Reinventing Yourself After Spinal Cord Injury

After experiencing a spinal cord injury (SCI), how you view yourself may change. The good news is that the recovery period can be a time for positive introspection and reinvention. Read about how Anita Lowther boosted her self-image after SCI.

Learn how a new mindset and family support helped Anita gain confidence.

This article is based on interviews conducted by Sue Lennon. Sue is a nurse, therapist, educator, and coach with nearly three decades of experience in oncology nursing – including urology and stoma care. She values nurse-patient communication and provides truly holistic care.

In the initial period after your SCI, you may struggle with self-esteem issues. However, with a new outlook and some help from loved ones, you can view yourself and your circumstances in a different, more positive way.

Anita, who lives in the UK, is an inspiring example of reinvention after an injury. In 2007, she was diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome, a rare and serious type of spinal stenosis where the nerves in the lower back are severely compressed. After six operations and a 2-week stay in the hospital, she was incontinent at the age of 39. Today, however, she “enjoys life to the fullest” and credits her psychological and emotional turnaround to a process of reinventing herself.  

Accepting her post-injury reality

One of the keys to reinventing yourself after a SCI is accepting your post-injury reality. For Anita, this required a shift of mindset. “(I’ve tried to) focus on what I can do, rather than what I can't do or what I find more difficult,” says Anita.  

Although Anita occasionally can get around by walking with forearm crutches, she has realised that she also needs a wheelchair. “Sometimes I use a wheelchair because I might fall if I don't; I accept that I can’t always get around on my own anymore,” she says. “But I am still just me; you are who you are.”

Focusing on support from family and friends

For Anita, reinventing herself was mainly a process of accepting her new life, thinking positively, and finding practical solutions to obstacles. However, her family members helped accelerate her post-injury turnaround by accommodating her limited mobility in their daily lives and offering new perspectives.

“I would watch my boys play football (soccer) but traveling to matches was difficult because of the lack of toilets I could use,” says Anita. “I overcame that barrier by discovering a catheter that worked for me, so I could have a wee in the car during halftime.” It took some time for Anita’s four sons – especially the younger ones – to get used to her new condition, but they adjusted quickly. “I used to get into their beds in the morning and talk, cuddle, and read to them,” she says. “Now they come to me rather than me going to them.”

Anita’s husband’s positive attitude also was vital to her reinvention process. He would consistently boost her self-esteem by providing a fresh perspective on how others might view her. “Mike always tells me that people only really notice my beautiful smile and personality; (he reminds me) that it’s important to remember what people see in me now,” she says. “It’s about having love for yourself before others can love you; when you lose confidence in yourself, you need people around you saying, ‘You're still you. You're still beautiful.’”

Getting her confidence back

The days, weeks, and months after a SCI are a period of transition – both physically and emotionally. It truly is a period of reinvention. Anita’s positive, constructive mindset and the support of her family have increased her self-esteem and her confidence. “I've gained more confidence in the long run because I've had to overcome obstacles,” says Anita. “Once you overcome (those challenges), you start thinking, yeah, I can do that; I have gained more inner confidence that I didn't know I had.”


 Financial Disclosure: Anita received compensation from Hollister Incorporated for her contributions to this article.