This post is a slight detour from my normal travel and expat-based posts – more of those to follow after this post! But as this did happen abroad, I thought it was worth mentioning and it’s peppered with expat, mindset and skincare tips.
So if you follow me on Instagram, you know that during September, I looked like Frankenstein. I mean I do love me some Halloween, but it wasn’t because I was really eager for some pumpkin spice lattes that I was sporting stitches and scabby gashes. After celebrating the last night of the Edinburgh Fringe (the world’s biggest art festival) with friends, we went to a club and bar off the Royal Mile where towards the end of the night when I was contemplating leaving for my warm bed, I was accidentally smacked in the head with a thick tumbler glass. I turned to my friends complaining that it hurt and that’s when I saw their shocked faces while I tasted iron. Yep. That’s right guys – I had a head wound and in typical head wound fashion – it was a gusher.
Expat truth: Make sure you have a home country and local emergency contact. Notify each contact of the other contact’s information so that they can communicate if needed and give both of these contacts when needed.
I was guided up to the top of the bar, my friend expertly cared for my wound while dictating the appropriate health and safety procedure that should follow to the bouncers. (Don’t mess with feisty Glasgow girls who know first aid!) For the first time in my life, I stepped into an ambulance – grateful that my friends came with me. The paramedics barked orders and assumed I was a white girl wasted tourist while the policeman kindly interrogated me about the incident. When I replied in a level and clear manner, choosing to use 3+ syllable words to drive home my point, they soon realised that I was coherent and the judgement subsided. At that point I was both grateful for their support yet shocked at the paramedics’ immediate assumptions, which shaped their manner of bedside care.
Expat truth: UK free health care is truly such a gift! But be prepared for long waits, disinterested staff, nurses and doctors and come prepared with questions as they often won’t elaborate on their answers.
In the UK, all taxpayers pay into the health care system and in Scotland we receive free health care and medicine so I expected, as a taxpayer, that care for a head wound of a compliant individual would be a supportive rather than a judgmental experience. But at the same time I was also grateful for the free health care and ride to the hospital.
When I arrived in the hospital, I was separated from my friends and sat by myself in a hard plastic seat for 20 minutes by the nurse’s station while nurses congregated there in a quiet hospital. I was cold, tired and was still applying pressure to my wound. Not once did the nurses who passed by asked if I needed something. Finally when my name was called, I headed to meet a doctor who consulted with two other doctors. I was told I needed stitches and that it was a superficial cut. When I asked if they could ensure that the wound would have limited scarring, the male doctor in his early 30s responded, “Of course. For you women, your face is your virtue.” The sexist comment still boils my blood to this day and I wish I had had the quick wit to reply, “You mean my brains are my virtue?”
This flippant comment highlights how men and women are perceived differently with scars, which leads into a larger discussion of how women are judged harshly for their looks. When men have scars, it’s seen as a badge of honour, great stories, sports and adventures. If women have scars – especially on their face – we’re questioned whether we’re rough, troublesome, drunkards or pitied because it’s harmed our looks.
Expat truth: Sometimes you’ll need your mom and the realisation that she’s thousands of miles away hits you hard. That’s when friends are godsends. Don’t be afraid to lean on them – they’re your extended family.
And so, I headed home where I was taken care of by some amazing friends and colleagues while I healed. But I’d be lying if I said it was an easy heal. Even though it was a superficial cut, the amount of energy I had to exude to go outside with people staring at my stitches (some blatantly staring with mouths agape – no exaggeration I’m afraid) in the sunlight were sometimes quite hard to face en route to work or the shops. Of course – this didn’t stop me from living my life even though I wanted to hide sometimes. And don’t get me wrong, I’m so very grateful that the glass missed my eyes, nose, teeth and temples and I know that out of the list of bad things that happen in this world this is but a silly, little pin prick (“tis but a flesh wound” if you quote Monty Python). But whenever you’re a victim of someone else’s senseless decision – no matter the scale – it does play with your mind.
That’s when I started researching how to heal a scar – physically and mentally. I could use my recent experiences and play the victim or I could steer the direction of my mindset and my healing process in a positive direction. I chose the latter. A colleague reached out to his dermatologist friend in Glasgow who mentioned that facial scars roughly take between 3 months and a year to heal. And so healing Frankie (my affectionate nickname for my scar – short for Frankenstein) is more a long-term strategy. Here are my top tips, which have helped smooth the scar and left me empowered in the last 2 months.
Wear sunscreen. Scars don’t do well in the sun. Your kickass body is creating new, fragile, fresh skin and it’s not going to have a high resistance to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. So make sure you apply sunscreen consistently throughout the day. I like this one, which lasts for 10 hours and is water resistant. It does have alcohol in it so if you have dry or sensitive skin you may want to go with something non-alcohol based especially when your wound is healing. When I was in Miami, I made sure Frankie was protected from the bright, beautiful sun while enjoying the weather.
Invest in a collagen drink. I approached Skinade for a free 30 day sample and they kindly agreed to send me their product to test and review. This company, which has a US and UK online shop but ships worldwide, is one of the many collagen drink companies out there but it grabbed my attention because it was lactose, gluten and dairy-free and does not contain any bovine (cow) or porcine (pig) products, hormones, genetically modified organisms, alcohol, added sugar, artificial flavours or colouring. It’s also chock full of skin healthy vitamins including vitamin B complex, vitamin C, omega 3 and 6, l-lysine (an amino acid), msm (a naturally occurring sulpher found in all living things that aids collagen and keratin formation), 7,000 mg of hydrolysed marine collagen proteins (low sodium and no mercury contamination) from fish and flavoured with peach and mangosteen.
I was preparing for a drink that tasted like licking a sardine but was pleasantly surprised with the delicious, summer drink taste. I actually enjoyed introducing this into my daily morning ritual and it helped keep me hydrated during the day. Make sure you avoid caffeine for an hour before or after drinking to ensure your body digests as much of the nutrients as possible. After two weeks I noticed that my skin was softer and the scar was less red and over the remaining weeks the scar was smoother and less defined than at the start of the month-long trial. Colleagues and friends have commented how nicely the scar has healed and now most people don’t tend to notice it.
I also loved how Skinade offered two products – one with 150ml bottles of ready to drink collagen and another at 15 ml of liquid concentrate that you mix in a glass of water. The 15 ml option is created for travellers, so you can bring up to 10 sachets in your carryon liquid bag without any trouble. I tested this when I travelled to Miami as I only brought carryon. I passed through without a problem and had a collagen drink every morning before I left my hotel room. I normally have dry skin after I travel but didn’t while taking the collagen drink. Skinade recommends that you use it for 90 days for maximum results.
Drink water! Your skin reacts to the amount of water you drink a day so help it out. On average, it’s suggested men should drink 12 cups (3 litres) a day and women should drink 9 cups (2.2 litres) according to the Institute of Medicine.
Apply vitamin E and marigold oil before bed and bio/healing oil first thing in the morning. While I still had a scab, I would massage the Vitamin E and bio oil around the wound. Please make sure you have followed your doctor’s advice before introducing anything to the wound. A kind friend treated me to some healing vitamin oil from D. Atkinson Herbalist in Edinburgh. Find your local apothecary and ask the supplier to make you a bespoke healing oil. Mine included vitamin E and marigold oil – both are antioxidants, which protect cell membranes and vitamin E helps maintain healthy skin. While there is no medical study that identifies Vitamin E as a healing agent for scars, I thought added moisture and vitamins certainly wouldn’t hurt!
Massage your scar when you’re applying oils and moisturisers. I do this twice a day, which is recommended by doctors as one way to soften and flatten scars as they change throughout the healing process. This helpful PDF from the H Lee Moffitt Cancer Centre and Research Institute recommends massaging in circular, vertical and horizontal directions.
Eat your greens, fruits, fish and chocolate. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you should stock up on strawberries, citrus, melons, broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach, fish and dark chocolate. They’re all skin happy foods and come with antioxidants, vitamins E and C. Dark chocolate contains flavonals that reduce rough skin texture.
Heal your mind. You’ve been through a lot. Try meditating and yoga to build your mental strength back up and keep the dark and twisties at bay. I love restorative, yin and yin nidra (which translates to yogic SLEEP – who’s not up for that?!) yoga classes as well as the 1 Giant Mind app. I never thought I’d be someone who meditates but it is sooooooooooo good!!! The app lets you build up your practice – starting off with a simple 15 minute meditation every morning. It’s now part of my daily ritual and I top it off with at least one yin nidra class (which I call sloth yoga because it’s divine relaxation) a week – rests you body while focusing the mind. Causing you to fall in this beautiful calming in-between sleep mode. In fact many people fall asleep in my class as I’ve heard hardcore snoring. But you’ll be so zenned out that you’ll just be happy for them as you float back to nirvana.
Start back to the gym as soon as you’re given the go ahead. This will make you feel more in control of your body and getting it as healthy as possible while your skin continues to mend. Depending on the depth of the wound, you’ll have to rest between 2-6 weeks and keep the wound free from sweat. Speak to your doctor to receive bespoke advice for your particular wound.
Continue living your life! It can be easy to hide away but that won’t help your mental well-being. Enjoy your life and continue your daily life as much as you’re able to during the healing process. I sported Frankie in Miami on holiday, during my birthday, at the beach, at friends’ bdays and I still had fun! A scar doesn’t define you unless you let it. Sure people’s quizzical eyes might glance over it a few times as they talk to you but don’t let their thoughtless and/or curious glances define your mindset for the rest of the day/night.
While no scar can be erased and the way your scar will heal depends on your skin tone, your age, genetics and placement on your body – these steps will at the very least make you feel more in control of your body and mind and will introduce self care into your life as you heal. After a few months you may decide to speak to a plastic surgeon and look into laser therapy or other bespoke treatments. Or you may look at your scar with a smile as you accept it as part of a life well lived. Whichever you decide, I hope it brings you peace on your journey to self-acceptance. The “imperfections” are what make us interesting after all. Do you have a scar? If so, how have you treated it and how do you embrace your scar(s)? I’d love to know in the comments below xx