What It’s Like to be a Burns Survivor Travelling Alone
As a solo traveller, you are pushing your limits. You challenge yourself in a whole new environment. But for me, it is a whole lot more intense than that. You see, as a burns survivor, or if you like, “someone with a physical disfigurement,” it feels like you’re literally hanging off the edge rather than just looking down.
My first solo trip to Thailand was in August 2014. I remember having ‘please confirm your flight’ buttons flash up on my screen while a glance at my scars tugged me back.
I have had many upsetting scenarios happen to me here in the UK. I’ve had bus drivers refuse to hand my change into my palm. People have followed me around shops when they have noticed my scarring. On Halloween, someone even complimented me on how amazing my special effects makeup was.
So, meeting new people and seeing their reactions to my burns has always been an every day occurrence. But this time, I was to fly overseas alone, and I didn’t know what to expect.
Not only was this an opportunity to have an amazing time, but to prove that I was fearless and certainly capable.
I was burnt in a bath incident a day before my first birthday, leaving me with 34% scarring to my body – my right leg, feet and hands. I lost tips of my fingers and toes on my right-hand side, and endured over 50 operations. My family pushed me to my limits. Having been told that I would never be able to walk, I made it into my school’s cross-country teams.
Since I was young, I have always wanted to do what seemed to be “the impossible.” The feeling of proving people wrong is the most enriching feeling. Therefore, when I was on my way to book this trip, I knew I was pushing my boundaries, but this time, it was to a whole new level. Not only was this an opportunity to have an amazing time, but to prove that I was fearless and certainly capable. I clicked the button.
Up in the air, I worried, ‘what will they say about your scarring?’ or ‘how are they going to react?’ With being disfigured, it’s a constant battle with your demons. It’s about shrugging them off and pursuing what you want to do. That’s the challenge.
First, I met my roommate, Candida in the Mango Lagoon hotel in Bangkok. She was from Scotland and warmly welcoming. I saw her glance down at my scarring as I changed into a pair of shorts, and I decided to simply address the situation, “I’m burnt by the way, but I’m absolutely fine and capable of everything.”
She simply smiled and said, “I was wondering, but that’s cool. Thank you for telling me.” And with that, we made our way down Khao San Road as if nothing was said. “Great start,” I thought.
How is that poor Thai massager going to react when she sees that she will be massaging my burns?
I met the rest of the tour folk, and I was surprised to notice that none of them cared, at all. Luckily for me they were all educated and informed about disability and disfigurement. This put me at ease and I began to loosen up a little.
I’ve never been a spa person because I haven’t wanted to put other people in the position of dealing with my scarring. So when our tour leader, Luke, told us that we were all booked for a traditional Thai massage, I couldn’t help but feel wary. How is that poor Thai massager going to react when she sees that she will be massaging my burns?
A woman welcomed us with the traditional Thai sawatdi ka, the hands to palm hello. Then she led us all to a room where we were told to remove our shoes, in order to have our feet washed. I could see that when the woman came to me, she was taken aback a little. But did that stop her from scrubbing away at my feet? Of course not. She dried my feet, and I got changed into some hideous pale green garments that they offered us.
What It’s Like to be a Burns Survivor Travelling Alone
I lay on the mat, thinking to myself, “Oh no. Here we go, this isn’t going to go down well.” Starting from my feet, the woman tugged at my amputated toes. I looked at her, trying to get a glimpse of her reaction. She looked at me and smiled as if to say, ‘it’s okay, I don’t mind.’ She massaged deeply, as if my scarring wasn’t affecting her magical work. I started to actually enjoy the massage.
When she made her way up to my right hand, she tugged on my fused down, amputated fingers, cracking each of them. I couldn’t help but give out a little giggle. It was astonishing to me how my burns didn’t remotely bother her. When she finished, I thanked her.
The people from tour were very open, and I was able to be myself. Travelling from Bangkok to Surant Thani, I was able to participate fully, diving off cliffs in Khao Sok National Park in my bikini, not having a care in the world. At our final destination, Koh Phangan, I took in the beauty of this magical paradise. It helped clear my demons. Having people who are open-minded is my kind of paradise. I felt like the luckiest person in the world.
What I came to understand is that when you reach adulthood, nobody cares. I mean, they do care, but not in the way you think. No matter what culture, religion or demographic they were, the people I met in Thailand changed my views on that.
In Thailand, people live in poverty and their daily life is a struggle. I believe that this makes the people of Thailand more accepting of diverse people.
Some people can be cruel. And that’s hard-hitting. I believe that people in the western world find it hard to accept reality – the fact that terrifying things do happen to people. Whether that is because they have a lack of knowledge or lack of education, I don’t know. In Thailand, people live in poverty and their daily life is a struggle. I believe that this makes the people of Thailand more accepting of diverse people.
After the experience of travelling solo to Thailand, my confidence has grown enormously. If one culture can accept me as a “normal” person, I have to make every other person treat me in the same way. I feel as though my confidence now shows people that my burns do not bother me, and therefore they shouldn’t bother them.
When you jump off the cliff as opposed to pondering around the edge, you really do get to see the beauty of the world and its people. I thank Thailand for that lesson.
What It’s Like to be a Burns Survivor Travelling Alone photo credits: Lucy Wilson.