I have recently wondered, what would happen if I didn’t tell anyone about my secret. What if I downplayed it, pretended it wasn’t there.
If you do not know what my secret is, listen up. My name is Scarlett and I am 19 years old. At the mellow age of 13 years old, while all my friends were starting to have proper, teenage fun and learning more about themselves...
I had my body ripped open and my entire musculoskeletal system played around with in order to ‘fix’ my spine. My spine, a wonderful part of the human anatomy, was not right. It was actually a little off, a couple of huge right angled curves. Spines are supposed to be straight, in case you were confused.
In more scientific terms, I had corrective surgery for a condition called scoliosis and then a spinal fusion. Twenty two inches of my back was opened up to the elements, 29 titanium screws drilled into me, then some beautifully contoured titanium rods personalised to my new spine attached to the screws. Finally, I was zipped back up.
As you can probably imagine, having to go through major surgery for a serious condition at such a tender age has led to many challenges, physically and mentally, to fight over the past few years.
Back to my story, I decided to go on a group trip to test my theory of pretending a major part of my life was not there, when I knew I could never escape it in reality. It was in hindsight, a terrible idea! I thought that it would be great, I wouldn’t have to think about my back, the things it stops me doing, or explain anything to anyone... I could almost be normal, a strange thought for anyone in today’s society.
However this fantasy didn’t quite go the way I planned. It was clearly not real life and highlights how important it is to be open and comfortable in your own skin.
At first I just said “I have a bad back,” until someone said “me too.” I awkwardly stood there wondering whether to give them a piece of my mind about how much it upset me that people just do not understand my condition, but how was she supposed to know about my life in that detail? I managed to restrain from saying anything harsh, thankfully and responded with “oh no, have you taken paracetamol?” cringing inside as I gave them advice, keeping to my at the time marvellous plan.
Despite the first encounter, I stupidly downplayed it again to other people. I stupidly downplayed it to the extent where when I got too tired to go out on one of the activities, so I stayed back and laid in the extremely uncomfortable and inhumane bed compared to my luxury mattress back home. Regretfully, a few hours later when they all got back from their nature walk, because I stayed in the dormitory and didn’t go out to spend the evening and drink with them, I was told that the rest of the group thought I was ‘antisocial.’ I kept a smile on my face and said I was just having some alone time. In the back of my head I remembered this is what comes with a chronic condition that is complicated and difficult to understand. Nobody gets it, ever. Especially if you haven’t at least tried to explain it.
By the time 11 nights had passed with these same people, I just about managed to wear a bikini, but not comfortably, nor did I mention a 22 inch scar to anybody. My body confidence was going back to zero.
It is really hard talking to people that I have only explained the basics to. Like anything, how does one understand the plot from watching a scene in the middle of a movie. I unhappily gave into my plan a little bit when it came to mentioning my back, I told a couple of the girls. We were working with the horses on the game reserve, and I was heavily questioned on my ability to ride. I can not describe how dreadful and upset this made me.
“You can’t do more than walking on a horse, can you?” to which I responded
“Well, yes I can do whatever I like...”
“But how can you do that with your back?”
I don’t particularly want to, or enjoy explaining to people the ins and outs of what I can, can’t, choose or choose not not to do. I also refuse to stand there and pour out my life story to someone when I have not flown thousands of miles to do such a thing. I was trying to be more interested in other people than talking about myself, something I downright know I love doing.
After the trip, I found several photos that I did not like, including the one in this article. When you looked at the photo, what probably struck you was how beautiful the scenery was. For me, my back looks crooked and my t-shirt is showing that. In my mind, my back ruined the photo.
Looking back on my experiences, I realised that when I tell people that I spend time with about things like: the scar on my back, the pain I endure daily and the wider problems I face, I don’t worry as much. And in most cases, those that I tell are more empathetic.
There have been no benefits of hiding my medical condition. I was upset about a photo, but had nobody to tell. I was in pain, but had nobody to tell. I am suddenly being recommended not to do certain activities ‘because of my back’ being bad, but in reality I can’t be bothered to explain that sometimes I would rather do something even if it on the risky side of things, very difficult or even extremely painful for me. It is a hard concept to get your head around, but I do things to challenge myself so I can have that sense of achievement that my friends have, or have an unexpectedly good time.
I guess I have now officially learnt that I feel better within myself and the people I surround myself with, if I am open and explanatory about my life. I have also decided never again to try and pretend to be someone I am not and hide things because it simply just doesn’t work. If there is anything you want to hide because you are scared, worried what people will think or are just bewildered about it, please, from experience, just tell someone. It really does the world of good.