Catherine’s story: Confidence is everything


Participants on City Skills course

In 1993, Catherine was just embarking on the start of her adult life when she contracted TB Meningitis – an infection of the tissues covering the brain and spine – which left her with a permanent spinal cord injury. Catherine’s life was suddenly turned upside down and she had to leave city life in Glasgow to go back to live with her parents, and undergo her rehabilitation at the local hospital.

‘‘My main problem at the beginning was with mobility but then I started getting other issues. My local hospital didn’t have a spinal unit with specialist treatment or staff, so I didn’t realise right away what those problems were and that they were related to my injury. It took me a long time to realise and to get the right medical advice.’’

In the early years after her injury, Catherine was able to walk with aids. However, over the years, she started to experience more difficulties with her mobility and fatigue.

‘‘I’ve only used a wheelchair since 2009 or 2010.  I used to walk with a stick, then it progressed to two sticks, then a walker and eventually a wheelchair. It was a gradual progression, and I resisted it for a long time.

”As time went on I really struggled with fatigue when I walked, and I found that I had more energy to do things when using the wheelchair. It did take me a number of years before I decided that I’d have to use it on a daily basis though.’’

As a person ages with a spinal cord injury, their needs may change and adjustments might have to be made. Catherine made the decision to become a full-time wheelchair user to improve her quality of life. However, she still wasn’t confident about using her chair independently and often relied on her partner to assist her.

‘‘There were so many things that I just didn’t do because my partner had always done them for me, like transferring the wheelchair into the car. When the relationship ended, I had to do things myself that I’d never even tried before.’’

Catherine now had to contend with doing a lot more for herself but, as she wasn’t under the care of any particular spinal unit, she didn’t know where to access the support she needed.

‘‘I got a made to measure light weight chair from the NHS, which was great, but I didn’t have many sessions on wheelchair skills. I was only briefly introduced to back wheel balancing and not given enough time to master it so I didn’t feel comfortable practicing at home on my own. I could see that skill would be really handy in day to day life. I wouldn’t have to take long detours just to find a dropped kerb, for example, but lack of support held me back. And a few falls made my confidence dip even more.’’

Catherine decided she needed to explore what was out there that could help her improve her skills and confidence. She found out about Back Up through a spinal injury forum and eventually decided to attend our City Skills course in Edinburgh. Prior to going however, she felt worried that all the other participants would have much better wheelchair skills than her.

‘‘Edinburgh is covered with cobbles and I had thought this was going to be an absolute nightmare especially with the unpredictable Scottish weather! I was sure that I was going to be the only person who hadn’t mastered these skills. As it turns out though, I wasn’t alone. I soon realised that  getting to grips with these new challenges really was just a matter of confidence. The whole group felt so encouraged and supported to try to do things by ourselves that we all gave it a go – that was the best thing about the course.’’

Participants and volunteers on City Skills course

Catherine felt really supported by the other group members – after being apprehensive about spending a week with a group of people she’d never met – and really enjoyed herself.

‘‘I don’t think I was expecting it to be so sociable. The content of the course was amazing. Even though we did so much, it never felt like hard work because we all got on so well. My highlight was being able to back wheel balance, and realising that with this new confidence, I could do so much more. It was great to meet other people in the same position, and the enthusiasm of the trainers and volunteers made everything that had scared me seem much more achievable.’’

After finding herself in a position where she had lacked the skills and confidence to lead a fulfilling and active life, Catherine now feels much more excited about the future and what it holds for her.

‘‘I’m definitely up for doing a lot more now, and going to places I’ve never been. I’d love to go back up to the north of Scotland too which, as you can imagine, is not the most accessible. I’ve not been since I became a full-time wheelchair user but there are so many beautiful places to explore there.  Going on the Back Up course was one of my best decisions and I’m enjoying the freedom that my new skills bring!’’

If you’d like to attend one of our City Skills courses, please email our courses team or call them on 020 8875 1805. You can also check out our full programme of residential courses on our website.