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Beneath the Brace

Updated: Mar 4

In second grade, I was officially diagnosed with scoliosis. At the time, I didn’t understand it. I felt normal. I looked normal. All I knew was that I had a new intimidating male doctor I visited every six months while being constantly x-rayed and monitored.


I had stretches I was supposed to do every night. I was on the road to having a back brace and was sucked into an unknown future without my consent. I thought: 


Would I be handicapped?


Would I have a hunchback?


Would I ever feel comfortable in my skin?


Would I die young?


What does this mean?


Through the next few years, I pretended everything was going to be okay. 


I was around 10 when I realized my rib cage was poking out on my right side. I started feeling those “weird growing pains” that felt like my bones were growing outward and almost tingled at the same time. Even though I sat still, I felt the motion. That was the start of me recognizing and feeling the spine progression. It wasn’t just my back that was affected. It was my organs, nervous system, ribs, shoulders, neck, and basically my whole body. 


I felt more anxious, depressed, and my hormones were changing.


I quickly recognized I would never be normal, but I had high hopes of managing my condition as best I could, aside from the inevitable immense pain and discomfort. I knew things didn’t get better, and throughout time it would only get worse.


Around that time, my curve progressed to over 30 degrees and my doctor told me I needed to wear a brace. A flood of uncertain thoughts consumed my brain. My doctor still had hopes of preventing surgery, as I could be one of the many lucky ones who didn’t progress. My height was also an advantage, he mentioned.


Right before I was fitted for my brace, my mom went to the library and picked out a book for me to read. She said it was the only ”special book” she could find. I don’t remember the title, nor what it was about honestly. All I remember was the girl in the book. She was just like me, dealing with scoliosis and had a brace. At that moment, I did not feel isolated from the rest of the world. I felt slightly connected. I didn’t have one person in the real world who I could relate to.

Soon after, it was officially time to face the music. At least four adult males surrounded me at the hospital. The brace had to be precisely molded. My cold body laid there braless on a stretcher, with just a white tank top on. My body was pressed and patted from my collar bone, all the way to my tailbone from every angle. I tried to close my eyes, just waiting for it to all be over. Every limb was being held and pulled at once, as they cranked a lever to maximize the tightness. I felt completely helpless. It was very uncomfortable for my 11-year-old self, especially having my breasts touched, which was just starting to develop in a room full of professional males.  The hard part was over until I began my new life as “the back brace girl.” Watching Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion the summer prior, wasn’t the best idea. Of course, hers was made of metal so at least I didn’t have to worry about magnets being stuck to me. That was finally a win!  Either way, I was terrified. 


When I wore the brace for the first time at school, it was incredibly awkward. I felt like I had gained at least 10 extra pounds. I looked bigger than I was. I felt like a broad football player trying to shrink myself down. 


How was I supposed to be myself? 


How was I supposed to pay attention in class, which I already couldn’t do? I had already spent my classroom career obsessing over what people thought of me, and secretly making fun or disliking me. I was never cool enough. I thought I was ugly. My friend group was changing. I was struggling academically and felt like the dumbest person in the class. My home life was struggling as well, as I constantly walked on eggshells 24/7. I had zero self-confidence. Everything was changing out of my control, and it was my worst nightmare.  I walked up to a group of people at the start of gym class, I nervously held my breath. They looked at me and one girl quietly said “we know” and looked down not knowing what to say without hurting my feelings. The gym teacher pulled me aside and reassured me he wouldn’t hold it against me if I couldn’t do something. That it was okay and I could speak up if I didn’t feel comfortable. I immediately felt relief, yet a piece of me was dying. I knew I had limits. I knew others didn’t expect much from me. I knew I couldn’t do what the average person my age could. Just like everything else in my life up until that point, mentally and physically I had a huge force holding me back.  That mindset definitely derailed me for years. The tone was set. I had excuses, even though they were valid.  The new brace life was an adjustment that crippled my soul with new insecurities and anxieties. I was fully compressed. I had to wear it for 23 hours a day. I couldn’t wear clothes I wanted to wear. My jeans were two sizes too big, to go over the “hip” on my brace. I could only wear shirts that were very high near my neck, covered with a vest to reduce the bulk. Luckily, they were in style back then, but I still felt like I didn’t have any options. Sidenote: I wanted to be a fashion designer to make “brace friendly” outfits for girls like me. I knew I wanted to be a voice and wanted to help as much as I could. I didn’t want ANYONE feeling the way I did. In junior high hell: I had things thrown at me. I felt like people were constantly pointing, laughing, and judging me.  I felt like a complete idiot.

What did I do wrong? Looking back, I should have stood up for myself more. I did everything in my power so people wouldn’t question me. I was always on high alert. I didn’t want anyone else knowing I had a brace, even though I’m sure they all could see. I was the most self-conscious person alive, during the most critical years. All I wanted to do was to blend in, even if I was dying on the inside in so many ways. Aside from barely being able to breathe due to the tight straps covering my whole torso, I was extremely hot under my new armor. I even formed itchy, painful, and uncomfortable large sores on my back from the pressure.  I always had an itch that I couldn’t scratch. I was always in pain, extremely uncomfortable, and couldn’t concentrate or focus whatsoever in class. By the end of 8th grade, I couldn’t wait to take my brace off when I got home, even if it was for a minute. Luckily, by high school, my doctor told me I could wear it at night only.  THANK GOD. After three years of wearing my brace full-time, I felt like I won the lottery.  I felt like my high school years were saved. I felt like I could be anyone I wanted. I could be free and wear what I wanted with great ease. I already felt more outgoing. Little did I know by the end of senior year, I would be in extreme sharp pain, along with the constant dull aches, could barely get through my day, and would need surgery. 


Things I wish I could tell my younger self:


-It will get better, and things could have been so much worse.

-Momentary feelings vanish.

-Be confident in the skin your in, no matter who brings you down.

-You are not the problem.

-Everything is uncertain, but you can control how you react.

-Surgery isn’t the end of the world.

-So what if people know you have a back brace?

-Don’t hide, be yourself, be proud.

-You will become stronger in every sense of the word.

-Your hurt will prepare yourself for the future. 

-Your vulnerability will help others.

-You will learn so much about yourself and other people, cherish the hard lessons. 

-You are sensitive for a reason.

-You are fully equipped to handle anything. 

-Your struggles will fuel your passion.

-You are beautiful inside and out.

-You do not need approval from others.


Love,

Kimberly Ann



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