Tag Archives: spinal injury

Embracing Simplicity

“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein

Over the past couple of years I have often felt like my life has been aggressively and almost completely stripped back. The core of my life is still much the same as it has always been. Yet I often feel like a tree that has been radically pruned. With so many of the branches of my identity and the things that I used to do being brutally chopped off and left to die. Leaving something quite exposed and bare, with many stubs where branches used to be.

When you spend most of your day lying down, and the time you can be upright is exceedingly limited by various intense and horrible neurological symptoms, you find that your life becomes extremely restricted. Everything becomes immensely simplified in many ways (even though there are also many complexities to contend with too). Life mainly consists of things you can do lying flat, or the few limited things you can do whilst upright – although still feeling very ill.

It’s been a very challenging journey to embrace a more simplistic life. 

It doesn’t help that we live in a society that often glorifies busyness!

Our Western society is full of people who often seem to wear badges of importance – based, in part, on how busy their life is. Most people are forever expressing how immensely busy they are. This makes it extra hard for those of us who are ill long term, because we have to instead embrace a new identity that can no longer be defined by our busyness. Suddenly we can feel somewhat detached from normal society – a bit of a ‘nobody’.

Everyone around us seems to be carrying on with their ‘normal lives’ whilst we feel like ours is stuck. 

We live in a never ending state of limbo, not knowing if or when it will change.


In my 2015 post Is Busyness a Choice? I spoke about an article by Scott Dannemiller called ‘Busy is a Sickness’. In it he wrote:

“… we are defined by what we do. Our careers. What we produce. It’s the first question asked (of us)  The implication is that if I am not busy doing something, I am somehow less than. Not worthy. Or at least worth less than those who are producing something.”

I really do believe that this is a massive problem for those of us who face long term debilitation. 

We not only have to take a very humbling journey of coming to terms with it ourselves; we will also often have to face others’ questions, attitudes, and sometimes prejudice – as well as naivety and ignorance – towards our disability and inability to do what we once could do.

We find that we begin to lose much of our identity, because it feels like we are not doing much anymore. Rather than being an active member of society – we feel pushed to the side lines, often misunderstood and sometimes even forgotten about.

We are suddenly not so sure who we really are any more and our condition begins to knock our confidence – until we perhaps no longer feel like we ‘fit in’ with normal society like we used to.

Over time, we realise that we have to go through a deep and painful process of grieving and letting go of who we once were. And much of what defined us. 

So that instead we can truly embrace who we are now – in this season. We actually have very little choice in the matter – if we cannot change our current circumstances ourselves then we have no option but to accept it and find a way to live the best life we can amidst all the restrictions.

I learnt over time that I had to stop torturing myself with what I could be doing IF I was well. I had to give up imagining how different life could be if I was healthy. I had to refuse to compare myself to what ‘normal’ people were doing and instead embrace the quieter and more simple life, of mainly being at home, often lying down. I had to see the opportunities that could be found here instead.

We must learn to establish a daily discipline of choosing to see the beauty and wonder in simplicity. To somehow embrace a simpler life. The more I go on that journey – the more I see that there are still so many things to be thankful for and enjoy here.

Despite the restriction, debilitation and pain. 

Really it is all a matter of perspective. As many things in life are. 

Attitude is everything! 

Since I have battled this chronic illness I have realised more than ever that we are often fed a lie by society and the media that our life should always be lovely, fun, immensely satisfying and great. Everything should be as perfect as it can be – and it will be – IF you have enough money, health, great jobs, nice homes, loving families, expensive holidays and up to date gadgets etc. Then we will all be perpetually happy.

BUT it’s just not true!

Hence why there are so many miserable, struggling people who actually have all those things in abundance. Sometimes it’s the people I know who have the most of all those things who are the least happy. Mainly because that mindset draws you into a never ending cycle of desiring more and more – which only leaves you increasingly discontented in the end. Because there is always someone around who seems to have a better lot in life and appears to be happier than you.


I have learnt so much through my two-year journey about trying to be more grateful for the small, everyday things, whilst learning to let go of ‘the dream’ of ‘normal living.’ In doing that (which is a very raw and painful grieving process) I learnt I could find so much joy and wonder here too. And if I can find it here, then I will be so much happier – as well as more content and thankful – when I do hopefully get well. If I can learn contentment without having all the things the media tells me I need – then I will be happier for a life time regardless of whether I stay sick or get well.

It’s a lesson I have also had to embrace with regards how I parent my children. It truly is heartbreaking when sickness robs you of being the parent you always desired and planned to be. It’s a very difficult thing to face and unfortunately you can find yourself envying other healthy normal parents, which doesn’t help.

When I experienced a complete physical and mental breakdown at the end of 2015, it was the grief of letting go of being the Mum I was and wanted to be that caused some of the deepest inner pain. I am so very thankful that my girls are now that bit older and slightly more independent, which makes things so much easier for us as a family. And yet currently I can’t go out with them or do most of the fun or even necessary things we used to do.

I really am currently stuck at home, mainly lying flat, nearly 24/7. 

However, I have also learnt that sometimes my kids can learn better life lessons from us facing this as a family than they could if life was just ‘normal’ and great. I realised that if I can’t find a way to truly live here, in the midst of the disappointments, then how can I help them to know how to face their own challenges and disappointments in life? They will certainly come at some point. If as a parent I can’t come through the crisis, then what does that teach them? But if my children can learn how to endure life trials – from me and my husband – then they will hopefully be much more stable and wholehearted adults.

Adults who can weather the storms of life and stick out long term relationships much better. Meaning they may well be happier and more fulfilled adults because of this. It will also hopefully help them to grow in compassion for others, so that they learn not to ignore or avoid another’s pain, but instead look at how they can share it and help support another in and through it.

Compassion is a stunningly beautiful quality to have. 

As my body is so restricted on the outside, I actually often feel the energy of what’s within intensify. It’s like there is this ball inside me with a mixture of so many different emotions. I know I have to redirect the ones that want to pull me into a dark place and allow the positive ones to become increasingly dominant. So I am trying to focus my own pain on connecting and helping others in theirs.

I have decided that I must find a way to live like this – so that I can help another walk through their own deep darkness of facing this condition or similar debilitation.

It’s allowing the love, grace and compassion that is within me to break out to help someone else. It’s channelling my hurt into feeling another’s pain with them so that I can then say, “How can I help you today? What advice can I give you from the lessons I have – sometimes painfully – learnt over the years.” 

These are some of the simple things in life that I can still embrace and still do. And it’s when I am focused on things such as these that I am drawn less into only seeing the negatives of my current predicament. It is then that I often find the beauty that is found in simplicity. And it reminds me that even if my body remains debilitated, on the inside I can still feel fully alive.

So let me embrace the wonders hidden in the simplicity of my current circumstances. Because if I can do that – in this place – I will hopefully discover a deeper contentment and satisfaction that may well last a lifetime as well. So that IF one day I can leave this whole immensely difficult season behind for good, I will at least have learnt more lessons and disciplines through it that will become the firm foundations of my life tomorrow.

So that although I have had to experience a major pruning and cutting back that has left me looking exposed and bare today, perhaps in the end it will simply leave room for growth that will allow new shoots to form tomorrow. Producing a stronger tree in the future that is happier, healthier and bears good fruit in the right season.

None of us know what tomorrow will bring. 

But if we can all learn and grow enough today, so that we can somehow find the inner strength to face whatever might be thrown at us tomorrow, we will be able to take our stand in the crisis and allow this cry to rise up from within us to say:

 “However bad this gets and however long it goes on for… I am determined to find the best life that can be lived here – in all its gloriously redefined simplicity.”


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.

The Humility That Is Found In Suffering 

“There is no growth without change, no change without loss and no loss without pain.”Samuel Chand

One of the most painful, yet ultimately liberating, lessons I have learnt since being ill long term, is the potential suffering has it has to bring far more humility and compassion for others into our lives. 

Anyone who has suffered from any debilitating chronic illness, a life changing disease or injury, or has gone through a season of suffering due to the loss of a family member, or other traumatic events, will tell you that it truly humbled them in a way normal life never can.

When things go wrong in our lives we crave to have normality back – as if it’s the most precious gift of all. We fondly remember how much easier life was, even on the ‘tough normal days,’ when we had our health or loved one and life was going ok.

But when you have faced some kind of personal tragedy, or some kind of deep suffering barges its way into your life, you soon learn how hard it is to lose what you perhaps took for granted before hand. You discover how much your confidence and coping mechanisms get crushed.

It is often only in suffering that we truly learn who we really are. We become more aware than ever of our many personal frailties and weaknesses. 

We wonder if we truly have the strength to make it through. 

It’s usually only when we see what ‘rock bottom’ truly looks like for ourselves, in all it’s darkness, pain and desolation, that we begin to understand how ‘rock bottom’ looks and feels for others. 


When you meet people who have faced suffering like you, or even differently, but in a similar light to you, there is a knowing look shared between your eyes when you meet, or a deeper message running through the words when you talk. There is a heart connection that silently says, ‘Yes, I know…. life is so very tough sometimes…. I know what it’s like to be completely broken…. and I know what it’s like when you have no idea about what you are going to do make it through.’

“The beauty of humanity is that suffering can, if we let it, unite and draw us together in a way that nothing else can. It strips us of our titles and crafted exteriors and touches the heart. It has the power to break through masks, if we let it, because it touches who we really are.

And we all need that:
 Sometimes our hearts need to be exposed. 
Our weaknesses need to be seen. 

Because it is then we realise that we are ALL just fragile humans. It is then we realise that we are ALL more similar than maybe we thought. It is then we know that we ALL face challenges and we ALL feel pain.”

I penned those words in one of the first blog posts that I crafted a year after we lost my Mum. It was a time of processing my thoughts and emotions, whilst trying to connect with others. Thankfully, I had already taken the time to walk myself through that difficult, but rewarding process of increased self-understanding, a few days before I embarked on my next, even bigger, encounter with pain and life changing suffering. I fell from a ladder and sustained a debilitating spinal CSF Leak that I still have today over two and a half years later.

It has been through this more recent journey, that has included walking through a different type of grief, that has taken me so much deeper into those same truths I wrote about then. Suffering does touch our hearts profoundly, it reaches to the core of our being. It strips back all the trappings of everyday life and reveals to us the things that really matter. Masks and pretence are thrown away, as we are pulled out of our comfort zones and realise that we cannot do this alone. Those of us who once considered ourselves rather strong and able, suddenly find that we are, in reality, far weaker than we ever imagined.

….. And it is truly humbling.

But that is why there are elements of suffering that we can also embrace, because often it makes us kinder and more compassionate people in the end. It stops us being so judgmental of others – it can actually level the playing field of life – as we truly see that we are ‘ALL just fragile humans.’ 

“In his delightful little book ‘Off the Sauce’, Lewis Meyer writes: If one could use only one word to describe the feeling of an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting, it would be love. Love is the only word I know that encompasses friendship, understanding, sympathy, empathy, kindness, honesty, pride, and humility. The kind of love I mean is the kind Jesus had in mind when he said, “Love one another.” Shoes might be shed, attention might be diverted, but there is a closeness between AAs, a closeness you seldom find anywhere. It is the only place I know where status means nothing. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is here because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together again. First things are first here…. I have attended thousands of church meetings, lodge meetings, brotherhood meetings—yet I have never found the kind of love I find at AA. For one small hour the high and mighty descend and the lowly rise. The leveling that results is what people mean when they use the word brotherhood.”

I read these words recently in a wonderful book by Brennan Manning called Abba’s Child, The Cry Of The Heart For Intimate Belonging.’ They are such challenging words to us all. A profound reminder that it is only in the deeply humbling experience of coming to the end of ourselves, and truly realising how weak, broken, messed up, selfish, dysfunctional and ‘not good enough’ we ALL are, in our own ways, and being real and open about it to others. That it brings the ‘levelling’ that is desperately needed to show the deepest love, grace and humility to others too.

When you know the dark reality of ‘reaching the end of yourself’ you do find that ‘we are all more similar than we think.’ We are ALL humans who have weaknesses and insecurities, which become increasingly obvious when we are faced with an extremely difficult season of suffering.

Suffering exposes our many weaknesses, it makes us feel awkward and uncomfortable and can fill us with shame when we shockingly find that we lacked the ability to cope as we thought we should. But sometimes we must simply let it do its work in us. To embrace, rather than run from what it discovers, then face it, be real about it and look at what we can learn and how we can change. This is always the start of a deeper transformation that will make us kinder, more accepting and loving people.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”James Baldwin

Do you not love the idea of a world where ‘status means nothing’ and nobody is trying to ‘fool anyone’ anymore with their masks, carefully crafted exteriors and pretence? When we are aware, honest and humble about our weaknesses as well as strengths, so that we can be kind and compassionate about an other’s as well.

“If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” – The Bible*

Suffering helps us to see that maybe we were not quite as strong, good or important as we maybe once thought. It helps us to acknowledge and see our weaknesses – if we embrace it properly. Which will, in turn, hopefully take us on a new journey of self awareness. We then find that we have to accept the reality of where we are. Even with its many difficult and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, as well as its multitude of insecurities and unknowns.

So that even in the midst of it we begin to see that even when we have hit rock bottom, it is not always such a bad thing to experience. Because then I will taste a bit more of that unique humility that is found there, I will know what it’s like to battle darkness face on. I might walk with a new limp where suffering took me down for a while. But ultimately I managed to get up and carry on regardless, even when the scars and wounds are still there.

It’s in the raw vulnerability of those real moments, when we can reach out our hand to another, and our eyes and words will meet in that place of unspoken heart to heart understanding. And it’s there we will find we can walk together through our storms; as equally broken, yet ironically stronger, kinder and wiser humans.

Until one day we find how much it has changed us. 

And that is the moment we truly begin to see the wonder, humility and connection that can come from suffering…

… but only IF…

We choose to let it do it’s mysterious work deep within us, by finding the resolve keep seeing the beauty that still resides in its very painful midst.

“The beauty of humanity is that suffering can, if we let it, unite and draw us together in a way that nothing else can. It strips us of our titles and crafted exteriors and touches the heart.”


*Bible Verse from Galatians 6:3 NIV

For links to posts mentioned above and quoted: ‘A Year Ago Today: A Journey Through Grief And What I Have Learnt.’  and more about my Spinal CSF Leak: Living with A Spinal CSF Leak

Here is a short video that raises awareness of Spinal Fluid Leaks.

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.

FullSizeRender (16)

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.

Shame quote 2

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. 

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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.