Sunday, 3 August 2014

Scar Tissue

It was nearing the end of a long day. After the running around, the hop from one tube stop to another, a lull. A conversation over tea. Like many long chats that I love, it was a twist and turn affair - skeins of ideas unravelled, held up to the light, woven into other topics.

I share many interests with Tara - the girl I was talking to - our rambles taking in feminism, Twitter, books, school, identity; the kind of discussion where the edges of the cafe blur, beyond the shared sphere of words. She has an extraordinary mind, a set of perspectives that both inform and challenge my own.

Something else too - a common experience we both know. Spinal surgery. Now even the phrase feels old, well-worn with use. It's part of a familiar narrative: "When I was fifteen, I had spinal surgery..." So begins the tale. Hers starts at an even younger age.

Unless you have had a major operation, it's difficult to understand what it feels like. You can empathise from the outside, but it's something you can only imagine, rather than recall. The intense pain. The potentially life-changing decision to make at an age before you can vote or buy alcohol. The drastic shift from an active body to one that must be looked after by others. These details and more were ones the two of us could share, comparing our respective times in hospital, the feelings beyond articulation - "ineffable", she called them.

Often a memory is accessed in that strange suspended state where details can be described without emotional connection to the event. They can be relayed dispassionately, part of a story now finished or a past state with ends now neatly tied up. 

But this time, in the cafe, there was a flashback intensity of how it felt. The sensation of metal in my back; the hurt so deep I could not own it; the way in which each step was an effort. It was like a being a doll, newly put together and not quite in control - a doll who might topple if she did not have others' hands to support her.

I stopped, yanked back into that awareness of a skin not yet mine.

What does this moment amount to? A recollection, a visceral instant. A sudden jolt back into being out of control. I could recall the wallpaper, the smell of antiseptic hand gel, the heavy, heavy, heavy set of shoulders I could not escape.

I laughed - and said, "Oh wow, that was intense". It wasn't that the cafe disappeared or diminished, but that something overlaid the scene and was then pulled away again. We carried on talking, comparing details like how long we'd had morphine for and how we were suddenly intensely envious of anyone who could walk about without thinking of each step.

What's the point of relaying this all here? Partly because my preferred mode of communication is words - both spoken and written. But also, I think, a response to the way in which the last year has forced me to accept something. Or at least made me aware that I must accept something, even if I'm not quite willing yet. It's as simple as this: my spine is with me for life. Scoliosis is with me for life. It is much improved - straighter (than it was) and fused - but its echoes remain.

The other ways it continues to manifest itself are less obvious. It's in the way I see my torso and feel dissatisfied with its wonky edges, its way of disturbing the line of clothes. It's in the knowledge that I do need to do physio and yoga - yet the suggestion that I must once again take responsibility for my body makes me want to cry. Irrational, perhaps, but for rational reasons.

I still say that I "had" scoliosis - it makes it safe, controllable, a thing of the past now resolved. It's easier that way. But I know that it is still mine to own, no matter how much I want to relinquish possession of that word.

The good thing though? At 19 I'm now allowing myself to acknowledge just how bad it was - to say "yeah it was awful and one of the most major events of my life." It wasn't just something I 'got through'. I got through it, but it took time and pain.

I'm oh so lucky with everything else too - lucky the operation was a success, lucky I had the right health care, lucky that I can still lead a normal life. But recognising that luck doesn't mean that I have to shrink down the impact altogether and pretend it didn't affect me - that I was strong, survived, moved on. I did, and I have, but I have my scar tissues - and not all of them are skin. 

I made these casts from plaster of paris (using a mannequin with ridiculously tiny measurements) for my GCSE art exam several years ago. You can read the symbolism for yourself in the two forms. I felt they were particularly appropriate to use here, accessorised with two charity shopped vintage dresses from my dressing up box... 


AVY said...

Everything we do helps form the persons we become, right?

/ Avy

Melanie said...

It's curious, the secret stories we carry around, maybe add weight to our steps, yet remain invisible to people who see us. I like how you've conveyed your feelings about scoliosis in these photos and writing.
I have never had children and I sometimes wonder if the pain of childbirth and seeing the product of that pain all the time in a new person helps with the recovery, or maybe it's not even an issue.

Anova said...

Cool outfit! Looks really interesting <3

Ivana Split said...

I love how you manage to raise so many questions and stir so many emotions every time you write something.

I've been under the knife four times in my life. The most severe operation was the first one while I was still a kid, a heart surgery that I barely managed to survive. I must admit that I cannot comprehend how anyone can undergo cosmetic surgery. Not that I don't think that people shouldn't have the choice to do so (after all everyone has the right to do what they want with their body) but I cannot understand how they are willing to risk their life and endure all that pain for something that a good push up bra can offer (on in other cases a good personal trainer).

Scoliosis is a health problem I can feel with and it is something that I cannot avoid seeing every time I look in the mirror for my scoliosis is quite severe (40 degrees on both sides. (I'm surprised that people don't notice it more often...if they do, they don't talk about it because I don't remember anyone ever mentioning it to me.) I guess my erect posture is a subconscious way of making it look less prominent. I was mistaken a few times for one athlete or another.

A cousin of mine told me that the first step is accepting the disease. Mia (that is her name) has some type of immune disease that the doctors haven't been able to diagnose yet and she has to take steroids on daily basis.

I think she has a very good point. Accepting seems to be a logical first step, but many of us take some time to really take it. 'It's good you have accepted things' she said on that occasion, 'I can see it in a way you talk about it.'

I have accepted Chron. The diagnosis itself wasn't a great shock. I wasn't feeling well for a long time. However, what surprised me is how reluctant I was to admit that it affected me once things started to get bad....spending the total 6 months in hospital in 2012 did affect me. I felt the pressure of reassuring everyone that I was fine when the test showed that there were some real issues with my health and it was such a heavy burden to bear. Perhaps I was even loosing valuable energy by trying to convince myself I was feeling better than I actually was?

Now, I wonder what I was trying to prove? It's normal to be affected by such things...with practical things, such as following procedures I have been able to deal with but on a very personal level I still have some issues with accepting things. For me it is really difficult not to be able to feel in control of things.

When someone has a fever, they take a day off. I don't. Fever might last days or weeks(once it lasted an entire year) and there is nothing I can do about that. My health is fragile and at the same time quite often I feel just fine. Sometimes it is really hard to juggle between the two. Being proactive about our health is good but sometimes we do need to take time to heal...and when is the time for what is difficult to know.

I really don't want to complain too much because I'm aware I have excellent doctors that care a great deal about me. I cannot complain because the fact is that I'm quite fit and that would never been possible hadn't I been fortunate enough to live in a country where medical insurance is something you take for granted.

(part 1)

Ivana Split said...

Some days I'm full of energy but most days I have to plan carefully so I manage to get done all that needs to get done. There are things I had to give up...and while I don't regret them, while I don't wish for things to be different than they are...I must admit that I'm affected by all the health issues I had in my life. I don't know why it has taken me this long to realize this.

(part 2- my comment was originally too long to be accepted so I must divide it in parts)

Ivana Split said...

(part 3)
Having any condition or health issue is hard enough in itself, we shouldn't feel guilty about it. We shouldn't feel bad if it affects us. It is not realistic to expect that it won't affect us in some way. Diagnosis is not a conviction. It is not something we have to fight against with all we have, but something we need to learn to live with. It means that things will never be the same, but in what way...well, that part is up to us.

Wonderful post, I really do admire you for writing so candidly about all you went trough. The images themselves are the perfect addition to your amazing article.

* I hope you don't mind that I wrote such a long comment, but I found your post really inspiring.


Wonderful symbolism and brilliant read Roz. I played sport and had serious injuries so I agree, unless you've gone through a major surgery, it is quite difficult to fully understand. I'm glad that you both were able to share tales and connect emotionally, as well as have a laugh. I think our pain sometimes helps our personal growth, even though not always visible for others to see. Sort of reminds me of the Hiromu Arakawa quote about pain and sacrifice, "once you have overcome it and made it your will gain an irreplaceable fullmetal heart."

Anupriya DG said...

We can only read your words and try to imagine what you must have gone through - both physically and emotionally - but we can never really understand the tremendous soul-racking nuance of the whole experience.
Thankfully, all's well now and you are normal enough to be able to mesmerize us with your beautiful words and stunning pictures! :)

P.S.: Those casts look so interestingly put together. I like the use of the bits and pieces of everyday stuff to create something so symbolic.

Emalina said...

Both your words and those images of you in the casts remind me of the poignancy of what it feels like to a remember my own deeply painful experiences. The strange beauty held within pain, the self knowledge and growth that flourishes from such trauma. I'm really glad that you still make the time to reflect upon the scoliosis, that spinal surgery and all it meant (and means) to you dear Roz. By doing so you move into the future enriched with experience.

Thank you so much for your lovely words about my babies. Their birth, which left me scarily ill with pre eclampsia and hypertension for a while afterwards, was one such experience that I shall never forget, for the good and the bad. The good and the bad require each other's presence to create every significant human experience, don't you think, the ying to the yang?

Scarlett B said...

your style is insane

Lally said...

This post was so moving. It's really amazing to hear about the journey you've been on (and are still on).
I have only had one operation in my life when I was very little so I cannot even imagine the pain and terror you've experienced. You are such a strong and beautiful young woman, it's inspiring to see you project such a good energy in to the world when you've know such pain! XXX

Yasumi in Worshipblues said...

When I look at you, your grace, beauty, words and powerful energy shine through. When I read this I cry a little because I know that It has shaped and influenced much of who you are today. Such grace from such a journey and you are just 19!! You inspire me.

Izzy DM said...

I read this a couple nights ago actually, right before rehearsal for the second act of a play in which my character is nearly beaten to death for the crime of kissing another girl and then is recovering in the hospital. I had to make my first switch from act one's bubbly, effervescent, and idealistic character to one confined to a wheelchair, one who can't dress herself or even hold her own "get well" cards. At first, I couldn't relate to this character at all. I tried to think of my own time in the hospital right after I had my baby, but honestly they doped me up so quickly, I never felt a single thing (beyond the excruciating pain of having an IV put in my wrist incorrectly). I almost feel guilty about that sometimes...and because I was healthy otherwise, I bounced back the next day, walking around after my major abdominal surgery and still felt nothing, the painkillers able to cover up the pain perfectly well. So I couldn't draw on that to help me with this character and her immense physical pain. Then, I remembered your essay. I remembered the pain it described, and how it brought tears to my eyes, imagining what you went through, and it really helped me understand what this character was going through in her own way. I'm so sorry you had to deal with that level of pain... When I was your age, my worst pain was from my heart, always falling in and out of love, and that felt bad enough. It's a truly moving essay, and the wisdom in it, though hardwon, is so powerful because you're able to stir our empathy not just for what you went through but for anyone who must suffer this kind of pain and to help us try to imagine and understand what that might feel like, hard as it is to understand.

Cindy Khor said...

OMG, Rosalind, you are such a strong and optimistic girl that I felt ashamed that sometimes I feel unsatisfied with my already good life. Even though you are much younger than me, I have to say that I look up to you and your blog as you bring positivity to my life.

Thanks for pouring yourself into this blog (for us lucky readers to read) and you are as beautiful as ever.

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