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Seán Moncrieff: Psoriasis is one of the flaws that make me who I am

For some years I had a vague hope that it might go away forever. But I’m past that now. Psoriasis is part of me

Just in case you didn’t know, Kim Kardashian has Psoriasis. She’s cornered the celebrity psoriasis market to such a degree that if you just google ‘psoriasis’, her name is the first to pop up. But other well known names have it too. Liam Gallagher. Phil Michelson. Art Garfunkel. The writer John Updike in 1985 wrote an essay about it entitled At War with My Skin: he spent much of his formative years avoiding swimming pools and regularly checking any exposed parts of his flesh. Like sand after a beach visit, Psoriasis can suddenly pop up on any part of the body.

Updike says he was exempted from the military draft because of his Psoriasis – which he found humiliating – and goes on to say that he married young because he was relieved to find someone prepared to forgive his defective skin.

That it could have shaped his life to such a dramatic degree I’m not sure about. Then again, I don’t know how bad his psoriasis was. Some people suffer with large swathes of it; others – like me – get it in spots of various sizes. They come and go, or seemingly change location.

In pictures, it looks extremely painful; and for some it can be. But for many others it’s bit itchy (scratching it can be exquisitely pleasurable) and a bit gross: not just the angry-looking skin, but the flakes that can scatter across your clothes or be embedded in your eyebrows and behind your ears.


It’s not known exactly what causes it. We all reproduce our skin at a certain rate, but for the psoriasis sufferer, this process has been kicked into overdrive, prompted by an over-anxious immune system. And it is a curious sensation to study it, to rub your fingers over the red, bubbly patches. To watch your skin seem to boil over. It’s alien and familiar.

It was a few decades ago – relatively late – when I first noticed I had it: a red circle, about the size of a watch face, on the inside of my right arm just below my wrist. I’ve had bad spells where there were large tracts of it on my back, but over time they disappeared. Other smaller eruptions have come and gone, but the spot on my arm has remained constant, and I’ve come to regard it as a sort of barometer on my general wellbeing.

I’d be aware of people staring at the red blotches, wondering what they were

There have been times when it’s shrunk down to the size of a two-cent coin and others when it threatened to wrap itself around my arm: and when it grew, when I would catch myself absent-mindedly scratching it, it would prompt me to think about how I was doing, particularly if there was anything stressing me. In an odd sense, it sometimes feels as if the psoriasis is reminding me to mind myself: my own built in battery indicator.

Of course, it’s not always as straightforward as that. Sometimes the patch grows and other spots appear and there’s no apparent reason for it: just my immune system doing its wonky thing.

It never impacted my life in the way Updike says it did his, but certainly, when I was younger, I was more self-conscious about it. I favoured long sleeves in summertime. I’d be aware of people staring at the red blotches, wondering what they were, possibly wondering if it was contagious. Psoriasis comes with a medical and social cost. It looks weird and bit scary, and was originally classified as a form of leprosy.

For some years I had a vague hope that if I got enough sun, or if they developed some new sort of steroid cream, it might go away forever. But I’m past that now. Psoriasis is with me, it’s part of me. I still check myself for rogue flakes, but I don’t attempt to hide it any more. As much as anything else, it’s our flaws that make us who we are.