After an amazing week at World Burn Congress in Providence and a spontaneous extra 2 days of adventure on the east coast here is what I am going to come home with.
Back in college I had some friends who would tell me, “everyone has scars, yours are just on the outside.” I know this was meant to be comforting.. but it never was. Yes, there is truth to that statement, but a burn injury is very different than most ‘scars.’ I could never quite pinpoint what bugged me so much about this statement, until now.
Why is it different? It is because we have scars that require healing physically, emotionally and mentally.
Our skin is the largest organ in our body. Now, imagine for one second loosing your skin. With that you loose your identity. If a loved one was injured, you watch them loose everything they once were through extreme pain and suffering with not much you can do to help them.
There is no other injury or experience like a burn injury. Trying to compare it to something else only belittles our experiences and what happened.
Every transition a burn survivor has requires a new sense of healing. If one was injured at a young age — like myself — every transition required more surgeries and new unknown things. My injury never bothered me but every transition was very different and more challenging. What about going to college? How will this surgery affect me this semester? Starting a new team? What are my new friends going to think? What about applying for a job? Starting a relationship, do I have to tell them about my scars? Something as basic as going to a college party turns into someone being afraid or thinking my ‘skin is scary and fake.’ Starting a new job means more questions and ignorant comments like, ‘your skin makes you look like a bearded dragon, lizard or a snake’ or ‘was it traumatic?’
What is a normal day for everyone else, is not a normal day for us when everywhere we go the stares, comments and judgements continue. For example — we can’t even go to the grocery store without someone noticing and saying something… yet, “Everyone has scars, yours are just on the outside.” This is stating our scars are the same as everyone else’s. They aren’t. We have felt extreme emotional pain through people walking away from our lives because it was too difficult, and faced extreme emotional and physically pain through surgeries and continuing therapy.
While in college, I longed for a better understanding of things that ‘normal’ that people take for granted. I looked for support and understanding but always struggled to find it. What about relationships, do I have to tell someone what happened? What if I don’t want to? What are they going to think of me? Starting a new job I had a constant fear of being treated like I wasn’t capable of doing it well, due to my injury. And then I felt like I needed to prove everyone wrong, like I had to do throughout my life.
Throughout the conference this past week I got to connect with the only Young Adults I have ever met who truly understood all of the confusion that ran through my mind throughout all of the transitions in my life over the last few years. Although I don’t have the answers to everything. I do know that I have the support and am able to provide it for others and that there are people who truly understand how difficult it can be. It is always my choice on what I choose to tell people or not to. Knowing this and being able to spontaneously get on a bus and go to New York and then connect with an old friend and go to Boston, I know I am truly blessed to have friendships all throughout the US and world!
I know I will never live a ‘normal’ life and honestly I don’t want to, because that would be boring. Knowing that there are people out there that understand and support me is the greatest blessing there is. Before leaving for World Burn Congress this year, I was excited to have a trip to focus on myself and healing and this year was even greater than I could have imagined it could be.
Thank you so much to all the people who made this trip possible, Regions Hospital for sponsoring me, my parents for watching my puppy and driving me to the airport and of course the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors.