I was born missing the phalanges on my left hand, a rare condition called symbrachydactyly.
When a baby is developing in the womb, its hands are shaped like mittens. As time goes on, these mitten-shaped hands divide into individual fingers. However, if the area does not receive adequate blood flow or there is some other problem with the tissues, this division does not occur and so results in symbrachydactyly. This is a non-genetic condition and is not caused by anything the mother did or did not do before or during pregnancy.
My name is Melissa Trost and I want to share with you my story.
Growing up in public schools was a difficult chapter in my book. Children can be brutal, I was a young girl with more insecurities than I care to admit, and I spent a notable amount of time with my hands in my pockets.
Home was my safe place. It was where I could expose myself and feel comfortable in my own skin. From as far back as I remember, my parents consistently pushed me to attempt all the activities that other children were doing, and more. Academically, I excelled and remained at the top of my class. Physically, I was stubborn and determined with Mom and Dad’s words echoing in my mind to challenge myself. Emotionally however, there was a lot of pent up negative energy living inside. I didn’t think it was fair that I was born this way. I didn’t understand “why me?” I hated looking in the mirror and seeing one limb shorter than the other. I hated looking at pictures of myself where my left side was fully revealed. A childhood friend of mine pulled off her gerbil’s tail once, explaining to me that it would grow back soon. I remember wishing that my fingers would have the same capabilities as that gerbil’s tail, but undoubtedly, disappointment followed that wish.
We grow up in a society where differences are often condemned by children and young teens. At such a young age, it seemed to me that dissimilarities were viewed as something to laugh at, to judge, and to be rejected rather than to be accepted and seen as a unique anomaly.
When I was no more than six years old, my mom sat me down at a computer and keyboard. We both assumed that I would be learning to type one-handed, but my stubborn side would not accept that. It wasn’t long before I was typing quicker than most people I knew – and with both hands! That was truly one of the first times that I comprehended anything was possible for me as long as I put the effort in and never gave up.
My parents introduced me to volleyball and basketball, taught me to climb monkey bars, to ride a bike, and to try my hand at countless other activities, no pun intended. I mirrored their actions determined that I could physically execute everything that someone with ten fingers could. I practiced gross and fine motor skills daily, teaching myself everything I could from dribbling a basketball left-handed to grasping the shoelaces on my shoe to tie a knot. Mom and Dad provided me with the most priceless gift of all by teaching me to believe in myself as much as they believed in me. Oddly enough, overcoming the physical obstacles was not my greatest struggle. My greatest struggle was overcoming the emotional battle between wanting to stick up for myself and hold my head high or letting the poison in other’s words consume me and bring me down. I yearned for acceptance; for the security of knowing that I was not seen as different.
When you possess something on your body that you are aware is different from most people, there is a consistent feeling of a large, red target hovering over you, and a feeling that everyone is staring. This inevitably leads to self-consciousness and before you know it, you find yourself unknowingly discovering new ways to hide that target. To this day, it is rare to find a photo I’m in where I am not subconsciously hiding my left hand. It’s as if I have trained myself to do this over the years so much that it now comes naturally.
Sports were my saving grace throughout school. I worked hard, practiced often, and was determined to become an exceptional athlete. I became extremely passionate about exercise and staying in good shape for my sports. Sports gave me a new feeling of confidence that I had never before experienced. I became addicted to fitness and to doing anything that physically pushed my body, almost to the point of pain. Feeling strong and in shape gave me confidence. Others noticed my athleticism and commended me. It was one of the first times in my life that I started to truly absorb the positive material in people’s words. Sports helped me to begin a detoxification process of the negative thoughts and feelings that had been locked in my head for so long.
In my latter years as a student, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life after college. I knew that I wanted to be in the healthcare field, and an amazing experience with a chiropractor my junior year of high school peaked my interest and helped me to narrow my choice. Doubts began to resurface however, and I was not sure that I could take on the physical demands that such a hands-on profession would require. After shadowing and speaking to several chiropractors over the next few years and having many moments of self-reflection and internal arguments, I finally drowned those resurfaced doubts and chose to pursue.
I was very nervous when I started chiropractic college. The same feeling washed over me that did my first day of public school sixteen years prior. I was afraid of what people would think of me and a bit unsure of what the hell I was doing. It didn’t take me long to realize however, that as people age and mature, they become more polite, more understanding, more curious, yet more respectful.
My professors and classmates were both encouraging and motivating towards my success in school. On an almost daily basis, I lectured myself, “Melissa, you can do this”. I reminded myself, wrote it down on paper even, all of the things in my life that I had taught myself to overcome and all of the moments where I had surpassed even my own expectations of my capabilities.
As I became more and more educated throughout chiropractic school, I started to gain a newfound confidence that felt so rewarding. The first time I adjusted a patient was beyond exciting! Not simply because chiropractic is awesome and adjustments are a lot of fun, but because I did it; I proved to myself that I could actually do this.
One of my very first patients that I treated in the outpatient clinic had applauded me for making it this far in school. Through teary eyes, she had told me that I had impacted her life and inspired her in ways that she hadn’t experienced. These are the moments that I’ll always reminisce in times of doubt.
Were there techniques I had and still find myself having to modify and practice extra in comparison to other students? Absolutely. Were there times I was frustrated and doubting myself? Most definitely. I wasn’t alone though. All of my peers had ten digits, and many of them struggled over the same elements that I did. We all experienced times of frustration, and it led to my class becoming one large, supportive family.
During school, I learned that my condition gave me a sort of gift in hiding. For years, I had experienced chronic pain in my left scapula, left shoulder, and left side of my neck. However, I never fully understood why this pain persisted despite getting massages, taking anti-inflammatories, and stretching until I felt like a spaghetti noodle until I started becoming more educated about the human body and specifically, about kinesiology. Chiropractic college incorporates many lecture and lab hours of physical rehabilitation and exercise, and I became particularly passionate about this branch of our scope and did a number of my own studying and experimenting outside the classroom. I finally realized the “why” and “how” of my personal pain source and created a custom rehab plan that ended up helping me more than anything else I had tried. Long before this, I had grown a love for exercise, but this only intensified once I learned how I could help myself and it has given me a longing to want to help others just the same.
I am a Doctor of Chiropractic. Applying, attending, and completing a doctorate program in such a hands-on profession is one of my greatest achievements in life thus far. When I take the time to sit and reflect, I feel so proud of myself for not allowing anything or anyone, including myself, to stop me or hold me back. I feel that I have finally arrived at a point in my life where I am discovering a humble, yet reasonable confidence within myself and am learning to embrace it. I care less about what other people think, and more about what I think of myself. I fully accept who I am and I revel in it.
I believe that too often, we let doubt or fear paralyze us from moving forward and doing the things we desire to do. Yet, it is the risks we take that can lead to some of the most rewarding experiences in life, and it is overcoming that fear that allows us to take charge of our lives. As humans, we are incredible beings. The mind and body are capable of more than we are aware of, but the crucial piece is that they work hand-in-hand. The thoughts we occupy in our minds overpower all things, and our bodies will only accomplish what we want them to if the mind first believes in them. We must train the minds in order to train the body.
I want to send a message to anyone who has a physical difference, an insecurity, or anything they believe is holding them back. You can do it. You can achieve anything you set your mind to, and, cliché as it may sound it’s true. Take a leap of faith, take a risk, and believe in yourself. Make yourself proud, and don’t do it for anyone else, do it for you.