Leann M. has had psoriasis since the age of 14, and at the age of 30, was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. When she has a flare, her skin cracks and bleeds, and gets caught on her clothing. At its worst, 45 percent of her body is covered in painful, dry plaques from head to toe. Over the years, she’s gotten used to the stares; but, sometimes, she still can’t believe the offensive comments thrown her way. “Once at a local mini-mart, I overheard someone refer to my psoriasis as leprosy,” she says, adding sarcastically, “That was special.”

Psoriasis is not leprosy or scabies or bed bugs. “Someone asked me if my psoriasis was AIDS when I was 12. It confounded me and I was devastated,” Brandy R. admits. Psoriasis is not a virus or an infection, nor is it contagious. As you probably know, it’s a chronic, lifelong disease in which an overactive immune system causes inflammation in the body and speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells. Patients may develop pitted nails, lesions, pustules, dandruff-like scales and/or raised, itchy, red, flaky patches or spots on their elbows, knees, scalp and body.

Psoriasis can be very painful—both physically and emotionally. Many people with the condition may be very self-conscious about their appearance; and, constantly dealing with unwanted comments and advice is mentally exhausting. Plus, people can be very cruel, unintentionally or not. “You know, you can’t blame people for not knowing about this disease,” says Kami J., “but you totally can blame them for opening their big fat yaps when they don’t know what they’re talking about. So insensitive!”