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Building My Backbone: How I Turned My Struggles Into My Strengths in Law School

Building My Backbone:  How I Turned My Struggles Into My Strengths in Law School

New England Law | Boston 2020

Navigating through 1L year is no easy feat. It is an experience like no other that challenges you not only mentally, but also emotionally and physically. My journey through my first year of law school was notably different. This was because I was faced with the decision of having to undergo a severe spinal procedure.

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine and can take on many different shapes and forms. To understand the rarity of scoliosis, only 2-3% of the population in the United States (roughly six to nine-million people) are affected by scoliosis. In addition, approximately a mere .4% will need to undergo surgery to correct it.

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A photo of X-rays of my spine before and after surgery

When I was just sixteen years old, I underwent a full spinal fusion surgery to repair my scoliosis. The curve in my spine resembled an S shape. This ultimately resulted in an eight-hour-long operation, with two titanium rods and twenty-one screws being inserted into my spine. Fast forward eight years later and into my 1L year, I started to face extreme difficulties due to the hardware in my spine.

The challenges and how I faced them

As any law student knows, you seem to spend your whole life sitting. This may be whether it’s in lengthy classes and lectures, or studying at home or in the library. The pain I started to experience was nearly constant, and it worsened while I was sitting down. As if learning the Rule of Perpetuities and Erie Doctrine wasn’t enough on its own, having consistent excruciating back pain made it all seem nearly unbearable.

In law school, I was fortunate enough to have found a close group of amazing, intelligent and highly supportive friends. They helped me remain positive through it all. I still kept going through 1L year. I was not going to let anything get in the way of my dreams. To help “cushion” way through first year, I would bring a small pillow with me everywhere I went. Doing this helped me get my work done and sit through class more “comfortably.”

After the most challenging academic year of my life came to a close, I had to face yet another trial as I underwent my second spinal surgery. This time, everything that was placed into my back when I was sixteen was removed. This meant that all twenty-one screws and the two rods were taken out from my spine.

It was tough to sit and recover for an entire summer while I knew all of my friends were taking on internships. I started to feel as if I was falling behind. As my temporary summertime sadness passed me by, a realisation dawned on me — one that I learned throughout my first year in law school.

What I have learnt from my experience

On the surface, it’s quite simple, but its something we all must face at some point or another: you should never compare yourself to others. I realised that I shouldn’t feel behind. I took the Summer to take care of myself, so I could continue to keep pushing towards the greatness that I want to achieve in my life.

Looking “back” on it all now, I like to think that my spine was shaped into an S for a deeper reason. My S-truggle with scoliosis has driven me to work even harder and has taught me so much about my S-trengths. My surgeon let me keep one of the twenty-one screws that was removed from my spine. Today, I keep that screw on my desk where I do a majority of my work.

Every day, I am constantly reminded that although law school is a struggle, it is no match for the strength I have acquired from my experience with scoliosis. It is no match for the determination that I have found to continue pursuing my dreams. These are to graduate from law school and to pass the Bar Exam.

My experience of battling with scoliosis throughout law school has taught me that I am incredibly proud of where I’ve been. Additionally, I am even more proud of where I am going.

DISCLAIMER: I share my story in hopes of inspiring other law students. It’s a reminder that they are stronger than the struggles that they face throughout the course of law school.

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