Tag Archives: thankfulness

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.

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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.

Breaking Free! From Self Pity 

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

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

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

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

I certainly do.

However, 

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

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

Some days it is more of a battle than others.

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

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

We become consumed with ourselves. 

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

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

And it is frustrating! 

There is only so much you can do lying flat! 

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

That is my reality. 

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

This is why I am writing this post. 

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

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

I decided I had to get free from it. 

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

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

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

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

In real time. 

In the exact moment it is happening. 

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

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

Here is what I have learnt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we rediscover hope in the midst of hopelessness?

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

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

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

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

5. Optimism vs pessimism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be intentional.

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

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

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

However, 

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

That is the way to freedom.

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


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

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

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

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

Perspective: The Happiness Found In a Thankful Heart

Often it’s not until a traumatic change takes place in our lives that we really value the normality of our everyday lives… It’s all linked to perspective.

Three months ago I wrote the above words in my first blog post on perspective. 

How true those words were in the season ahead. For about 12 weeks our family’s normality was snatched from us and we lived out a new normality that involved coping with injury, illness and a massive change in our day to day lives. 

It’s now 3 months since I sustained a brain & spinal fluid injury and at last I feel pretty much normal. I finally feel like I am getting my life back. I still get a bit more tired than I would have done pre-injury and experience some other milder symptoms if I do too much, but I can finally begin to move on in my life and put the injury behind me. 

‘Normality’ never felt so good!! 

To be able to function pretty well in everyday life feels like such a blessing. I am so thankful for health, energy, family & friendship. Before my injury I could at times take these things for granted but through my injury I have suddenly become so much more thankful for them.  

The last three months adjusted my perspective. 

Sometimes it’s not until your normality is taken away that you really do appreciate it. 

This week my husband was away with work and the kids were on school holidays. I was so thankful to be able to look after the kids properly and get on with life with Matt not being here – something I could not do for 12 weeks. I have also been able to get the calendar out and make plans for the future. It feels great! 

It’s made me think a lot about thankfulness and how it is so often linked to our perspective.

If we take things and people for granted – we will no longer feel grateful for them.
If we dwell on the negatives of our lives – we will no longer see and be thankful all the positives.
If we feel entitled to something or someone’s attention – we will see it as a right rather than a blessing.

Thankfulness can be life changing for BOTH those who give and those who receive it. This is because when it is heartfelt it comes from a place of humility. To say thank you and truly mean it is a small act of generosity and appreciation and – although small – can be powerful. 

Grunge Background

But if gratitude is so important why is it sometimes so difficult to maintain? 

I often see within myself and those around me how quickly we can slip into an ungrateful perspective. It can happen subtly at first, but often gains momentum, as we compare our lives and situation to others. When we measure our lives against our perception of others’ lives (which are often incorrect anyway). The results are jealousy and envy which are often the culprits behind our dissatisfaction. 

If only……. I had a better:
Spouse, partner, family, house, job, looks, body, car.

If only……  I had more:
Money, holidays, rest, friends, food, things.

Then I would be happy. Then I could feel thankful. 

It’s a vicious circle. It never ends! 

The dissatisfaction takes over, it eats away at our hearts. It blinds us til we no longer see what we do have, instead focusing our thoughts & even words on all we don’t. 


 Comparison is the thief of joy – Theodore Roosevelt


This dissatisfaction is often fueled by media, advertising, social media and looking at others lives around us. We are sold the lie that we will be happier if only we have more than we do now. 

When we can only see what we don’t have we will not be thankful for what we do have. We will also not be able to feel thankful for what others have when we consider them to have more than us. 

Instead we become consumed with envy and it destroys us from the inside out. 

I believe that thankfulness is one of the main keys to happiness. There is so much joy to be found in a grateful heart. 

Maybe we need to see our lives with more grateful eyes. 

Grunge Background

We don’t need to wait until we lose something to embrace a more thankful perspective. We can choose to see things differently now. 

The last three months opened my eyes and helped me to develop a more thankful heart towards everyday life and those around me. 

However.

I am very mindful of the fact that it is so easy for me to fall back into old habits and old ways of thinking as time goes on. How easy it is to forget lessons learned in the past. So I hope through writing this and my other blogs about what I have learned over the past three months, that I will be able to remind myself about remaining thankful.

For each breath that I take. 

For the wonder and opportunity of each day. 

For friends, family and community. 

For health and energy. 

For the beauty of the world around me.

For our beautiful home and food on the table. 

For provision in so many ways.

For everyday life and even the ‘mundane’ aspects of it.
(When you can’t have this you crave it. When you do have it you often crave something more exciting).

And on those days when I start feeling fed up or sorry for myself: because the kids are playing up, the house is in a mess, I look dreadful, I have too much to do, things are breaking and I can only seem to see what I don’t have & can’t afford. I hope that I will quickly choose to remember, to shift my perspective back to a more grateful perspective and remember when getting through each day was all I could focus on. When health and normality were longed for and yet seemed so far away. When I just hoped to soon be well enough to able to get out of bed and walk outside on my own, so that I could fulfill some of the simple things in life like get the kids to and from school, get the dinner ready for my family and keep the house tidy. 

We have so much. Look around you and see with new eyes all the blessings in your life.

A simple thought or act of gratitude will bring you so much happiness. 

We can develop a habit of waking up each day and thinking about things we are thankful for. You may well find that your day starts better when it begins with gratitude. 

My injury and illness only lasted three months. Some people face bigger storms: a much more challenging health diagnosis, the death of a close family member, a marriage break down or they lose their job and can’t find another. 

So many different storms can shake our normality, but thankfulness always remains one of the best keys to finding the strength we need to push forward with a positive perspective. 

There is always something to be thankful for.

 It’s all about perspective. 

Try it!  What can you be thankful for today?  Who can you say thank you to? 


Give thanks in all circumstances. – The Bible. (1Thessalonians 5:18)