Life is not meant to be easy!

Life is a gift.
A wonderful privilege.
Full of adventure, love & happiness.
Life brings both wonder and excitement.

But,

Life is not easy.
It is challenging.
It often feels hard.

Hard work.
Hard relationships.
Hard choices.

Of course many of us recognise that some people have had a ‘harder life’ than others. (Which helps us keep a balanced perspective).

However,

We are also very aware of the challenges we ALL face.


Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle – Plato


Do you often feel that life is hard?
Harder than you thought it would or should be?

Perhaps?
Definitely?
Always?
Sometimes?

Why is it that?

white paper blanks on rope

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and it has caused me to think through a number of questions:

Is life actually meant to be hard or are we getting a raw deal?
Do other people find life as hard as you do?
Do you hope that life will get easier someday?

Sometimes I think we have believed a lie that life is supposed to be EASY.

That it is easy for some.

Easy for them.

In the West, we are sold that lie every day. Adverts, films, books, magazines and social media, all feed the ideal of a better, happier and more comfortable life.

But do things and comfort actually make you happy?

white paper blanks on rope

I often say to my husband that the media often sell us the lie about the ‘perfect family life’.

The good looking Mum and Dad have an awesome, romantic, yet down to earth marriage. They work hard, but also have lots of time to invest in their beautiful children. They have plenty of money, a stunning home, car, clothes and go on amazing holidays.

Life looks easy!

Does that not sound attractive?

But in reality family life is often anything but ideal.

FAMILY – is often hard work!

In many ways I have what might seem an ‘ideal’ family life. Matt and I have a great marriage. We have to work at it, like everyone else, but we managed to set a firm foundation from the start which has provided great stability in our home.

We have two healthy, beautiful, kind, loving and intelligent girls who flourish at school, are creative and full of life.

And yet we, like many others, find that in reality family life is often exhausting.
Parenting is tough.
Directing selfish kids is a challenge.

We can dream of consistent ‘family bliss’ but I am not sure that it really exists.


FAMILY – is often hard work!


Our kids regularly fight, argue, push against boundaries, complain and challenge us until we are tempted to run away and hide under a rock for a while – until things get easier.

Often ‘quality family time’ is far from wonderful. In fact sometimes it feels like something we all have to endure rather than thrive on. (Especially when you have small children)

I actually started writing this post on holiday. The ‘prime’ of quality family time. Supposedly a time of fun, laughter, love and relaxation.

….And although there is truth in that (we have had some wonderful times together)…

In reality even holidays don’t stop the responsibilities of being parents and the kids squabbling & complaining.

So what do we do?
Do we just give up on family life?

No!

We know we have to push through the hard times so that we can then appreciate the wonder and beauty of family.

To keep on keeping on!

No one really lives the fairy tale ideal anyway!

leadership pain

I have just finished reading a fantastic book called ‘Leadership Pain’ by Samuel Chand. It was both refreshing and insightful to read him, and so many others, acknowledging the ‘pain’ that is unique to leaders. Whilst encouraging us to keep on growing, which means constantly raising the threshold of our pain.

Often people can look at leaders around them and assume they must have life all figured out. That they enjoy their ‘power’ and ‘bask’ in the limelight.

This is rarely the truth.

Of course people can pursue and abuse power and hide their true selves.

But true leadership is often more challenging than many of us imagined. In the same way that the responsibility of leading/ parenting our children is.

Leadership, like parenting, is often hard. It is often painful. You have to make many sacrifices. You will get hurt.

You are leading real people. Helping them to grow and develop. You have to have courage to lead the way, even when you haven’t been there before yourself. Even when people don’t get you or your decisions and push against your authority.

Samuel Chand writes,

“There is no growth without change, no change without loss and no loss without pain. If you are not hurting, you are not leading. Your vision for the future has to be big enough to propel you to face the heartaches and struggles you find along the way.”

Leadership and parenting are inherently HARD. So you have to have a vision for the future that keeps you going through the tough times.

You must believe that your current investment, as a parent and leader, is worth while. You need hope for your child’s future, hope that many of the people you lead, will grow, develop and move forward. That is where you ultimately find joy and satisfaction.

It all comes down to perspective. Without the right perspective we can get drowned by the hard times and lost in the pain.

white paper blanks on rope

Life, in its essence is often NOT easy and the sooner we get our heads round that, the sooner we can prepare our minds to face the challenges life brings.

Responsibility
Hard work
Pain
Suffering
Rejection
Perseverance

Are all a fact of life.


Life, in its essence is often NOT easy and the sooner we get our heads round that, the sooner we can prepare our minds to face the challenges life brings.


We all have dreams for the future but they will usually not fall into our laps. Instead, we must face the fact that often WE have to make the right choices and keep on making the right choices for things to work out.

We have to CHOOSE the longer and harder road to experience longer term satisfaction.

We have to invest in our lives early on, making the necessary sacrifices along the way.

People want love without sacrifice.
But that does not exist.
Love and sacrifice are coexistent.
That is why we find family life and relationships hard.

Leadership is the same. Great leaders are not driven by selfish ambition. They are driven by a desire to serve others. To do this, great leaders love their followers.

And if:
LOVE = SACRIFICE.

Great leaders, like great parents, sacrifice for those they lead.

Sacrifice in its essence is hard.
Which means true love is hard.

Life was never meant to be easy. Life is an adventure. Adventures are in their essence challenging. But they are also so exciting.

We cannot experience the joys of life without embracing it’s challenges. It is the hard times which help us appreciate the good times.

It’s all about perspective.


You will never understand pleasure without pain. – T D Jakes


Do you find life hard?
How do you find strength to face it?

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Surviving the Storm Six Months On: My battle with Concussion & a CSF leak

This post is a follow up post to Surviving The Storm: My Battle With Concussion And A CSF Leak that I wrote 3 months ago.


Life is a journey through different seasons. Seasons of celebration, happiness and success and seasons of loss, pain and frustration.

Sometimes unexpected things happen and life changes in an instant. Sometimes that change is temporary. Sometimes permanent. But it always brings a season of adjustment with it.

At the start of 2015 my life was going along normally. It was the start of a new year; a new season; a new time.

Then I had an accident.

In many ways, it was just a small accident. In an error of judgement I put a small step ladder on an uneven surface whilst painting. I painted with it there for hours, then in one moment the ladder toppled over and I fell.

One mistake on my part. And one I have paid for over the past six months.

We all make mistakes every day. Often the consequences are minimal. Then a day comes when we make a mistake that has bigger consequences.

We can’t change what happened.
We can only learn from our mistakes.

That journey is never easy.

When I fell, I hit my head, back, neck and arm. It was a blunt but forceful impact to my lower head and although I felt the impact and felt slightly dazed, in general I actually felt OK.

So I did what I always do: I got up and carried on.

I even joked to others about falling off that ladder – oblivious to what had actually taken place.

Then as I wrote in Surviving the Storm, over the next week my injury caught up with me and everything began to unravel.

Grunge Background

Brain injuries like concussion, post concussion and CSF leaks are tough. They are difficult to fully diagnose and yet so debilitating. Your brain is like mission control to your whole body and when your brain gets rattled or strained so many things get out of sync.

I am one of the blessed people whose injury, although serious, was comparatively mild. Severe brain injuries are life threatening and permanently life transforming. I am so very thankful that it was no worse.

However,

It was and still is a storm in my life. It was debilitating. It changed my life for a time. It is still improving but it has not yet fully passed.

Four or five months ago, at its worst, the only way to ease the symptoms was to lie flat and do nothing. For hours, days and weeks on end.

Have you ever tried that?

Doing nothing but lying flat in a dark room.

It can be torture. Especially when you are dizzy and in pain.

I was then finally admitted to hospital 8 weeks after the initial injury. Although tough in itself, I was thankful for this, because we got some answers and I was finally diagnosed with a CSF leak (cerebral spinal fluid leak).

Many people will not know that after a few days in hospital I faced one of the darkest days in my life.

Some events took place that probably during an average day I would have coped with and managed mentally and emotionally a lot better than I did.

But on that day a pattern of events unfolded that involved a senior hospital staff member with an exceptionally bad attitude.

And it totally floored me.

I have never felt so utterly weak and helpless. I was in so much pain, was mentally impaired by the cloudiness and dizziness, and faced a very unpleasant situation that I was powerless to deal with.

Those two days (because things got worse before they got better) were probably two of the the hardest days of my life, in many ways.

I have never felt so desperate, so weak, so intimidated and so vulnerable.

I cried a lot that day, desperately and deeply (in a hospital ward full of other people).

Have you ever come to the end of yourself?
When you have no strength left physically or mentally.
When you feel desperately vulnerable.
When you can’t fight any more.
When you don’t know what to do.

At its worst my injury left me in severe pain and my body would start shaking violently in response. As this happened my mind would cloud over and take me into a drunk-like state.

You can’t think straight, struggle to talk, can hardly stand and walk, and it can be quite distressing.

You feel immensely vulnerable and it was in my vulnerability that I faced this intimidating situation that I couldn’t deal with alone.

In that moment I thank God so much for people who loved and cared for me. There was a wonderful nurse at the hospital who reached out to me in my desperation with compassion and understanding. My church family had already dedicated a week to praying for me and they fought for me spiritually in my dark hour.

My husband was at a pre-planned family gathering with my girls that day (over 2 hours away). It was to celebrate my Mum’s birthday, in her remembrance (just over a year after her death). He dropped everything to leave, earlier than planned, and got to me as soon as he could (about 3 hours later).

In my darkest hour I was physically and mentally wrecked and alone, and yet I did the one thing I could: I reached out to God in the midst of my desperation. 

I knew that He would carry me.

When there was nothing left of me I knew He would hold me.

When I felt the most vulnerable I had ever felt, I knew I had advocate who was fighting for me.

And that is what got me through. Believing, hoping and trusting that things would get better.


I have never felt so desperate, so weak and so vulnerable.


CSF leaks can be very hard to fix. There is still a lot of uncertainly about the best ways to treat them. After two and a half weeks in hospital I ended up having a blood patch (where blood is injected into the epidural space in your spine) which helped a lot, but it certainly didn’t solve everything.

I again had to decide to hold onto my hope and have faith that it would get better. And things have got better. A sense of normality returned, but even 6 months on life post-injury is still a challenge in many ways.

I still can’t do everything I once did.

And that is hard.

As I shared in ‘Is Busyness a Choice?‘ I was a busy person. One of those people that always had a lot on and did a lot of rushing about.

But at the moment I still can’t rush about like I used to.

And it is SO frustrating.

I still have to sit and lie down at regular intervals. Especially when I have a lot on.

I often feel lightheaded, my head gets cloudy and a spaced out.

Life takes much more effort. Which is a mental, as well as a physical challenge for me.

I am a doer, a get up and get on type of person, but my body won’t always let me do that at the moment.

When your energy levels are low, everything becomes so much more difficult. The things you have to do become that much harder. And even your mental processing becomes impaired. These are all things that I still have to battle through daily.

I have to have wisdom to work out my days. If I know I have a lot to do I need to make sure I have clear rest points in the day, both before and after the activities I need to do.

It is manageable.
But it is frustrating.

And yet despite all these challenges I have learnt and grown so much.

I have so much more empathy and awareness of people with health issues. I hardly ever used to get ill, so my experience of battling this has given me more compassion for people who are struggling with injury and illness.

I have had to develop a longer term perspective so as not to get overwhelmed with the daily challenges. I have to see the bigger picture. 

I have had to learn to say no to doing too much, allow other people to help me, and tell people when I am struggling. Which doesn’t come easy to me because I fight against self pity at all costs and do not enjoy being a victim.

Life has been more frustrating.
I have faced increased feelings of discouragement.
But I have certainly become more self aware and developed more humility.

The last six months have been tough in many ways.
However,
I believe we can never give up or lose hope.

Without hope we have nothing to live for. It is always faith, hope and love that give us confidence for the future.

I have faced my own vulnerabilities and weaknesses like never before. And more than ever I know I cannot rely on my own strength to keep going and do all I am meant to do.

But that is not a bad thing.

Coming face to face with your own weaknesses and vulnerability can be a good thing.

In the Bible God said this to the Apostle Paul when he was struggling with his own weaknesses:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul then wrote in response:

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-11.

When I feel weak, I realise that I can’t ‘do life’ on my own. I realise that I don’t have the capacity and strength alone to face the challenges that life brings. But I do know God will work His power in and through me…. regardless.

That is grace.

The Almighty God uses us fragile humans in our weakness and vulnerability and makes us strong in His power.

When I come to the end of myself I have no where else to turn but God. It is then that God’s power works in and through me in the most beautiful way.

Because when you come face to face with your fragility you understand that we are all the same.

We are all human.
We all have struggles.

It is then, as God shows us His love and grace in the midst of our own struggles, that we can show love and grace to others in the midst of their struggles.

That is the power that works within us.
The power of love and the power of grace.

It is the mystery of God.
The divine paradox.

That weakness brings strength.
And that strength is spelt LOVE.

And love and grace are all you need!

So that’s my journey of surviving my unique storm. It is still not over, but writing this post has been helpful for me in looking back over the past six months, remembering, learning and growing towards the future.

This post has, in all honesty, been written through tears as I attempt to share some of the darker realities and vulnerabilities of my journey.

However, what I do know is that these dark days are not without purpose. They have been used to strengthen me and they will be used to help others.

There is always new strength to be found in weakness. Sometimes the journey to finding it will be painful.

But it is always there to be found.


How do you find strength in weakness?


Comments are always welcome below or on my social media links. 

You can read the first post about my injury here. I have also since added a new 8 month recovery post. I then go on to write about my ongoing story of relapse at 9 months and on to rebounding into High Pressure CSF at the end of the year all these posts can be viewed under the CSF Leak and Concussion menu choice at the top of the screen. 

To read more about my ongoing story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.

For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.

This post was inspired by my last post called ‘Breaking Free! From Pretense’.

Breaking Free! From Pretence

Do you ever feel like you can’t truly be yourself? Like the real you is hidden away, pushed down deep, where it is guarded and protected. Perhaps only let out for the select few, those you can really trust.

Why do we sometimes pretend?
Do we even know when we are pretending?

I can remember being in a science lesson one day when I was about 11 or 12. I am not sure where the teacher was, because at that moment I wasn’t doing science.

I was hiding in a cupboard.

Why – you may ask?

Good question.

Well it was so that one of my friends could ask another one of my friends, whether they actually liked me or not, or if they were just pretending. The plan was I could then listen from my hide out and suss out where I was at in that friendship.

I can’t really remember what happened, in fact, I think it turned out that you couldn’t hear so well in a cupboard. Which was probably not a bad thing. Sometimes it’s best not to know these things.

But it is a question that can frequent my thoughts even now.

Do you ever wonder:
Who actually likes me?
Who obviously doesn’t?
Who is just pretending?

What about you?
Do you pretend?

Breaking free from Pretence copy

I decided a long time ago that pretending wasn’t for me. It’s too much like hard work. Not that I’ve ever consciously decided to hide or pretend. It’s just something we all do.

But however much I decide it’s not for me. I believe we all still fall into the trap of pretending, at times, for both similar and unique reasons. We try to show the best of who we are, whilst attempting to cover over the worst.

We all have masks in some form. We all have crafted exteriors that we put on in other peoples presence. We want to present ourselves in a certain way.

We may ask ourselves questions like:
Who can we trust with the truth of our lives?
Who do we let in to our vulnerabilities?
Will they accept us for who we really are?


We all have masks in some form. We all have crafted exteriors that we put on in other peoples presence.


Social media can cause us to put up masks, either intentionally or unintentionally. Photos with filters that show:
The Best bits
Great relationships
Gorgeous kids
Exciting lives
It’s easy to portray an image that looks great but may not be the whole reality. As I wrote about in The Insecurity of Comparisson. 

Does that mean that we should all put more awful photos of ourselves and share the ins and outs of our disastrous family moments?
No I don’t think so!
But we do need to be mindful that we are often seeing the best snapshots of people’s lives.

No ones life is perfect.

Let’s celebrate the good parts of people’s lives whilst being mindful that they are just that:

The good parts.

We all have good and bad days.
We all have dull mundane days.
We all get stuff wrong
We all have insecurities.
We all desire to look our best.
We all desire to be liked and loved for who we really are.

We hope that other people are genuine too. That they are not two faced, pretending to like and love us, when in reality, they don’t.

We desire authenticity.

from darkness

WHAT IS AUTHENTICITY?

Authenticity has become a bit of a buzz word recently, but it’s a great word.

The Free Dictionary defines authenticity as:

The quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine.

WHAT DOES THE WORD AUTHENTICITY BRING TO MIND?

The real deal!

An authentic product is real, not fake. An authentic person is real, not fake.

Pretending is exhausting. It’s stressful trying to maintain a crafted exterior. It’s much easier to learn how to be yourself.

Authenticity is attractive. It’s easier to be around authentic people.
They are not trying to impress or compete with you.
They are simply who they are.
No frills.
Not gift wrapped.
They have both humility and integrity.
They are not consumed by maintaining an act.

The problem is it actually takes a lot of courage and strength to be yourself. To be real about your best and worst parts. Your strengths and your weaknesses.


Pretending is exhausting. It’s stressful trying to maintain a crafted exterior


It certainly doesn’t mean telling everyone everything, or not being professional. We still all need to have self control. We don’t all need to wear our hearts on our sleeves. (That can be just as exhausting as hiding it, for you and everyone else). No one likes a perpetual moaner.

Sometimes we need to put how we really feel aside and get on with the job in hand. Parents, professionals, leaders and those in any positions of responsibility have times, days and seasons where they have to put their own feelings aside to do the right thing.

Which is a good thing.

However, having wisdom and self control in what we say and do are different from outright pretending. Pretending can actually be deceptive. Sometimes we need to face up to the reality of our lives and do something about it.

“Pretend less. Doesn’t it feel energizing to go home and stop pretending?” Dan Rockwell (Leadership Freak Blog – Refuelling Strategies)

People can be both professional and authentic. It takes a lot of wisdom, but it is possible. We don’t have to separate our life out into segments where we are different people in different environments.

We can all be genuine in what we do.

Who you are is so much more important than what you do, what you say, or who you know. Authenticity is attractive. —Brian Houston

Breaking free copy

It is good to reflect, to work out what makes us tick. To think through who we want to be and whether we are living life in line with our values and dreams.

It is helpful once in a while to ask yourself these questions:
Who am I?
Who do I want to be?
Do I pretend?
How can I be more authentic, whilst maintaining wisdom, self control & integrity?

It is a journey that requires humility. A journey that will demand integrity. A path of courage and wisdom. A choice to be real and transparent …. Regardless:
Of what others think
What others say.
How you are treated.
How you a judged.

There is freedom in discovering who you really are.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. – E.E. Cummings


This post is part of my .Breaking Free. series of posts. Click here to see posts on Breaking Free from Fear, Worry and Discouragement.