| Bucks County Courier Times
Dr. Lise Deguire knows depression. Knows it intimately, thoroughly, painfully. Has the scars inside and out to prove it. Knows it in a way no college textbook or lecturer could ever completely convey.
That this clinical psychologist who resides in Yardley and is in private practice in Pennington, New Jersey, counsels those suffering from depression during the coronavirus pandemic is no great surprise.
Rather, the miracle is she’s here at all.
By all indications, Dr. Deguire should not have survived after being raised by brilliant and musically gifted, but also narcissistic, neglectful dysfunctional parents. She was nearly burned to death at age 4 when her mother mistakenly squirted a highly flammable and combustible accelerant instead of lighter fluid onto the barbecue while on vacation in New Hampshire. The can exploded and mother and daughter caught fire.
Then Deguire’s mother did the unthinkable for a parent:
“My mom realized we were trapped,” Dr. Deguire recalled from her Yardley home on Wednesday. “So, she ran through the fire toward the lake; she left me there burning. It was my father who realized I was trapped, and he pulled me through a fence to safety.
“The hardest thing for me was she was never sorry about leaving me there. She said anyone in her situation would have done the same thing — take care of themselves.”
Dysfunction does not begin to describe it.
There is a photo of Deguire immediately after the accident that she details in her recently published and riveting book, “Flashback Girl: lessons on resilience from a burn survivor.” The lower half of her face is obliterated. Her mouth gapes open because there is no lower lip. Fire devoured her lip, chin and neck. The remaining skin tightly draws her face down into her chest, like a reverse facelift, preventing emotional expression.
What followed for Deguire were years of surgeries, skin grafts, and reconstruction — 50 in all — and much of it while alone as a child in the burn unit of a Boston hospital while her parents remained in New Hampshire, distant in geography and emotions. Compounding her problems later were years of being bullied at school and social isolation due to her disfigurement.
Deguire’s scars remain inside and out, from her burns, parental neglect, and four family suicides, including her 19-year-old brother, Marc-Emile, a lovable genius destined for greatness, who one day hurled himself from a 16th story building on the campus of M.I.T.
So, yes, Dr. Deguire knows unfathomable loss, sadness, depression. Armed with that résumé, she works to guide folks who have fallen victim to the mental stresses of a coronavirus pandemic whose impact is on the rise once again.
“I see clients who have COVID depression,” Dr. Deguire said. “Some talk about it in bits and pieces, and in other sessions we talk entirely about COVID and how to get through it.
“I think it requires a certain mindset to get through these tough times. You need a certain resilient mindset to remain hopeful that good things will happen. I tell them they need to make sure they’re talking to people, to get outside in the fresh air, and to make sure they have a laugh.”
October is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Awareness Month. This observance works to bring awareness to the need for affordable mental health screenings. A number of different factors can often come into play that include a mix of environmental, genetic, psychological, and biological/biochemical components. Not everyone experiences depression in the same way, but it can affect anyone at any time.
COVID-19 has more than tripled — to 28 percent from 8 percent — the rate of depression in American adults in all demographic groups, according to a study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Network Open. Perhaps most disturbing was this finding: The prevalence of mental illness will spread along with the virus over time and that the symptoms will be long lasting.
Dr. Deguire’s advice?
“Sometimes, it’s a one-day-at-a-time thing, one foot in front of the other,” she said. “I tell my clients, yes, I had neglectful parents who were not equipped to be parents, and I was burned, and there were suicides. But I was also taken to the best burn hospital in the country, Massachusetts General. And then I was taken to Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston, a burn institute, where I got the best care for free. I have a family and a career.
“As much as there’s been a lot of trauma, there have been a lot of blessings. I try to remind clients to look at the good happening in their lives as well as the bad COVID has caused.”
Deguire was motivated to write the book, in part, to let people know many of them are capable of great resiliency.
“The thing is, we may not know that until we’re called upon to do it, and that if they hold onto hope, they can recover,” she said.
The avalanche of Dr. Deguire’s life nearly reached its breaking point in her 20s. She became extremely depressed. Not suicidal, but burdened by a sense of hopelessness, that she just couldn’t take it any longer. But she worked through it, one step at a time, one day at a time.
“This pandemic has been incredibly trying for all of us,” she said. “We’ve never lived through a year where everybody is having a terrible year. I remind people that reaching out for help is important. Reaching out for medications, speaking to a pastor. I think when people get in a highly depressive state, they remain stuck at home and don’t reach out for the help they need.
“I tell them, ‘I got the help I needed and got well.’ They can too.”
Columnist Phil Gianficaro can be reached at 215-345-3078, [email protected], and @philgianficaro on Twitter.