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Ashleigh is a blonde female in her late twenties. She has scarring on her chin.

Ashleigh’s story: “I’m learning to live again.”

Over a year has gone by since Ashleigh acquired her scars. Today, she shares her story to encourage others to seek support and rebuild their life after such a life-changing experience.

Last April, I was involved in an accident where I was set on fire in one of my local pubs.  

I had severe third-degree burns to my face and hands and was on life support for 48 hours. I’m still recovering, mentally and physically, with scarring to the right side of my face and both hands. At the time, and a short while after the accident, I was in shock and disbelief and everything in between. 

Friends and family helped with the early stages of recovery, I needed them to physically care for me, wash my, cut my food and change my dressings. They were all amazing. As the days rolled forward, I would keep telling myself “this is the worst that the scars will look. They will only get better.” I was quite naïve at the time, and soon realised that it took time for scars to develop before they’d start to heal.  

After the accident, I lost confidence and had low self-esteem. I also had acceptance issues. As time moves forward, I’m learning to accept my scars as part of who I am. I can’t change what happened to me. I try to focus on how I react to the situation now, living each moment day by day. 

Since acquiring a visible difference, I’ve noticed that people I don’t know behave differently around me. I get stared at, and I get questioned a lot about my scars. This is something I’ve never had to deal with before and at first, I found it difficult. I found support and have since started talking through my experiences with a professional. Today, I feel better equipped to explain to people who are curious what has happened to me. But this can still be hard sometimes. Explaining my story to people being ‘curious’ forces me to relive the accident again and again, and I remember that just because I have scars does not mean that strangers are entitled to know “what’s happened” to me.  

Two pictures of Ashleigh, the first, Ashleigh is smiling at the camera, her blonde hair half up and slightly curly on her shoulders. She's wearing a white jumper. The second, Ashleigh's chin close up, with no makeup to show the scarring.

Since acquiring a visible difference, Ashleigh has noticed that people behave differently around her.

Since the accident, I have situational anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I no longer feel comfortable in a pub environment in the evenings and I cannot be around any flames. At work, if the fire alarm goes off (which it has twice) I am first out the building, in a state of panic.  

I manage my PTSD and anxiety with medication and I’ve learnt some good grounding techniques which help me to bring myself back to the present. 

Before my accident I was a nurse. But because of my burns, I can no longer work in a clinical environment. Today I can’t wear gloves or use alcohol gel, and due to the restriction in my hands can’t perform some duties. So, my whole career has also changed – although I’m still a nurse.  

The accident has led me down a different path, and today I’m looking into undertaking a masters degree in nutrition and how impacts the body – something  I’ve always been interested in. 

It’s definitely getting easier, as the days and weeks pass. But I’d be lying if I said that every day is a good day. I have my down days and my self-doubt days – where I feel less confident. But when I realise how I’m talking to myself and treating myself, I readjust my mindset. I acknowledge these feelings of self-doubt as they arise. But that’s all I allow them to be – thoughts and feelings that pass and simmer down.  

Since the fire, I have climbed Scafell Pike, alongside my cousin, who was also burnt in the same incident. We raised money for the Katie Piper Foundation. We have also spoken about our experiences on national television. Something I would never have been able to do before! 

I’m passionate about raising awareness of visible differences and in future want to be an advocate for people with visible differences, especially scars. I want to show people who have experienced trauma that they can rebuild their life and live happily after such a life-changing experience.  

To people who have experienced trauma, I hope that you are taking time to accept what has happened to you. Don’t be worried about other people’s reactions to what you look like. Take your difference into your own hands and rock it. It’s a part of you and a part of your identity – as a strong person, a survivor. Remember, you are amazing. 

Wendy, one of our wellbeing practitioners, speaking to a client.

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