Category Archives: Breaking Free

Breaking Down The Walls Between Us

“So we can hate each other and fear each other
We can build these walls between each other
Blow by blow and brick by brick
Keep yourself locked in

Maybe we should love somebody
Maybe we could care a little more
Living for love, unafraid of the end
Forgiveness is the only real revenge

So we can heal each other and fill each other
We can break these walls between each other
Blow by blow and brick by brick
Keep yourself open.”

(Taken from the lyrics of Holy War by Alicia Keys)

Do you ever feel misunderstood? Those days and moments when somebody decides they think they know who you are, but you know that what they are saying and how they are acting shows that they don’t have a clue who you REALLY are?

Now let’s reverse the question.

Do you ever misunderstand others? You decide that you think you know who someone is and why they say and do what they do. But perhaps over time you realise that you totally ‘missed it’ and you didn’t or don’t have a clue who they REALLY are.

We can ALL make a lot of assumptions.
We hate being judged.
And yet we are guilty of judging.
Of assuming that we know.
When in fact we really don’t.

“Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try & figure out why they do what they do.” – Dale Carnegie

We live in a world of barriers and brick walls. We can build our little fortresses to protect us and ours and in protecting ourselves we can end up ‘locked in’ rather than ‘open’.

That is why I love the lyrics above (that I have edited) to Alicia Keys’ song Holy War. The song highlights how we have built so many walls between one another.

Walls of pride: My way is the best way.
Walls of hate: I don’t like who you are and what you do.
Walls of fear: Our differences scare and distress me.
Walls of hurt: Somebody hurt me and you might too.
Walls of misunderstanding: I don’t want to listen to you.
Walls of stereotypes: I already know who you are.
Walls of differences: Look at all the ways we are different.
Walls of revenge: If you treat me and mine badly I will treat you and yours badly.

And yet the more we lock ourselves into our places of safety, the worse it all gets. Our perspective becomes tunneled. Skewed by our own limited view. We don’t attempt to understand. We assume we already know.

But the trouble is, usually we DON’T KNOW!

from darknessI LOVE diversity. I have spent all my life with such a diversity of different people. People from different cultures, countries, ethnic groupings, social groupings, sexual orientation, different backgrounds, different faiths, different colours, super intelligent or with learning difficulties, the able bodied, disabled, chronically and terminally ill.

And I LOVE it!

I wouldn’t want to live any other way. I want to live, learn and grow all my life and I can only do that by opening up mine and my families life to diversity and difference. I would honestly get so bored only spending time with people like me! I need change and difference to help challenge, inspire and shape me.

I need YOU to make me a better ME!

I want my level of exposure to keep growing. To meet more people. To understand more about why YOU do and say what you do, and for you to learn why I say and do what I do.

“Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try & figure out why they do what they do.” – Dale Carnegie

This is one of the reasons I LOVE watching documentaries and reading books about other people’s REAL life journeys, battles, challenges and victories. It opens my mind and enlarges my perspective.

It helps me to be a better human.

I want to understand why people do what they do. Because it helps me to show empathy and love to others more. As well as helping me to understand myself more. It opens my heart and expands my mind.

Perhaps we are ALL more similar than we think.

The lyrics I’ve shared above help to paint a picture of why I believe we ALL need one another. To inspire us to spend more time with, and listening to, a diversity of other people. Bringing love and understanding to our conversations and choosing to learn more about each other’s perspectives. So that TOGETHER we can make the world a better place. It tear’s down all the walls and barriers of ignorance and fear that exist between us all. It is there that we realise we perhaps didn’t know quite as much as once thought we did.

The more I get to know people that at first seem very different from me. The more I realise that we have a lot more in common than we might at first think.

We are ALL human and we all live in this world TOGETHER!

It’s in that place that we learn that we can’t really hide away from the world, instead we all have to live and be here. You and me are stuck on this earth TOGETHER, whether we like it or not! And these days I am grateful that our world is a lot more mixed up than it once was. It brings so many more opportunities.

So instead of hiding maybe we could learn how to be more open. To reach out to others with open ears, hearts and minds. Ready to listen and learn. Ready to be challenged and changed.

Ready to be more human.

Ready to pull down the walls between us and do our best to build bridges instead.

Bridges of love: I am going to treat you how I want to be treated.
Bridges of humility: I still have so much to learn, (even when we disagree) teach me what you know.
Bridges of faith: I am going to chose to believe the best about you rather than the worst.
Bridges of healing: I will try to empathise and support you in your pain.
Bridges of understanding: I will listen to your perspective.
Bridges of acceptance: We are all unique individuals who can’t be put in a general box.
Bridges of similarities: We all have common ground because we are ALL human.
Bridges of forgiveness: We ALL make mistakes and get things wrong.

I know I would rather be a builder of bridges rather than a builder of walls. A person who chooses to break down these walls we have between each other.

‘Blow by blow and brick by brick’.

I want to keep myself OPEN because it is ALWAYS so much better than staying LOCKED in.

How about you?

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The ‘Shame’ of Chronic Illness and Pain

‘Shame derives its power from being unspeakable…. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to whither.” – Brene Brown

Over the summer I read Brene Brown’s fabulous book ‘Daring Greatly’. The book follows on from her famous TEDTalk on vulnerability that had previously inspired me to write this blog post on the power of vulnerability.

The full title of the book is Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead.’ It encourages us to dare to be honest about who we really are, rather than trying to hide our weakness. It teaches that vulnerability helps us to live more ‘wholeheartedly’, connect more with others and that it helps us to overcome the destructive burden of ‘shame’ we all carry.

Her book really got me thinking about this concept of shame. 
It is not something we often think about.

I have been part of the Christian church all my life so I am used to hearing the word shame. We believe it is something destructive that we can overcome and that the grace provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection can break us free from its grasp.

And yet, this book caused me to really reflect on shame; what it is and what it really means. It inspired me to consider these questions;

Where does shame have a hold on my life?
How does shame effect my thoughts and actions?
How might shame be damaging my wellbeing & relationships?

shame-quote-2

What is shame?

Words we often connect or use interchangeably with shame are words like: embarrassed or humiliated. It can manifest as feelings of inadequacy, guilt or regret. It’s something we often hide and cover up. We might self medicate to avoid thinking about it. We dread people seeing it.

And yet although shame is often seen as one and the same as guilt, I have come to see that there is a distinctive difference.

One of the main differences between shame & guilt is that guilt is the feeling of embarrassment or regret about something YOU HAVE DONE WRONG. We can feel shame, on the other hand, even when we have NOT DONE ANYTHING WRONG.

Shame is more connected to who WE ARE and how OTHERS PERCEIVE US.

“It’s a painful feeling about how we appear to others (and to ourselves) and doesn’t necessarily depend on our having done anything.” – Joseph Burgo

The more I thought about shame and how it manifests in my life, the more I became aware that it is intrinsically linked to the struggles I face at the moment. I began to see how shame had got a hold on me and particularly how it has effected me over the past year or so.

Finally I began to see and recognise that;

I FEEL ASHAMED THAT I AM BATTLING A CHRONIC ILLNESS!

There we go I have said it. It’s out in the open…

I feel ashamed that I am ill.
I feel ashamed that it has gone on so long.
I feel ashamed that I can’t seem to get well.
I feel ashamed that I cannot work and be busy like I used to.

I feel embarrassed to be sick!

shame-copy

When I decided to speak up and write about feeling ashamed of being ill, it led me to google the words; ‘the shame of chronic illness.’ Through that search I found two insightful blog posts by a lady called Angelika Byczkowski in which she shares something of her battles with the chronic connective tissue disorder – Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).

She writes so beautifully about the humbling journey those with chronic illness and pain are forced to take;

“When I recently read the phrase, “I’m embarrassed to be sick,” it made my stomach clench and my breath catch. That’s exactly what I’ve been feeling….. I am ashamed of being sick….
…. If all the people not yet affected by chronic illness acknowledged all the undeserved pain in this world, they would be forced to confront their own vulnerability to the same forces. Instead, we all prefer to believe we have the power to prevent such disasters in our own lives. Sometimes I even catch myself thinking, “If you’re so smart, why did you let this happen to you?”

Those words were so revealing to my own heart. I have begun to see that I feel like a ‘failure’ for being sick. I feel like – ‘if I was only a bit stronger or wiser, made better choices, if only a bit more positive, if only I had more faith …. surely I could have overcome this sooner?’

Such thoughts often taunt me and drag me into a dark and negative pattern, which was particularly bad at Christmas, where I blame myself and feel responsible for still being ill.

It’s so humiliating to be so unwell and in pain long term.

Angelica highlights this so beautifully in another post called ‘The subtle arrogance of good health’. She writes about how many of us have fallen for the trap we set ourselves, because before we got ill we carried a form of arrogance at being healthy .

“My attitude was the typical thoughtless “arrogance of good health,” the attitude of those who can’t even imagine what happens when a body stops functioning properly. This arrogance knows only the kind of pain that heals, the kind of sickness that is cured.”

As I read those words I too knew it was talking about me. Before I got ill, I had carried the ‘arrogance of good health.’ I had believed that I was strong enough to shake it off when others couldn’t, because that was all I knew.

I was not the ‘type’ who would succumb to its chains. I was always so healthy and surely I could overcome anything thrown at me right? Surely my faith and positive mindset would win?

And then one day in January 2015 I fell off a step ladder and entered the world of chronic invisible illness and pain. I acquired a debilitating spinal CSF leak and brain injury that I haven’t YET overcome. I have been unwell for 20 months. Each and everyday I battle through chronic pain, physical & mental fatigue, a foggy brain, barriers to treatment and the challenges of not ‘being able’ to heal up, get well and get free.

And honestly,
I feel ashamed on so many levels!!

I feel ashamed that I have now become one of those people with ‘chronic pain’ and ‘chronic illness.’

I actually hate using the word ‘chronic’ at all! (Which is revealing of the sterotypes I accepted before).

I feel ashamed to tell you that I feel weaker than I ever imagined possible; physically, mentally and spiritually.

I feel ashamed that my ‘old’ positivity has taken a massive hit and most days I battle overwhelming feelings of despair at the thought of not getting better.

I feel ashamed that I broke down mentally at Christmas, exhausted and with nothing left for the fight, and seriously considered ending my life. I feel ashamed that the same ‘selfish’ thought has returned at times since then, although thankfully not to the same depth.

“In my view, suicide is not really a wish for life to end.’
What is it then?’
It is the only way a powerless person can find to make everybody else look away from his shame. The wish is not to die, but to hide.”– Orson Scott Card

I feel ashamed every time I have to update people on where I am at, and that I have to tell them I am still not well, it’s got worse and it is not yet over.

I feel ashamed when I can’t tell you that I have finished the fight, overcome, won and beaten this dreadful condition.

I feel ashamed that I cannot yet testify to the fact that I am now fully healed and whole, even though I believe in a loving creator God and Father who can do the impossible.

“O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed;” Psalms‬ ‭25:2‬ – The Bible

I feel ashamed telling doctors that I can’t seem to get better and hope that they will see past the ‘chronic pain’ patient with the unusual condition and know that it’s not ‘all in my head’ so that I can continue to get treatment.

I feel ashamed when the scans are clear and don’t show any evidence of a CSF leak, when the treatment I receive doesn’t ‘fix’ me or when my symptoms don’t always fit with the diagnosis.

Each day this drags on the shame gets worse.
Each day the shame is becoming almost as much of a burden as the illness itself.
Each day the shame is debilitating me and making me feel small.
Each day the shame is robbing me of my voice and tempting me to retreat from the world.

And it has to stop!

I HAVE TO BREAK FREE!shame-quote-copy

So today I am making the ‘unspeakable’ speakable; for myself and the multitudes who also travel the dark road of chronic illness and pain.

I am speaking out my shame so that it can no longer chain me up with its lies. I am choosing to acknowledge the space it has taken up in my thoughts; so that we can tear down its strongholds together.

Today I chose vulnerability; to speak the unspoken, so that you and I won’t have to suffer again in silence.

Today I choose to fight shame so that even though this condition taunts me daily, trying to persuade me I can never be free; it doesn’t have to define everything I am, do, and my relationships with those around me.

So today, whether you are battling chronic illness and pain or know someone who is; I pray that together we can tear down the ‘chronic pain’ stereotypes that perhaps we also once secretly adhered to ourselves, and no longer allow it’s shame to rule our and others lives.

“If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to whither.” – Brene Brown


What do you feel ashamed of? We all carry shame in some form. Please feel free to comment below – if we can speak it then perhaps together we can beat it!

I have now written a follow up post to this one titled ‘Grapping With The Shame Having A Rare Invisible Illness‘.

For more posts about my story of living with a spinal CSF Leak please look at the subject heading on the menu bar above.

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.

Here is the link again to Dr Carroll’s video.

Breaking Free! From Blame

Have you noticed that when things go wrong in our lives, our human nature wants to lash out. It wants other people to share our pain. To do this we sometimes attempt to place a burden of guilt and blame on others that they are not meant to carry.

We want them to hurt like we do. 

Blame says; “all this is YOUR fault.”
Which is actually rarely true.
Usually we have played our part too. 

Blame is destructive.
It not only destroys us.
It destroys our relationships.
It attempts to destroy others’ lives. 

Blame can be devastating to those who carry it as well as those we try and inflict it on.

Blame wants others to pay for our difficulties.

It makes us bitter, vengeful and angry. We want others to take responsibility for our pain. Hoping that blaming others may lessen our hurt, excuse our own behaviour and enable us to find closure.

But instead blame perpetuates and multiplies our hurt, pain, anger and frustrations.

Blame never brings closure.
It usually changes nothing. It just makes things worse for everyone, our wounds become even more raw and painful.

Blame never brings healing.
It instead re-opens and infects wounds. When we fall over and cut our knee, we have to let it heal. We must let the scab form and allow it to do its work. If you keep pulling off the scab, the wound won’t heal and may well get infected.

Constantly revisiting blame does the same thing. Blame makes healing impossible.

Blame refuses to take any responsibility.
As the fight for blame develops, everyone takes to their corner to defend themselves and in doing so becomes more firmly entrenched in their position. 

‘It is all their fault’. 

We become blinded to our own part, to our own mistakes, and subsequently want to inflict as much pain as we can on the ‘other side.’ 

This makes everything worse and makes reconciliation impossible.

There is only one way to find closure, healing and freedom in the face of others mistakes. 

GRACE!

Grace allows no room for blame. It sees the faults in others and yet chooses to forgive and cover them.

Grace reaches out to people in the midst of their errors and chooses love instead of hate. It brings peace instead of anger and humbles itself to acknowledge its own faults first.

Grace and blame simply cannot co-exist: they are opposites. 

Blame destroys. Grace restores.
Blame attacks. Grace protects.
Blame is selfish. Grace is selfless.
Blame wounds. Grace heals.
Blame pushes forward our ‘rights’.

Grace lays down our ‘rights’. 

Both blame and grace are powerful forces. Blame chains us up. Grace instead unwraps the chains that blame and guilt wrap around us, breaking them, one by one.

This doesn’t mean the journey of grace is always easy. There is often pain in the humility and sacrifice it requires. This is because we have to let go of pride.

Pride refuses to accept we might be wrong. We use pride to protect ourselves from our own, and others, mistakes, insecurities and vulnerabilities.

Grace, on the other hand, often reveals our weakness, yet as we face them we also find healing. It loves us in our brokenness and allows that love to flow out, even to those we once blamed. 

Grace is the only way to freedom. 
 But what do we do when someone has mistreated us and will not take responsibility?

  • Does Grace mean that we don’t pursue justice? 
  • Does it blindly overlook mistreatment? 

No. 
Grace and justice co-exist and even compliment one another. 

It is all about the heart of the person pursuing justice:

  • What are their motives?
  • What do they wish to achieve? 

I personally faced a situation when I was in hospital, a few months ago, that Matt and I believed was a matter of justice and we pursued it on those grounds. I referred to it in my 6 month injury update. 

A senior doctor dealt with a situation very rudely, with no element of understanding of the desperation I was in at that time.

The next day, after he heard that we had made a verbal complaint to the Ward Sister, he tried to rectify the situation through intimidation, rather than any hint of understanding or remorse.

He would not accept that he could have dealt with things differently. Even though I attempted to explain that I would have done things differently myself, if I wasn’t feeling so acutely unwell, in pain and mentally impaired at the time.

Instead he persisted in blaming me, an unwell patient, for his behaviour and response. He would accept no responsibility, whatsoever, and felt completely justified.

At the time it was truly horrible. 

This person I was trusting with my care, at one of my weakest and most vulnerable moments, was choosing arrogance and self preservation rather than compassion, care and understanding.

In these times we have to look at the situation, look at our hearts and decide what we need to do. 

For Matt and I what happened was a justice situation and the behaviour needed to be challenged. Not just because of what was said to me but because of how this behaviour could be perpetuated to others even more vulnerable than I was.

It wasn’t about blame. It was about challenging the inappropriate behaviour of someone who had a duty of care and responsibility.

So we made a formal complaint. 

Even within that process, Matt had to challenge me about my attitude. That was hard, because I found the whole thing quite traumatic. But he was right because even amidst the complaint:

We still needed to guard our hearts.
We still needed to hold onto grace and forgiveness. 
Otherwise, we would continue to be wounded by it.

It takes a lot of wisdom to get the right balance between justice and grace. However, even when we feel the need to pursue justice we can still do that with a heart of grace rather than hate or blame.

Justice is at its most powerful when it is delivered in the context of grace. 

Parenting: Grace and Justice combined.
This combination is very evident in good parenting. If we overlooked all of our kid’s errors and misbehaviour, in the name of love and grace, and never gave any discipline, correction or consequences, they would never learn to take responsibility for their own actions.

They would probably grow up to be selfish and undisciplined adults. 

However, good parents understand that we must deliver this discipline and teach justice from a place of unconditional love and grace.

Then challenge and correction is about love rather than our need to pay back our children for their mistakes. We teach them that there is rightly consequences in the world, but we also teach them that we love them regardless of their behaviour.

That is true grace. 

Justice is about responsibility but we can pursue that without falling into blame. We don’t pursue justice to inflict pain on the other person, or to make us feel better. We instead pursue justice because it is right, protects others and because it gives us all room to change and grow.

Laying down our rights. 
There are times, however, when we may need to lay down our ‘right’ to justice so as to demonstrate grace. Those times take a lot of wisdom. Again it’s about what is going on in our hearts and the hearts of those who have caused pain or wronged us.

Grace is one of the most powerful acts of kindness that there is. It is one of the most generous of gifts, for it will often choose mercy over justice. It chooses to lay down our ‘rights’ to show love to another and to allow them freedom from the guilt that blame attempts to place upon them. 

Grace always has more chance of bringing resolution than blame. This is because as we accept responsibility for our own failures first, it makes a way for reconciliation. 

People can learn from their mistakes and grow together. It then has the potential to open the way for a stronger relationship, which can be built on the firm foundations of humility and trust.

Blame burns bridges.
Grace builds bridges. 

I know I would rather be known as a bridge builder than a bridge burner.

How about you? 

“When you blame others you give up the power to change.” – Douglas Adams

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  • Are there areas of your life where you have been made bitter by blame? 
  • Do these areas bring peace or stress in your life? 
  • Can you recognise things that you need to take responsibility for before challenging someone else’s behaviour? 

This post is part of my ‘Breaking Free!’ series of posts.

Breaking Free! From Self Pity 

 “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” – Helen Keller (1880 – 1968)

(Helen Keller, although both deaf and blind became an author, political activist and lecturer.)

Do you ever have moments when you look at your life, your problems, your struggles and before you know it you feel so rubbish that you can hardly find the energy for anything?

Days or moments when you can only see what is wrong and struggle to see what is right?

I certainly do.

However, 

I am learning not to let these moments control me or to linger in my thoughts for too long. 

I am learning how to break free of them more quickly. 

Some days it is more of a battle than others.

But I have to fight, because I know that self pity will destroy us if we let it. 

When we feel sorry for ourselves we become consumed by our own problems. We cannot break free from the “if only you knew how hard it is for ME,” mentality.

We become consumed with ourselves. 

I am currently writing this post whilst lying flat, as I talked about in Surviving the Storm Eight months on. I have had a challenging few weeks with recurring CSF Leak symptoms which mean I have to lie flat for hours during the day to control them.

Over the past 2/3 weeks I have not been able to stay upright for as long as I did a couple of months ago.

And it is frustrating! 

There is only so much you can do lying flat! 

People have been asking me… ‘How are you doing?’ and I can’t lie. Things are a challenge at the moment.

That is my reality. 

Sometimes they then respond saying ‘that must make you feel down’. Thankfully this is not the case, but some days I do have to fight those feelings. I have to work at keeping the right perspective.

This is why I am writing this post. 

It’s currently 10am and I have been lying down since 9:30am (only having been upright for 2 hours). As I lay down I felt a wave of self pity begin to prod at me. I felt the ‘poor me’ begin to knock at my thoughts.

But as I felt this, as it fought for my attention, pulling me to listen to its complaints.

I decided I had to get free from it. 

How did I do that?
Well I am doing it now.
I am writing this post. 

I am speaking back to those thoughts trying to take control and saying;

Self pity you will not take me down. I refuse to be your victim. I refuse to be anyone’s victim. 

So today I invite you on my journey of dealing with my self pity.

In real time. 

In the exact moment it is happening. 

This is not theory, it is a practical lesson in breaking free from something that can break us – if it’s allowed to.

I don’t always get it right. I still struggle with self pity and selfishness, as we all do, but I am learning ways to stop it in its tracks.

Here is what I have learnt.

1. Remain Thankful 
Being thankful is the number one weapon that we can use to fight self pity.

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues. ~Cicero

I thank God for all the good parts of my life, how much better I am than at the beginning of the year & how much I can do. (I can write this post, for instance which I couldn’t do at first). I am thankful it wasn’t and isn’t worse than it is and that I have a great family and support network.

Whether or not you believe in God we can always learn how to become more thankful for life and it’s blessings.

2. Think about other people more
We can only get the focus off ourselves if we move it elsewhere. If we allow our eyes to be opened to the problems and needs of others it soon puts our problems into perspective as I wrote about last week.

Our mountain shrinks in size and becomes more of a hill in light of what some people face.

I have read of many people with CSF leaks who are in a much worse place than me. Compared to others my story has not been so bad. 

3. Hold onto hope. 
When hope is gone we feel like we have nothing to live for.
This is why depression is so destructive, because it strips us of our hope and of our energy for life. (I am so thankful to have not reached this desperation myself, but I have stood along side enough people struggling with it to understand the damage it causes and how difficult it is to get free from). 

How can we rediscover hope in the midst of hopelessness?

We have to battle through all the darkness & negativity to find that one beam of light. To find those encouraging words and thoughts and hold onto them.

We have to keep pressing through and believing we can come out the other side.

There is always hope to be found if we will seek and find it.

4. Changing the what ifs 
We have to choose to do away with the negative ‘what if’s’ about the future and focus on the positive ‘what if’s’. This doesn’t mean pretending or avoiding reality. We cannot live in denial. It just means choosing to see more of the positives rather than being blinded and consumed by the negatives that we cannot change.

5. Optimism vs pessimism

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller”

We can all learn to think more optimistically. Even if we are a ‘glass half empty’ person – we can change.

I know from my own life, I have moved from a more pessimistic to a more optimistic outlook over the years and it partly comes through retraining the way I think.

We don’t have to stay the way we are, we can learn practical disciplines which help change our thought processes.

6. Feed yourself with encouraging thoughts and words and get around encouraging people. 
For instance when you feel self pity knock at your door, whatever you do don’t sit dwelling on those thoughts.

Be careful about listening to sad songs or watching sad films that perpetuate the negative feelings.
Instead, you need to be encouraged. You need to find people and things that uplift you.

I keep a store of great bible verses and quotes in my phone for this purpose. So I can always find words to counteract negative feelings when they come. I also then have words for others when they need them.

Be intentional.

Store up encouragement for that rainy day. I really do believe that a few simple words can change your outlook for the whole day.

Self pity is always lurking round the corner in our lives. It calls us to listen to its complaints and excuses. But ultimately, it only leads to despair and destruction in our own lives and relationships with others. It amplifies our selfishness and drags us into dark ways of thinking.

We all need to take care of ourselves. We need to be real about the challenges we face. We need to ask for help when we need it.

However, 

It is possible to face the reality in front of us without letting it consume us. We can say to ourselves, ‘yes this is hard, it’s painful, it’s a struggle… BUT!!!! … Despite it all I still have so much to be thankful for’

That is the way to freedom.

“Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” Helen Keller


What practical things do you do to deal with self pity? It would be great to share your ideas with others. Please do comment below. 

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.

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

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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.


Breaking Free! From Discouragement

Do you ever feel discouraged?

I do
a lot.

Or at least a lot more than I should.

In fact, I started writing this post today because I began to feel discouraged. There was no particular reason, just more general feelings and thoughts which attempted to flood my mind and pull me into a discouraged place.

That might come as a surprise to a lot of people who know me personally, because I tend to be very positive and upbeat about life.

But I have a confession to make.

I battle with discouragement a lot.

I often find it creeping up on me, tapping away at my thoughts, attempting to get its claws into me.

A cloud that comes down and brings a foggyness to my outlook. Reminding me about all the obstacles, frustrations & challenges before me. It surrounds me and it’s difficult to break through.

It attacks my confidence, enthusiasm and identity. I can feel:
demoralised,
disappointed,
downhearted,
despondent.

It sucks away at the energy and life within me attempting to
kill my passion,
steal my joy &
plunder my peace.
Until I feel like I have no energy left to fight it anymore.

But I have learnt I have to fight it early on …. Regardless!

I can’t let it win. I have to break free from discouragement and it’s hold over me before it pulls me into a darker place that I will struggle to get free from.

I have to daily ‘take on’ the thoughts of discouragement and choose to see with more hope and faith. Some days that battle is harder than others, however, it is necessary to see life more positively.

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WHAT DISCOURAGES US?

There are lots of different things and each one of us is affected by it in different ways.
Perhaps someone let you down, broke your trust, walked away.
Maybe your job or school work is harder than you expected and you are not making the progress you wanted.
Perhaps marriage and having children hasn’t been the experience you dreamt of.
Maybe life just seems to be hard and you are struggling to muster up the strength to continue each day.
Perhaps your plans and dreams haven’t worked out, things have gone wrong and you can’t see a way forward.

Discouragement knocks at your door and it’s hard to resist the flood of negative thoughts it brings with it telling you:

You are a failure
A nobody
You are not going to make it
You are not good enough
What you do is not enough
Why not give up
No one cares
You will just get hurt
Why do you bother
Things are never going to get any better.

All this is just too hard!
Life is just too hard!

But

We can’t let discouragement win!

I believe that discouragement is one of the biggest struggles that leaders, in particular, have to overcome. Until you become a leader, in any setting, you have no idea how hard it is.

You have to find the energy and passion to keep going yourself, plus a load extra to carry everyone else with you. It’s hard. There are a lot of responsibilities & commitments, that you have to shoulder. When everyone else drops out you have to stay standing strong and do it alone if necessary.

It’s in this area that I probably face the most discouragement.

To be a leader you have to have vision. This means that you are constantly seeing what ‘could be.’ Discouragement often takes hold when the ‘could be’ seems miles away from the current reality and the progress you are making seems so slow.

Every leader has days when they feel discouraged, wish they could throw in the towel and ignore their responsibilities. Discouragement comes knocking and it takes all your might to keep the flood gates closed.

This is why we should think about how we can encourage leaders.
Trust me, they need it!


Discouragement often takes hold when the ‘could be’ seems miles away from the current reality and the progress you are making seems so slow.


HOW CAN WE DEAL WITH DISCOURAGING THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS?

We have to fight discouragment. We have to push through it.

Discouraged people discourage people.

Negativity spreads like wild fire.

When people are discouraged it spreads. It takes a lot of courage and strength to break through an atmosphere of discouragement and refuse to be part of letting it spread. But it is the only way to stop it in its tracks.


Discouraged people discourage people.


Rick Warren wrote about discouragement:

“Fight back! Discouragement is a choice. If you feel discouraged, it’s because you’ve chosen to feel that way… Hang on! Do what’s right in spite of your feelings. No feeling lasts forever.”

Some people don’t like hearing that our feelings can be a choice. It means we have to accept more responsibility for what we feel, think and how we behave.

But I believe we have a lot more control over our emotions than we might think. I am not talking about hiding them or pretending they are not there, that isn’t healthy. I am talking about learning to not be ruled or defined by them.

Emotions and feelings usually begin with thoughts. We cannot necessarily control the initial thoughts that come into our head but we can choose whether we dwell on them or not, whether to let them draw us into a negative mindset. Which is something I spoke about in Breaking Free! From Worry.

When thoughts of discouragement enter my mind if I do not stop them in their tracks they have the potential to snowball and pull in other thoughts until my perspective becomes overwhelmed and I feel rubbish about everything.

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HOW CAN I FIGHT DISCOURAGEMENT?

Be honest with myself.
Trying to ignore discouragement often makes it worse. It can pull us into the dangerous place of pretending and you can only pretend for so long before the reality comes crashing down upon you.

I realise I can’t do it alone.
I am personally grateful for the inner strength that comes from my relationship with God. I talk to him. I listen to his still small voice encouraging me, renewing my strength and vision.

I speak to someone I trust and I know will encourage me.
My husband Matt is great at that. Or a close friend can help. Someone I know who will help me to see with a more positive perspective.

I read words that will help me.
From the bible, good books, articles, or the hundreds of inspiring quotes I store in my phone.

I try to remember everything that I can be thankful for.
Even when other things are going wrong around me.

I look for opportunities to encourage someone else. 
Sometimes getting the focus off me and my problems, being aware of other people’s challenges and choosing to encourage them, helps me to break through my own discouragment.

It can take a lot of courage to choose to be hopeful in the face of discouragement. To keep trusting and believing even when things are a struggle.

But it’s the only way. Despair is not an option.

In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous not discouraged and afraid, so that he can lead the people.
In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua at the start of his leadership journey.

It starts with a choice.

Choose to be encouraged. Learn how to encourage yourself and let others encourage you.

You can then become an encourager rather than a discourager to other people and help to turn the tide away from a culture of criticism and negativity.

There is always something good going on around you that you can celebrate.

We just have to choose to see it. 


I would love to hear what you think:

Do you struggle with discouragement?
What do you do to deal with it?

There are lots of things we can do to fight against discouragement. Carey Nieuwhof gives some good advice in this blog post.

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

Breaking Free! From Worry

I saw the words below on Twitter recently and they really got me thinking about what happens in our heads when we worry about something.


“Worry is a misuse of imagination.” -Dan Zadra


Just think about that for a moment…

WHAT GOES ON IN OUR THOUGHTS WHEN WE START TO WORRY?
HOW IS OUR IMAGINATION INVOLVED IN WORRY? 

When we worry our mind runs through lots of scenarios.
We imagine potential outcomes.
We picture things that could happen.
We see things that might go wrong.


Worry draws us towards the worst case scenarios. Our thoughts become irrational. Our imaginations can take us to dark places.


For instance, your spouse, partner, child or parent is travelling home from somewhere, they are late and not answering their phone. After a while you will probably begin to think:

Why are they late?
What has happened?

Which is very rational.

However, soon if we are not careful, worry begins to set in, our imagination is let loose and we start a thought process that can go something like this ….

What if there has been an accident?
What if it was a bad accident?
What if they are hurt?
What if they are badly injured?
What if they died?
How would I cope?
How would the family cope?

Before you know it, you are flooded with strong emotions anticipating and imagining what might be. You feel;

Worried
Anxious
On edge
Scared
Stressed
Overwhelmed
Unable to think straight
Unable to focus

Rationality flies out the window and is replaced by a jumbled mind that cannot seem to help but imagine the worst.

You lose control over your thoughts.
You lose any sense of peace or calm.

I have been there myself many times. It can creep up on you slowly, before you even realise it has taken hold.

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Or perhaps you have a strange and unexplainable symptom in your body so you ‘Google it’. Before you know it, you have diagnosed yourself with some of the worst diseases out there.

This happened to a lady in a bed near me when I was recently in hospital. She Googled her symptoms and found a shocking diagnosis. She asked the Doctor about it and unfortunately he didn’t really give a definitive reply. Somehow the lady took that to mean that this worst case scenario was a real possibility, or even probability, and before you knew it she was on the phone to friends and family, totally distressed, telling them how bad this illness could be and might get.

Unfortunately in hospital there is little privacy so you can hear everything that is going on.

This poor lady spent all day reading up on this condition, allowed her imagination to run wild with it and obviously ended up totally distraught for most of the day. At one point I heard her say to her husband, in floods of tears, ‘if it gets as bad as it says here (on the internet) I think I would just kill myself’.

It really did sound awful.

The next day it turned out her tests were normal and they couldn’t find anything wrong. She asked the Consultant if it could still be the diagnosis she had found on Google and they said none of the tests showed that or anything else out of the ordinary.

A lesson in being careful what you feed your imagination with.

Worry takes over our thoughts. Before we know it, our body and mind are filled with so much anxiety and fear that we can’t think straight and can start to feel physically ill.

However.

Most of the time we soon discover that worry was totally unnecessary. We put ourselves through torture and nothing came of it.

It all turned out to be OK in the end. 

That person walked through the door telling us that they only got stuck in heavy traffic or we discover that our self diagnosis was way off the mark. Our worry again wasted time, energy and head space.

BUT SOMETIMES THE WORST CASE SCENARIO DOES COME TRUE – WHAT THEN?

Yes, sometimes bad things do happen and in those moments we can think that our worries were justified. That they perhaps prepared us for what was to come. And yet;

Did the worry before hand actually make dealing with the crisis easier?

Often it doesn’t.

Instead it actually wears us out before the real crisis hits. When you let your imagination loose on that potential scenario before hand, you can fall apart just thinking about it. But when things actually do go very wrong you usually somehow find you do have the strength to deal with it.

That’s because when you do face the real crisis you have no choice but to get on with it. You have to find that strength to get through.

Breaking free from Worry quote copy
Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, with her family, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. In the end she was imprisoned for it.

 We only have today’s strength today!


Worry tries to get you to focus on yesterday, today and tomorrow all at the same time. Which is why we end up feeling so overwhelmed!

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭34‬ – The Bible)

SO HOW IS WORRY A ‘MISUSE’ OF THE IMAGINATION?

That word ‘misuse’ can almost sounds a little harsh. Is not worrying a natural part of life? Some of us are just ‘born worriers’…

Aren’t we?

Yes I believe many of us do have a natural tendency to worry and negative thinking. I know that from my own life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change that. If I understand that my imagination plays a key role in how worried and anxious I get, I realise that to find more freedom I have to look at my thought processes and think through how I feed my imagination.

I have to change the way I think.

BUT HOW DO WE REALLY CHANGE HOW WE THINK?
HOW DO WE TAKE CONTROL OF OUR IMAGINATION?

The starting point is becoming more aware of our own thought processes. For instance, if I start to allow my imagination to focus on;
worry,
fear &
negativity,
it will lead me to a dark place and I will then find I do not have room to;
create,
envision &
conceive
new ideas or best case scenarios.


Worry hampers our perspective and creativity.


We all have the ability to create. Being creative isn’t just about being artistic or musical. It’s also about;
vision,
ideas,
making things happen,
thinking outside the box,
solving problems,
offering solutions,
connecting,
exploring.

Creativity is vital to our growth.

But.

If my imagination is full of worry and negative scenarios it takes up lots of my mental capacity and energy that can be used for positive creativity.


Worry robs us of our positive creative energy.


The only way to change this is;
Track our thoughts back to their root.
Look at what feeds our imaginations.
Then retrain our thinking processes.

We can ask ourselves; Do I feed my imagination with good things? With people, words and things that inspire and encourage me to explore, dream, discover, create and build?

Or do I allow my imagination to be fed by dark and negative things? Which causes it to run away from me into worst case scenarios, dark thoughts and hopeless mindsets?

It comes down to choice, and good choices are the pathway to freedom. Freedom in our imaginations doesn’t come instantly, it’s a process, but if we choose it, we can learn mental & spiritual disciplines to encourage it.

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I don’t know about you, but I want to use my imagination for good.

To create new things.
Find solutions to problems.
Dream dreams and see with vision.
Think differently and find new ways to do things.
Have faith and see with a healthy and optimistic perspective.
Creatively connect with those around me.
Encourage others and be part of changing lives.

That is what our imagination was built for and that’s what it needs room for. Our imaginations are a gift that need to be set free to see with new eyes, dream, create and spread great ideas.

How do you use your imagination? Could you use it more effectively?


Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. – Corrie Ten Boom


Let me know what you think, I very much welcome any comments below. This post is part of my .Breaking Free. series of blog posts. If you liked this post then maybe take a look at these which so far include: