Tag Archives: spinal injury

Facing Disappointment After Disappointment But Pressing On Regardless…

“True hope is honest. It allows a person to believe that even when she falls down and the worst has happened, still she has not reached the end of the road. She can stand up and continue.” – Philip Yancey

I’ve now been on the roller coaster of chronic illness and pain (with a spinal CSF Leak) for nearly 2 1/2 years. During that time I have been almost fully bed bound for months at a time, then for many other months I have been able to live a part normal life where I can be upright enough hours to get the basics done at least.

I have not had one day feeling fully well for those 2 1/2 years.

It’s been tough!

I can hardly remember what it feels like to feel healthy or live normally. To be able to make plans trusting I can go through with them. To not be on this daily treadmill of dealing with the multitude of restrictions and limitations. Whilst simultaneously having to be extremely patient, letting go of what I can’t change and trying my best to stay thankful for all the good parts of life too.

Following about a year of slightly more manageable symptoms. Last week I tripped and fell flat onto the pavement, and within 24 hours of that fall it became obvious that the very minor accident had caused a complete relapse of my CSF Leak symptoms, leaving me again stuck in bed/ lying fully flat for over 22 hours a day.

And it’s honestly so disappointing.
Going backwards again instead of forwards.
To again be struck by the full force of this cruel condition.

The roller coaster is exhausting. It can take months and months to see any improvement in this condition then in one moment, in one misplaced step….

BOOM!

I am back to where I started.

And it is honestly wearing me out!

These are the words I wrote a day after the new fall, as it became clear that I was facing another big symptom relapse….

Every time I face a setback my heart sinks.
Every time I get worse again, I remember how good I had it last week when I was slightly better.
Every time I want to give up, I know I can’t, I have no choice but to keep on going.
Every time I want to sob and sob, to let it all out, but soon realise I shouldn’t because it will only make my symptoms worse.
Every time I picture the life I can’t live and have to let it go again.
Every time I hope for better days but worse days come instead.
Every time it tortures my motherhood that I can’t be the Mum I want to be.
Every time I can’t help my husband look after our home or do everything I want to for and with my children.
Every time my body rebels and forces me to have get flat again before it completely shuts down.

Every day I have to pick myself up, dust myself down and choose to keep on fighting another day.

Sometimes I get weary.
Sometimes it feels like I have nothing left to give.
Sometimes I wonder if I am really strong enough.

But what else can I do but get up and keep on going? Hoping and believing that one day things will again be better than they are now. And that I will one day be able to access the medical care I need to help me get better.

That is what I wrote last weekend as I faced the consequences and hard reality of that fall. They were the feelings and thoughts that bombarded me last week. They were the things I had to face but then let go of.

It’s really not easy to be back here again!

“Pain is no evil, unless it conquers us.” – Charles Kingsley

And yet something is different this time. Those thoughts and feelings didn’t plague me for as long. I have realised that within me I have reached a place of deeper freedom. The journey I have been on for over 2 years has taught me so much and made me so much stronger, whilst simultaneously being more aware of my weakness.

As the condition has beaten me down yet again, I have felt a deeper resilience rise up from the inside – despite it all. A deeper peace to keep on letting go.

I almost feel a shout within me of ‘come on then, bring it on!’
A battle cry that I will not give in, I will still keep living here.
An act of throwing off the burdens and obstacles coming against me.
A determination to make the best of things that I can.

So that is what I am choosing to do. However long this cruel condition keeps knocking me flat. However much it tries to mould my life around its limited perspective. However much it tries to feed me with despair and taunt me with the life I could be living.
However much it tries to bind me up in it’s web of disability, restrictions and chronic pain.

I have to decide that I will not let it rob me of who I really am and who I am really meant to be.

If being Becky Hill means working with this rather than wearing myself out trying to constantly fight it, then I must work with it for as long as I have to. Looking for the opportunities, rather than focusing on the limitations, seeing the beauty still around me, even in those moments it feels unbelievably hard. Because….

  • if I cannot live here, then how can I ever ask anyone else to live through their own very challenging season either?
  • if I cannot find a life amidst all the restrictions, then how can I teach my children to do the same?
  • if I give up the fight then how can I encourage and draw out resilience in others?
  • if I cannot find joy in the midst of suffering then does my spirituality mean anything to me?
  • if I cannot love deeply and see outside of my self, even where there is pain, have I even found true love at all?

So seeing as I have relapsed again as we head into summer, we made our own declaration to this debilitating condition. We brought a garden sun bed that goes completely flat so that if I have to spend my days lying flat, I can do that outside as well. Amidst the garden, the sun, the natural world, the cool breeze and the birds singing their wonderful distinctive songs.

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So I will play card games with my family outside whilst lying flat, I will keep sharing my heart with my husband, I will ask my kids all about their days. I will continue to write, I will read books that inspire me, I will try to connect with and encourage others with my words. I will listen, learn, grow and change. I will enjoy the presence of God and allow Him to touch and change me from deep in my soul.

This condition has and will change me, that is inevitable. But I am determined for it to be only for the better. Because I will not let my spinal CSF leak completely devastate mine and my families life. I will not let negativity overshadow our love for one another. I will not let it steal my peace, love and joy. I will not let it take me down and pull me into the never ending pit of despair.

Instead I will rise up from deep within and find a way to live with all the restrictions, to enjoy the simplicity of life, to appreciate everything I do have and can do, and love everyone I can with all my heart.

“Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional!” – Andre Olivier

So it’s true: last week I tripped, fell and relapsed yet again. But last week I also chose a better way forward. I cried, I faced the pain and loss, I recognised the challenges ahead. I am not in denial, I am more aware than ever about how difficult this will be. There is never a simple way forward in this relentless CSF Leak game.

But after falling I had to get up again. I had to choose to live my life with even more determination and resolve. I had to make a decision…. to not give this condition permission to destroy my life.

Instead I must use it to build more resilience, increase my compassion and help me feel another’s pain. Use it to embrace time to write, read, learn and inspire. To declare that we can still have a life even when so much is stolen. We can still have purpose even when we are mainly stuck in bed.

So let me learn to endure this trial for as long as I have to. Let me find a way to tell another …. ‘yes this really is so so tough – but it can be done, we can find ways to live life like this.’ So let me choose to let go of the life I thought I should live and embrace the life I am currently living and give all I’ve got to truly living here.

Let my heart be moved and my mind be transformed until – rather than complaining – I can sing a new song of thankfulness and joy. Rather than focusing on all that’s lost, I will see all that can be gained. Rather than pulling others into my despair with me, I can choose to love and encourage others even in the midst of my and their pain.

It’s then that purpose can still be found in suffering. It might not be the purpose we envisioned for our life, or the path we would have chosen for ourselves or our family. But this is the life we currently have. So with a deeper resolve and a new patient resilience I will declare that I am finding a way to do this. We, as a family are finding a way to do this.

For as long as this journey takes.

I may not be able to do much. But I still have my work-in-progress story that is being written. It’s taken me on a tangent I never envisioned or imagined. But it’s still my story. Although I cannot control every part of my story I am the greatest contributor to the style in which it is being written, formed and shared.

So let me write the best story I can. The real story. A story of strength in weakness and love conquering all. So I can keep encouraging you to keep writing your best story too.

“Our story is what we have to offer the world…. I wish I had a different story than the one I just lived through, but I am so grateful for the story that has made me who I am today. Even the pain. Even the wounds. The sadness was real. The brokenness deep. The scars mine. It’s my story. It’s who I am. It’s how I’m becoming.” – Erwin McManus (The Artisan Soul).

This is my story!

It’s my story of who I am. It’s my story of who I am becoming. But it’s definitely a work-in-progress. I wonder how the book of my life will unfold? I wonder what it will all become in the end?


To read more about my 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.

Grappling with the ‘Shame’ of Having a Rare Invisible illness

“Shame is a soul eating emotion.” – C.G Jung

In 2016, over a period of a few months, I came to realise how much shame I was carrying because I was still unwell, over 20 months, after a ladder fall left me with a debilitating spinal fluid (CSF) leak, somewhere in my spine. I write more about that journey of learning about shame and the devastation it can bring in this post ‘The Shame of Chronic Illness and Pain.

It was a journey of realisation and revelation following researching and contemplating what SHAME actually is and how damaging it can be in our lives. I was inspired to think about shame following reading Brene Brown’s book ”Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead.’ The book encourages us to find the courage to be honest and vulnerable about who we REALLY are. It also talks a lot about shame and how destructive it can be in our lives and relationships.

“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

Reading the above words inspired me to write publicly about my realisation that I was carrying a lot of shame about the fact I was STILL very unwell. This had been made so much worse by the many battles to get properly diagnosed and then treated. Which many who have rare illnesses/ diseases can face. That includes many of us suffering from CSF leaks whether caused by an accident, purely spontaneous, from a labour epidural, C-Section spinal, a lumbar puncture or other medical procedures such as spinal surgery.

Many of us have faced doctors who have disbelieved us, or at least, disbelieved how bad our symptoms and pain are. We have been on a journey of misdiagnosis and seeing various different medical professionals, until finally finding doctors who understand and can help us. (When you do finally find those doctors they are valued, appreciated and loved more than they will ever know.)

And it’s simply because many doctors do not know much about CSF leaks. In the end, when we do get diagnosed, we are often told how ‘RARE’ we are. Although recently, it is becoming clearer that we are not actually as rare as people once thought – just commonly misdiagnosed, or even ignored, in the past.

Fighting to be heard when you are so very unwell is utterly exhausting and often completely overwhelming. Fighting your case when you are healthy is hard enough. But fighting when you are sick can be an utterly demoralising, shame filled, journey that can leave you with a potentially deeply dark despair. Especially when you are no longer confident that ANY Doctor will really listen and learn, what they need to, to help you.

Shame is that feeling of ‘I am not enough’ or ‘I am not good enough’. You can feel like a failure – not necessarily because of something you have done wrong, but because of who you are, or because of the circumstances you find yourself in, often due to no fault of your own. Sometimes simply because you have a medical condition, or something in your life, that most people just do not, or even refuse, to understand. You feel embarrassed, ashamed and humiliated and can then wonder if there is something really wrong with you as a WHOLE person. You think ‘perhaps I am just not ‘good enough’ or ‘strong enough‘ to do this, why can’t I ‘be and do better’ than I am doing… why do they not understand and listen?’

…. and SHAME begins to relentlessly and often unknowingly eat away at you!

Shame really messes with your mind and emotions and brings a whole spectrum of reactions from – hiding away from other people and getting lost in your own failures and problems – at one end – to getting angry, blaming others and lashing out, for the feelings you have – at the other. And often then trying to cover up your shame by pretending and putting up a front – in between it all. Sometimes we deflect the shame by blaming someone else. But often the fact is, whether or not someone else has directly or indirectly added to or even caused your shame, the soul destroying emotion of shame is still owned by us and we are the ONLY ones who can truly face it and deal with it.

Whilst we simply blame others for it, we won’t be able to get free.

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I really do believe many chronically ill people, particularly those with a rare condition or invisible illness, can carry a lot of SHAME from their difficult journey to be heard, supported and helped.

Shame…… that we are ill in the first place and can’t ‘overcome it’. Like other people can with ‘normal’ or less severe illness, and sometimes even more severe cases that can be more easily fixed or treated.

Shame…… when you know the doctors AND even sometimes members of your own family and friends are wondering if it’s ALL or at least PARTIALLY ‘in your head’. When the reality is your body is not actually functioning anything like how it should.

Shame….. that however much you try to engage with life, and ‘push through the pain’, you are still so exhausted by it. It daily feels like you are running a marathon after being whacked round the back of your head with a baseball bat. But you are also very conscious that you do not want to keep sounding like you are complaining and being negative. So you try to smile and chat ….so in reality many people often do not know or really understand how unwell you actually are. Until you have to leave and retreat due to the immense pain and inability to cope with the trauma in your head and body, so as to HAVE to get back to relief of lying flat again.

Shame…. that even when you ‘look well’ in reality nothing has really changed since last month when you ‘looked well’ for those couple of hours, or so, you managed to be ‘upright’ and out, or with others at home (even though in reality most of that time your body was actually screaming at you to get flat again so your brain could get back into its right position in your skull).

Shame….. when tests and scans come back negative and do not correspond with how severe your symptoms are. So you lack the clear, non subjective, medical evidence you need to ‘PROVE’ to others how unwell you are. (Although even having evidence does not necessarily always help and does not always correspond with how bad your symptoms are anyway).

Shame.… when someone asks you how the ‘headache’ is and you really want to scream at them “it’s not just a headache!!! Please stop just calling it ‘a headache’!! It’s a complex and debilitating set of neurological symptoms, pain and a feeling of trauma throughout your whole body which gets increasingly worse when I am upright until I cannot cope anymore.”…. But you instead calmly reply ‘yes, it’s still there!!’ (And has been for over two years …. every day…. most of the day…..when I am actually able to be upright).

Shame.… for the daily feeling that your life is currently so ‘small and insignificant’ because you can’t DO very much anymore. So you no longer feel like a fully functioning member of society. And can’t even fathom what a day with no pain and symptoms feels like any more.

Shame…. that you have to spend so much time in bed, because with spinal CSF leaks the only time you feel fully well is lying FLAT IN BED. (But it’s out of necessity – NOT a relaxing lie in… at times my bed can feel more like a prison than a retreat).

And the shame can pile up….

….shame….
upon shame.….
upon shame …… upon shame!!!

After every new appointment, after seeing ANOTHER doctor who doesn’t understand, after every test that comes back clear, after every social event you have to miss, after every month you can no longer work.

…and after…

Every person you have to tell every day, every week, every month, every year that you are STILL not well and there is still no clear end in sight!

Shame quote copy

I found so much freedom from that shame over the last year. But sometimes something new brings it back to the surface. It creeps back up on me again and attempts to sink it’s toxic claws into my thinking and emotions. I then realise I still have some underlying shame there …. or at least it’s destructive sticky residue is lingering and refusing to leave.

So as Brene Brown advises, I am again choosing to speak it out in this new post. And to say to others – “I feel your shame too, I feel the exhaustion of the fight, I feel the anguish that the nightmare seems to never end and the chaos it’s brought in your family and relationships.”

Every time I read about another suffering soul facing ANOTHER exhausting battle to be heard – I feel that despair with you!! I have been there, I have walked, and still walk, that never ending road of endurance. An endurance you are not always sure you will still have the strength for tomorrow.

A road I did not choose myself, but wake up to every morning – with no other option than to get up and face another unbelievably exhausting day of trying to LIVE LIFE with relentless debilitating  neurological pain and stiffness (head and spine), brain fog, mental and cognitive fatigue and impairment, body and limb weakness, vision issues, tremor, shaking and much much more. And have to dig deep daily to CHOOSE calmness, kindness, thankfulness, love and hope DESPITE it all!

Which is not easy!! 

I have also known the darkest of nights when you convince yourself that escaping life itself must be better than living it like this…. and then ALSO then felt the shame of being the one who ‘couldn’t cope anymore’ and was now mentally unwell too. The one who couldn’t endure how she hoped she might. The one who fell apart when she reached the end of herself after a year of health battles and disappointments.

And that is why I know, although I am only one voice, I am one voice speaking for many!! Speaking up is ONE of the things I can still do. So I hope as I say it this way – we can also become many voices united as one.

To remind people (especially doubting medical professionals and doubting family and friends) that until you have walked our path and we have walked yours – we have no REAL idea how hard the other person’s journey has really been and is.

So please don’t assume you know! And we will try our best to do the same for you!

Just because my case is ‘unusual’ and you don’t understand it. Just because my physical condition pushed me over the edge mentally. It doesn’t mean that it is mainly psychological and that I do not have a complex medical condition that leaves my body utterly debilitated. If you lived in MY body for a day – you would soon find that I do not have a simple ‘headache’ like the headaches you have probably known that go away with a couple of pills or a good nights sleep!! 

We just ask that you PLEASE listen and allow your mind to be opened, rather than try and force us into the boxes of your limited understanding and experience. I do not expect you to know what you don’t know. But I would appreciate it, if you could just listen and try to understand, and humbly realise that you perhaps do not know as much as you think you do about what is wrong with MY body.

Because….

Until you have watched your health being ruthlessly stolen from you overnight – with no clear assurance of getting it back any time soon. Until you have known the agony of mis-diagnosis and constant questioning from medical professionals unsure of what to do with you, in part, due to a lack of knowledge about your ‘rare’ invisible condition and subjective pain scales. Or worse – until you yourself have faced being ‘interrogated’ by disbelieving, and defensive, medical professionals who think they know – what in reality they obviously don’t. (We are so very very grateful to those who acknowledge what they don’t know and do choose to listen and learn with true humility regardless.)

You do not really know what it is like!

But when you do ‘get it’ or at least try to, then you are welcomed into a new family of others who do KNOW! Who have lived through the devastation of a rare debilitating invisible illness and walked a similar path either personally or alongside their loved ones, close friends or with many of their patients.

When your eyes, ears and hearts are opened and you meet others who have faced a similar pain and carried a similar shame – you know you are not alone! It gives you more fuel for the fight because the battle is no longer JUST YOURS. You are ALSO fighting on behalf of the MANY. Those walking with you AND those coming behind you.

So today I again choose to throw off my shame by SPEAKING IT OUT – so that I can take another’s hand. And say…. “yes this journey is so very tough…. yes the battle often seems relentless….yes we can’t be sure what the future will bring… and yes you will often wonder how you will ever endure the never ending storm.”

But we can fight TOGETHER!!

Some days I struggle to find the strength to fight for just ‘me’! But it’s then I must remember – it’s not just me I fight for!! I fight for you, your family member or loved one. I fight for the person, family member and loved one who will come behind me.

I fight with, and for, all those who know the relentless exhaustion of battling a rare or chronic invisible illness and pain.

WE also fight with, and for those of you, facing any challenge in life that feels beyond you at the moment. Because WE know what it is to have to choose to keep on going, and keep on living, when some days WE just really want to give up and escape it all.

So will you join our fight of many TOGETHER?

Because it’s then… That I find I can dig EVEN deeper. Deeper than I have ever gone before. To find the strength to endure OUR storm TOGETHER!

Because this life shouldn’t just be ALL about ME and MY struggles and pain. It’s about US finding a way to navigate through and endure the ups and downs of life together – as equal broken specimens of humanity. So that on the days I feel like I am falling back into a pit of despair, when EVERY part of my debilitated body screams at me to give up the fight. I know there is someone else who can reach down and grab my hand as I start to fall – offering empathy, love, compassion and strength – whilst also helping to pull me back up to face another day. Then tomorrow it might be my day to reach down to you, as you fall, and help pull you back up to face another day too.

And that way we will break away from the shame that tries to chain us up! AND dig deep to ENDURE the tough times TOGETHER!

Life is ALWAYS better when we face it TOGETHER!

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. ….. A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” – The Bible (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10,12)


Do you feel that shame? We all carry shame in some form. Please do comment below – if we can speak it out then perhaps TOGETHER we can beat it!

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.

‘Why Me?’ The Soul Destroying Question

We all know that life is full of good and hard times. All of us have experienced wonderful moments and very difficult seasons.

Why is it that we rarely ask the question ‘why me?’ for the good parts of life. I rarely think about why I was so privileged to be born into a middle class British family, rather than to a young prostitute, in abject poverty, in the slums of Mumbai. Or why I got to be born healthy with all my body parts as they should be, unlike others who were born disabled.

Yet when hardship and tragedy strikes, these questions often come into our heads and take room in our thoughts.

Why me?
Why us?
Why this?
Why now?

For you, it might be a question asked in your own mind that you simply send out into the unknown. A question that asks why are we all here and what is this life about anyway.

Perhaps it’s a scream from inside stemming from comparison. Why did this happen to me and not them? It’s not fair! I am a better person than them and do more to help others and yet they are fine and I am stuck with this.

Or for those of us who know God, it can be a cry from deep within us – why did this have to happen? I don’t understand! Why should I have to suffer like this? Why should anyone have to suffer? Is it not within God’s power to prevent this? I thought he was supposed to be good!

The questions cause us to have to consider our life, beliefs, perspective and the world more deeply. They can draw us into impossible and exhausting mental gymnastics as we try and work out the intricacies of predestination, fate, acts of good or evil and whether things in life do all happen for a reason, or are purely a random set of circumstances.

But I have learnt the ‘why me’ questions don’t get me anywhere. And they naturally lead to the ‘why not me’ anyway. It’s then just a never-ending cycle of questions that wears us out.

I still believe in and love God deeply. But my accident and ongoing debilitating CSF leak/ Low Pressure Syndrome have naturally raised questions linked to my faith. This has, at times, been a difficult journey of wrestling with the unknowns and uncertainties, considering different answers and perspectives, learning new things, but then ultimately letting go of the need to know and accepting where I am at today.

In the end what has happened, has happened.
We cannot change the past – all we can do is learn from it and move forward.
Whatever that moving forward may look like.

There is undeniably pain and suffering in the world. Whatever you believe, you cannot deny that fact. So perhaps the question should not so much be;

Why is this happening?

Which we can never completely answer and can rarely control – unless our problems are self inflicted and/ or could be self resolved.

But instead perhaps we need to change the question to focus on;

What can I DO with my suffering?

It shifts the focus from getting lost in the complexities of unanswerable questions and things we cannot currently change and puts the focus back onto what we do have more control over.

Our RESPONSE to suffering.

Can I still find meaning and purpose here?

“Suffering can be what economists call a “frozen asset.” It may not look remotely like an asset at the time, but gradually we can find meaning in it, an enduring meaning that will help to transform the pain.” – Philip Yancey

Continue reading ‘Why Me?’ The Soul Destroying Question

Choosing To Let Go…

“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now.” – Elisabeth Elliot

That is the lesson I am trying to live out every day at the moment. To embrace each day as a gift. I am who I am and can only do what I can do in this moment.

If I am always waiting till tomorrow, I will not fully embrace today.

I have been unwell for 2 years from a spinal CSF leak. Every day of that 2 years I have felt unwell. Some days more than others. But each day is full of challenge.

I never imagined how hard it is to live like this. How deep you have to keep digging to stay sane. It is definitely one of those things you can only fully understand once you have experienced it.

It’s tough.
Every day is a battle of sorts.
Some days we have to fight harder than others.
Persevering can just be so very exhausting.
There are moments it’s hard to muster up the strength to face the new day.

But what choice do we have other than to keep on taking hold of each new day and finding the opportunities here?

Some days are exhausting.
Others go that bit more smoothly.
Some are just plain tough.
Others have such beautiful moments within them.

But whatever the day brings I have to keep on walking forwards. Placing one foot in front of the other. Accepting the limitations whilst refusing to let them take me over.


If I am always waiting till tomorrow, I will not fully embrace today.


A big lesson I have had to learn is the ability to LET GO. Everyone reaches a stage on their journey with chronic illness or any other long term trial in life where you have to accept your current reality, let go of your old ‘normal’ life and choose to make the most of your life and what it looks like HERE today.

We can still hope for a better future, but not at the expense of living today.

Letting go is not an easy process. It’s a bit like grief – you can go through various stages to reach that point of acceptance. It is often painful. It’s choosing to say goodbye to who you once were and accepting the reality of who you are now. Not knowing when and if things will improve.

It’s the day you decide that you have to keep living within the uncertainties, the limbo and make the most of the reality in front of you now.

It’s choosing to keep going whatever barriers are thrown up before you. To get up when you fall down and to gather up the pieces when you feel broken again and again. To choose to keep on living.

It’s a letting go of the old to discover and embrace the new.

My faith helps a lot with the process of letting go. Over the years I have learnt the daily discipline of surrender, of saying to God – I am letting go of my life and future, please take control because I can’t do this alone. It is allowing His love to be my strength in weakness, my peace in the midst of the storm and allowing my struggles to develop in me more compassion and love towards those around me.

This process helps to keep my heart tender towards others rather than my heart becoming increasingly hard. It’s about keeping my perspective right so that negativity, bitterness or blame don’t take root and destroy me. A daily reminder to keep believing that good and positive things can come out of times of pain. A decision to look outside of myself each day to see what what I can still do here. To remember that there are plenty of others walking a similar or even more difficult journey than me. People I can encourage and walk alongside. Taking hold of new opportunities even within the difficulties.

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There is a freedom that comes in letting go of the things we can’t change and choosing to take control of the things we can.

So each day I have to choose to let go of yesterday and the unknowns of tomorrow. I have to see what I can do today and embrace it. Not comparing it to what I used to be able to do or what others around me can do. If I look around me I will often see those who continue in their ‘normal lives’, and I can forget the many for whom – like me – their old normal is becoming a distant memory. The ones that choose to stand up, amidst the pain, to face another day and to craft out a new normal.

A normal that although perhaps tainted by brokenness, cracks and wounds that might still feel quite raw, has the potential to be even more beautiful that what went before. Because we now know how to just about weather the never ending storm and LET GO in the midst of it. To craft out new meaning and purpose that has to go so much deeper than ever before.

We have to fix our eyes on our own path whilst doing what we can to help, support and walk alongside others as well. We can walk our unique paths – with others – whilst not getting distracted or fixated on the differences between us. Instead we can choose to support one another and learn from what is similar and what is different. Celebrating the good times and weeping over the hard times together.

One thing this journey has taught me is that..

  • once you know what it feels like to reach the utter end of yourself
  • once you have felt the pain of wanting to give up and escape this life and it’s seemingly never ending battles
  • when you have watched your life be thrown up in the air and fall into pieces on the floor around you

…your heart becomes more tender to feel others pain too.

You can then reach out to another and together you can find a way to LET GO in the midst of the storm. We can embrace who we can be and what we can do today rather than always waiting for the storm to clear.

So each day I will do the best I can to embrace the here and now regardless of the unknowns, uncertainties and future battles. With the resolve to be the best and do the best I can in the midst of all the limitations.

And just let go of the rest.

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time…”
– Reinhold Niebuhr

To read more about my 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.

You don’t focus on what you DON’T have you celebrate what you DO

Yesterday I watched a deeply moving and beautifully filmed advert (yes an advert!) for an American energy drink of all things. 

Adverts have certainly changed over the years. 

It’s about a top ladies basketball player from the U.S.A  called Elena Delle Donne and the intense bond that she has with her special needs sister who cannot see or hear and has various other health issues and learning difficulties. 

It is such a beautiful and moving film showing how they deeply communicate and bond through touch and other senses. 

The basketball player speaks about how the simplicity of feeling the wind against your face becomes something so profoundly beautiful when you imagine not being able to see or hear. 

It fills her sister with “pure joy.”

But there was one line in particular which touched me deeply. It spoke to me so loudly and grounded me in this difficult season I am in. 

“You don’t focus on what you don’t have, you celebrate what you do!”

Wow! 

How often do we forgot this profound yet simple truth? 

How often do we focus on everything that is wrong with our lives and then miss celebrating the wonder of what we do have?


At the moment I am in quite a lot of pain. Sometimes my spinal fluid leak seems to flare up my nerves in my head, down my spine and throughout my body. So that even when ‘lying flat’ (which normally brings great relief) my whole body just feels ‘in pain’. 

It’s not helped by the fact that I am trying to write this on my phone whilst lying flat. 

Which just seems to exacerbate it. 

And yet, when I feel inspired, when I have something to write, I just want to get it out. So that I don’t forget. So that the stirring within me is not lost and the words that are bubbling inside me don’t go flat. 

So what do those words from the advert mean to me? In this moment when pain meets a different perspective? When I have to try and see differently than how I feel?

“You don’t focus on what you don’t have, you celebrate what you do!”

There are two opposing perspectives through which I can see my life at the moment. 

The first focuses on the disability of this condition and what I DON’T have. Everything I have lost. The uncertainty of the future. The challenges of getting medical treatment. The endurance needed whilst waiting months for hospital appointments. The constant pain, fatigue and limitations. 

The second focuses on what I DO have. The blessings of a loving and supportive husband. A roof over our head and food on the table. Of my two beautiful girls being old enough to not need me to do everything for them. The fact my accident didn’t paralyse me or cause lasting serious brain damage. That I can be ‘upright’ more than I used to. That I can see and hear and get to write, listen to and watch things on the wonderful handheld computer that is my smartphone. 

Two different ways of seeing. One that can quickly lead to despair. The other that leads to gratefulness. 

Both true, both real.

And yet one can lead you to darker ways of thinking. The other to joy and bright memories. 

It is so very hard to keep perspective when you are in pain. The more you endure pain, the more strength it takes to stay positive and thankful.

Your body screams at you: 

“But this is too hard! 

I’ve had enough!

I can’t take this anymore!”

 

But your heart pulls at you whispering: 

“You can STILL love, 

You STILL have purpose, 

You WILL have better days, 

Things CAN get better.”

When I take my eyes off what I don’t have and move my gaze to what I do, it transforms my thinking. It brings light into dark places. It reminds me that although things are tough, they could be worse. 

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

There is a verse in the bible that says: “Be thankful in all circumstances,” -1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:18‬‭

If your life is going well it’s easy to be thankful, but when things don’t go well gratitude is so much harder.  This bible verse can then just feel like a kick in the shins. 

“It’s alright for them with their happy, easy life (like we really know what battles others face). If I could just be fully well – THEN I will be thankful.”

And yet, I do believe there is ALWAYS something we can be thankful for. In ALL circumstances. Even when we are hurting and in pain. 

celebrate-what-you-do-1

I can remember early on in my CSF leak journey, when I still thought I had Post-Concussion Syndrome and was literally stuck lying down in a dark and quite room, I couldn’t even look at my phone screen or listen to music. One day I was feeling really fed up and self pity was knocking on my door persistently and wouldn’t leave me alone. 

I had some pistachio nuts to eat that day, the ones that you have to remove the shell. And I decided in a bid to deal with my self pity, I would think of something to be thankful for as I opened each and every nut. 

Something so simple really did change my perspective at that time. 

It’s amazing the number of things we can be thankful for when we are disciplined to remember them. 

It’s not always easy. Each and every day there is some point when my thinking can start falling into ‘woe is me with all my burdens and pain.’ Pain screams despair at you. When it’s particularly bad you wonder if you will ever make it through another day. 

And yet I do make it through those days and those dark hours. And then I stumble upon videos like the one above and the words jump into my heart reminding me: 

“You don’t focus on what you don’t have, you celebrate what you do!”

And yet again I find that I have to dig deep to find the gratitude and strength to press on and keep fighting another day. 

We then find that we are perhaps stronger than we think. Gratitude gives fuel for the fight. It grounds us in a better perspective. And reminds us that although things are not necessarily going well – there’s STILL so much to celebrate in THIS moment.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

What could you be thankful for today?

What are the things you DO have that you can celebrate? 


To read more about my 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.

Living With a Spinal CSF Leak.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Maya Angelou

I started this blog at the start of January 2015. For a while I had wanted to write. But in all honesty I was scared.

“What if I write and nobody wants to read it?”

I soon learnt that writing isn’t just dependent on others reading it. It’s a great form of self expression in its own right. It’s the attempt the find the right words to tell our own stories about our lives.

One of the first momentous, yet deeply personal stories that I shared was the first anniversary of my Mums death in a post called ‘A Journey Through Grief and What I Have Learnt.’ I had felt that in telling my own unique story, people might just connect and maybe they could relate as they struggled through their own story of grief.

Little did I know that the same week I started this blog and wrote the above piece, would be another life altering week for me.

That was the week that I sustained a brain/ spinal injury I am still battling now –

21 months later.

That day I was painting and needed to reach high up near the ceiling. So I used a relatively small step ladder to stand on, but it was resting in a place that wasn’t completely stable. I had already used it that way for hours and felt confident it was ‘stable enough.’

But my confidence was misplaced.

I took a seemingly small risk, the type that we all take everyday. But on this particular day my risk taking didn’t pay off. It was that day I had an accident. It was that moment where it felt like so much went wrong.

I have been living with the consequences of that decision ever since.

In one horrible moment the whole ladder had toppled over and took my feet from under me with it. I fell onto my back and hit the back of my head….

But,
It’s OK!
I am fine!
A bit dazed!
A bit bruised!
No real damage done!

Or so I thought!!

So I finished that painting. Exhausted & aching all over, but obviously to be expected after painting all day and having a few bruises from the fall. But within 48 hours it became obvious,

I WAS DEFINITELY NOT OK!!!

Two days later I was diagnosed with a concussion.

“You should be better by next week.” they told me.  But I wasn’t….It got WORSE!!
So we went down to A&E.

“I am sorry Mrs Hill you have Post Concussion Syndrome. You are looking at about an 8 week recovery time.” they said.

No surely, not me.
Give it four weeks.
It can’t be that bad.
That is such a long time!!! (I confidently, yet naively thought!)
I’m sure I can bounce back like any other time I have been ill for a few days.

Eight weeks later of being pretty much bed bound, in a dark and quiet room, and things still getting worse.

We head down to A&E for the third time since my fall.

I was finally admitted that time because I was so unwell, in severe pain and vomiting after being given morphine which didn’t touch the pain, only made me feel even more ill. I was finally seen by a Neurologist the next day and she moved me to their ward to look for evidence to support their initial diagnosis of low pressure headaches caused by a spinal CSF leak.

I am not going to list all my symptoms because I have done that all before. But what I will say here is that I am so very, very grateful to a handful of people who in the midst of their own pain and struggles decided to help others like me.

I have to tell you about the wonderful team at www.csfleak.info who helped me to understand more about my injury and helped me to realise that the fact I ONLY ever felt remotely well LYING FLAT IN BED for those two months, was not due to post-concussion syndrome after all,

It was probably due to a  SPINAL CSF (Cerebrospinal Fuid) LEAK!

This meant that somehow the accident had caused a small tear in the membrane in the centre of my spine (the dura) that holds in your spinal fluid. This means that my spinal fluid leaks out and is absorbed my body.

So when I am upright sitting or standing, due to gravity, my brain drops in my skull, because it lacks enough fluid to hold it in place.

Twenty One months after my fall.

I am still not better!

I have had some ups and downs along the way. Bad months in 2015 of being almost fully bed-bound. And other months after epidural blood patches (I have had 3) of being mostly upright.

But since that fall I have never had one single day of being…

Fully
Symptom
Free.

Such is the journey to full healing with this unusual and often under-diagnosed condition. Many people do get diagnosed, receive treatment, get well quickly, and never look back.

But many others face constant battles, discouragements, set backs and difficulties throughout their journey of being diagnosed and treated. Often a lack of knowledge by the medical profession makes getting fully better hard for many.

stone wallRecently, I have become so acutely aware how little many doctors, and the general public, know about spinal CSF leaks. I have heard so many stories of people struggling to get a diagnosis and, even when they do, facing many barriers to treatment.

There are many hospitals that really don’t know what to do with ‘these rare patients’ and this often makes delays in treatment an unfortunate reality for many.

I am so grateful for an amazingly supportive and well informed group of CSF leak sufferers who form an online community through the ingenious invention of Facebook groups. Many of us cannot imagine how we would have faced this journey without one another and I honestly think that some people in those UK and US based groups would not be alive today without that wonderful resource. Despair and suicidal thoughts are very prevalent within this group of patients.

Having someone tell you “I get it” whilst you both spend yet another day staring at the ceiling, flat in bed, can mean everything to someone really struggling. Even when that other person is half way across the country or even the world.

We face the daily struggles together!

It can be a lonely and difficult road battling a chronic illness. That road sometimes feels impossible when you slowly begin to realise how little knowledge a lot of doctors have about your condition.

I recently watched a very moving video, that is on the wonderful US spinal CSF leaks charity website. www.spinalcsfleak.org/resources/patient-stories/ About a lady who got a spinal fluid leak from a very badly placed epidural for the birth of her second child. She got two dural tears from the needle which caused spinal fluid to leak from her spine.

It took her 2 1/2 years to recover (she had a new born and 4 year old at that time) and she had to have 11 epidural blood patches (where they inject your own blood into the epidural space in your spine) and two surgeries to get better.

But what struck me the most was that even though everyone knew the area of her spine the leak would have been in (which is half the battle with traumatic (or spontaneous) leaks like mine) time and time again doctors refused to listen and often implied that there is no way she could be leaking CSF, and perhaps it was instead, ‘all in her head’ or something she would ‘just have to live with’.

I cried so much watching it because myself and many other leakers have faced similar battles to hers.

I find it heart breaking when people are suffering and needing help and support. And yet due to a lack of knowledge and understanding by the medical profession AND the general public, people are often told things like;

‘We have got nothing left to offer you,’
‘Try your best to get on with your life’
‘Perhaps you should try and get out more.’

Which is just a slap in the face when you are literally stuck lying flat in bed!

And yet, it doesn’t need to be that way!

There has been so much research done about spinal CSF leaks already. There IS knowledge out there. There are specialists who are leading the way, publishing medical papers and providing hope that many people CAN fully recover and perhaps don’t have to just learn to live with it after all.

Peoples minds need to be opened.

Medical professionals need to know that there is more information out there than they might realise. That there are a whole range of diverse symptoms. That people can still be leaking and debilitated, yet still function (well sort of) upright most of day. That there are many different kinds of treatments available and things that can be done to help.

  • Recently I have been thinking; how I can spread awareness?
  • How can I do my bit to help make the way clearer for those patients coming after me?
  • What skills can I offer the cause that might make a difference for both me and others?

One thing I have chosen to do is write. I can use my words to draw attention to this condition. I can tell my story in the hope it eventually reaches the people who need to hear it.

“Well, everybody’s got a story to tell and everybody’s got a wound to be healed.” Plumb

So today that’s what I want to do. I want to welcome you in to my world. I want to share with you a snap shot of what it is like living with a chronic CSF leak. So that you might have some more understanding yourself.

These days I am so very thankful that I get more hours upright than I used to. It really does make it that much easier to deal with. It helps me to feel more a part of the world around me and connect better with my kids. But it is still very very hard and debilitating to live like this.

stone wallHere is a typical start to my day….

I got up about 7:30am this morning. Lying in bed in the mornings I can actually feel pretty normal. But that feeling never lasts for long!

I get up, shower, get dressed and have breakfast, including a cup of tea and 2 pro plus caffeine tablets (because I can’t stand coffee!!)  – which can help to give me a bit more up time (although I often find it can be an artificial type boost feeling). During this time I already feel the neck stiffness and occipital (bottom back of the head) pain beginning to build up, but it’s manageable and relatively mild.

I drive part way and then walk my youngest to school. Chat to the other parents/ carers, go back to the car. Then this morning I decided I would pop to the shops.

My head is getting worse bit by bit, the pressure is building, the pain in my neck/ occipital region is increasing and my head is beginning to feel more full and a little cloudy.

I go into the supermarket – only to get a few things so it’s not too heavy. I don’t use trolleys, I don’t use a basket. I don’t take a handbag – only my purse – so that I can get as many things as possible and carry them without making my symptoms much worse.

So depending on what I have that might be 4-8 lightish items that I can hold in my hands/ arms without dropping them. If I do drop one of them (like the other day), I have to leave it or ask a shop keeper to pick it up for me. (Because bending down might make my leak, and will certainly make my symptoms, worse. At home I use a grabbing stick like the one below).

FullSizeRender

The nausea is setting in.

I pay for them on the self service check-out which is at an awkward angle so you have to bend a little to put them on the counter once scanned.

This increases my symptoms.

I bag them up and pay and by this point – just carrying the weight of those few things is making the nausea worse, so I start gagging in the lift to the car park, feeling like I want to vomit (although I don’t think I am ever fully sick).

Thankfully there is no one else in the lift with me!

I drive the short distance home – put the things away. Talk to my husband while he’s making a cup of tea (he is working from home today). During our conversation my head and neck is getting worse (I feel like someone has whacked me round the back of my head with a baseball bat!!) and I start gagging again uncontrollably – but thankfully I don’t actually vomit.

So my husband says, “you’d better go and lie down.”

I walk up the stairs and can feel my legs beginning to get very weak, I have to think about the steps I am taking, willing my legs to keep moving. The cloud in my head thickens. That feeling of not being able to cope with the intensity in my head floods over me! 

It’s 9:30am – I have been up two hours and can no longer function upright!!

I am now lying down flat in bed – feeling a lot better and writing this. I will stay here for probably an hour or two before getting up again to do some more jobs at home for maybe half an hour to an hour before the same thing happens and I have to lie down flat again.

That’s how it goes throughout the day every day although later on in the day the up times are often less and the down times can get longer.

If you saw me at the school at 8:30am, even though I had symptoms, you would think I looked fine, chatting to people (which is great because some days I don’t get to see many people).

So this is me on a good day – last year during my worst times the above would all happen with my symptoms within about 10mins of being upright.

I couldn’t even have a shower.

I would have a shallow bath once a week which I would have to lie completely flat in. As soon as I got out I would have lie on the bed with a towel round me, with my wet hair on a towel. It would take at least 1/2 hour to 1 hour before I might manage to be upright enough to put some clothes on and dry my hair a bit with the hairdryer. Or often my husband would help try and dry it whilst I lay flat.

When I was in hospital, a year ago, waiting and battling for more treatment (a second epidural blood patch) – I was in a bad way. I would spend all day lying in a head tilted down bed to alleviate symptoms and keep my brain in the place it should be. I could only manage about 5-10 mins upright at a time which makes things very hard.

We were facing lots of barriers and delays at that time (which I write about here), because the anaesthetists didn’t want to blood patch me a second time (after 5 much better months following the first) they instead wanted me to try an occipital nerve block done by the pain management team. (I did have the nerve block, it didn’t work at all, but it did leave my head, neck and hair covered in the sterile cleaning stuff.) Following that it took me two whole days to find the strength to get my husband to take me into the shower in the hospital bathroom so that he could help me wash all the chemicals from my hair and neck and help me get changed. He then dried it with a hair dryer whilst I lay flat again. (That would pretty much do me in for the whole day!!)

It’s an utterly debilitating condition. It’s not good for anyone’s physical and mental health to have to lie flat in bed all day. And yet some people are left that way, long term, because doctors don’t know what to do with them. They don’t understand how to treat them.

They do not seem to realise how impossible it is to live like that!

People are just not aware that many spinal CSF leak patients end up feeling suicidal (as I did at Christmas and write about here) because of the physical and psychological toll of the condition. Which is often exacerbated by the battles to find doctors who understand the condition, show compassion and actually do their best to help you.

There can still be an ‘old school’ mentality at large in the medical profession, even following correct diagnosis, of trying one epidural blood patch (and sometimes not even one) but if it fails to fully get you well, then they recommend that they should just try to help you manage the pain.

‘Manage the pain?’

I don’t have a sore leg, or a mild headache that goes away with some pills or a even a worse headache and stiff neck that is solved through a nerve block.

My brain drops in my skull when I am upright, wreaking all sorts of havoc in my head and body until I literally can’t physically or mentally cope. You can’t just ‘manage’ that kind of pain. And actually I wouldn’t always describe it as ‘pain’ it doesn’t do it justice. It is an intensity that can actually only be described as a sensation that is ‘beyond pain.’

(And just to add here that no painkiller I have had (Including IV morphine) has ever touched it)!

IT’S REAL!
IT’S HORRIBLE!
IT’S DEBILITATING!
BUT – IT IS TREATABLE!

Things ARE changing, patients are speaking out and coming together as a force to challenge conventional thinking about CSF leaks. And thankfully, little by little there are more wonderful doctors who are meeting enough well informed leak patients to see how great their suffering is and are slowly beginning to offer them new opportunities for diagnosis and treatment.

When someone with a leak meets a doctor who understands, or at least tries to understand, it’s truly a beautiful thing. It honestly means so very much to us.

Those doctors will never be forgotten.

We don’t expect miracle workers. We know we may not be easily fixable. But to meet someone with a willingness to try, an ear to listen, a humility to learn and a compassionate heart can make all the difference to someone on such a difficult road.

stone wall

In February this year (2016) a video was posted on You Tube that is doing so much to help change people’s minds and hearts about spinal CSF leaks. In the video Professor Ian Carroll from Stanford University Hospital in the U.S. gives a passionate lecture in which he is trying to enlist the help of doctors and medical professionals to help find and treat those suffering from spinal CSF leaks.

Through this video Dr Carroll has become our spokesperson, bravely, boldly & passionately challenging conventional thinking in the medical profession at large. And joining others in the quest to change current practice and stop people suffering unnecessarily from a mainly treatable condition.

I know for me, and many other longer term suffers, Dr Carroll’s video on YouTube is a breath of fresh air that reminds us that we are not going completely mad. So many patients have taken great hope through the impact it, and other recent information, is slowly having on awareness, diagnosis & treatment of spinal CSF leaks.

I am so very grateful for this wonderful resource from a doctor who is wanting to reach both doctors AND patients. I have gratefully been able to share this resource with some of the many doctors who have cared for me over the last 21 months. Some who have gone to great lengths to understand the condition more and do their best to support and treat me.

It is always a special moment when you meet a doctor who does watch the video or reads though the websites. People’s hearts and minds CAN be changed and it is wonderful when you see that happening.

Change does not often happen instantly. We are not all going to wake up tomorrow in a world where every person with a spinal fluid leak is going to get properly diagnosed, treated and fully recover. These conditions are complex and it takes time for understanding, research and practice to filter through.

But we can all play our part!

So today I want to ask sufferers and their families to think about;

  • How could you speak up and tell your story?
  • How can you be part of raising awareness too?

We might not all be able to write blogs, create websites, volunteer for the charities, fund raise or spread the word on the street. But perhaps we could post on social media, share a link, wear a t-shirt, or tell something of our own story.

Or perhaps you could respectfully share with a medical professional a medical paper on leaks, tell them about the UK and US CSF leak charity websites, or send them a link to Dr Carroll’s video.

You never know, they might just take a look especially if you approach it well.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  – Mother Teresa

Change will only come;
little by little,
step by step,
patient by patient,
doctor by doctor,
hospital by hospital.

By individuals and groups choosing to raise awareness and helping to challenge and transform conventional perspectives and opinions.

Perhaps we can all work together to enable patient and doctor to compassionately help one another to understand this debilitating yet treatable condition. So that even if we have had a tough and difficult journey ourselves, we can seek to build bridges with others that can open lines of communication. That might just change people’s hearts and minds for the future.

That way, we are building a legacy for the future. We are making the road that bit clearer for those following behind.

Mindful of the fact that they may never fully know the difficulty, struggles, sacrifices and battles of those who went before.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson


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.

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.