An excerpt from
Off Kilter
A Woman's Journey to Peace with Scoliosis,
Her Mother, & Her Polish Heritage

Linda C. Wisniewski
April 2008

 

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Introduction

One is not born a woman, one becomes one.
Simone de Beauvoir

I have moved through my life off kilter. My left side curves inward. On my right, I have no waist; my right side goes straight up and down. My left shoulder is lower than my right, and my left hip is higher than the right hip. I am about two inches shorter than I would be if I didn’t have scoliosis, a side-to-side curvature of the spine. When I sit, I often feel like I am about to tip over to the left. My spine is curved into a C-shape between my shoulder blades so that no matter how straight I stand, I look like I am slouching.

When I grew up in the 1950s, for some reason I have yet to understand, "having good posture" was a big deal. Perhaps because posture was so often discussed by the nuns who taught at my school, I thought that "good posture" was like having "good morals." I stood as tall as I could, but by the time I was in eighth grade, my back was visibly curved.

I felt inadequate and even guilty. I thought, surely, if I tried hard enough, I’d be able to stand up straight. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, "Don’t slouch, Linda."

Now that I’ve taught Sunday School myself, I feel some sympathy for those nuns. There isn’t much you can do to control forty squirming kids, but if they have "good posture," the class looks somewhat orderly. And the 1950s, I recall, were very big on social orderliness.

I’ve tried chiropractic and massage therapy to keep my muscles from stiffening up on one side of my body. I walk every day, and do stretching exercises, but I still feel out of balance much of the time. I start out each day off kilter, and move through the hours trying to straighten up. When I stretch out my left arm and leg in opposite directions as far as they will go, my cramped left side is extended for a few seconds of exquisite openness.

Recently, I’ve begun to think of scoliosis as a metaphor for my life. I’ve struggled to please teachers, employers, parents, boyfriends, husbands, twisting myself into someone I can’t be. I hurt when I do this, because it’s not natural. And it never works.

But when I stretch my Self, instead, the results are different. When I’m reaching for my personal goals—to be a good mother, wife, friend and writer—I feel my balance return. And the sense of relief, as I become more the woman I truly am, is simply grand.

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