Ti

“My story is not about illness, or abuse or tragedy – really. It’s about another unlikely event that no one could have predicted. My story is about a car accident I had when I was 18 that changed my life for the better.

Trust me this wasn’t always the way I looked as things. In fact when it just happened I could not believe such horrific misfortune could have occurred. I was enraged, overwhelmed and found it very difficult to come to terms with. I hated myself, but mostly, I hated my appearance. I was 18 for crying out loud, what rotten luck!

The accident took place in summer of 2001 when I lived at home. I was about to start University. My brother, sister, cousin and I were going to drop my cousin off at home. My brother was driving and we had a head on collision with an upcoming car.

I remember nothing about the accident – all the stories from the accident itself and the 10 days following it, as I was in a coma, are forever gone from my memory.

In some ways I see this as a blessing as I do not believe I could have coped as well eventually with any recollection of the trauma I’d undergone.

I was knocked out on impact, my head thudding against the front passenger seat, so much so that I broke my orbital and jaw instantaneously. To add insult to the injury a shard of glass from the front of the car sliced a deep gash onto the ride side of my face from my eye right to the middle of my cheek, cutting through many layers of skin forming a deep scar.

After the accident we were all taken to A+E then transferred to a specialist hospital where I was lucky enough to have had a facial reconstructive surgeon on duty, who was able to start my facial reconstructive surgery to repair my jaw and orbit which had shattered into fragments. He then sewed up the layers of my scar.

This was all done when I was in a coma. 10 days later I woke up surrounded by doctors speaking very loudly in Italian about an infection. The first words I utter to my Mum who is by my bedside were “I was hanging out with Julius Caesar” – my childhood obsession with Roman Topography resurfaced. I always wanted to be an archaeologist – I should’ve taken this as a sign to pursue that career!

I took in my surroundings and knew straight away that something bad had happened. There is something so disorientating and concerning about waking up in a hospital bed – having no clue about what happened. I remember not being able to feel my body and an excruciating headache, so intense it felt my brain was trying to escape my skull. I screamed which shocked my room mates and my Mum.

I asked what happened?

Then I noticed the taste of blood in my mouth and the raw pain from all my fractures and scars. Mum explained my story and Dad walked in. I asked where everyone else was. My siblings were in another hospital being treated with other severe injuries. I was the most critical however – the trauma affecting my hand, face and eye.

I asked for a mirror then I saw my face and dropped it and cried. My goodness it hurt to cry. My whole head hurt, my soul hurt. My pain was physical, but also much deeper. My face was badly swollen – unrecognisable – I looked like a mummy with bandages all over my head. I was aching, I’d never felt pain like this.

I knew then that my life had changed. I’d never be the same – my confidence had always been love, I’d always been shy. I knew that it would be almost unrecoverable now. At 18, social media, boys, the prospect of starting Uni – I knew I’d find things tough. And I did, sometimes I still do.

My mental and physical injuries continue to hurt and pain me. I have had infections, infiltrations and 22 reconstructive surgeries, and counting. Never would I have thought it would affect every part of me for so long.

I also have a perennially weeping eye – which is the bane of my existence, but I have to live with it.

As a result of my accident I see things differently and it has made me more resilient. I have so much love and respect for my family, fiancé, friends and all the medical staff that have followed me on my journey. I have led a life that’s different – being drawn to a career in supporting the most vulnerable and volunteering for charities – all because of my accident.

A few years after the accident I went for a skin camouflage appointment, as I could not leave the house for many years without fear of being mocked, stared at , recoiled from – which did happen.

I needed an armour to give me added strength. The British Red Cross taught me how to apply the armour which slowly built some confidence. I wear it still, but I also sometimes feel brave enough wearing no makeup at all. I’m still challenged by insecurities so I decided to give back. I became a volunteer skin camouflage practitioner for a wonderful charity, Changing Faces. Helping people with visible differences cope with some armour of their own.

These sessions I delivered helped empower me and gave me strength to deal with a judgemental world. I wouldn’t have been where I am now without them.

I understand covering up “flaws” is just conforming to a society that is intolerant of imperfections – but for me, and for many the camouflage was the only way to start reliving. My scar has changed so much since I first met it when I was 18. I remember how rude I was when I first met it – how I screamed, and recoiled and stared. I hated my scar, and I hated my face. I love it now. It’s a part of me that I always should’ve loved. It saved me, it protected me. It’ll be very strange if it fades away!

Some-one once told me “scars are a sign of victory, not of defeat” – I live by that motto to the day.”

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