I was 12 years old sitting in the pediatricians office for my yearly check up and I remember his face. The face that was trying to hide a reaction. A face that didn’t want me to see something was wrong. He proceeded to measure each of my legs, which was so bizarre to me and then he had a private conversation with my mom. I was worried, confused, uncertain… and with each passing moment I became more uncomfortable. Anxiousness grew. I had no idea what to think.
Within weeks we headed into the Chicago Children’s Hospital where we proceeded to the Orthopedic Department. I was the only child in the waiting room not in a wheelchair. I felt flooded with a million feelings. Is this where they were going to tell me I needed a wheelchair? What do I really have? Do they have the same thing? I felt so confused and overwhelmed with the unknown. I was set to meet one of the best doctors in the world for Scoliosis. He hung up gigantic X-rays of my spine revealing what looked like a stretched out “S”… I had the type of Scoliosis called the “S Curve”. According to them, my curve was “on the line.” They explained it was not necessary to have surgery to correct it, but is an option. He suggested we proceed with a back brace.
After some ominous conversation that didn’t totally put me at ease they sat me in front of a video to explain what to expect as I approach life with Scoliosis. A FREAKING outdated video, THAT was my reference as my brain swirled with anxiety and worry and confusion and loneliness. Some kid actors laughing and playing wearing back braces.
In the following week I went to have my back brace molded. It was a humiliating experience. I was a thin awkward 12 year old with little to no comfort in my own skin. They had me strip down to nothing and put a tube made of gauze around my body, like a mini tube dress. Then two younger guys, probably in their twenties, hoisted me up and slowly smoothed a cast around my whole body. Across my chest, my stomach, my butt. Like I said, as a 12 year old… that is mortifying. They were completely professional, but I wanted to cry having my body touched like that by two guys. Humiliating. I cried later.
My brace was the kind that went from under the breast area down to my hips. It had 3 large Velcro’s in the front that was how I tightened it… most days it felt like I couldn’t breathe. There was a dip in the back of the brace that pushed on my spine, and on the side that pushed on my ribs. It bruised my bones. It rubbed so hard into my bones they were fully bruised. I was forced to wear it 18 hours a day, so the plaster rubbed into my bruised bones for 18 hours with no reprieve. I cried. In the summer it was hot and I would sweat, and at dinner time I would be hungry, but unable to eat because it was so tight I couldn’t breath. At 12 my breast were growing and it would jab up into the underside of them. To be honest that was one of the worst pains and feelings. I cried.
I developed PTSD, which was diagnosed (and treated) in 2019, from the pain in my lower breasts at 12. Now when I rehash this story I can develop sharp stabbing pain in my breasts until I meditate and recognize it. Crazy how strong our minds are.
I had 6 hours without the dreaded beast of a brace, which was when I was in school, but then I decided to be in the school play. After school commitments meant I had to wear my brace into the morning at school and then could take it off in the bathroom half way through the day. Overalls were in, so I wore a T and Gap overalls baggy enough that no one could see it…but god forbid I had to pick something up off the floor. I couldn’t bend over and it was obvious. I cried in the bathroom stalls. I would take it off and then have to carry it back into the class in front of everyone and put it behind my homeroom teacher’s desk. She was the volleyball coach and also one of those teachers that showed preference to the cool girls. I wasn’t one of them.
For years I suffered through my brace, but became more accustomed to sleeping in. Eventually I was able to stop wearing it. By then I chose to wear it at night because I found my posture was better when I wore it regularly at night. I wore it at night off and on into college. It’s still in my garage.
I don’t think I’m in a place to say I’m proud of my curve. I don’t know if I’ll ever be proud of it, but wow…. I just want to tell that 12 year old girl she did a good job. I want to show her she’s a badass. I want to recognize the hardest moments … they didn’t break her no matter how weak and embarrassed and hurt she felt. I’m proud of that.
What I’ve learned is, in moments we feel weakest and completely vulnerable we are actual unbreakably strong and brave.
All women have curves they just look different and have different stories. Maybe my sequel to this is how I handle my scoliosis in present day and how I feel it affects me.