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  • Writer's pictureKaterina

When My AFOs Were Hidden

I still remember the summer after getting my first pair of AFOs...

They were these uncomfortable plastic braces that restricted my body from any movement beyond walking. Not like the ones I wear now. The braces would rub against the back of my feet. Calluses built up, blisters, causing more pain. There was pain in my knees and hips. Every step felt heavy and stiff. 

The summer months were even more difficult as I felt self-conscious. I didn't want others to see them, so as you can imagine wearing long socks, plastic leg braces, and long pants felt miserable. I wasn't ready to change though. 

But, despite the pain and challenges, these orthotics served a purpose. To help walking long distances, balance, and prevent my feet from turning in. It did take me a while to adjust to wearing these braces. At first, I didn't want to wear them. The pain continued to get worse, but I hoped it would pass. It took me years before realizing these were not the right braces for me. 

Also, there was this routine that I had to adjust to. First came the socks. Not like the ankle ones I normally wore. I had quit the collection (and still do) of long socks. Many with patterns, but I guess it didn't matter too much as they were usually hidden. Then I would place one of the braces on, and secure it with blue velcro straps. And then finally place them in my black shoes that were wider than my feet. I learned that if pulled hard enough, my braces would slip in. 

Then came the most challenging part of this journey.

At nineteen, I realized that the outside world felt very different when I had on my AFOs. While others my age were wearing cute shoes and dresses during those warm summer months, I had on leg braces and jeans. I sometimes walked slower and more awkward than before. It also became difficult for me to sit on the floor and get back up. 

But, I did learn a lot that summer and even the ones to follow. I was a teenager who wasn't ready to accept that I needed additional assistance from a mobility device. For the first time, I didn't want to be viewed as "different." I just wanted to blend in with the crowd. I guess I was afraid of what people might think or say. 

I know that I'm not the only one. I'm sure everyone has something they want to keep hidden. It might just not always be as visible to others. But, now I'm a young woman who has more understanding and compassion towards those living with challenges from chronic illness or disabilities. God knew that I needed those seasons to grow and learn that it's okay to let others see my leg braces. After all, it's something that helps me. 

Oh, and I'm grateful that I wear carbon fiber AFOs. No more long socks or plastic braces in the summer. It's an amazing feeling.

AFOs stand for Ankle Foot Orthotics. I have Charcot Marie Tooth disease (CMT) and wear these braces to help with balance, stability, and foot drop. Not everyone with CMT wears them or even needs to.

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Donna Detweiler
Donna Detweiler
Jul 03

Katerina. You are such a gifted communicator and your faith shines through so beautifully. I always feel encouraged and inspired by reading your work. Today, when feeling like I’m dealing with some persistent limitations, was especially inspiring and directive. Thank you for your wisdom and beauty in the pain that resonates with so many. Blessings!

Jul 05
Replying to

Thank you! That means a lot.

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