Dealing with flakes at work

| Frank Doris

Like psoriasis itself, this post is going to get ugly in spots. But in talking about my experiences with psoriasis I’m not going to flinch – like a co-worker did when he saw what I looked like with my shirt off.

We were at a trade show in the late 1980s, and one morning, one of our writers unexpectedly barged into my hotel room as I was rubbing my topical psoriasis medication into the plaques on my chest. He backed away in distaste. “What happened to you?” Only after I explained that it was psoriasis and it wasn’t contagious did he visibly relax.

That’s an extreme example, but having psoriasis has meant having to deal with it at work, which for most of my life has meant being concerned about the reactions of co-workers and customers and struggling with my feelings.

It started in my teens when I got my first job as a golf caddy. I wore short-sleeve shirts and shorts in the hot summer sun. I had plaques on my arms, legs and face. People would ask about my skin.

If I felt up to it, I’d explain that I had psoriasis. If I didn’t, which was most of the time, I’d just nod when they asked, “Is that poison ivy?” Or I’d try to keep the conversation to a minimum. “It’s psoriasis. It itches sometimes. It’s not contagious.”

I felt ashamed about my psoriasis and not wanting to talk about it. That was a mistake as I’ll explain later.

Scratching posts

It took me more than 30 years to overcome these feelings while working as a summer recreation counselor, salesman, buyer, writer and public relations executive. (One lucky break – while working at a music store in the late 1970s, I was able to cover my facial psoriasis with my oh-so-groovy shoulder-length hair.)

When I first entered the business world, I was concerned that my psoriasis would turn off co-workers and clients. So wearing business attire was a gift from heaven as it covered my psoriasis and made me feel more confident.

But dressing for success was hardly a panacea. Like many with psoriasis, I avoided wearing dark-colored clothes because of my dandruff, which could fall to snow-globe proportions.

There was the sticky problem – literally – of topical ointments. They could leave stains on my shirts. Since I didn’t want to ruin them, I would sometimes not use the ointments.

We all know about stress on the job. This is hard to admit, but scratching my plaques gave me tremendous stress relief. It became a nervous habit even though it made my psoriasis worse. The boss assigned me a huge project on a too tight deadline? Scratch. A client isn’t happy about a bad review of their product? Scratch like an old vinyl record.

Since my legs were my favorite scratching posts, a circle of flakes would form around my desk chair. I would sweep them under my desk with whatever was at hand, like a file folder, and hope no one would see me doing it. Sometimes I’d even bleed from scratching too much. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.

No one is taking notes on you

Part of getting better on the job is learning from experience. I’d made a mistake about being ashamed of my psoriasis. It caused me decades of on-the-job anxiety and worry about what other people thought until I finally realized that most people didn’t even notice it much.

I was far more sensitive about my psoriasis than my co-workers were.

Sure, sometimes someone would shy away, but for the most part, my co-workers were either unconcerned or even supportive about my psoriasis.

If only it hadn’t taken me decades to realize how unfounded and self-destructive my feelings and actions were. If only someone, a caring fellow employee or mentor, had taken me aside and told me not to get so hung up about my psoriasis.

I hope I can be that person now in writing this. I see it as my job.

Frank Doris is a writer, PR professional and dedicated musician living with psoriatic disease in the New York area. Photo by Robert Berkowitz

The opinions expressed by National Psoriasis Foundation Blog contributors are their own and do not reflect the opinions or positions of the National Psoriasis Foundation. The information posted on the NPF Blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional medical advice. 

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