All throughout my life, I’ve struggled with self-confidence. Up until recently, I couldn’t quite find the cause of it. My lack of self-confidence has held me back and caused me so much pain over the years. It is essential to get over personal struggles and pain so we can grow. There is one experience in my life that has impacted me the most. In order to share this story, I’ll have to take you back to 2nd grade when I was around 7 or 8 years old.
It was a typical day over Christmas break. I was sitting in front of the T.V. wearing nothing but my underwear, this was not out of the ordinary for 7 or 8 year old me. As I was sitting there, my mom asked me to stand up and face away from her. I instantly knew she had realized something about me was wrong. After a quick examination, she told me that my spine looked curved. My mother was familiar with scoliosis because of Jared’s diagnosis with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It is common for those who have DMD to have scoliosis as well. Due to this, my mother was already well educated on the condition. Shortly after this, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with scoliosis. I was referred to Dr. Stuart Weinstein, a white-haired elderly, yet healthy looking man who is world renowned for his work in pediatric orthopedic surgery.
This may be a coincidence, but my brother never really developed severe scoliosis. If he did, his condition would be much worse. I think of my diagnosis and struggle as me taking some of Jared’s burden. I wish I could still take more.
The worst part about physical deformities is that people notice. They stare, ask questions, or in many cases, make fun of it. Kids are harsh. They teased me about how I walked, sat, and even looked. Growing up, I heard it all. My classmates called me hunch back and every other name possible hundreds of times. I cried myself to sleep dozens of nights because I just wanted to be normal! I didn’t want to wear a back brace, have back pain, go to monthly appointments, or be made fun of. I just wanted to be me. Over the course of my childhood, I had 3 different back braces. I never wore my braces because I figured if I didn’t wear them and I ignored the issue it would go away. It didn’t. As my curve progressively got worse, so did my self-confidence.
All of this impacted the way I viewed myself…
I began to wear hoodies every day simply because it made me feel like I was able to hide my back No matter the weather, you’d catch me in a hoodie. This made me feel just a bit more normal. Hoodies became a security blanket for me. I wasn’t comfortable wearing single layers or tighter fitting clothes. I just wanted to hide.
As time moved on, my curve got worse. Before I knew it, I had a spinal curvature that was over 50°. I was only 15 and headed for a grueling 8-hour spinal fusion surgery with over a year of recovery. When I was first told I needed surgery, my eyes instantly filled with tears and a gigantic lump in my throat soon followed. These emotions weren’t caused sadness, they were emotions of joy! I finally was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. After the surgery, I was going to be as close to normal as I could get…and I was ecstatic!
Surgery Day- January 20th, 2015
This was the day I had been waiting for! When I got there, the check-in went quickly and before I knew it, I was on the table getting prepped for surgery! I remember meeting the anesthesiologist. He was from Romania and was incredibly funny! Once I got into the OR, they covered me with blankets and started my IV. After a quick conversation with some of the nurses, the started to prep me to go under. Before long, they had me counting backward from 10. I could feel a coolness in my veins. I began to go into a trancelike state right before I closed my eyes and submitted to the anesthesia.
The only odd thing about this surgery was that I swear I had an out of body experience when they were taking the “after” x-rays! I could hear them talking to me while they transferred me to the x-ray table. All of a sudden I could see myself and the room. My parents and grandparents were there. I was able to confirm the factuality of this situation later.
I stayed in the University of Iowa PICU for the next 2 weeks after surgery. Those 2 weeks were filled with a lot of rest, physical therapy, nausea, and pain. I honestly don’t remember much of those 2 weeks due to the medication I was on and I slept for most of it. I do remember a few things from that week. I remember watching the Iowa State men’s basketball team beat Kansas, I remember a few of my friends and family coming, and I remember a couple of restless nights that were filled with the worst pain of my life because they couldn’t give me any more medication. The muscle spasms seemed to go on for an eternity! Due to the surgery, I lost 15 lbs and grew 1.5 inches.
After two weeks, I was finally discharged to go home. That was probably the worst 1-hour car ride of my life! Every single bump sent bursts of pain through my body. On top of that, I was experiencing extreme nausea. I remember pulling over a few times just so I could breathe and feel a little less nauseous.
For the next month, I didn’t do much except sleep and watch T.V. I’m extremely grateful for all the help put in by friends and family for the sake of me. This was honestly one of the most boring times of my life, but also one of the most important times of my life. I had to learn to trust people, especially those who took care of me. After surgery, I was very physically vulnerable. I had to have help going to the bathroom, getting in and out of bed, showering, getting dressed, and so many other things. I can attest that this is very hard for a 15-year-old to do. This was a time when I wanted nothing more than to be independent.
Slowly, I started to go back to school again. At first, I only went for a couple of hours a day, but eventually, I got back into the swing of things. Thankfully, all my teachers worked with me on getting my school work done. Most of my classmates were surprised to see me when I got back. They had no idea where I went because I didn’t care to tell any of them. Out of all the kids in my class, none of them checked in on me in the 2 months I was gone from school. This would have absolutely shattered most kids, but I was too caught up in my recovery to care. I honestly started to forget about school. This experience has really set the tone for me socially. I tend to stay close to certain individuals. Even then, I don’t really fit in with most people. I guess I’ve always been a bit of a loner. I fit in with every group, but I never really feel a part of any group. I’ve always done my own thing.
For a while, this was a part of my life I wanted to forget about. This was an extremely trying time for me both physically and emotionally. I now realize that it is important I share this experience because it is part of what makes me the person I am today. This ordeal has been something that has given me strength. Having scoliosis was a defining experience for me. I could have crumbled under the stress of it, but I stayed strong. This experience continues to serve me to this day. Whatever you’re going through, just know it will get better. Ed Mylett says, “Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.” I believe this is a great example of that. I’ve taken away so many lessons from this experience. It is truly one of the forming experiences in my life.
I’ve had to overcome a lot in my life. Going through this has been an advantage for me. I’ve gotten better at not caring as much about what others think. I’ve gotten better at accepting who I am. I haven’t mastered these areas yet, but I have made a significant improvement. This isn’t a pity story, this is a redemption story!
For the longest time I’ve tried to compensate for my insecurities. I’ve been wearing a mask that says I have my life all figured out, but really, I don’t know myself or what I want.
I’ve worked incredibly hard to even get my self-confidence to where it is. I think I can come across as a know-it-all or a bit arrogant because of my new found confidence. I strongly do believe that I deserve to be confident. I’ve been through a lot and I’ve done a lot to earn my confidence. Sometimes others may be jealous or think I’m arrogant because I shine a spotlight on their weaknesses. I don’t do it because I want others to feel bad, I do it because I know they can be better. I’ve experienced the power of growth and improvement and I want to share it with everyone. After doing some reflecting, I think I could be more successful if I weren’t so direct at times. I need to let others be them instead of trying to change. I need to inspire change rather than directly cause it.
This is me being me. This is me taking off the mask. I’ll admit, I’m just as confused as everyone else. It bothers me not being able to see any further than two steps ahead. I’ve figured out that you have to have faith that things will work out. However, faith alone won’t create success. Success is crafted through hard work, discipline, consistency, and persistence. I hope that my experience with scoliosis is nowhere near the hardest thing I’ll experience in my life. I need to grow and in order to that, I need to face larger and more difficult challenges. We all have our own unique set of challenges and experiences. What have been the ones that have defined you?