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I'm not perfect

I’m going to start this story off in the most cliché way ever.

Perfect, as defined by the Oxford dictionary:

adjective (ˈpəːfɪkt) having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be. This is not going to be a sad story, I don’t want your pity, this is a story or more an explanation of how I came to love myself whilst being unperfected (yes cue the eye roll, this is cheesy af, but this is the best intro I could think off, ok!)

I'm not perfect. Dealing with scoliosis and coming to peace with it

So to start off, I want to help you picture how I look like, get them mental images flowing, I have always been tall, I grew quite quickly in middle school and I have always been the tallest in my friend group, and also one of the skinniest

I just got blessed by my parents to be super white, tall and skinny, aka self-tanner is the only way I become brown and I have to be careful with my diet so that I don’t end up looking like a skeleton.

Anyways, I have also always been quite athletic as well. I swam all throughout my school years, and when I lived in Australia (2014-2016) I started rowing and quickly started to compete on national levels.

Sports was (and still is) extremely important to me. I need it to balance out the stresses in my life and keep my mental health in check (remember this fact, this becomes relevant again later). 

Especially when I moved to Australia I was not only going through puberty and fighting with my parents a lot, but I was also trying to fit into a class where everyone was not only two years older than me (northern and southern hemisphere school year fuck up) but a lot richer and with no international background (by this point this was the fifth country I had lived in).

Dealing with scoliosis and coming to peace with it

This is where rowing became extremely important in my life as I was able to connect with my crew, make friends and release all of that mental stress that I was carrying around. A year or so in I started to have extreme burning sensations right between my spine and my right shoulder blade, to put it into perspective, it felt as if someone took a hot rod and stabbed it into that area.

" I would walk home from the train station, which was a 10-minute walk, and by the time I came through the house door I’d be screaming and crying. "

(I try not to let my back and the pain get the best of me, but on some days it does. It defeats me and I cry. But it’s therapeutic, crying and washing away the frustration, opening snap chat and laughing at how ridiculous my crying face is. It's all part of the healing process)

This is when I was sent to my first physio.

She suspected that I had a nerve pinched and that with a bit of massage and continuous rowing that it would loosen up and eventually disappear. After those few sessions were done, I didn’t have the time (due to training, eight times a week with 4:20am sessions) or the energy to further do anything about it. I ended up dealing with it and powered through the pain.

This worked with the addition of a lot of complaining to my parents until we moved back to Germany. In the summer of 2016, we moved to Frankfurt and since the school systems of the Norther and Southern Hemisphere don’t align, I had a five-month holiday. I went from training 8 times a week plus competitions to completely chillin. This meant that my muscles said adios and I was left in excruciating pain around my shoulders and back.  We soon found out those muscles were the only thing supporting my scoliosis.

A quick shout-out to the medical system here in Germany, thank you for being affordable and top quality but also god-damn you suuuuckkk.

After the first few months of 11th grade, I finally got an appointment at an orthopaedic, waited maybe an hour for him to look at me for two minutes and say that I have scoliosis and that he can’t do anything until I get an X-ray done, but ‘no rush, it’s not that bad’.

Well no rush it was because the next appointment available with the hospital that do those types of x-rays was six months away.

" So, I just chilled with my pain, started swimming in the winter season which helped but overall, I was in pain daily. "

Finally, in the summer of 2017, I got my X-ray done and low and behold, the scoliosis was worse than they thought it would be.

To explain what scoliosis is, it is essentially the spine curving sideways in either a C or S form, putting pressure on the muscles and nerves.

Dealing with scoliosis and coming to peace with it

But I’m especially lucky (insert sarcastic voice here), not only do I have the S curve which is thankfully the more ‘aesthetically’ nicer scoliosis (as it balances out and you don’t come into the room sideways as you would with C scoliosis) but also all of  my vertebrates are twisted. OMG YAY!

Added bonus they found it when I was nearly 17 which means that I have fully grown and my bones had nearly completely calcified, which means that

I couldn’t get a corset to help straighten it as that would just decrease my muscles more and make it worse. DOUBLE YAY! I hope you caught the sarcasm there. 

So that was great, the following year consisted of it being the last year of high school, final exams, family stress, boyfriend and then ex-boyfriend stress, friendship and friend group stress, and on top of all that mental fuckery, I had to deal with a newly diagnosed chronic illness. Even though I am so much better now, writing or even admitting to myself that I have a chronic illness is still a punch to the stomach. After the diagnosis of the scoliosis and basically being told by professional doctors that the only thing I can do at this point is help prevent it from getting worse and taking pain killers to numb out the constant pain, I fell into a really deep mental hole. 

" I was so angry at the medical system, doctors, my parents and especially myself for not noticing that I was sick and hurting until it was too late. "

I was angry that there was no quick fix, that I had to go to physio 2-3 times a week to just hear from the physio “Oof your muscles feel like 60-year olds”, and at my friends and myself for making constant jokes about it. I was so angry at myself that I will never have a straight back, and yes I know how stupid that sounds, but for me I will never not be in pain, I will never not be ‘sick’, I will always have this issue and will always have to make excuses for why I can’t do certain things. I was angry that I will never be perfect.

To lighten this a bit up, fun fact about my scoliosis: I am officially not allowed to get fat, because that would break my back. Oh and double fun fact; I am also not allowed to chew gum because that fucks with the muscles in my face that are connected to the fucked up muscles in my back. Saddest and funniest reason for not doing that.

To conclude, I was very very angry and so unhappy with myself for a very long time.

A quick fast forward to now. I am nearly 20, a bit older and a lil bit wiser so I can reflect a bit and say that I am grateful for my parents and my oldest and closest friends. I’m thankful that I live in a western country with western medicine, and even though they have let me down a lot I am grateful that I have access and the opportunity to get treatments, see specialists and get help.

Now back to my dark period:

An operation (my idea of a ‘quick fix’ at the time) is not possible because I am just on the cusp of  being eligible for it but also there is a 50/50 chance of coming out alive and not disabled (so an operation was a hard NO from my parents, which is fair enough). I was so unhappy with myself that my mental health started to deteriorate very quickly. I couldn’t bring myself to go to swim training (and back to what I mentioned earlier) which just made me spiral even more. It got to the point that I had to go to not only physiotherapy but also proper therapy and seeking help and advice from the school counsellor (quick shout-out to him, best man). I started to acknowledge that I wasn’t doing well and that I needed help that my parents and friends really couldn’t provide me. Seeking and then thankfully getting the professional help that I needed was the first and biggest step of my recovery.

The tiniest of lights started to flicker at the end of the tunnel for me during that time. I consider myself a very strong person, character wise, having to admit that I need mental help was a really big step out of my comfort zone. Especially as being in high school I was obviously worried with the stigma surrounding therapy or even others thinking that I was a ‘cry baby’ or ‘pussy’ or just ‘weird’ for going to counselling. 

Boy oh boy was that a long ass tunnel.

It was a long but a necessary healing process. I learned to source my happiness from within myself and being ok with being alone.

I can now say that I am content when I have my alone time and I feel that I don’t rely on other people’s energy and their happiness as much anymore.

Dealing with scoliosis and finding joy in the little things

I find happiness in stitching a form of art that I love, investing my thoughts into a crime show that I am binging, finding that hair product I’ve been looking for for so long, my sausage dog winking at me, the smell of coming home and feeling that warmth of familiarity, hugging my friends really hard until they squeal and laugh and so many other small overlooked things. I do still have my moments of frustration and sadness, mainly because the daily pain does get on my nerves from time to time. 

I have routines in place and know what to do when I fall back into that mental spiral, because I do sometimes dip back into it but mainly from what I have gone through I don’t allow it to suck me back in completely. Knowing that these highs and lows are normal, and part of the process has helped me realise that I am not a freak that can’t be helped.

I have to go to rehab again this year for my back, basically a three-week physio session. I went last year, and it was rough and mentally also very exhausting but again I am lucky to have an institution in place that can help me.

Also, the majority of people that have scoliosis are tall, skinny girls so I fit right in and definitely feel less alone. Being motivated to continuously do the exercises that help strengthen my back I must say is hard, but I have become a lot more cautious on how to prevent it from getting worse and I do feel so much better and happier compared to four years ago.

I will never be perfect, I will never have a straight spine, I will never not be in pain. But I am perfect in so many other ways and I consider this a lil spice to what makes me me. A lil bit painful but lowkey interesting. And I’m ok with that, not being perfect because who really is?


Written by the courageous and inspiriting

Leah Wachsmuth

IG: @leahwach

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