When I Hear ‘Grow a Thicker Skin’ as Someone With Scleroderma


To tell someone they need a thicker skin, the intent can sometimes be to insult them. “You’re too sensitive, you’re overreacting, you can’t take a joke.”

I’ve always found it quite hilarious when someone recommends I grow a thicker skin. I do have thick skin, that’s kind of my problem.

I am a scleroderma patient — scleroderma meaning “hard skin,” which is a good descriptor for the hallmark symptom of the disease. For whatever reason, my immune system has decided to overproduce the near-mythical protein believed to control the age-reversing process, collagen. That age-reversing thing may be proved one day, as I am still waiting for the days of being asked when will I graduate high school to end. The benefits for me really end there.

Having a couple decades’ worth of experience living with a slightly thicker dermis than the average person turns a phrase meant to equal toughness and strength into a joke.

It is true that it’s slightly more difficult to make me bleed (not that my cat has any problem), but overall thicker skin is a hindrance rather than something to be bragged about for me. On the occasion when something has pierced that thicker skin, I better prepare to wait awhile for the repairing process as the body seems to be quite angry I’ve ruined all of its extra work, so healing time takes longer and usually results with unpleasant scarring.

The most ironic twist is how uptight I am. Or rather, how thicker skin has lessened my flexibility. If you can’t see how this an issue, try walking without moving your ankle. It makes a previously simple task much more arduous. Forcing the skin to be flexible can be done but it does come with a cost. Most than once my skin has split from the strain, leaving lovely scars that are more like dents.

Another amusing surprise is the insensitivity involved. In my skin, that is. The areas on my body that are affected by the thickening of my skin are less responsive to touch. Unless of course that touch is pain. It does make you wonder about the sensitivity of those who boast about their supposedly thick skin.

So when I hear a person proclaim themselves to be “thick-skinned,” all I can heard is “I scar easy, being flexible hurts me, and I only feel pain.” Whether it’s true or not doesn’t really matter, but it does give me a smile during unpleasant conversations.

Take it from a literally thick-skinned person — I believe we could all do with being a bit more thin-skinned.

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Thinkstock image by julief514


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