Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day 2021: Shelley’s story

Shelley, who has a spinal cord injury. Read on to learn how we helped her this spinal cord injury awareness day 2021

This Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day, we spoke to Shelley, one of our volunteers. She told us about how she has been volunteering at our Back Up Lounge, an online space for everyone affected by spinal cord injury. Read on to discover how Shelley has helped us build an online community of people in a similar situation at a time where they need support the most.

Not every spinal cord injury is visible. Depending on level of injury, and whether the injury is complete or not, someone with a spinal cord injury may not use a wheelchair or walking aids. Shelley sustained an incomplete spinal cord injury at C1/C2 level in 2013 after a road traffic accident. As she does not use any walking aids, her spinal cord injury is less visible – but the effects of her injury were life-changing.

“The trauma of an incomplete injury is not always visible. I get exhausted very quickly, experience muscular and nerve pain, and I have poor temperature regulation.

“Since sustaining my injury, I have also been diagnosed with PTSD. The psychological impact of my injury was a lot to deal with.”

A year after she sustained her injury, Shelley was studying at university and realised she needed support. The university provided her practical help with accessing her course, but Shelley decided that she needed to speak to someone else with a spinal cord injury. After some internet research she discovered the Back Up website, and got in touch with our team.

“I was paired up with a wonderful mentor who just ‘got it’. We had a lot of similarities, and she shared her experiences with me. This helped me go on to finish my degree.

“I then went on Back Up’s Next Steps course – that was the first time I’d met other people from Back Up, including others with incomplete injuries.”

By being around others in a similar situation, Shelley felt much more confident. This inspired her to get involved with Back Up further, by volunteering as a Group Leader. A Group Leader is a Back Up volunteer who ensures our courses run smoothly – something that Shelley found very rewarding.

“Volunteering as a Group Leader helped me find my shared voice. It has given me the chance to listen to others in similar situations, and help them on their journeys.”

In 2020, Shelley found a new way to help Back Up make a difference – volunteering at our Back Up Lounge. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have been unable to offer in-person services. The Back Up Lounge gives our community a space where they can be together online. For many, this has been a lifeline during the pandemic.

After attending a few lounges, Shelley decided to volunteer as a lounge host – helping us facilitate discussions, and creating a safe and welcoming environment.

“Over the years I’ve learned the value of self-care. I like to talk about this in the lounge. I tend not to directly give advice, but I share my experiences with others. This seems to help and reassure, while others affected by spinal cord injury can figure out what they need.

“People get a lot out of hearing your experiences and these shared stories can help others to realise what they can do after spinal cord injury, and form coping strategies.”

Shelley says that she enjoys volunteering at the lounge, and that she is very happy with the direction it is taking.

“Face-to-face services are important, but people with a spinal cord injury can still get a lot out of the lounge. Newly injured people can be nervous when it comes to going to new places, but the Back Up Lounge means you can connect with people in a similar situation from your armchair!

“As someone who has been both a participant and volunteer, it has been rewarding to see how Back Up has adapted as a result of COVID-19.”

Visit our website to learn more about the Back Up Lounge and get involved.