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Combatting Those Side-Eyes

Combatting Those Side-Eyes

If you have psoriatic arthritis, you may have heard it referred to as an invisible illness. You look fine on the outside, but few understand what is truly going on inside. To those not dealing with the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis first-hand, you may come off as lazy or whiny. And sometimes, this can even lead some to give side-eyes and whisperings of disapproval. These unwelcomed reactions are not only are rude, but also hurtful.

Fighting the ‘Mama Bear’ instinct

My son was 8 years old, and we were out shopping. He was in a horrible psoriatic arthritis flare, and it was just before Halloween. All he wanted was to find the perfect costume. At least that’s what his heart wanted. His body disagreed.

Just like adults with psoriatic arthritis, children with the disease can also have difficulty walking when they’re in a flare. For my son, this means his hips, back, knees, ankles and the soles of his feet ache. Walking the store on this particular day wasn’t an option for him.

So, what’s a parent to do? He’s too big for a stroller. All of the wheelchairs were already being used. There’s no way I would trust him with an electric cart at his age. So, I scooped him up and put him in the back of a shopping cart.

I was shocked at the number of disgusted glances from other shoppers, not to mention what they were saying under their breath. They thought I was babying him, and he was a spoiled brat who had mom wrapped around his little finger.

After taking a deep breath and calming my mama bear instincts to lash out and protect her child from nasty comments at all costs, I made it public why he was in the back of a shopping cart. I started asking my son in a louder voice than normal if his swollen knees were still hurting and how achy his back was. I made comments to him about how psoriatic arthritis stinks and that one day there will be a cure, and he won’t be in pain anymore.

The looks of disgust quickly turned to looks of compassion. At least two shoppers walking by mentioned that they didn’t know children could have arthritis. It sparked a conversation that allowed for understanding and educating them about his invisible illness.

Be proactive

No matter how old you are, if you have psoriatic arthritis, chances are you’ve experienced these same stares. I get these nasty looks when I use a handicap parking spot as a last resort, even though a doctor and my state say the need is legit, and I have a placard.

My number one suggestion to combat these side-eyes and whispers is to be proactive and take the opportunity to enlighten those sending out the vibes of disapproval.

Whenever my son or I are having a bad day with psoriatic arthritis and need to be out and about around town, we don T-shirts that show we are psoriatic arthritis fighters. We try to make our illness visible to others. We put it out there for all to see, front and center. We even use car magnets that show disease awareness to help when using a handicap parking spot.

Some of my favorite T-shirts I’ve seen: “Keep calm and raise awareness for autoimmune disease,” “My immune system attacks itself. What does yours do?” and “I will fight against psoriatic arthritis. While I wish the people around me could understand it, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” There are even great ones for kids, like “Kids get arthritis too.”

I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Call me naïve, but I really do believe most people are nice and helpful, and the stares we get are simply because people don’t understand that invisible illness is a part of us every day. By wearing awareness shirts or using car magnet, the negativity we receive is usually low and psoriatic awareness gets a bump. In the end, I call that a win.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • berad79
    2 years ago

    I can relate to this because when I feel ok, I look good. I dress, cover up any lesions on my skin, and cover up the dark circles under my eyes from the persistent fatigue I am fighting. If I go out for dinner, or have a drink, (I’m still relatively young), I get that side eye- “How sick can he be?” It’s like I almost feel guilty for going out, putting my best foot forward, and enjoying myself, on the rare occasion when the stars align and I actually do feel well enough to go out! That’s a ridiculous way to think, but I do feel that way sometimes. I just don’t have it in me to explain to everyone about PsA. Google it , and let me enjoy myself!

  • Jaime Lyn Moy author
    2 years ago

    It’s really hard to get across to friends and even strangers that one day you can be really good and the next day (or even the next hour!), you can be putting on the “I’m fine” face as you grit your teeth and try to smile through the pain. I think you’re right to celebrate the days you feel well. It’s easy to tell yourself not to let those side-eyes stop your fun. It’s harder to actually believe it. Keep enjoying life! I find that’s the best way to fight those non-believers.

  • PattyJ
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. I’m not so proactive, but I do tell people and don’t try to hide how I am doing. I find it more exhausting to keep it all to myself and suffer alone. Compassionate people will try to understand when you educate them. Stupid people don’t deserve my time or attention. I’m glad you are teaching your son how to deal with the public.

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