I had waited 28 years for this moment. There I stood on Waikiki Beach for the first time since my wife, Lori, and I were there for our honeymoon decades before. We always planned to come back to this very spot, but the years passed too quickly. At last we planned a trip to celebrate our 25th anniversary — and then the pandemic forced us to cancel.
Recently a work team retreat provided passage to those beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean. When I first learned about the trip, I felt ecstatic. It was a chance to get away to a tropical paradise, even if I had to attend work meetings. But I also felt a sense of dread.
Lori wanted to go to the beach on one of the extra days we planned to stay in Hawaii after the work retreat. She dreamed of sunbathing on the sand, feeling a cool breeze while listening to the gently breaking waves. I, on the other hand, imagined everyone staring at my psoriasis and eczema after I took off my shirt.
We found a spot on the beach near our hotel to spread out our towels. What came next surprised me.
At First the Shirt Stayed On
I encouraged Lori to go for a swim while I watched our belongings. She enthusiastically ran toward the water. It felt like only a minute before she returned to her towel and declared it was my turn to go in.
I didn’t mind wading into the ocean water. Even though I had some open eczema sores on my hands that would no doubt sting, I’ve found seawater therapeutic for my skin in the past. A dose of sunlight can also be good for my psoriasis. My weather app reported a moderate UV index level of 5.
It was a perfect opportunity to take off my shirt.
My shirt, though, stayed on. It felt awkward to expose the psoriasis on my trunk and upper arms to so many beachgoers. The biologic I’m currently taking does a great job of controlling the worst of my psoriasis, but I still have quite a few stubborn small plaques dotting my upper body.
I tried to think of reasons why it would be okay to take off my shirt. I figured that I might blend in with the crowd like a bird flying in a large flock. Or maybe if I ran into the water I could get into the ocean before anyone saw me.
But that alone wasn’t enough to convince me to let others see my psoriasis at Waikiki Beach. I’d need to delve deeper to muster the confidence I needed.
A Lifetime of Compounding Decisions
As I sat on the sand I recalled the decisions I’d made over a lifetime of living with psoriasis. Decisions to courageously risk showing my psoriasis when everything in me told me not to. Times I chose not to listen to the voices of bullies calling me names or those asking me if I had a contagious disease.
I thought back on the first time I went outside in shorts, well into my twenties, after wearing only long pants even on the hottest summer days. I remembered how I returned to the gym for physical therapy even though a YMCA attendant once told me I wasn’t welcome because my psoriasis might make other people feel uncomfortable.
Thinking about these victories helped me feel brave enough to remove my shirt at Waikiki Beach.
I look back on that moment and see it as a small but meaningful victory. Take off your shirt. Swim in the ocean. I wonder how many on the beach that day even thought twice about it.
The Freedom to Choose
It’s taken years for me to become comfortable in my own skin. My faith and the love of family and friends have provided safe spaces for me to work out my hurts, insecurities, and low self-esteem. Those experiences taught me a valuable lesson: I have the power to choose.
I don’t need to prove to anyone I’m okay with my psoriasis. I just am. Nor do I need to apologize for not wanting to show my skin in certain situations when I don’t want to draw attention to myself. I can be free to do what is best for me in that moment.
That freedom has allowed me to sometimes not show my psoriasis in public settings. I’ve chosen not to go to pool parties during a psoriasis flare. I’ve worn long sleeves to cover my arms on a hot day when I didn’t feel up to explaining the plaques on my elbows.
On Waikiki Beach a lifetime of experiences and choices with my psoriasis empowered me to take off my shirt. It would have been fine to leave it on too. I’m glad I didn’t give power to my fear of what others might think.
You’ve Likely Had Your Own Moments of Truth
I love to hear stories about people living with psoriasis bravely facing fears or anxieties at the beach, gym, pool, workplace, or any other challenging space. Each one marks a life lived more fully with psoriasis.
Did you have a time in your psoriasis journey, like my moment on the beach, when you overcame your anxieties or fears? A disease like psoriasis can take so much away and feel limiting. It’s those small and big wins alike that become markers on the path to wholeness.
You can read more about my experiences on my website, PsoHoward.