By Liana Jacob
THIS BURNS SURVIVOR beat the insecurities that made her consider suicide and instead found love and happiness with a boyfriend who calls her beautiful.
Stylist, Heather Schindler (28), from Wisconsin, USA, was only five years old when she experienced the most traumatic moment of her life.
On January 21, 1995, Heather asked her mother if she could play outside with their dog. She went to a brown building where her family stored most of their belongings.
She took a coffee cannister that was full of gas to the fire outside of the building, when the gas left the canister, the wind picked up and in an instant, her body was on fire from head to toe.
“I ran back to the house completely on fire and started banging on the door,” she said.
“It felt like a week before someone answered, and I heard a horrifying scream coming from my mum; my family put me out, took off my burnt clothes and wrapped me in a towel.
“I was terrified. As a kid when something like this happens, you don’t know what you’re in for and you don’t know the consequences of your actions yet.
“They called my grandpa who lives only a mile from us, then after they called 911 he gets there, puts me in his car and I turn to my mum and ask: ‘Mum, am I going to die?’ She said no but I could tell in her voice that she wasn’t sure.
“We meet up with the ambulance halfway to the hospital and they put me inside. I ask for my teddy bear and that’s the last thing I remember until I wake up and see that I’m being put into a helicopter where a man asks if I’m OK.
“My surgery was eighteen hours long and I had over three-thousand stitches in my body, five-hundred staples in my back and four bolts in my head.”
However, Heather’s ordeal was far from over as her affected body caused her to develop severe body anxieties and she became subject to bullying.
“If I’m being honest, it sucked to grow up as a burn survivor,” she said.
“First, because people would rather stare at you thinking it’s less rude than just asking what happened.
“Second, I was made fun of by strangers which hurt even more. Three, I had the worst self-esteem and cried myself to sleep most nights.
“I had to miss a lot of school for surgeries and because I was easily sick.
“I have been asked if my lips hurt, if I was dressed up for Halloween, and if I’m Freddie Krueger’s daughter.
“With everything that happened, I considered suicide as an option just to get away from everything and everyone and there were times I wished I would have died in the fire because I hated how I looked and felt about myself.”
She was introduced to her current boyfriend by one of her roommates during college, who helped her see the beauty in herself.
“We initially met over texting, then on July 2009, we met in person for the first time when he picked me up at the airport,” Heather said.
“Since then we have been together. After three-weeks of dating, he accompanied me to my first surgery. He was incredible during this time.
“My lips were swollen, and I was all stitched up, but he took care of me and always told me I was beautiful.
“No matter what I look like; before, during and after, he always tells me I am sexy and beautiful and trust me there are times I didn’t look or feel beautiful.
“He has helped me grow as a person and made me grow to love myself, not just inside but my body as well.
“When someone is rude about the way I look, he gets frustrated because, like me, he doesn’t understand why people don’t have a filter when it comes to talking to other people.”
While she attended counselling sessions, she says that she has mostly had to overcome her mental scars herself.
“That was the hardest part, dealing with it on my own. I wish I asked for help, but I slowly started to view myself in a different light and now I am stronger than ever,” Heather said.
“The hardest part was learning to accept everything that happened, taking responsibility for what I did and to forgive myself for everything, then learning how to let it all go. Which I have.
“I can’t forget what happened, but I can let go of what I have done and not let what has happened affect my future.
“There are people who say I am beautiful, strong and an inspiration. Then there are those who just want to know what happened, so I tell them.
“My advice is to forgive. No matter if it was your fault or someone else’s. Just forgive what has happened.
“Tell yourself every day that you are strong, beautiful or handsome and that you are a survivor – not a victim.
“We burn survivors were re-born to do something great no matter if that greatness is small or huge.”
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