Tag Archives: Vulnerability

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.

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Breaking Through the Darkness

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. – A Proverb‬*

Have you ever reached the end of yourself?
REALLY reached the end of yourself?
When you are depleted at every level:
Physically,
Mentally,
Spiritually,
And psychologically?

When despair sets in and a darkness envelops you that feels so strong it literally attempts to strangle any life and hope out of you?

My world came crashing down in the week running up to and over Christmas this year and I fell apart in a way I never would have thought I could or would.

You see – I am strong!
I don’t give in easily!
I have a very real and deep faith in God!
I have a healthy thought life!
I don’t do being ‘weak’ so well!

I had held on all year.

Through an immensely difficult year for our family, following a serious and unusual spinal injury (a CSF Leak) that left me with major neurological problems.

I had finally received more treatment (a second epidural blood patch) for debilitating Low Pressure Headaches caused by a suspected CSF leak, and I had to muster up all the strength I had left to be positive, overcome fear and give recovery its best go. As I wrote about in When All that Remains is Faith, Hope & Love.

I had to be strong enough. Somehow I would be strong enough. I wasn’t going to give anything else away to this horrible condition.

I wouldn’t let it take more of my life.

The problem is that sometimes life takes us to places that are quite simply beyond us. Things don’t work out how we thought they would.

We give it everything we’ve got.

And then we find we have nothing left to give.

We humbly discover that we too are one of ‘those’ people we perhaps used to look down upon.

‘Those people’ who can’t cope. ‘Those weak people‘ that can’t keep going when life gets tough.

We discover….

THAT IS ALSO ME.

And it blasts everything we once thought about ourselves out the window.

‘We’ become ‘them’.
The one battling a chronic illness.
The one who ‘broke down’ mentally.
The one who felt like escaping life was perhaps better than living it like this.

And a new journey starts.

After weeks of waiting and battling for treatment – a second epidural blood patch – everything was poised in my mind.

THIS HAD TO WORK!
I HAD TO BE WELL AGAIN!

Being a positive, faith-filled person I filled my mind with that hope. Surely after all the discussions, waiting, battles and disappointments – it would work – IT HAD TO!! Our family couldn’t go through the trauma and chaos of any more upheaval because of this horrible and unusual injury.

I finally had my blood patch and all appeared to go well – although it certainly wasn’t an instant ‘fix it all.’ So I did what I always try to do – focus on the positive, believe, step out in faith and trust that as I regained my physical strength and conditioning that I would find complete health.

I did all that I could to push through lingering, unpleasant symptoms. Stay positive and keep going. The problem was my body and mind was exhausted and as I pushed it more and more, it began to shut down. I survived for a time on shear willpower and adrenaline but 3 weeks after my blood patch I developed acute insomnia.

I would go to bed exhausted, sleep for 30 – 60 mins, then be awake all night …..every night…. for two weeks.

No ones body can survive like that whilst also battling a major neurological condition.

But I tried to keep on going, I thought ‘if I just keep going then I will get tired enough to sleep’. Then my conditioning will get back to normal.

I just wanted to be well for Christmas to leave this difficult year behind in 2015.

Things spiraled out of control physically and mentally before crashing in every way.

It was Christmas.

Usually a fun-filled family time of sharing gifts and eating together.

Christmas 2015 is a blur to me. I cried my way through it, in all honesty, exhausted, depleted in every way and not even wanting to live anymore – if living meant this.

I felt so very unwell and the relief that lying flat used to provide was not alway’s there. Which is why I couldn’t sleep. It was torture. My body and mind were utterly exhausted. I didn’t know what was going on.

I assumed that the blood patch had eventually failed and because of all the battles to get it I was not sure I could access another one.

I could no longer think straight.
I could no longer see a way forward.
I lost my perspective.

I naively and ridiculously found myself ‘wishing’ that what I had was terminal – because at least there would be an end in sight, if it was. At least there would be an escape from the inner and outer pain that I felt.

PAIN CONSUMED ME.

I felt stuck between an inner pain, grief, physical pain and such exhaustion that death seemed the only way out. Yet I knew to choose death would devastate those I would leave behind. Which added to my pain.

Breaking through the darkness copy

Darkness enveloped me and pain became my reality.
Hope felt out of reach.
Faith attempted to hold on with its finger nails but was losing it’s battle.

My pride was shattered.
I was not so strong after all.
I couldn’t do it anymore.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick – A Proverb‬*

My heart was sick and I felt lost in a pit of despair that no one could lift me out of. Even my wonderful husband was struggling to reach me.

There comes a time when – however strong we are – we come face to face with the depth of our weakness.

I had never imagined I could be ‘that person’. That I could reach a place where thoughts of depression, despair and even suicide not only became real but became an obsession.

I just wanted it all to stop!!

I couldn’t do this anymore!!
I couldn’t take the chaos!!
I couldn’t take feeling so ill!!
I couldn’t face the battles of trying to convince doctors to help!!
(I actually thought me falling apart mentally would make my chances of getting help for my underlying physical condition even more problematic. I was scared that they would assume it was all ‘in my head.’).

And yet I first had to face the reality of where I was. I had been battling an injury that directly affected my brain – for a year. I had spent almost 6 months of that year in bed, lying flat almost 24/7 and the rest of the year at nothing like full capacity.

There comes a time when – however strong we are – we come face to face with the depth of our weakness.

But, I still felt like I had failed. I blamed myself.
One mistake with a ladder had cost our family so dearly.
One accident had robbed us of our future.
One moment had wrecked EVERYTHING!
I decided that I had then probably ruined my last chance of getting better by ‘blowing’ this blood patch by doing too much.

I had no ‘fight’ left in me so hopelessness washed in like a flood.

EVERYTHING BECAME DARK.

I couldn’t see past the darkness. Attempts to battle negative thoughts whilst being physically so depleted and unwell seemed fruitless.

I JUST WANTED TO ESCAPE.

I convinced myself that my family would be better off without the burden of such a debilitated, chronically-ill wife and mother.

The pain of thoughts of dying came face to face with the pain of thoughts of living.

I DESPAIRED OF LIFE ITSELF

“Courage isn’t having strength to go on – it’s going on when you don’t have strength.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

BUT……. IN THE MIDST OF THE DARKNESS LOVE BROKE THROUGH!

All was not lost.

Love reached out to me and helped me to hold on.
Grace was still there waiting to be rediscovered.
I had to open my eyes again to see that the light of love was still burning in the darkness.

Family and friends simply loved and supported me. They helped me to rediscover a better perspective. My 8 year old daughter used to come and sit on my bed and with all the passion she could muster she would tell me how much she loved me and that she wouldn’t want any other Mummy but me – even when I am so unwell.

A new journey began.
It was not easy.
It has been painful.
It has been hard.
It has been confusing.

I have wrestled with myself.
Wrestled with my identity.
Wrestled with my faith.
Wrestled with the darkness.
Wrestled with various neurological symptoms.
Wrestled with how to move forward.

It has been a very confusing time symptoms-wise. After the new year things began to improve. Some things were still like low pressure headaches. Some felt different. It was hard to know what was going on in my body, brain and mind. Doctors were not always sure either.

I had to discover the strength each day to put one foot in front of the other to just get through intact. To pull through the pieces of a broken life and somehow find hope again.

“Honesty & steadfast faith – especially in the darkness – forms a powerful & enriching message for everyone in pain….. Sincerity and humility are essential.”Samuel Chand

Darkness had enveloped me at a time when I felt like I couldn’t find God any more. Hope returned as I discovered He was there with me all the time.

I just couldn’t ‘perceive’ Him.

I had to rediscover God’s love and grace. Learn to ‘let go’ of the life I had lived and choose to trust and hope that I could recover and that there was something better ahead. I had to battle the fear and anxiety that tried to persuade me that I would never be free. I had to learn to get comfortable with stillness, quietness and to embrace true peace and rest on a deeper level.

I had to learn to perceive God’s voice in a new way and hold onto the truths spoken over me.

Breaking through the darkness quote copy

I have had to rediscover who I am in its simplest form and be OK with a more simple life for a time.

A new depth of humility helped me to see that I had sometimes  judged others ‘weakness’ because I didn’t understand them. I have now developed a deeper empathy and compassion for others facing challenges and struggles; especially those linked to chronic and mental illness.

I have had to discover a new kind of strength that is actually born out of weakness.

It’s been an immensely difficult journey and one that it has taken me a while to write about. For a long time I felt like I had lost my voice and had very little to say that could help others.

And yet.

I know that as we talk about our deepest weaknesses and vulnerabilities, others can connect with us and know that they are not alone. It then gives our own pain more purpose because our story can bring a ray of light in the midst of another’s darkness.

“We may impress people by our strengths; but we connect with them through our vulnerabilities.” – Nicky Gumbel

It can be invaluable to know that someone else is also struggling and that your journey can help them too. We can then navigate the stormy seasons in our lives TOGETHER and some how help one another to weather the storm.

Albeit wounded.
Yet stronger.
With a new perspective.
More appreciation of life.
And a deeper empathy for others.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.” – Haruki Murakami



Please do feel free to comment below. To read more about my initial injury and journey with a CSF leak/ Low pressure headaches you can see these posts.

 

*Proverbs 13:12 from The Bible


 

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.

A fantastic informative video that you can refer to about spinal CSF Leaks, their symptoms and treatments is The Mystery Headache: Migraine, Positional Headache, Spinal Fluid Leak? by Professor Ian Carroll at Stamford University Hospital.

The Power Hidden In Vulnerability. 

“We may impress people through our strengths but we connect through our weaknesses.” – Craig Groeschel

Over the past few weeks and months I have written about a current tough season I am walking through. In fact, I am not really ‘walking’ through this season. I am ‘lying flat’ through this season.

A perpetual time of enforced rest, because my body can’t currently function any other way.

I am back in hospital again for the 4th week so far in 2015. I am again seeking treatment for the CSF leak (Spinal fluid leak) I got from a fall off a ladder at the start of the year.

Having a CSF leak means there is less spinal fluid to cushion my brain. Subsequently my brain drops in my skull, meaning if I sit or stand I get a whole range of crazy neurological symptoms labelled ‘a headache’ by some.

But I am telling you now ‘headache’ is not the right term for what goes on my head (& body) when I sit or stand. 

A better term is torture! 

After a crazy past 6 weeks or so of being an inpatient in hospital for a few days, then waiting for treatment as an outpatient for a few weeks, I have now spent another full week in hospital. Lying flat all day in a hospital bed that is always on a tilt head downwards to alleviate symptoms.

I only get up briefly to use the bathroom and only sit up to eat my main meal because I literally cannot function or cope physically or mentally with being upright for more than 5-10 mins.

Before the end of February this year, I never imagined such a condition existed that was so effected by posture. I could have never imagined how debilitating a so called ‘headache’ condition could be.

I never would have thought how complicated it can be to get treatment for this unusual condition. How much you have to wait due to differences of professional opinion about treatment and theories about how well treatment works.

Five weeks ago I was meant to have a second epidural blood patch procedure in my spine as an outpatient. Following 5 weeks of disagreements between neurologists and anaesthetists I am still waiting for this treatment.

In the meantime they have tried an occipital nerve block (steroids are injected into the top of my neck/ bottom of my skull) which failed to provide any relief and medication which just made me feel awful.

This definitely wasn’t how I intended to spend most of 2015! Having always been a person to get on with life, face difficulties and overcome them, this journey has been somewhat different and definitely challenged me to the core of who I am.

I have reached a new level of weakness. 

This is a photo of me lying flat in my hospital bed. I have sunglasses on due to photophobia, but I am still just about smiling!

I was in a bad way when I arrived back in A&E a week ago for the fifth time this year. It took about 20 mins to get here in the car, so by the time I reached A&E I had far surpassed the current time I can manage upright.

So after waddling into A&E, which was packed out, scanning to see there were few seats available (which I wouldn’t have been able to sit on anyway upright) I just opted for lying on the floor. I had to cover my head to block out the light and noise and by then I was twitching and shaking.

My husband said I got quite of few looks – unsurprisingly. 

Thankfully they found me a bed and took me straight in and I skipped the whole triage thing. The fact I was still under neurology probably helped. 

It took quite a while to recover from that whole ordeal, I was so out of it, struggling to communicate, in pain and totally exhausted. I found it hard to eat or drink, which made everything worse, so they put me on IV fluids and IV paracetamol to try and help me out.

After weeks of managing symptoms at home lying down all day, I just couldn’t cope with it anymore on my own and had to resign myself to being readmitted and hope treatment would progress better as an inpatient.

Do you ever face times in your life where you feel like things couldn’t get much more difficult?  

But then they do and you have no choice but to keep on going, hoping, praying and believing that the storm will clear soon?

It’s been a tough year. 

It’s hard when you think you have overcome something to find it has come back and things seem even more complex.

“…. And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.” -Haruki Murakami

To be honest:
I am tired of it all!
I am weary of all the battles!
I am frustrated at the delays!
I am exhausted by the crazy symptoms!

I daily think….
“Can this all be over now?
Surely I have endured enough?
It’s really got to get better soon?”

But for now, it doesn’t. 
In fact, each day of waiting it gets harder.
The simple becomes more complex.

And I am stuck in the middle of a big debate about my treatment.

Sometimes all you can do is
Hold on. 
Just hold on. 

Through the questions.
Through the complexities.
Through the battles.
Believing that there IS a way through and that it’s coming soon. 
  Two weeks ago my husband did his back in. In possibly our lowest ever point as a family, Matt injured his back and ended up having a back spasm so severe that he passed out.

He has always had a weakness in his lower back, but probably the weeks of strain in having to work in a very demanding job, care for me & the kids, fulfil his responsibilities at church and look after our home took it’s toll.

That moment was a very dark moment. He had pulled something in his back slightly earlier that day and tried to rest it off. Our poor kids aged 8 & 10 were trying to help us out, as I was already stuck in bed most of the day.

This meant I was trying to get up and do a few more things to help and find out what was happening with Matt (which wasn’t helping my symptoms). 

His back then went into a full blown spasm, like no other he had experienced before. In just about recovering from that he made his way upstairs and in reaching the bed his back went into such an aggressive spasm that he passed out from the pain, thankfully whilst bent over the bed.

I was trying to help him but because I had to be upright I was really struggling. As he passed out I called 999 but could hardly speak to them myself because after a few minutes of being upright my speech and ability to communicate can become a problem.

Thankfully he came round after a few minutes so we didn’t need an ambulance. I managed to get back into bed. The kids were scared and in tears because both their parents were unwell.

In that moment of turmoil I managed to call our wonderful friends (who are also our church Pastors) and muster up the strength to literally mumble what had happened, whilst in tears, exhausted and desperate.

We couldn’t cope anymore. 

They came straight away and brought calm, light and love in our dark hour.

As I have written over the past few weeks, I have already felt at the end of myself recently. Then Matt hurt his back and we were both stuck in bed for a few days before he started to recover.

Talk about vulnerability and weakness. 

I am so thankful for friends and family who helped us during those difficult days. We literally couldn’t have coped without them. 

It was a real time of embracing humility, as people popped in and out to help us and come up to see us both stuck lying in bed. Whilst they sorted out the kids, cleared up, cooked, prepared meals and generally brought love, support and encouragement. 

There is nothing like being stuck on your backs to shatter your pride and dignity. It is humiliating to talk to people whilst lying flat in bed.

BUT

There is also something wonderful that comes from vulnerability. There is a deeper power of connection that comes when you are weak. 

When there is no where left to hide.

You are just you. 

In all your weakness and brokenness.
No frills.
No pretence.
Exposed.
Vulnerable. 

Yet loved, looked after and cared for. 

That is the power of vulnerability. When people accept and love you for who you are, when you are broken, weak and can do nothing for them. 

It brings a new level of connection. A powerful moment that will not readily be forgotten. 

To be seen in weakness is to be truly seen. It is not easy. We want people to see us strong and able. However, weakness and frailty is a significant reality of humanity.

It opens the way for the deepest connections; both with other people and with God.

“Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content.” – Bob Dylan

There is a deep contentment that can come when our lives are stripped back. A ‘letting go’ that has to take place. You have to lay down the reins of your life and trust that good will prevail in the end.

To be seen in weakness is to be truly seen.

You may not be the person you once were. DOING what you used to DO. LIVING as you used to LIVE. Instead, you can only BE the person you really are NOW, in THIS moment and find a way forward in the storm.

So I have again reached THAT point of weakness. A moment when you realise that in some seasons instead of fighting weakness and challenging circumstances  you have to learn to simply flow with it and say:

Let the storm rage.
Let my vulnerability be exposed.
Because it is there I discover strength in weakness. 

I discover who I REALLY am
And have to learn to JUST BE ME.

Simply
Uniquely
The REAL, weak, exposed and vulnerable ME.  

“People who are real, who are genuine concerning weakness as well as their strengths, draw others to them. They engender trust. They are approachable. And they are a breath of fresh air…” – John Maxwell

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.

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

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


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

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

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

Then I had an accident.

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

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

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

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

That journey is never easy.

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

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

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

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

Grunge Background

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

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

However,

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

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

Have you ever tried that?

Doing nothing but lying flat in a dark room.

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

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

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

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

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

And it totally floored me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew that He would carry me.

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

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

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


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


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

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

I still can’t do everything I once did.

And that is hard.

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

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

And it is SO frustrating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is manageable.
But it is frustrating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is not a bad thing.

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

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

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

Paul then wrote in response:

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

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

That is grace.

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

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

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

We are all human.
We all have struggles.

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

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

It is the mystery of God.
The divine paradox.

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

And love and grace are all you need!

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

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

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

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

But it is always there to be found.


How do you find strength in weakness?


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

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

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

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

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

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