There’s more to Vanessa Sunshine‘s stoicism than just her self-described “resting bitch face”.
Long before she appeared on The Bachelor Australia, Vanessa battled years of pain, including undergoing a spinal fusion surgery for severe scoliosis in 2016 that forced her to relearn how to walk.
“For me, my whole perspective of life changed after this operation,” she tells Bravo. “I realised that my health and time are my most valuable assets, that without my health I literally had nothing, and time, well, you never get that back. I think people forget that tomorrow is not guaranteed, that at any minute it can be taken from you.”
In a Facebook post written two months after the June 2016 procedure (and excerpted here with permission), the now 27-year-old legal secretary explained how the “severe pain” and torment of her condition caused her to spend “many nights crying myself to sleep” as a teen.
“I grew up learning to hate my body, living in a small country town for most of my youth my physical attributes were not the same as those around me and this was commented on often,” she posted. “I didn’t understand why I looked different, why it mattered or why someone’s words and actions could make me feel ashamed of something so beyond my control…
“Adolescence is a time of immense physical and emotional transformation and during this point I felt like my body was constantly failing me and for that I hated it – because I hated my body – how I looked – I became self-conscious.
“Over the years I taught myself how to dress, stand, walk, talk, act all of which disguised its imperfections and for many years settled and accepted this was going to be my norm. I didn’t know other people with scoliosis and felt really scared, alone and ugly. My self-esteem was completely gone and I was confused about what was happening with my body. This combined with other factors led me to becoming very withdrawn, private and unhappy.”
Additionally, when she was 18, doctors discovered “some breast tissue had grown in lymph nodes it wasn’t supposed to and needed to be removed”, causing more physical side effects.
“After the first operation was unsuccessful the second left me with uneven breasts,” she wrote. “My options were breast implants or to have more breast tissue removed; I opted for implants, over the years it’s taken 1 breast augmentation and 2 revision surgeries to get them to appear ‘even’.”
“I’m relearning skills that once seemed so easy (i.e walking, sitting and general body movements) as my back essentially no longer has muscles as they were surgically cut to make way for the rods and screws that are now fused to the T4 to T12 vertebrae,” she wrote. “I’ve always been very independent, self-reliant and in a sense feel like this has been temporarily taken away and to be really honest letting someone into my world isn’t the easiest thing for me there’s invisible gate levels in my mind and everyone in my life belongs behind a certain one.”
And in an update the following year, she added, “This [operation] stripped me of my independence and for me my world fell apart. I personally struggle with letting people in, it’s just a part of me and something that I’m working on but don’t mistake my stand-off behaviour for arrogance. These walls weren’t built to keep the whole world out, I’m just very particular about who gets into mine.”
She’s also made progress in learning to love herself.
“Thank you [to my body] for being patient with me, we’ve been through a lot and perhaps it has taken literally having to be opened up, reinforced with metal to be made even stronger because for the first time I feel an odd sense of clarity, calm and understanding,” she wrote in June 2017. “I now really cherish that I only have one of you; one body, one chance of this earth and I will never get another. Thank you for being mine, scars and all.”
The Bachelor Australia airs Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 8.30pm on Bravo.