. Social media plays a huge role in this. The platforms that place a focus on visuals are the ones that are becoming the most popular. There are over 300 million users on Instagram and over 100 million on Snapchat.

These are great platforms. But the negative side of them, and of many others, is that they place so much value on looks. People are so self-conscious … I need to get more ripped! … I need bigger boobs! … Oh, butt implants are in now, maybe I should get one!

Not only is this damaging to ourselves, but it ostracizes those who can’t fit into the cookie-cutter, filter-based definition of what’s beautiful or handsome.

In 2009, I began my journey into learning the true meaning of being comfortable in my own skin. There was trauma in the beginning, though. That year I lost my father. The stress that followed was normal; a growth on my scalp was not. At first I thought it was a ringworm. I went to the doctor. They ran tests, and ruled out the possibility of it being a ringworm or fungus. I then was sent to a dermatologist. After more tests, I was diagnosed with plaque psoriasis–a condition that affects 7.5 million people in the United States alone.

Plaque psoriasis is a chronic immune disorder, characterized by lesions and scaly patches (“plaques”) on the skin. The two emotions that I felt after my diagnosis were frustration and embarrassment. Plaque psoriasis is not curable. It’s something you have to manage on a daily basis. Factors like stress, exposure to sunlight and diet all play roles in how prominently your psoriasis will appear.

The next factor those with plaque psoriasis have to adjust to is the reaction of others. Not many people know about the condition, and strangers often react with wariness. In the time following my diagnosis, I always wondered what people were thinking when I met them: What are they staring at? Why are people looking at me funny? Do they think I’m contagious?

For the record, plaque psoriasis is not contagious. The unsightliness of some lesions and patches can be managed and treated with topical agents and a change in diet. Despite my initial frustrations, a few blessings in disguise came from my diagnosis.

First was my ability to become confident in myself, and to not care so much about what other people thought. As I mentioned, I did have initial concerns about how my plaque psoriasis would be interpreted by other people. But after a while, I thought, “You know what, I couldn’t care less about what people think. If they want to be blissful in their own ignorance, that’s on them.”

After I conquered that battle within myself, I moved toward spreading awareness. Many people who don’t have–or know someone with–plaque psoriasis don’t even know the condition exists. The lack of awareness can be traced back to a sense of embarrassment. Unlike some other diseases, psoriasis is something that everyone can see. As a result, due to their own self-consciousness, those who are affected often don’t speak out. And with the priority our society places on vanity for those in the spotlight, people in positions of power are even less likely to come forward. After partnering with the National Psoriasis Foundation, I decided that I was going to use my platform as an NFL player to bring more eyes to this disease. When you create more awareness, it debunks myths surrounding the condition and encourages others who are afflicted to do the same.

One of the biggest weapons in battling this disease is healthy nutrition. Our bodies were not made to live off of processed foods that could sit on shelves for months. The more I paid attention to my diet and focused on taking in natural, wholesome foods, the more my plaque psoriasis cleared up. There is no cure, but these aforementioned factors all play a role in making sure that you control your psoriasis instead of it controlling you.

The lessons my diagnosis taught me over the last six years are universal. Whether you have plaque psoriasis or not, they are all applicable. Recognize how essential overall health and wellness is. Rather than seeking more followers through social media, impact and spread awareness among those you already have in real life. Most importantly, be comfortable in the skin you’re in.

For more information and support on Psoriasis, contact The National Psoriasis Foundation

Photographs by AP Images