The Unknowns: Controllables vs Uncontrollables
Written by Annie Kramer
At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with severe idiopathic scoliosis. Walking into a new school as a 6th grader had its challenges, especially with the additional challenge of my worsening spine. Before I knew it my doctors put me in a full-time hard shell Boston brace. When wearing a hard shell brace that spans from my shoulders to below my hips, the simple things like tying my shoes, walking up stairs, and even sleeping began to present their own challenges. After 9 years, these uncontrollable situations became normal. It has been a long and hard road with countless doctors, x-rays, 6 different braces, and the constant scare of having to have a major spinal surgery. Although my journey with scoliosis is far from over, it is a very personal issue that I am very driven to make a difference in the lives’ of scoliosis patients to come.
Now, at the age of 21, I am finishing up my last year of undergrad and D1 swimming. At school, I am completing my prerequisites to apply to Orthotics and Prosthetics school, so I may truly begin to make a difference in the lives of patients fighting battles similar to my own. Growing up, many of us have learned the importance of being kind to others. Not everyone's struggles can be seen by the eye. Personally, as a kid, my own battles lay just below my baggy shirt to hide my brace. These struggles granted me with an increased awareness for kindness towards others; I knew everyone was fighting a battle whether you could see it or not.
As scoliosis warriors, while we are practicing kindness towards others, I have come to find that kindness granted to ourselves may not always come as easy: it takes a personal courage to overcome your own battles with grace towards yourself.
It takes courage to fight the unknowns. Perhaps the hardest part of scoliosis is understanding how to cope with the anxiety of the unknowns that come with this life long spinal deformity. As a scoliosis warrior myself, I understand the worry that comes leading up to x-ray days and the moment of holding your breath when your doctor tells you your curve measurements every six months. I understand the anxiety of not wanting to be seen as the girl with a back brace at school, or as a lesser athlete because of my spine. I understand the exhaustion from the pain that scoliosis can cause. Everyone’s journey with scoliosis is different, but perhaps my personal experiences can be passed on to help a scoliosis warrior who worries about the unknowns, just like I do!
Below is a simple coping mechanism I remind myself of several times a day when it comes to the unknowns of scoliosis, school, athletics, and everyday life.
Controllables vs Uncontrollables….What does this mean?
We know that if we stay up too late at night looking at Tik Tok, that we will be tired the next day. We can control this. But uncontrollables, on the other hand, we cannot control. We cannot control if it unexpectedly rains on a day we planned to go to the beach. Much like the rain, we cannot control what the Cobb Angle of our next spine x-ray will read.
What are a few other uncontrollable elements that involve your journey with scoliosis? Whatever it is, take a few moments to reflect, maybe even write down a few elements within your scoliosis journey that are uncontrollable, and that are worrisome to you. After reflecting, let's take a few moments to find a few elements of our uncontrollable situation that are within our control.
If it rains on beach day, we can take advantage of the local ice cream shop and wait for the rain to pass. As it passes, we will enjoy the beach even more as we have ice cream in our stomachs. Much like this simple example, we cannot ultimately control if our spine gets better, stays the same, or gets worse on our next X-ray, but there are few elements we can control leading up to X-ray day.
We can control how many hours we are wearing our brace, doing physical therapy, or talking about our struggles with trusted family/ friends. By focusing on the physical and mental elements within our control, we can approach the uncontrollables of X-ray day knowing we have done everything in our control.
If, Then Statements
The last coping tool I have found success with are “IF, THEN” statements. Throughout my journey with my spine, I have come to find that there are many ups, downs, and unpredictable moments. IF, THEN statements help you prepare for potential obstacles you may face (IF) and can give you some direction for you to be able to move onto your (THEN) statement. IF it rains today at the beach, THEN I will enjoy some ice cream while it passes.
Let's think of another common worry that many patients with scoliosis face. Wearing a brace! IF I am worried about wearing my new scoliosis brace to school all day, THEN I will talk it through with my parents and, together, we will include my school nurse. THEN I will use her as a resource if I were to need any assistance with my brace during the school days. IF I am worried about telling my new friends about my scoliosis brace, THEN I will remind myself that my friends love me for who I am, and wearing a brace will not make them see me any different.
In reality, you are the only one who will truly understand your own mind & body, and this gives you the greatest opportunity to be kind to yourself. Whatever your uncontrollables are in your scoliosis journey are, being able to find the controllables elements in less than ideal situations, and creating IF, THEN statements will aid you in being kind to yourself as you follow this curvy spine journey!
Take a few minutes to reflect by working through our Controllable vs. Uncontrollable worksheet. You can download and print the worksheet below: