As a burns survivor, I'm dreading coming out of lockdown
In many ways, shielding for 12 weeks is the easy part for me.
I am more worried about what life will be like after lockdown, when I must go outside and face the stares and comments again.
I was in a plane crash in India at the age of 10, in which I sustained 45 per cent burns to my face and body and lost my mum, dad and my brother.
After the accident, I came back home to the UK to have my treatment and I remember the hospital being my safe space where I was not treated any differently because of my burns.
Ever since then, life has become far more difficult.
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Being in lockdown has allowed me to reflect on all the bad memories of bullying, name calling and people crossing the road in case they ‘caught something’.
Kids would encourage their friends to join in shouting, ‘Urgh, look at her, she is so ugly’.
I was so alone – it seemed as though I had no place where I belonged. There was no one to stand up for me, so it felt like I just had to accept such awful behaviour.
It is the reason I have found it so easy to self-isolate now – because having to deal with the world outside my house can be tough.
Lockdown has been an escape from that. I have been using my time productively, decluttering all the things I used to buy to fill the void when I was feeling low.
I bought clothes, shoes, bags – lavish gifts that made me feel I had things in common with other people. I thought they were my route to acceptance.
While I’ve been sorting my house out I’ve found items with labels on them from when I was a size 22, which was over 15 years ago. I hadn’t been able to throw them away until now.
I’ve also been using lockdown to connect with people who I haven’t always been able to see. I’ve had lots of people reach out to me, too.
I have freed up headspace that was once reserved for anxiety about leaving the house. I no longer have to think about people staring at me or making snide comments. Now I can focus on myself and work on my self-confidence.
It has been refreshing not to have to deal with the negative daily interactions. I feel safe and relaxed at home, where no one judges me.
For years, I have had to force myself out of my front door each day. I would check in with myself about how ‘strong’ I felt and mentally prepare for what faced me outside.
But as much as the past few weeks have offered relief, now that Boris Johnson has started planning for the end of lockdown, the anxiety is creeping back in.
It’s something I experienced the only time I have left my home during the pandemic. I had to visit A&E due to a medical emergency and before I left the house I found myself fretting about people seeing my scars because I was wearing shorts.
Before lockdown it would have crossed my mind that my scars were visible, but I had learned to tough it out whenever I had to go somewhere I couldn’t avoid.
But through the safety of self-isolating, the resilience I’d spent years building is beginning to slip. I don’t think I would have felt quite as anxious and worried about going outside as much as I did that day.
With no one around and the A&E empty, I didn’t encounter any stares or comments, but it did me make me cautious about what it will be like when we’re all outside again.
There is a risk that many people with visible differences such as scars and marks will, like me, get too comfortable with self-isolating.
If I was given a choice between staying home and facing the world, the former is the easier option.
When I was younger, the daily jibes took their toll on my mental health and I suffered from anxiety and depression. My self-esteem was at an all-time low and I felt worthless and of no value to society, or this world.
As a teenager, I put myself in isolation to avoid other people. I only went out when I went to school – and I only did that because I didn’t have a choice.
I comfort ate to numb the pain and to stop myself from thinking about my life and situation. I tried to read books and learn new skills at home, like calligraphy, but often my days were filled with eating and TV – anything to stop me from thinking.
I am terrified about a return to this, but I hope the resilience I have built up since will help me transition out of lockdown again.
I have also spoken to the charity Changing Faces about my anxiety and apprehension, which has helped me feel reassured and supported. They’ve helped me change the conversation I have with myself to make sure I don’t return to that dark place.
They made me feel included, like I matter.
Hopefully my desire to travel, see friends and visit my family will outweigh any need I feel to hide myself away in my house.
I really hope that because we are all in this together and everyone has had an opportunity to reflect on themselves, the world will be a kinder place after lockdown.
It would be amazing if the community spirit we are seeing lasts, and I hope that society will be more accepting of people who look different and recognise that we are not villains.
We are just ordinary people living an extraordinary life.
Changing Faces is the UK’s leading charity for everyone who has a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different. For advice or support see www.changingfaces.org.uk or call 0300 012 0275.
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