There are an estimated 8 million people in the United States living with psoriasis, a chronic condition that results in painful skin lesions—raised, scaly patches called plaques, boils (known as pustules), or areas of redness and swelling. For affected folks, the threat of a flare-up is always lurking, constantly shaking their confidence in social situations, at school, or at work. That's tough enough to deal with when you can hide within the walls of your cubicle. But what do you do when your "office" is the squared circle?
Growing up in Rochester, New York, Dewey Murray had a singular career goal: wrestle in the WWE. A psoriasis diagnosis at the age of 13 did nothing to derail that dream. At 15, he graduated from a local wrestling academy. By 18, he was building his name on the indie wrestling circuit.
Though the storylines and match results were choreographed, the stunts still carried massive risks. For Murray, the opportunity to conquer the fear of those high-flying physical feats was one of the best features of his job. He could get past putting himself at great risk of injury (or worse). Hell, he embraced it. But when it came to the fear of an in-ring skin flare-up that would bring judgement—from his fellow wrestlers, the thousands in attendance, and millions watching at home—that anxiety was almost too much.
At just 23 years old and having booked his first gig with the WWE, what should have been a dream come true was rapidly devolving into a nightmare scenario. Murray's big-league debut would require him to have his head shaved in an arena filled with 14,000 screaming wrestling fans, for a segment broadcast live on TV. This should have been his career-launching moment, but all Murray could think about was how his psoriasis might blow the whole thing.
How bad were his plaques? Would the camera be close enough to show them? What would his head look like shaved? What if he bled? What about the guys wielding the electric razor? They were wrestlers, not professional barbers. As the unanswerable questions mounted and Murray imagined the many ways things could go wrong, he was filled with dread.
“So much goes through your head because it’s on live TV and there’s no redo, no ‘Hey I have this spot showing, let’s hit makeup and run back out and redo it,’ ” says Murray, now 32. “I’m not one to be honest about my anxiety, but that was by far the most stressful day with having psoriasis.”
Today, Murray looks back on that day as one of his happiest in wrestling. The spot went well, the few patches he had on his scalp weren't visible on TV, and afterward when he visited a stylist, she didn't mention anything while cutting his hair.
Still, Murray's psoriasis affected his confidence on the job. Other wrestlers knew about Murray's condition; some refused to get in the ring with him, even though it isn’t contagious. Mostly, he worried about the crowd finding out. “It’s one thing when you can go to work every day and dress in a way that hides your skin condition, but as a wrestler you aren’t able to do that,” he says.
About a year after the head-shaving stunt, to control what the crowd saw, Murray developed a trucker persona that allowed him to dress in layers from head to toe, so fans would be none the wiser. He wore jeans with a big flannel shirt and wrapped bandanas around his elbows to hide flare-ups. When the bandanas proved popular with fans, Murray sold them at merch tables. “There’s always a positive with the negative,” he likes to say.
Murray's trucker persona did the trick. Since 2011, he's had steady work for the likes of Ring of Honor, Total Nonstop Action, and more appearances with WWE; in 2015, he even cracked the world top-500 rankings in Pro Wrestling Illustrated. But while his career continued, keeping his skin condition under wraps took a psychological toll.
At one particular match, Murray’s opponent—someone he had idolized over the years—was late to arrive, so they didn’t have a chance to meet beforehand. After the match was over, Murray sought him out to formally introduce himself. As he extended his hand, the wrestler told him, “I’m not going to shake your herpes hand.”
“This is not your average day job—‘Hey Susan, how’s it going?’—this is wrestling. You’re in physical contact with your coworkers,” Murray says. “When that happened, I didn’t know whether to hit him or cry.”
— Dewey Murray (@realmuthatrucka) March 5, 2020
Finally, in 2017, after trying virtually every possible treatment—photo light-boxes that left burn marks, coal tar shampoo and body wash, sea salt soaks, a hundred creams, lotions, oils, pills, and injectables—Murray, with the help of his dermatologist, found a biologic that worked for him. He hasn’t had a flare-up since.
Today, Murray is still in the ring, touring the US and Canada on the indie wrestling circuit as an independent contractor, and occasionally appearing on TV, free of anxiety. “Before, I was scared to do certain stuff [in the ring] because I was afraid of hitting the wrong way and bleeding everywhere because of the plaques on my body,” he says. “[Now,] it’s amazing to go out there and do crazy stuff and know that if a bandana comes off, I don’t have to tie it back on. Professionally, I don’t have a care in the world.”
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