Shelley Maree Hunter/Spiegel is living a magical life despite the trauma and suffering she experienced during her early years and into adulthood.

With a challenging upbringing and a brain injury as a result of a serious car accident, Shelley has come a long way with NDIS supports, which have helped her achieve her dreams.

The most recent dream is the publication of her book, 'Face of Faith: How The Broken Pieces of My Past Turned Into a Magical Life'. Shelley now wants to inspire others to believe in themselves and learn how to heal from their own painful experiences.

“My hope is for others to be inspired to overcome their challenges, learn to love themselves, empower others to believe in themselves and achieve their dreams and goals.”

Read more about Shelley's story below. 

Early days

At 10 months old, Shelley was abandoned by her mum and placed with a foster care family. At four years old, her father’s parents – who had been searching for her – found her and eventually won guardianship of her.

Her grandfather, who was the full-time carer for her grandmother, sexually abused Shelley from when she was six to eight years old.

“When I was eight, I moved in with my father and we trained horses as my father and his partner were long-distance endurance riders.” Shelley says the shed where she lived with her father had no electricity, a generator and a pit toilet out the back. “We got water from the dam and all bathed in it. I think I smelt like carp most of the time!”

By the time Shelley was 14, she had been earning money working as her dad’s farmhand and picking carrots at a local farm, and she decided to travel to WA in search of her mother “with $50 in my pocket”.

Her maternal grandmother was an Aboriginal woman and a member of the Stolen Generation. While living in WA, Shelley battled with addiction, was in a co-dependent partnership with a “good man with behavioural problems”, and had three children. After moving back to Victoria, years later, after the birth of her three children, the family experienced the tragic loss of Shelley’s partner and the father of her children.

Trauma, endurance and optimism

After Shelley's final surgery

In Victoria, Shelley obtained a qualification in community support work and with her new partner and children, she embarked on a road trip – an adventure of a lifetime. She home-schooled her brood and practised morning gratitude rituals.

However, a serious car accident in 2004 which nearly cost Shelley her life, left her with a traumatic brain injury. She underwent six years of open head and facial surgeries, suffered a bone infectious disease, had her sinuses removed, and suffered constant and debilitating migraines often for three to four days a week as well as severe dizzy spells.

Her operations included the complete reconstruction of her face and bone structure, and it was during this time she developed the “untreatable” bone infection in her facial plates. She was treated by a team including an ENT, maxillofacial surgeon, neurologists, and bone infectious diseases and rehabilitation experts.

“I was given two years to live. So the medical team told me to do whatever I wanted. They said, ‘You’re not going to survive it so there’s nothing you can do to make it worse.’ So I started doing everything I possibly could.”

Shelley’s ability to walk and talk was a struggle during the years of managing a brain injury, a bone infectious disease, multiple surgeries and recoveries.

“It took about three years, but that bone disease started shrinking. My speech started to improve as well.”

Embracing supports

Shelley, who has also overcome cervical cancer, says many people are unaware of the supports available to them when they are faced with physical and mental challenges.

“When I worked with mental health clients over the last six to seven years, I found that so many people suffering from various traumas, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, or grief are isolated. “They don’t know who to talk to or who to reach out to for help.”

Shelley really appreciates her Feros Care LAC (Local Area Coordinator) service, who have linked her to the NDIS for supports in her area. The supports have helped her achieve her goal of publishing her book and included attending talks related to her situation, trauma and recovery; cooking, cleaning, domestic and gardening support so she has the strength to focus on her goals; and physiotherapy, massage and dry needling to help with her neck and headaches.

This year, she has attained her yin yoga qualification and second degree reiki qualification and she’s determined to provide a network of support to others through her book and self-empowerment workshops.

“I say to people, ‘Be yourself, own yourself and love yourself.’ They’re just words, but actually doing that is something that helps you to overcome anything.

“You can overcome trauma – it does’t matter what you go through, how much pain you’re in or how hurt you are – you can overcome it physically, mentally and spiritually.”

The happy ending  

Shelley and her partner, childhood friend Glenn

“I had a dream that I needed to write this book and that I could do this,” 46-year-old Shelley says. Face of Faith: How The Broken Pieces of My Past Turned Into a Magical Life was published last year, and has since been transformed into a screenplay which is set to be produced into a movie. “Half of the book is about my life story and trauma and the other half is how I overcame it.”

Shelley has included a self-help guide with a goal-setting plan so people can embark on their own journey of healing. She has included three offers: a resource library and service directory of supports; audio meditations which she can send to readers; and a Face of Faith Wellness workshop with holistic tools for healing and happiness.

A copy of the book or an ebook can be purchased at www.faceoffaith.com.au

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