“Things are either devolving towards or evolving from nothingness.”
I grew up feeling trapped in my body, but it wasn’t that way from the beginning. Some crucial moments happen in your life and change the whole trajectory of it; mine was sitting at the doctor’s office watching him analyze my chart with a huge sigh, hearing him reveal his findings. “You have scoliosis, blip blip blip…Your curve is at fifty degrees. You would need to do surgery to correct the curvature, but it’s not done in Nigeria. Here’s the contact of one of our specialists in India.” I was eleven at the time.
My dad had heard of brace jackets—which were these god-awful things made from POP and had three straps at the back—and was very adamant about getting one for me. There’s a sort of desperation that comes when a parent wants the best for their child. Sometimes, this desperation comes at a huge cost to both the parents and their children. Even despite the doctor’s orders to not get a brace as it won’t do anything, but just focus on getting the money for the surgery—which was about twenty thousand dollars at the time. My father decided it was better to try the brace than to do nothing at all. Fathers know best, right? Right??
For those who don’t know, scoliosis is simply the curvature of the spine and no one knows what causes it or why it happens at that age. A spine is a big deal, so the surgery has to be done with the utmost care, and after the age of 18-21, you can no longer get it. With all this information In mind, you get to understand the desperation. You get to understand why papa bear is adamant about getting the brace, at least to slow down the curvature.
No one exactly asked me what I thought about it, and even if they did, I would’ve had to comply regardless. I always wondered, and I did say it in whispers to disgruntled nods but ears that did not hear me (I was dismissed a lot as a child, so it was to be expected). A friend I met at the orthopedic ward at igbobi hospital also had scoliosis, but she was at forty degrees where you had an actual chance at correcting it with braces—and she did in fact, was using the braces when we met —had her back looking worse than mine and her mother complained about the brace to my dad.
I thought this would be some proof to the adults that the brace could make it worse, but desperation inspires some hope which in turn, turns blind eyes to some truths. After two years and some months of being forced to wear the brace and it starts to feel like a prison, it eventually becomes a kind of prison. I learn to sit a certain way and eat a certain way. I become hyper-focused on everything around me and on how people could perceive me. I stopped doing the things that I used to do; like dancing at social events, acting, etc.
Scoliosis opened me up to a whole new world I didn’t know existed, the braces trapped me in a body that lost its familiarity. I was constantly met with comments like, “drop your hands. Stop slouching (yes, like it was that easy.) Hold your head up, nobody is looking at your back.”
After my parent had realized the brace was indeed trash, the damage had already been done to my body and my self-esteem. I had developed this huge noticeable hunch on one side of my back and had to adopt wearing big shirts out of convenience and not as a fashion choice. It also stunted some of my adolescent growths as my breasts didn’t develop as they should have and my hips got flat as boards—this matters when you watch your classmates bloom into fuller, curvier ladies, and you’re just there with a flat chest and no ass.
The thing with desperation when it doesn’t work the first time, is that it could often lead to more desperation because now you’re back to something worse than a square one. Sometimes, my dad took that frustration from that and many other things happening to me. He would blame me for getting scoliosis, and blame my mother for leaving because she would’ve noticed it on time (this matter is for another time.) It got to the point that I subconsciously started to believe that maybe I was indeed the problem. This led to a lot of self-sabotaging in the future.
Now in early adulthood, I have started to embrace this prison. At one point, it had an adverse effect on my love life, as I would hear them say they loved me and was subconsciously waiting for the “but”. I witnessed taking off my clothes in front of a few people for the first time and seeing their eyes bulge when they saw my back, just a small, “oh…” escaping from their lips. I won’t lie, social media—while being a double-edged sword —also introduced me to other people with some deformities of their own, owning it and choosing to just live their lives. That made me decide to at least, get to know the corners of my cell and get comfortable in it, since there was no hope of doing the surgery anymore.
When hope is dashed sometimes, it opens a new door for acceptance. The road to total acceptance is not an easy one and it started with me acknowledging that I am an entity and my body is just one part of me. That first step opened me up to actually start noticing my other features that looked extremely beautiful; like my eyes, my hair, my fingers, and my legs amongst other things. I stopped looking for the “buts” in compliments and just said, “thank you” instead with a huge grin on my face.
I became much more open about my having scoliosis, and having a discourse around it with potential partners and my friends. I took up activities again; exercises, and meditation, to help reduce the stiffness in my movements. I even started swimming and that greatly enhanced my love for my body. My dad hasn’t fully reached acceptance yet. He still looks at me with this sad eyes and tells me how he is still working on getting the money for it. I want to tell him that he doesn’t have to worry about the surgery, as even with that, there’s no guarantee that you won’t have pain for the rest of your life. I want to tell him that I hardly get pain—which in itself, is extremely lucky—and that I am past the point of surgery already, but I fear that he won’t hear me. I hope for him to one day see me without “my back” and see me instead, through the lens of who he raised me to be.
A new philosophy I have come to adopt at this point in my life is called Wabi-sabi. It originated in Japan, and it simply means appreciating and accepting beauty that is imperfect and/or incomplete. This body and I have come a long way, and though I am not in a place of total acceptance yet, I still appreciate and love it for all the times it has kept me alive and grounded. At the end of the day, we are all figuring out life for ourselves, but we won’t be so concerned with living if we didn’t have a body in the first place.
Umeh Ihuoma Francisca is a writer and an illustrator. When she isn’t doodling a new piece, you will often find her either spending time with her kittens or exploring new places with friends.