The month of June brings so many wonderful things into our lives, like much needed warm weather, the opening of pools and patios galore, the smell of bonfires at night, and something else that most people don't pay as much attention to: Scoliosis Awareness Month. If you ask a random person on the street, I'd be willing to bet that they know what scoliosis is in general. My middle school even made the nurse check us for crooked spines in the gym hallway that reeked of adolescence and unwashed gym shorts, demonstrating an awareness of its existence and the threat that it posed. Scoliosis by definition is the three-dimensional, sideways curvature of the spine. However, June being National Scoliosis Awareness Month provides a time for deeper understanding of this chronic condition, so here's an inside look.
I was in fifth grade when my body decided that it would be a good idea to grow five and a half inches in just six months, but this major change took my spine by surprise. It wasn't until a routine check-up that I found out I was no longer just like everyone else with their beautiful, straight backbones; mine now mimicked the first letter of my name. Most cases of scoliosis occur during adolescent growth like this, known as idiopathic scoliosis, but it can be caused by other conditions as well (think muscular dystrophy). It's not a surprise that I, an adolescent female, had it either, as it happens more commonly in girls. Essentially, there was no explanation as to why my spine behaved that way.
Fortunately, the degrees of my curvature were in what my doctor called "the gray area," meaning that they weren't bad enough to require corrective surgery. I would need to be closely monitored and put in a preventative back brace. Although the outlook was okay, the x-rays were grotesque. How could that be happening inside of me? Why was I robbed of the basic human quality of a straight spine? The pictures of my back disturbed me so much that I had to leave the room when my doctor was examining them. Truth be told, I still leave the room. These visits to the doctor sparked uncontrollable anxiety within me as they do for people with scoliosis everywhere. You never know if you'll walk into the room one day and be told it was time for spinal fusion. It's like standing in front of a judge who has your fate in their hands and all you can do it stand there listening.
For the next four years, I slept in a light pink brace. It had a hard outer shell with corset-like velcro straps to tighten the dense foam inside. It extended up into my armpit on one side, while it dipped below my hip on the other, both counteracting one of my curves. To anyone on the outside, it sounds like a torture device, but believe me when I say that it provided so much needed security and support that I almost never complained. I never complained about the bruises, the limited movement at night, or the way I had to mercilessly jam washcloths between my skin and where the brace was poking me because it was preventing the worsening of my curves as I grew. I consider myself lucky though; my Charleston night brace seems like nothing compared people who have to wear braces twenty hours a day.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts about living with scoliosis, aside from the daily physical pain, is the emotional and social toll it takes on a person. Scoliosis is an invisible, chronic condition, and people have a hard time understanding what they can't see. In my experience, there's a certain guilt associated with speaking up about your pain and your condition. Your peers tell you to get over it, and people ask about your posture or just tell you to sit up straight. You're the butt of the joke when people laugh about how carrying heavy bags will give them scoliosis, which isn't how it works. But having scoliosis is also closing your eyes when you get out of the shower because you don't want to see one side of your rib cage protruding further than the other, or your one hip that juts out, or your one breast that will always be larger than the other. It's going into your closet and looking at that backless dress you bought and wondering, Will people be able to tell if wear this? You look at the media and wish that your body would be represented just once. You want to be included in body positivity because sometimes, you need that validation that you can love yourself.
But living with scoliosis is also realizing that you're tough. Day in and day out, you wake up fighting pain while continuing to do what you love. Scoliosis has never stopped me from playing volleyball, lifting, or theater. It led me to my future career by allowing me to write and connect with people. Although some of these things can only be understood by people who deal with scoliosis every day, it's important that everyone has a general understanding and awareness of it.