By Ellen Gerst
I have a crooked body, and it has affected how I approach life.
I was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of ten. As my body matured, I realized that I was different from all the other girls – at least on the outside. My spine looked like the long and winding road immortalized by The Beatles. It was shaped like an S, and it threw my whole body off kilter. My waist only curved on one side, one shoulder blade protruded, and all my clothes hung on the diagonal. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was an uneven image staring back, although I was told repeatedly that it wasn’t as obvious to others as I seemed to think. However, due to my skewed perception, I always felt uncomfortable in my body. I shrunk from attention, wore baggy clothing even though I was thin, and avoided looking in mirrors. It did not go as far to stop me, though, from participating in and enjoying my life.
Although scoliosis surgery is usually indicated at age 16, my parents were too afraid of the possible negative side effects to allow it. Not in any pain, I continued on to college and upon graduation married my high school sweetheart. At age 24, I became pregnant with our first child. Although the pregnancy went well, the delivery did not. My spine was traumatized, and, for the first time, I was in constant pain, which made it difficult to care for my new baby. I also had trouble breathing because my ribs were now impinging on my lungs. My choices were limited, and I opted for spinal fusion surgery. The surgery was a success, both relieving my pain and restoring my breathing.
I believe, to compensate for my body’s deformity, or my perception thereof, I always led my life on a straight and narrow path. Classified as the quintessential good girl, I never colored outside the lines and fulfilled my own and other people’s high expectations of me. I was a good student, a good friend, good wife and mother, and a good daughter who listened to her parents and never gave them a day of worry. Upon marriage, my husband and I whole-heartedly bought into the American dream. We worked hard; bought the big house in the suburbs; produced two children; and were living the fairytale of happily ever after.
Now, if life were fair, I should have continued to reap all the happy benefits from being so “good”. However, as luck would have it, at the age of 39, my life became as crooked and convoluted as my spine when my husband of twenty years committed suicide.
Given my personality, coping with suicide was especially difficult because it is the ultimate rule breaker. Therefore, perhaps, the lesson I most needed to learn was that life is not always black and white, but many shades of gray. Consequently, at times it is all right to veer from the straight and narrow and still be able to do the right thing. Although I am sorry I had to learn this lesson in so brutal a manner, it has made me stop fighting what my body always knew. Now, as I meander through life, I no longer race to my destination, but sometimes take the curvy (and more interesting) road, allowing myself to enjoy the journey as well as the end result.
Ellen Gerst is a Life Coach who specializes in grief and relationships. She works with her clients, one-on-one or as a group, to assist them in changing their perspective a couple of degrees to the positive as a first step in creating an actionable plan to reach their goals.
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