I remember the first day of my college orientation, I walked 8 miles. Although I had a blast exploring the campus, my feet were crying by the time I settled in for bed at the dorms. But alas, there was no comfort here, as many of us know, dorm mattresses are about two inches thick. Anyone would complain about that, much less if you have Scoliosis, like me.
Scoliosis a very common deformity of the spine where it curves like an “S” or a “C”. When a curve is more than 40*, typical treatment involves bracing during adolescence and then having spinal fusion surgery once the teen is about done growing. After surgery, most people have no sign of having had scoliosis besides the awesome scar down our backs!
However, that means this is an “invisible illness” where people can’t obviously see that your body is in pain. They assume you can do everything they can do. Invisible illnesses are important to shed light on because people tend to judge a book by its cover. I have been called out for parking in handicap spots, been told I am just lazy, I slouch too much, and that I’m being dramatic about the pain. As a society, we have to stop the judgement!
Invisible illnesses are important to shed light on because people tend to judge a book by its cover.
I have Idiopathic Scoliosis, which means there is no known cause of why I have it. I just have it! I went through it all; the back brace, multiple spinal fusions, sections of my ribs removed to correct my back hump (ouch!), and frequently being in an out of the hospital. I knew college was going to be a challenge for me physically, amongst all of the other changes and stressors.
Since I am now graduated, I have learned how to navigate the battlefield of college so you don’t have to! Here are my best tips and tricks on how to survive college with scoliosis!
Comfort always comes first when you get dressed in the morning. It all comes down to wearing comfy shoes and bringing a sweater. Comfortable shoes are essential because everything in the body is connected. If your feet start hurting, your knees will start hurting, then your hips, and then your back! I have these cute Sketchers that look like knock off Yeezys, but they are also memory foam! I get the best of both worlds with style and comfort. I also get compliments all the time, obviously.
The reason I recommend taking a sweater with you to class is because lecture halls and classrooms are usually frigid! I find my fusion to be sensitive to hot and cold. When I get too cold, my spine starts to ache, and it distracts me from learning. That and my cell phone.
Speaking of cell phones, don’t crane your neck by looking down at your phone. Especially, while wearing a backpack. This pulls the neck and head down, straining it even more. Keep your backpack light by leaving textbooks at home. Just bring the essentials! If you are required to have a textbook in class, talk to the professor about your limitations on carrying weight and ask if you can share with a friend. Another good option is having a digital version of the textbook on an iPad, cell phone, or something not bulky. Again, just let the professor know that you are looking at the textbook, not the ‘gram.
Your dorm should be a place of tranquility at the end of your day! Throw a foam mattress topper on your bed to cushion your back. If you find yourself needing more support, add a gel mattress topper under the foam topper. Get yourself an extra deep fitted sheet to hold it all together and you will sleep like a baby!
Don’t study in your bed if you can help it. Not only does this train your brain to be alert, not sleepy, when you are in your bed, but it also promotes poor posture and will aggravate your pain. Take the studying to the library, your desk, or invest in a giant bean bag chair!
Clubs and Activities
In college, you will have a lot of opportunities to join clubs and organizations. A good amount of these will be sports, which I don’t recommend doing anything high impact. I played Women’s Ultimate Frisbee for 2 years and loved it because we got to travel every other weekend! Unfortunately, I had to stop playing after the metal in my spin BROKE. So, don’t do what I did, instead, pick a low impact sport like swim team, fencing, or table tennis! They travel too!
Personally, I found the most fun when I joined my sorority, AOII! Most of the activities we did were perfect for my back because we had themed crafting and game nights often! That’s low impact, relaxing, and bonding! Hello, self-care!
I also found out two of my “sisters” have scoliosis and spinal fusion. It was wonderful to meet people with so many commonalities. With that, we also discussed how there were not many support groups for women with scoliosis. Usually, support groups are for adolescent girls in braces or for those who are about to have surgery. But, what about after all of that? The problems don’t disappear.
So, I thought about this for months before I finally started my own blog to help spread awareness of invisible illnesses, like scoliosis. I also have tons of pain management advice posted every week on “Fusion Friday”. I felt the importance of starting a Facebook support group for young women to globally find friends who understand what they are going through. You can find all the links below! I hope this helps.