I was diagnosed with psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that causes scaly plaques to develop on the skin, at age 7. For years after that, I was afraid to show my body or let anyone know what I was going through. I spent my childhood and teen years 90% covered in psoriasis plaques, trying treatment after treatment with no success. I lived with anxiety and periodic bouts of depression, ruled by my decision to hide my disease at all costs. In 2011, when I was 24 years old, I found myself thinking hard about my life and the huge role psoriasis had played in it, and I had a powerful idea. I sat down to write what I called a suicide letter—not about killing myself physically but about killing those things in me that wouldn’t allow me to live. I wanted to kill the fear, low self-esteem and lack of confidence so I could live up to my full potential. I posted my letter in an online psoriasis support group and people just loved it. I was so surprised at the response—I hadn’t expected my words to connect so strongly with so many people. Someone sent it to the National Psoriasis Foundation, who then reached out to me; they told me they’d read my letter and were in tears. And they invited me to attend a volunteer conference in Washington, D.C. I was still ashamed of my psoriasis and didn’t want to talk about my disease, but I pushed myself to go. We talked to Congress about passing legislation and increasing funding for psoriasis research and treatment, and it was incredible to be surrounded by all these people who were so vocal about something I’d desperately hid for years. At the conference, I went to a workshop about telling your story through blogging. During that workshop, my mind was spinning. I felt a pull to share my experience, but I also felt safe about blogging anonymously, where I could hide behind my computer screen. So I started a blog, called “Being Me in My Own Skin,” and was amazed at the responses from my friends and family, as well as other people with psoriasis. Their support gave me confidence to get out from behind the computer and finally talk about my disease in public. I really had an epiphany—I realized that my anxiety and insecurities were caused by me; my own brain had become my worst enemy. Seeing Beyond the Disease Now, five years later, my life is still about psoriasis—but in a much different, more positive way. Now, I want to dedicate my entire life to advocating for people with psoriasis and other chronic diseases. I want to help people see beyond the disease; to tell my story so people without the disease are able to relate to and empathize with those who are different from them. Until I was 24 years old, I hid my body because I was ashamed of how I looked. I wasted so much time by lying about my disease. I think about moments where I was afraid to tell the truth—I wish I could go back and take advantage of those moments because I missed opportunities to educate a lot of people. After I started blogging and sharing my story, it was crazy how many people from my past told me they had psoriasis, too! It’s mind blowing to me that I passed some of these people every single day and didn’t realize they were dealing with the same thing I was dealing with. I heard from one girl who went to college with me—we never really talked but we were in the same social circles—and she told me she had been afraid of me in college because she thought I was contagious! She felt so badly for never talking to me about it. Hearing her apologize helped me understand that, if she is now willing to learn about my story, back then people would have been open to it, too. They just didn’t know any better. If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would encourage her to step out of her shell a lot quicker. I’d tell her to participate in the activities she wanted to participate in, talk to people she wanted to talk to, and not let fear drive her. Why Me? I always used to ask, “Why me? Why?” Even now, I still think, out of the billions of people in this world, why is it that my immune system just can’t get it right? But I understand that it’s pointless to wonder why this happened. Instead, I concentrate on how I can help and inspire others. And I’m grateful that my psoriasis has given me such a strong purpose in life. Fortunately, I’ve found a medication that cleared up my psoriasis about 80 to 90%. But I still work every day to help other people feel empowered and in control of their disease and their lives. Alisha Bridges, 29, aptly calls herself the Psoriasis Slayer; a devoted advocate for psoriasis awareness, she writes her own blog, Being Me in My Own Skin, as well as other health publications and organizations around the world. She’s also a National Psoriasis Foundation Community Ambassador and organizer of the First Walk to Cure Psoriasis in her adopted city of Atlanta, Georgia.