June is one of my favourite sunny months, but apparently also Scoliosis Awareness Month! It felt pretty good discovering that this exists since I live with scoliosis as well. I would like to tell a bit about my own experience with scoliosis; how it’s a struggle to live with, but also about overcoming insecurities and being proud of it.
First, let me explain a little bit about scoliosis. It’s a sideways curvature of the spine, which is often present at birth but it can take a while before it shows (for instance, mine was discovered at the age of 11). There are different variations of it and it may occur in various parts of the spine. It may result in uneven shoulders, a twist of the torso, and protruding shoulder blades as a result of the rib cage moving with the spine’s curve. A curvature of at least 45 degrees is severe, and mine’s a bit above that, unfortunately. It occurs in both men and women, but mostly women. I personally know about six others with various degrees of scoliosis, who all happen to be women.
Living with scoliosis is painful, to be honest. I don’t always like to admit how painful it can be because it simply feels better not to. After many years, I got used to living with a certain degree of pain that comes up from time to time. Often, focussing on other things makes the pain less present. Overall, I try to make the best out of it, but with a busy student’s life, it’s easy to forget about taking good care of my back sometimes.
Living with scoliosis means that I have to be careful. Some things that I experience because of it are muscle aches, physical exhaustion, stiffness, and lower lung capacity. What I have to look out for is that I don’t start slouching due to exhaustion, as that will result in more back pain. If I carry a backpack for too long, I start feeling the pressure on my torso after a while. If my right shoulder is overburdened, a tingling pain will emerge from the shoulder moving to the muscles of my arm all the way to my hand. These things are pretty uncomfortable, but they’re also a sign from my body that something is wrong and that I need to take care of it. It is very easy to fall back into a posture that is only more harmful to my spine because my spine doesn’t know how to behave properly. These are all things that others can’t easily notice, but which I deal with on a day-to-day basis.
What you might see though, is that my back doesn’t look straight. As a teenager, I was very self-conscious about my body (but then again, who isn’t at that age). I once declared not to wear any “revealing” or tight-fitting tops anymore, but to choose loose-fitting clothing instead. However, in the last years, I’ve come to the point where I’m way more comfortable with revealing my back. When I go to the swimming pool, for instance, I don’t even think about what other people see anymore. I go there to have fun, and that’s all. In the end, no one might have even noticed. And if they have, then that’s totally fine with me. Most importantly, I just want to wear and do what I feel like without worrying too much. That’s a huge step considering where I was years ago. And I’ve now reached the point where I’m happy to share what it’s like.
So while growing up, I became more and more accepting of my back. Hell, I’m even proud of it! Also, going to physical therapy helped me realize how important it is to strengthen the muscles around my ribcage and how much control I have myself to make it a little better. It’s my own unique spine and life gets a little better if you start looking beyond the discomfort; the fact that my body is strong enough to handle it is what makes me so proud.
What also really helped me was seeing other people sharing their experiences. About a year ago, I stumbled upon the Instagram-post above. It’s by Bernadette Banner, who’s a wonderful dressmaker. Of course, it’s always sad to learn about other people having scoliosis too, that’s for sure. But finding out that someone who I admire went through similar things as I did, while never noticing a thing, made me realize that it’s not necessarily that obvious for others to see. It also inspired me in the sense that she’s comfortable sharing this with all her followers, and that they were so supportive. It made me realize how many others accepted their own bodies and supported each other. Even though I used to be a bit iffy about the fact that there is an awareness day or month for almost everything that exists, posts like these are what made me realize why spreading awareness matters so much: it makes you feel like you’re not alone and many others before you have accepted it as well.
P.S. Images 1 and 2 sources unknown.