“What do Ben Franklin and Kim Kardashian have in common with me?” asks Cristy Boisvert. “Psoriasis.”
I’ve just met Cristy here, on Silver Strand beach, soaking up the morning sun in today’s cold wind. Behind her, a convoy of seabirds heads north and kite surfers leap in the air as a gust catches their chutes. And here, in the parking lot, riders trail in after 5, 10 and 60-kilometer rides, raising money and awareness for the National Psoriasis Foundation.
Cristy’s also soaking up the sun because even in this age of Big Pharma, the sun’s vitamin D is still one of the best ways to settle down your skin.
Right now, she’s got just the slightest evidence of outbreaks from a long time ago. But she knows they’ll be back. Psoriasis is the result of an over-active immune system that produces too much skin, and causes eruptions of red bumps with scary-looking scabs that flake off your scalp. There’s no cure.
“It is itchy, painful, and it can attack you internally, and it can cause arthritis and heart attacks in older people, but most of all, psoriasis is embarrassing,” she says.
Especially if you get it young, it can ruin your life.
“You don’t want to go out with boys when you are busting out like that,” she says. “It can turn a kid into a recluse. In my teen years, in Maine, I played basketball. But the girls, in the changing rooms, they’d whisper, they’d laugh. And they gave me a nickname: ‘Fungae.’ I was 13. I told my parents ‘I’m never going to have kids. It’s not fair on them.’”
And later, when it came to dating boys, she was in private hell. “I wore long sleeves. I’d tell them, ‘I don’t like to be touched.’ I didn’t mean it. And later, I didn’t want to undress. I didn’t want them to see. And the more I worried, the more it would come on. It’s an inflammation. It reacts to stress. And the main thing, even now, is nobody talks about it.”
Except, of course, in the Bible’s Old Testament. It talked about psoriasis as a curse of God on slanderers, and didn’t distinguish it from leprosy. Fear persists to this day.
“Teachers, pool lifeguards, PE teachers see kids with an outbreak and they order them out of the pool, off the team, because they fear touching them will spread the disease. You have to say again and again: you can touch it! Psoriasis is not contagious!”
Cristy also tried folk medicine.
“One elderly Mexican lady told me of this remedy that involved grinding a rattlesnake skin into powder and mixing it into a drink. She said she did it, and her psoriasis went away. I went to a Chinese medicine shop on Convoy, bought one, and was going to grind it, except I found bugs on the inside, and I just couldn’t go through with it.”
But she did do something about the conspiracy of silence. She contacted the National Psoriasis Foundation. One result: Another sufferer, Mark Oberman, emailed her.
He’s also here today. “We met for coffee,” he says. “I was so thankful just to be able to share with another sufferer.”
She’s now married, and changed her mind about having kids. She has two (free of psoriasis so far). “When I told Cheng [her fiancé] about it, I told him I had a ‘wrinkly past.’ He laughed. He was very accepting.”
She still has rules. “One is, don’t wear black. The flaking from your scalp will stick out a mile.”