Lise Deguire knows pain, suffering, and loneliness. She also knows courage, gratitude and resilience.
Deguire was four years old when when the family barbecue caught on fire. Her mother ran to safety, leaving Lise alone, blocked by a wall of flame. Her father saved her, but not before third-degree burns covered her arms and torso. Her face was most severely damaged as burns devoured her lips, chin and neck. Her life would never be the same.
Her existence became an endless stream of surgeries and a new identity as someone grotesquely disfigured, who was bullied, mocked, teased, rejected and heartbroken.
But as much as her story is about suffering, it is even more about resilience and gratitude.
“When you’re burned and you look different, only certain people are attracted to you,” said Deguire. “But they tend to be incredibly kind, quality people. I attribute a lot of my surviving and thriving to the many who stepped in to help.”
She became determined to use what she had learned through her difficult journey to help others. Deguire became a clinical psychologist and authored a book about her experiences.
“My book, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor is very much about being the most unfortunate person you’ve ever seen,” she said. “And how I went from that to having an incredibly blessed, fulfilled life. It took 50 years, but I did it, and I’m here to tell you that you can do it, too.”
Not only does she use herself as an example, but she has
also done extensive research to try to understand how we can better face our challenges by becoming more resilient.
“Science explains resilience as mostly a mindset – one we can learn,” said Deguire. “One way is by embracing gratitude, which might seem superficial, but it turns out that gratitude literally changes our brain chemistry and can help us endure almost anything.”
Deguire believes it becomes an even more important factor as people age.
“When you get older it is important to focus on what you have as opposed to what you’ve lost,” said Deguire. “This gets back to gratitude. Be grateful for family and friends. Prioritize making new friends, too. Connecting with others of all ages is very important. Also, indulge your interests, dive into your hobbies, follow your curiosity to discover new things. No matter what we face, if we do it with an attitude of gratitude, and embrace life instead of mourning it, even the most difficult situations can be fulfilling.”
Deguire understands that we all face challenges, some traumatic and tragic. Her message is that even in the depths of despair there is always a way forward.
“The point is, never count yourself out,” she said. “People tell me they could never survive being disfigured, but the truth is, if that’s your life, you will find a way. Not only am I a psychologist, but I’ve also been in therapy many times, which has helped me tremendously. Help is out there, and it works. I urge anyone who feels like they’re really floundering to please seek it, because I bet you can get out of it. That’s my story. There is hope.”
This article is featured in the Spring 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.