When I was a little, I was in a house fire that resulted in third degree burns covering 40% of my body. I have scarring in my throat after being intubated in hospital which has left me experiencing difficulty breathing. This means I am more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses; so COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for me. I have had to have numerous surgeries due to my scarring, which has resulted in me having to spend many long periods house-bound. I therefore have experienced isolation previously and know how difficult it can be. I feel very fortunate to be safe and healthy with my family to keep me company, but, as I think it does for everyone, lockdown and the change to normal life can take a toll on your mental health.
I have just finished my first year of studying law at the University of Bristol. No matter how many times I start a new place, there is always anxiety in the back of my mind that people might treat me differently because of my scars. However, I actually gained self-confidence at university because I found that every common belief about those who look “different” was contradicted. My scars did not affect my ability to make an amazing group of friends, my ability to date or to achieve my goals. I was so distracted with work, societies, going out, and meeting new people that my scars barely crossed my mind.
Due to lockdown measures, I had to leave university in March; completing coursework and exams at home, going from the typical student life of living away in halls, independence and attempting to cook by myself (I have to admit I once managed to burn rice), to suddenly returning back home and barely allowed to leave the house. I realised isolation was beginning to have a negative effect on my confidence and self-esteem due to the combination of increased time alone and copious amounts of time scrolling on social media. I also did not have the distraction that university provided, giving me more time to think about my scarring. As a young adult, I am not alone in feeling the negative effect of social media, but scarring provides further challenges as it is often viewed as an “imperfection” that is airbrushed out of photos on Instagram, and very rarely portrayed positively in the media at all.
I came to realise that it is easy to rely on validation from others; validation from my friends at university, and validation from my family in lockdown. I realised that I would have to give myself that same validation and confidence as lockdown eased and I re-entered society. This is a scary prospect; especially in summer when scars are more on show than ever. Scars that you are not as used to showing are also on display more, which can prove to be more of a mental challenge. This makes simple things like wearing a bikini to the beach a lot more difficult.
I decided the best way to build my self-confidence was to work on taking care of myself (working out, eating healthily and practicing self-care) to feel good mentally. As a result, I have begun to rely on confidence from myself rather than others. Although easier said than done, it is incredibly empowering to realise you can give yourself that validation.
Lockdown has given me more time to spend with my family, time to slow down the pace, time to invest in my hobbies and drive everyone in the house insane as I practise the same piano piece over and over. It has made me more grateful than ever for the support systems I have. I hope that as lockdown eases, people will be kind, and remember that for many, re-entering society can be an intimidating prospect. As for those that have scarring like me, we have to remember we should not feel ashamed as scars only show what we have overcome. The way we view ourselves sets the standard for those who meet us, and I hope we can all lead by example and show those with scarring are just as confident and valuable as anyone else.