Prior to my diagnosis I was a primary school teacher and an outdoor enthusiast. I loved cycling, x-country skiing, kayaking, sailing and hill walking. I enjoyed gardening and exploring the world with children. I was also a passionate bird watcher and carried out volunteer surveys for the RSPB and BTO. My family and I also walked puppies for GDBA.

In 2000 my millennium bug was the diagnosis of a rare neurological condition of the spine, causing progressive physical disability and significant pain. I’ve been a wheelchair user for over 15 years.

My hospital experience was pretty horrendous. I had to have a major operation which was unsuccessful. After leaving hospital I was offered no help whatsoever. I was dismissed by a neurosurgeon with the words… We can’t do anything more for you. It is impossible to operate again. This condition will affect your quality of life for the rest of your life.

My GP and I had to learn about my condition from whatever we could find online. I was unable to return to work and felt that I couldn’t participate in the hobbies I loved.

Gradually I began to discover that some of my old hobbies and interests could be enjoyed in a different way and that there were new things that I could explore that I hadn’t had the time/opportunity for before. I’ve been involved in voluntary activities where I don’t have to be reliable. Some of these were really interesting (I tried a few things that didn’t work for me, of course, but sometimes you don’t know until you give it a shot). Bird watching and bird surveys can be done from the car or from my chair/scooter. I purchased a second hand off-road mobility scooter, which has been wonderful for me. For the past few years I’ve been involved with surveying for Scottish Wildcats, I’ve been sailing with the Jubilee Sailing Trust, kayaking in an inflatable kayak and I try activities with organisations/new friends who are happy for me to join them. I get out with my assistance dog almost every day and always have my binoculars round my neck.

I enjoy art and recently I’ve become a writer, having had several pieces published, which is very exciting!

I was pretty devastated by my situation after my operation and felt abandoned. I lost confidence, self-esteem and self-worth. I felt totally lost and increasingly isolated. I didn’t believe that a self-help group would be of any value to me. I did try a couple but didn’t fit in. I’m a naturally positive person yet at times my situation caused reactive depression. Despite involving myself in new activities I often felt very lonely.

Having spent 20 years struggling and coping by myself (and with my family), partly because my condition is so rare that I don’t fit into anyone’s “help” boxes, I had a phone call out of the blue to meet a neuro - rehab consultant, who had noticed that I’d never had any proper follow-up, she also realised that I wasn’t very happy. Amongst other things, she suggested that SIS might be of help. So I looked them up on the internet and I was pleased with the attitude, encouragement and welcome I got when I called. I joined the Facebook group and observed for a while. I then started making a few comments on the page in response to some of the posts.

A peer support worker noticed and contacted me to ask if I’d like to join the Zoom meet and greet sessions. At first I was pretty hesitant about it and I don’t think I said much during the first few sessions but… Wow! What a lovely group of new friends I’ve found: friends who understand what we’re all going through; who are there if you need to have a wee rant; who like to discuss equipment, facilities and new ideas; who have interesting lives, pre and post SCI and who can chat about anything and have a laugh. Such positive friends who make the best of life. They’re so easy to chat to. I really look forward to my Zoom chats; even my husband has noticed how much I’m benefitting from them. I don’t feel lonely now. I don’t attend every session but I don’t feel obliged to. Everyone is always welcoming at any time. I hope these Zoom meetings don’t stop when lockdown is lifted. I live in a rural location and wouldn’t be able to attend many face-to-face meetings in the city. Let’s not get back to the old ‘normal’.

Once we’re able to travel a bit more I’d love to meet my new online friends. I’d also like to visit other parts of Scotland and to do more adventurous outdoor activities. I’m 65 but I don’t want age and disability to be the things that hold me back. There are so many more opportunities out there now than there were 20 years ago. I’m learning about them through hearing what other members of SIS are up to; from keeping pigeons to wheelchair curling, and I’m finding out about other groups and organisations whose aim is to enable. 

I’d really love to continue with my writing and art. Maybe, one day, I’ll publish a book of poems.