Psoriasis and the Spotlight
Act I: The Road to Success
The road to becoming an athlete for one of the most elite organizations, the NFL, in the United States is not an easy one. While some might think I had it easy with my genetic advantages in the arenas of height, weight, and natural strength (not to mention practically being a legacy with an accomplished dad in the football world), I can assure you that my journey was filled with obstacles. It takes a lot of work, resilience, focus, and an indomitable spirit to cross the finish line. Of course, I made mistakes and even felt like giving up at times. Many falter along the path to their dreams. It has been my experience that the bigger the dream, the bigger the hurdles.
When I was younger, I distinctly remember a time when my passion for football began to wane. The long hours and dedication felt more like a thankless chore and the initial joy of the game morphed into resentment. I was convinced that I was done with the sport and told my father that I wanted to quit. My dad’s response struck a note that resonated down to my very core. I will never forget his words. He told me to “stay in the buggy” or, in other words, persevere. My dad would often utter that expression but this time it was particularly poignant. He went on to explain the importance of not quitting and what it takes to achieve one’s dreams. It was at that moment that I realized that I should never allow short-term discomfort to outweigh my long-term success. So I worked hard and, after many years, I’d made it. It was an ineffable feeling that was a mixture of pure elation, satisfaction, and pride.
Act III: The Public Eye
“Fame is a constant effort” – Jules Renard
Many people fantasize about a life in the limelight; the money, the glamour, and the inevitable attention. They romanticize how wonderful it must be but, as anyone who has spent time in the public eye will tell you, it does not come without its challenges. The level of scrutiny you face is hard to imagine. It’s not something you learn about in school; even with the best of mentors. It is one thing to know something theoretically and another to experience it firsthand. While I do not claim to be some kind of larger-than-life paparazzi magnet, I do understand the pressure of a high-profile career.
(Enter psoriasis stage left).
As if the pressure to maintain a well-polished professional image at all times were not enough, most people do not comprehend the stress of navigating those waters with psoriasis. I was already well into my career when I was first diagnosed with psoriasis. My dad was my hero and the stress of his loss triggered my first flare up. Initially, I had no clue what was going on and was honestly terrified. Here I was this big, tough “football guy” who had always been able to rely on his physical strength, suddenly feeling betrayed by his once-dependable body. My anxiety was only compounded by the mental and physical toll that accompanies the world of professional football. There were plenty of days when the itch beneath my helmet was almost unbearable but I somehow managed to suit up and “stay in the buggy.” Thankfully, I had plenty of support from friends, family, and teammates. Whether you are an athlete, actor, a CEO, a social media sensation, a politician, a salesperson or have any job that requires frequent face-to-face interactions, you may be able to relate to my story. As a matter of fact, I have even heard some people compare the simple act of dealing with psoriasis on a daily basis to the feeling of life under the spotlight; the unwanted stares, the awkward questions, the desire to cover up and fly under the radar for peace of mind.
I find it kind of interesting that psoriasis can be both a very visible affliction and yet an invisible (from an awareness standpoint) condition at the same time. Psoriasis affects millions of people around the world. It may be likely that you know or have encountered someone suffering from psoriasis at some point in your life without even realizing it. Before my own diagnosis, I have to admit that I didn’t really think I knew anyone with psoriasis. Heck, I didn’t even know that much about psoriasis at all. However, after my diagnosis, it seemed as though all kinds of people began to emerge from the woodworks of my life to take their places on center stage. They were invisible no more. They had been there all along but I guess I just hadn’t really noticed.
Act V: The Power of Visibility
I used to joke that when I first learned that I had psoriasis, it came as a huge RELIEF. The days leading up to my diagnosis were fraught with fear of the unknown; the thought of some rare, terminal disease on a mission to cut my days short occupied my mind. Ironically, upon hearing the word “psoriasis,” I felt like I had regained some control and could come up with a game plan. I do not say this to downplay the gravity of the disease or the very real struggle so many of us face. Rather, my aim is to let people know that there is power in visibility.
At first, I was concerned (even as a big and tough guy) about how others might perceive my condition. I didn’t know if it would impact my relationships or career in any way. What I found on the other side of those worries was unexpected; I found hope and purpose. Instead of shying away from the attention, I now welcome it. While my focus has shifted somewhat from sports to advocacy work, I recognize that I have a unique platform and opportunity to shine a light on psoriasis. My hope is that my efforts to raise awareness about psoriasis will also raise empathy for those living with it. I pray that this increased empathy will decrease the stigma surrounding the disease that will allow people to feel greater comfort in their own skin. I still have big dreams. I dream that one day psoriasis will be a thing of the past. Until then, I will continue to work diligently for the cause and be a voice for those who still feel invisible.
Any suggestions made are not intended to replace the advice of a qualified medical professional. Please consult your healthcare provider prior to making any changes to your treatment, exercise or diet routine.