I always knew there was something wrong with my spine. In school assembly, sat on the floor, when it was time to pray there were rows upon rows of forward-curved backs. Mine always stayed straight, the only bend showing in my neck. I remember having a piano lesson and my teacher telling me off for my poor posture - one shoulder was higher than the other, I looked like I was leaning to the side. It never occurred to my teacher, or my mother, that it was my spine that was twisting my posture out of shape, rather than me holding myself poorly.
As the years progressed, I became more aware of my spine bending to the side. I thought it was my fault for sleeping on one side too often and tried to sleep on my other side to compensate. I saw news stories about children bending their spines by wearing their backpacks on one shoulder - something the girls at school had made me do by claiming it was the "cool" thing to do. I blamed myself even more. I remember having a physical examination when entering secondary school, and they noted a "slight curvature", which they would alert my parents about. Nothing ever came of it.
As I went through puberty, I grew ever more aware of my unusual shape. I labelled myself "deformed". I lamented my lack of curves; being naturally very slim, my breasts never grew particularly large. Indeed the only "curve" I felt myself developing was my spinal curve, my scoliosis. I'd see other girls my age developing the hourglass shape, and look down at myself - my uneven, practically nonexistent waist, caused by my left lumbar curvature, and my uneven ribcage humped to the right by my thoracic curve - and feel like a freak.
There weren't only aesthetic concerns, though - I was terrified that I might snap and end up paralysed if I exerted myself too much physically. It wasn't until I was 17 years old that I felt brave enough to visit the doctor about my condition. I had expressed concerns to my parents growing up, but they were never taken seriously. It made me feel incredibly powerless. When I received the diagnosis of mild scoliosis, my mother latched onto the word "mild" and acted like it was no big deal. I continued to feel powerless and incapable of taking action - if my own mother wouldn't take it seriously, who else would?
A few years later, my mother died, and I realised that I have to take responsibility for my own health and my own fate. All the years of self-hatred over my "deformity", all the years of fear - I had to do something about it. I started visiting the local outdoor gym to build up strength. I plucked up the courage to start seeing a yoga instructor who had scoliosis herself. I have been practising the routine she taught me almost daily since. I still have a long way to go on my journey, but my body is in the best shape it's ever been.
I still suffer pain, and I still suffer insecurities over my appearance, but I know that I am more than my spine and that my spine doesn't have to limit the things that I do. I recently went on a hiking holiday scrambling up and along mountains and came to the realisation that this is what my body was made to do. I CAN conquer mountains, I CAN hike for hours, I don't have to live in fear any longer.