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Being a student takes up a lot of time, and being able to balance caring for yourself and caring about your education is something that can take years to master, which makes it even harder when you have a skin condition that needs a lot of care. For all five years of my secondary education I have had psoriasis, and I am yet to learn how to completely balance looking after my skin and my schoolwork. Going to a competitive school where everyone is aiming to be the top of the class definitely made my time at school more stressful and thus making my psoriasis slowly get worse. However, I’m now focusing on my A-levels and I finally feel as if I have a better idea of how to deal with both school and my psoriasis simultaneously.
Trying to manage the ups and downs in both my school life and my health has at times felt like a juggling act, especially when it came to exams. Exams are stressful for everyone but when you add a skin condition that needs a lot of attention and that gets worse with stress to the situation it can be tough. During the month or so of exams I had in May and June this year, I tried to focus as much of my free time as I could on looking after my skin. I would apply my emollients before going to revise.These little things helped me try and maintain my skin care while I was focusing on my studies too. My psoriasis actually did get better during this period, which may have been due to the sun and warm summer we had. It also may have been due to the fact I was giving my skin the needed attention.
School can sometimes feel like the number one priority over everything else. Over the past 5 years I’ve grown to recognise that my health and happiness is actually just as important, or maybe even more important than any test or exam results. Taking time to look after yourself is okay, especially during stressful periods at school. Having this mentality and taking this time out when I have needed it has certainly made school feel less like it dominates my life and in turn has meant it is something that I can actually enjoy.
Losing focus in lessons is another thing many people with psoriasis, me included, struggle with. Paying attention in lessons is vital to succeed and yet one single urge to itch can distract you. The amount of times I’ve picked at my scalp psoriasis in lessons as a way to distract myself is shocking, and there’s always the evidence left on the table or the floor when I leave. I used to feel really bad about my skin getting everywhere, I was so embarrassed to the point where I cut my hair short hoping that it would help. The haircut didn’t change the fact that I had scalp psoriasis though, or the fact that I would still get distracted in lessons because of it. I found that carrying moisturisers or creams with me in my bag helped. I would apply it between lessons in hopes that it would stop making my skin feel so itchy for the next lesson. It calmed my skin so that while my scalp was itchy, at least the skin on my body wasn’t.
The thing I struggled most with at school that’s linked to my psoriasis wasn’t my exams or lack of focus, it was my self-confidence. Having psoriasis at any age is difficult, but developing it during secondary school, a point in which you’re not too sure about yourself, let alone your appearance, was just one consistent struggle.
My psoriasis started showing at around the age of 13, despite having it on my scalp a year prior. At that point all I wanted to do was fit in, I didn’t want to stand out or look weird. I didn’t want to be asked ‘what’s the matter with your head?’ or ‘do you have dandruff?’ when people would see the flakes of skin on the shoulders of my blazer. I was at an all-girls school and was scared I would be alienated or bullied because I looked slightly different to everyone else in school.
I used to try and hide my psoriasis away. I would avoid having my hair up because I had psoriasis behind my ears. I used to shake my blazer after every lesson so that no one around school would think I had dandruff. I felt less comfortable around my friends because they were experimenting with makeup and going places and taking nice pictures while I wasn’t able to apply make-up because I felt as if it drew more attention to the psoriasis on my face, and I didn’t take any pictures because I was so self-conscious. To this day I am still scared that people in a professional setting will judge me because of my psoriasis.
Over the past year or so I’ve definitely grown more confident. Maybe it’s because I finally understand that other people’s ideas of me don’t matter. If they are going to judge me because of a skin condition that I can’t control, then they don’t deserve to see the true me or have me in their life. Part of the reason for this change in my confidence could be because I started posting about my psoriasis on Instagram. Seeing that there were other people like me out there was a huge help. I will always remember being asked what the matter with my skin was and telling the girl in my year it was psoriasis. I was so scared she was going to judge me for it but instead her reply was ‘I have a friend with that too’. From that day on I knew I wasn’t alone, and that other people could understand my condition, even if they didn’t have it themselves.
Surrounding yourself with friends who understand is so important to surviving school when you have psoriasis. Over the last year I’ve had a lot of changes linked to friendships and I’m now in a place where I feel completely accepted and welcome. I realised how important it is to have friends and people around you who support you and make an effort to try and understand what you are going through. Friendship is not only a big part of school life but is also a big part of gaining self-confidence. I feel sad when I look back at all the pictures, I took over the last five years. I have hardly any picture of myself with friends, and actually hardly any pictures of myself at all. I know that it all comes down to how little confidence I had back then, and I wished I had the same mindset as I do now.
While it was an uphill battle that I wasn’t ready to go through at the time, I’m somewhat glad I have been through it. The journey I have been through with school and my psoriasis has been one that makes me understand friendships better and has made me more confident than I probably would have been. It taught me to be strong and resilient, and I hope many others feel that way, no matter what age they are. I still have over a year of school left, which means there’s still time for me to grow and adapt and learn more about my body, however I would like to think that at this point in time I am rather well adapted to school life and psoriasis, and I hope that I can help and encourage others to adapt too.
UK/IE MAT-22037 . Date of preparation: December 2018
Article developed in partnership with LEO Pharma.