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To the Teenage Girl With Spina Bifida: It Gets Better

As if puberty weren’t hard enough – with the acne, sweaty palms and growing 2 feet in a week – add to that leg braces, a wheelchair and bowels and a bladder that don’t work properly, and you’ve kicked the awkwardness of puberty into overdrive. Yep, I’ve been there, but I promise it gets better.

Even your social life takes a hit. Which leads me to a biggie: the issue of boys. I never dated in high school. My mom tried to make me feel better by saying boys were intimidated by my chair and braces, and that’s why none ever asked me out. While this makes sense, it wasn’t all that helpful to me at the time. Seeing my friends pair off and start dating made me feel like an outsider. It sucked. But you know what you avoid by not dating in high school? Drama. It gets so much better after high school when the guys have grown up a bit and realize you aren’t all that scary.

Then there’s the issue of what to do about your lesion scar. I know you’ve been eyeing that cute bikini at Target. I also know the first thing that comes to your mind: Your scar will show. My advice? Don’t be afraid to rock it, girl! When you have a disability and are out in the world, the biggest tool you have at your disposal is your confidence. It disarms the stares of those around you. Some may still stare, but it will be because they are in awe of your confidence. Besides, you can’t control the actions of others, you can only control what your response will be. Choose confidence and you will win every time.

But your biggest obstacle as a teenaged girl with spina bifida? Learning how to handle bowel and bladder accidents. This stuff isn’t supposed to happen past the age of 8. Know your triggers, such as diet, and avoid things that turn your bowels and bladder into a tsunami. For me, it was avoiding caffeine. Weather can also be a factor. Temperature extremes can trigger your bladder to gush forth like Old Faithful – except it’s not as reliable. Say it is the middle of summer, hotter than blitz, and you go out to the mall. Using crutches to walk, you step inside the first store. The AC is on full blast. For some reason, if you don’t have an empty bladder, this drop in temperature can trigger a flow that’ll leave you with a puddle on the floor. The same thing happens in winter when you go from cold to hot suddenly. While you can’t completely prevent this from happening, there are ways to lessen your embarrassment. First, catheterize before leaving the house. If you still are unsure, don’t rely on walking, take your wheelchair. That way, if you do have an accident, it’s better hidden. When you’re in the car, sit on the cushion of your chair. If taking your chair is not possible, you can still get by with using crutches. Just make sure to wear a disposable pair of underwear over your actual panties. It may sound super lame and uncool, but I promise you won’t look like a granny. And you’ll cease to worry about having an accident in front of that cute boy from art class. Nowadays these protective pants come in slim-but-absorbent forms that are comfortable and won’t leak through. These were a lifesaver for me in college. You can find these at your local pharmacy or online at

Finally, make sure when you go out that you have plenty of catheters. I remember once when my grandparents and I drove my parents to the airport. The trip took longer than we thought and my parents missed their flight. So we had to take them on to their next destination – a two-hour drive. Guess who forgot to take extras with her? Yep.

But even with a vigilant diet and making sure to catheterize at regular intervals, accidents happen. That’s why they call them accidents. So what do you do? One way I’ve handled unexpected accidents is to pass it off as your period. This method works better than you’d expect. It lessens the embarrassment for you, and makes sense to the other person who expects this based on your stage of life.

Puberty is tough. Going through puberty when you’re disabled is even tougher. I’ve been there, and I promise you can get through it. After all, it does eventually get better.

This post originally appeared on Be Anxious About Nothing.