Blog / Mental Health

When I’m Old(er) and Have A Hunchback, Will You Still Love Me?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) Directed by William Dieterle Shown: Charles Laughton (as Quasimodo)

My posture is bad, and so is yours. Admit it.

Last week, unbeknownst to me, my partner took a photo of me at my desk. A few days later he showed me:

posture_hunch

I was mortified. It’s an awful picture. I actually believe the words out of my mouth were, “Eugghhhh!”

“I’m worried about BECOMING the hunchback??” I thought.

“I ALREADY AM ONE!”

My partner respects my boundaries and doesn’t nag me about sitting up straight but I know he wants to because (he takes photos like this one!!! and) he can see how bad it is. He bought me a desk and found me a chair that would allow me to sit or stand while I worked. He helped me set up a second monitor so that I’d be looking straight ahead and not down at my laptop screen. His words ring in my ear when I become aware of it. He can see it, my bad posture, and the problem is that I can’t.

Until now… and I feel awful about it.

You know what I feel awful about? I feel awful about the most comfortable, organic position that my body can be in is the one pictured above. That this is my go-to position of comfort worries me. I see it all around at cafes and restaurants, people hunched over their devices, and I stiffen my back a little. “Be better,” I tell myself. “Don’t be like that,” I tell myself. I want to live a long and healthy life, and this little shift in my body positioning isn’t helping me work towards that.

When I met my partner and we’d joke about growing old together, he’d tell me that we’d be fit old people. “We’ll be climbing mountains til we’re 80!” he’d say; that nothing would ever stop us. But I’m not so sure. It sounds great, in theory, but then a new thought passes through my mind, I check my phone, my hump appears, and only when I’m done on my phone do I feel my burgeoning hump pulse and thrive. I imagine it growing as I get older and I KNOW the hunchback of Notre Dame didn’t climb mountains. And he never wore a backpack. What am I to do? Am I destined to a life of small, day hikes?

I’ve become hyper aware of my posture and am constantly tweaking my back and neck into positions I think align with “good posture.” This is a good start, I think, to be aware of it. But I fear I’ll look like this:

posture_doublechin

My double chin comes out when I joke about straightening my shoulders and pulling my neck back but it’s because I don’t remember or even know what the optimal position is anymore. I’ve conditioned my body to hunch. To iHunch.

While I’m conscious of my droppy neck, the second my phone buzzes or a reach for it to check instagram, I forget everything. I don’t have a double chin. I have an iHunch. The second I get into what I’m typing, researching, or reading, I drift further and further forward and down into the iHunch, a term coined by the New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August.

Last month Amy Cuddy wrote about our heavy heads and this predicament in the NY Times: “The average head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds. When we bend our necks forward 60 degrees, as we do to use our phones, the effective stress on our neck increases to 60 pounds — the weight of about five gallons of paint.” The hunch often found in grandmothers is now visible in teens. That is bad!

It’s not just about this shift in weight, either. It’s about our moods.

“When we’re sad, we slouch. We also slouch when we feel scared or powerless. Studies have shown that people with clinical depression adopt a posture that eerily resembles the iHunch,” Cudden wrote. “Posture doesn’t just reflect our emotional states; it can also cause them.”

On a day like today when I’m feeling down, I think about why. Is it because of my hunch? My obsession with it? My insecurity about it? While it has a lot to do with all the things I feel I’m not doing, it’s also triggered by what I see on my phone. This is a widespread issue in an anti-social media driven culture and one I care deeply about. I want to ensure I can climb mountains when I’m 80 and that I’m not depressed doing so. This is how I combat it:

I try to curate my phone and monitor my phone use. I stand at my desk or counterbalance all the looking down with looking up at screens (even if I have to lie flat on the ground and hold my phone over my face).

I massage and stretch my shoulders daily. I take a lot of short breaks. When my phone is charging, I put it in another room. I limit my use on it.

I make sure the content I’m seeing on my phone inspires me, or contributes to my life in some way, hopefully positively. I delete apps that I don’t need for a specific purpose. I don’t have Facebook on my phone, or Facebook messenger. I turn off all notifications.

I keep my inbox tidy and organized. I keep my texts the same. I work to minimize the clutter and my need to be on my phone. I deleted all my games, including my incredibly high scoring Candy Crush app because I was playing too often, encouraging this 60 degree bend in my neck. I traded games for books.

If my worse fear is feeling unloved in old age because of something I have total control over, then I best do something about it, right? I want to engage with life, anyway. I don’t want to be looking down all the time. Who would want a life like that? I mean, the dirt is lovely but living in the city, it’s all concrete. And concrete isn’t that engaging.

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