How to Talk to Your Friends About Your Psoriasis
Talking to your friends about your chronic illness can be surprisingly difficult. You might struggle to find the best way to convey what a significant role psoriasis plays in your life. Or you might find yourself downplaying it, as we are often hesitant to express our vulnerabilities, even with the people we love. But in the long run, open and honest communication strengthens friendships and provides more room for understanding. This advice from mental health professionals may help.
Lay Out the Facts
If you’ve been living with psoriasis for some time, you probably know a whole lot about it by now. So it can come as a surprise when close friends don’t even have a basic understanding of what the condition is—especially if you feel like you’ve explained the basics to them before. In these situations, it’s important not to let your emotions get the better of you. Instead, rely on good, hard facts.
“One of the best ways to communicate about the severity of a chronic disease is to have a few science-based facts available to share,” says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in California. “Interestingly, many people tend to respond to facts and hard data when it comes to chronic disease.”
One of the easiest ways to relay this kind of information is to point friends directly toward an informational article or video. Find a source that gives information and ideally isn’t too complex, and save the link somewhere. That way you can text it to someone at a moment’s notice. (Don’t know where to start? We’ve got an infographic that’s easy to share.)
Open Up to People You Trust
Psoriasis can be both a physical and a psychological burden. It can shape how you eat, how you dress, your mood, and even what activities you participate in. Your friends may be sympathetic to your painful flare-ups, but they may have no idea how much psoriasis affects your day-to-day life—regardless of the state of your skin. You can help close friends understand by opening up about the challenges you face.
Obviously, you’re not going to tell everyone you know about the flare down there that’s keeping you out of spin class or the insecurities interfering with your intimate life. But opening up to one or two trusted friends can reduce stress and help you feel less alone.
“Self-isolation is a natural response to both physical and psychological pain, yet research shows that it’s healthier to connect with others whenever possible,” explains Manly. “Indeed, it can serve to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress.”
Help Friends Understand Your Absence
Psoriasis can throw a wrench into your social plans. Achy joints and fatigue can sneak up on you at the last minute. A painful flare can make it hard to get out of bed, let alone meet friends at a bar. And fear of flares can make you hesitant to commit to future plans, like vacations and weddings.
If you find yourself frequently canceling plans, turning down invitations, and failing to commit to future dates, it’s important that you help your friends understand why.
“Being transparent with friends and family about your good days and bad days is a good place to start,” Christy Pennison, a board-certified counselor and owner of Be Inspired Counseling & Consulting in Louisiana. “Let them know you want to be invited to events and gatherings, and that if you can’t make it to something, it isn’t because you don’t want to be there.”
Prepare for Awkward Question
While you may feel comfortable talking openly about your psoriasis in your immediate friend group, larger social gatherings can pose different challenges. When you’re socializing with acquaintances or meeting friends of friends, psoriasis may be the last thing you want to talk about—and the only thing they want to talk about.
“Given that skin conditions are visible, some people find it easier to be open about their psoriasis right away if flare-ups are noticeable,” says Chad Brandt, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Houston, Texas. “Often addressing it openly and succinctly with people can help clear the air and you can move the conversation on to more important topics.”
Remember that people are always looking for ways to connect with other people. A question or comment that comes off as insensitive to you may be someone else’s clumsy way of trying to show interest in your life.
“Keep in mind that the majority of people are curious, not vindictive,” adds Brandt.
Develop an Exit Strategy
If talking about your psoriasis in certain situations or with certain people makes you uncomfortable, then you shouldn’t have to do it. Fortunately, there are conversational tricks you can employ to get you out of these situations unscathed. Here are a few examples:
Use a neutral transition. “I have psoriasis, but everyone’s dealing with something. Did you hear about Lady Gaga’s breakup?”
Pivot. “As much as I like answering these questions, I think the real question is, ‘Who put on this music!?’”
Physically move. “You know what, I need another drink. Can I grab you one?”
Accept Offers of Support
Asking for help is not something that comes naturally to a lot of people. In this individualistic society, we are used to going it alone. We rely on our friends for good times, but often fail to turn to them in bad times.
“For those who are hesitant to ask for support, it’s important to remember that friendships are two-way streets,” says Manly. “When we ask for help, we are then allowing a good friend to be there to support us. And, when that friend is in need, they’ll know that we are there to support them.”
Support can take many forms. Emotional support can be a sympathetic ear or a commitment to daily or weekly phone calls. Logistical support can include trips to the pharmacy or after-school childcare. If your friends are looking for ways to help, don’t be afraid to tell them what would be most useful to you.
Manly explains, “Caring for each other—even if it’s more one-sided at times due to an illness—is a wonderful way to build a strong and heathy friendship.”