BUTTERFLIES IN THE DIRT AND A NEW DIAGNOSIS: ARACHNOIDITIS AND A SPINAL CSF LEAK

“When you look another human in the eyes (or read their stories) and see how they’ve found strength in the face of their suffering, it makes you sit up with a little more hope.” – ‘Suffer Stronger’

Katherine & Jay Wolf (my addition in brackets)

Butterflies In The Dirt

I walk a lot at the moment. And if you know my recent story you will know the profound beauty in me just saying that. But walking still isn’t always easy for me because it can both help some symptoms and exacerbate other ones, especially my head pressure issues as well as my back and legs. But I am so grateful to say that it’s been getting easier again recently – since my recent new diagnosis and treatment plan. I can now walk much further and far more than I have been able to since before my last relapse in Spring 2019.

We are so blessed to have beautiful countryside five minutes from our house. And this seems to be butterfly season. Lots of white and colourful butterflies are flying around.

But often I see them like in this photo. Resting in the dirt. Being still for a moment on the dry, cracked and broken path. And through them God always reminds me….

You can always find great beauty in the broken dirt of life. If you choose to truly SEE it.

 

‘Could I have Chronic Arachnoiditis?’

Where do I start on the whirlwind of the past month or so? A couple of months ago I had only ever vaguely heard of something called arachnoiditis. And to be honest I was at a stage where I was far too weary for much new medical research. But that word ‘arachnoiditis’ kept coming back up, it kept being thrust back into my view – however much I tried to avoid and run away from it.

I believe now it was Divine providence – sweetly nudging me to pay attention. Because I would soon need that information in a critical way.

So I began to read and research yet again – another conditionanother lead… and as I did my mindset went from a ‘no that can’t be me’ to it becoming quickly apparent how well the diagnosis fitted with my whole medical journey since my ladder fall in January 2015. It was actually a very timely speedy journey of revelation – that only by God’s mysterious grace – soon coincided with my most horrendous relapse/ flare ups in the whole 5 years I have been ill – that soon had me hospitalised for two weeks.

I am actually still in a state of both partial shock and partial wonder that following so many clear acts of Divine providence (key things and key people coming together at the right time) – I finally got the correct treatment I needed that perhaps reversed a more severe or even catastrophic injury to my spine.

A Unique Story

Here is my ongoing holistic medical story in its ongoing messy glory. It’s messy – because I am a typically messy human. I don’t fit well in others ‘boxes’ because I am unique. So although I share my story in the hope it might help others, assist their loved ones in understanding and to help any members of the medical profession to understand these conditions and their long term impact on their patients; I also want you to know that my story is my own unique story.

Of a unique body with a unique biological makeup, a unique accident and a unique resulting neurological injury.

That has caused me untold suffering for 5 1/2 years.

However, one reason I write is that perhaps my unique case can help shed more light on others unique cases too. Our stories are simply that – the truth of what is happening in our life as a WHOLE person. The truth of a complicated and rare medical journey in a complicated and unique human being.

I am not sure where to begin this next chapter in my story apart from to describe the events leading up to my hospital admission and the revelation that we may well be dealing with chronic spinal canal nerve inflammation as well as a spinal CSF leak.

Spinal CSF Leak

I do not have time in this blog article to explain my medical history since I fell off that ladder in January 2015. And how I fell onto my head, neck and spine very hard. How I was diagnosed with post concussion syndrome, then finally 2 months later a spinal CSF leak. (See this original article). I do not have much room here to explain that my current NHS ‘intracranial pressure MDT’ have seen evidence on my MRI of a small CSF leak in my neck (cervical ventral spine). To read more about that please see this blog article.

PLEASE NOTE: Many of my ‘arachnoiditis symptoms’ started after that fall alongside the ‘spinal csf leak symptoms’.

They have always been very interconnected. Apart from the severe lower back/ sacrum pain. (That got worse over the latter months to years after that original fall). However, many of these key symptoms were there from that first week after I fell – it’s just the more severe pain was more in my neck rather than lower spine the first few months (Query – maybe it could have started as ‘cervical arachnoiditis’ around the potential leak site following the trauma & spread as arachnoiditis can?). My neck certainly took much impact in a funny position with my head hitting a raised ledge. All the main bruising was all down my right arm and pain into my middle fingers. I have always had major nerve issues and acute stiffness in my neck (although that is also typical of SIH neck pain). Although I also developed the severe leg weakness & gait issues and whole body tingling/ spasms & jerking etc from that first week – so I am not sure how it all works together.

And just to state here: I have not had a medical procedure in or near my spine since September 2017.

 

This Relapse/ Flare Story

This relapse actually followed my typical pattern of relapse (last one Spring 2019). There was no clear trigger this time – although in hindsight Covid lockdown brought changes to my routine that might have added to things. For about 2 weeks before it fully hit me I began to feel more unwell than usual. My forever troublesome back/ sacrum area was getting worse again and that was causing me to often lay down more than my head. I felt like I had 100 tiny pins stuck in my sacrum and down my legs. My legs started getting markedly weaker especially towards the end of short walks. I had more pins & needles in my legs, feet, saddle area, arms and hands. My head and ‘normal leak symptoms’ were also clearly worse.

So we typically asked those questions – ‘Am I doing too much?’ ‘Perhaps I need more rest?’ ‘Perhaps I have a virus or even coronavirus ‘(I even ordered a test). But this time there was something else. I felt like a had a UTI – and my bladder didn’t feel right. I just felt like I constantly needed the loo and there was a constant burning around those nerves too. And that’s bad for me because for years going for a wee makes my head much worse. So it was all just so painful for me. So I did a urine sample for the GP nothing came back as abnormal. Everything was getting increasingly painful & exhausting.

Then my symptoms do what they always do when I relapse or flare – like my last one in Spring 2019…

Everything suddenly EXPLODED!

Symptom Explosion

A day came – a Friday – when I got up as normal. But it was tough. It was really very tough. And within half an hour my body was flooded with that overwhelmingly debilitating draining feeling from my head down. A feeling I have known so many times. The feeling that came when I first got ill around 48 hours after my ladder fall in January 2015.

A Sense of Being Unbelievably Unwell

At that point my worst symptoms all very quickly returned: the inability to speak, the slurring, the slowness to respond. Then came the weak legs giving up and the having to pull myself back to bed. Then as I lay down back came the twitching, the jerking and the spasms. And the feeling that I may just pass out any moment – but never really do.

I cannot explain how awful it is to experience that. But it is not uncommon for me. That has been my normal since the start from after my fall – when things are bad.

But this time some things were worse. Mainly my back. The nerve pain exploded, I could no longer lie on my back at all, it was all down my legs. It all burnt, stabbed and tingled. The pain was just getting worse. I could hardly stand or walk at all.

I just felt weird, my whole body was full of pins and needles, both inside the whole of me and all over my body. A bubbling, strange sensation in my whole body – feeling stuck in another world. Mind can’t think – I struggled to process & respond.

I then started struggling to be touched by anyone. Everything was hypersensitive. Everything hurt so bad and people touching me would often just make me twitch, jolt & spasm.

Two Wonderful Doctors

By this time our (including two key doctors) minds had been opened to consider a new diagnosis of chronic arachnoiditis. As I said before – as I began feeling more ill the past two weeks I again had read more. And as I read about its symptoms, triggers, biological predispositions, links to spinal fluid flow, leakage & seepage, multiple spinal procedures and the presence of spinal cysts. It rang too many bells to ignore. So I had sent information to the two main doctors (from two different hospitals) who know my case well. My current neurologist and a doctor who has generously followed my case and CSF leak updates for years even after me moving on from their hospital. They had both already agreed that it was something that needed considering. I ticked so many boxes already … as shown in this list I made into an image.

In the end after updating our more local hospital doctor contact about my worsening symptoms that Friday, he called on the Saturday & spoke to mainly my husband – as by then I was struggling to talk and respond at all. After listening carefully about what was happening and asking various questions – he advised us to call an ambulance and then kindly in advance explained my case to the consultant neurologist on call. I am so deeply grateful for this doctor who has had so much patience and humility over the years to listen and understand my whole medical journey, in a way that he became the advocate I needed. He was my voice when I had no voice. Especially as my husband could not be with me at all due to Covid lockdown and seeing as I often feel so intimidated, scared & anxious around new doctors due to my case being so complex – especially when my speech and thought processes are so impaired.

Admission via Ambulance

The ambulance crew came and by then I was in such a whole body nerve pain flare I was very hypersensitive to touch, examination and even having my blood pressure (BP) done. It was all excruciating and would just make me jolt and spasm. I could only slur and half speak with very delayed responses. They thought I had either a stroke or meningitis. Although the stroke team at the ED soon ruled that out and the medical doctor who saw me was baffled but knew I needed to be admitted. And although struggling to speak – I managed to direct them to my medical files to read my history (as I lacked the ability to explain it myself). And after a couple of days on a medical admissions ward – I finally made it to Neurology.

At this time I had ALL the red flag symptoms for arachnoiditis/ lower spinal canal nerve inflammation/ and things were only getting worse.

Brain and Lumbar Spine MRI

I had to be very deeply sedated for my brain & lumbar spine MRI as I could not lie on my back for more than seconds to minutes without spasming/ twitching or jolting. Which really would not work in an MRI machine.

However the MRI was read as clear for both low CSF pressure/ SIH (which is normal for me) and adhesive arachnoiditis/ cauda equina inflammation or compression/ epidural fibrosis and anything else considered etc. Although interestingly at first they also missed reporting a possibly key piece of the puzzle due to seeing it as an ‘incidental’ finding.

Tarlov Cysts

I have at least 2 Tarlov cysts in my sacrum. Which I now know can both potentially cause cauda equina inflammatory disorders (CEID) but can also be the result of that inflammation. They keep not being reported from my multiple scans (I had to view my own scans and ask in 2017 for the confirmation I had a Tarlov cyst/s – but were told they are ‘incidental’.) Which I already knew is not necessarily true because Tarlov cysts can actually also become symptomatic after a fall. You can actually leak or seep spinal fluid from Tarlov cysts and they can effect normal spinal fluid flow to cause intracranial hypertension (high pressure headaches). They can also cause issues with sitting down and effect your lower extremities & bladder & bowel function. This video from a German Neurosurgeon who is a ‘arachnoiditis and Tarlov cyst specialist’ even describes Tarlov cysts as a form of arachnoiditis as well as often an additional feature. So they are VERY relevant to my condition. (See here for Dr Tennant’s bulletin on this or other medical articles below).

Other Spinal Cysts & Potential Connective Tissue Disorder

I also have an arachnoid cyst in my brain. Multiple prominent meningeal diverticula cysts in my thoractic & cervical spine. And a small pituitary cyst (I am under Endocrinology for but has remained unchanged). Could any other of these also be more than just incidental findings to my wider case – could any of them be part of a bigger picture of spinal canal inflammation/ collagen weakness/ biological predisposition – which can all be connected with arachnoiditis and spinal CSF leaks and seepage? (My NHS CSF leak team were already very mindful that about 30% of ‘leakers’ leak from meningeal diverticula.)

My Dad also has some undiagnosed key features of Marfans syndrome (including pectus excavatum & more recent heart problems) and he is tall with long thin limbs like me – which could mean I am more pre-disposed to all these things genetically (50% chance if he does have some Marfans). There are also some hypermobility features in other close family members. Although I have never been hypermobile AT ALL and was very healthy until my fall. But perhaps any such genetic predispositions could be hiding in my spine. I do have a mild scoliosis of the spine. My Mum also died six years ago following complications after surgery to remove a massive benign brain tumour. So there is a family history of neurological abnormalities there too.

Lack of Knowledge or Expertise to View scans

The first issue with scans is that arachnoditis can be very hard to see on scans until it becomes adhesive and even then many neuroradiologists miss it due to lack of experience with the condition.

The other main problem I have is that I am most doctors’ and neuroradiologists’ first known or one of their first known recent cases of arachnoiditis. Many of them do not know much about spinal CSF leaks either. So they lack experience of the conditions. I have also been informed by more expert neuro-radiologists/ doctors that you really need head to toe axial MRI images with IV contrast and/ with both T1 & T2 weighting and VERY experienced eyes to diagnose features of arachnoiditis or spinal nerve inflammation or even actual AA. (Although I am hopefully due more scans soon more like this soon and have been seeking out more experienced eyes to view them). One of the articles below also suggests that the use of ‘stir cycle’ images on MRI might help to spot the neuro-inflammation.

Medications

Whilst waiting for the MRI and deciding what to do, Neurology put me on pregabalin for the excruciating nerve pain, pins & needles & hypersensitive reactions etc. Diazepam for the spasms, jolting and jerking, paracetamol, laxatives. And I was already prescribed zopiclone by the GP that I tend to mainly only use during ‘flare ups’ because I always develop severe insomnia. (Another typical arachnoiditis symptom).

The combination of these medications did help me and eased some of the symptoms and allowed me to sleep more. I finally got my voice and mental clarity back so could begin to self advocate again and help the doctors to better understand my case and journey. But I was still stuck lying on my side with legs that hardly worked, bladder & bowel issues and pulling myself to the bathroom whilst walking on tip toes because my feet burnt & legs hurt too much to have my feet flat on the ground.

Dual Hospital Team

By then my more local hospital neurologist got in touch with my specialist low pressure/ spinal CSF leak neurologist (from another UK NHS hospital) who at that time happened to also be treating a friend of mine (from the online leak support groups) for early onset arachnoiditis following various spinal procedures at another separate hospital. So he was learning fast about the condition.

That friend has also been the absolute star who first provoked me to start looking into arachnoiditis due to her sharing her own very courageous, but deeply devastating recent journey of getting a spinal CSF leak following a lumbar puncture (multiple attempts) from another different hospital that went very wrong.

Then in embarking on the journey of getting that fixed she developed acute arachnoiditis. (If it is diagnosed and treated with (IV) steroids in the first 60-90 days you can completely reverse it and prevent it becoming adhesive) (Read this medical article for further details)

So she and my normal neurologist (whom she had approached for help) had already been learning so much – which was one of the timely things that helped me so much in my own time of desperation and need. For that special friend – I am forever grateful.

IV Steriods

It was finally agreed by my hospital Neuro team, my normal specialist neurologist (from the other hospital) and the hospital anaesthetist who had done two of my epidural blood patches in 2015/16 who was also involved – to trial me on the emergency treatment for arachnoiditis. Mainly as the risks and side effects of the treatment were lower than the risks of leaving me with a potentially severe arachnoiditis flare up which could be causing me more permanent damage & adhesions.

So they trialed me on 500mg of IV steroid methylprednisolone – the first dose carefully observed but I responded very well and straight away felt a boost of more clarity, energy, eased symptoms and stronger legs. So I then I had a total 5 days of 500ml IV steroids methylprednisolone.

Results of Steroid Treatment

The results of the 5 day treatment were actually quite dramatic in reversing this flare up.

The main change was probably to my legs. I could finally walk more normally and started walking up and down the ward, then out in the wider hospital, then I ventured for 30 mins to 1 hour walks around the grounds. This often included walking up 6 flights of stairs to the Neuro ward. This was a million miles away from willing & pulling my unimaginably painful, burning and tingly legs to the nearest bathroom.

My mental clarity returned so that I went from hardly being able to speak, to speaking with more clarity on the other medications, to finally being able to have hour long conversations and speak to the staff and other patients more easily.

The back pain, pins & needles and burning reduced considerably. I could lie on my back more (although still very tender – but that has been normal for years). I had a lot less leg pain. My photophobia radically improved and I could remove my sunglasses and stop covering my head. The meds had dealt with a lot of the jolting and twitching – but that now completely disappeared. I still had positional head pressure that got worse the longer I was upright – but I could be up for so much longer than when first admitted. My bladder and bowel also began to function more normally (although going to the loo still makes my head worse).

I did so well that I was finally discharged 2 weeks after my admission. Having not been able to see my husband, kids or any other visitors due to Covid lockdown restrictions.

Diagnosis from my Normal Neurologist

The next day I travelled to see my wonderful normal spinal CSF leak specialist Consultant Neurologist who was given the task of continuing my follow up. He had been kept informed about what had been happening during my stay at the other hospital and had been consulted. But obviously again still took down all the history of recent weeks and did his own neuro examination which actually showed after two days off the IV steroids some things were getting worse again and I found the examination more distressing again especially in my back and legs.

So he made a clinical diagnosis of arachnoiditis (we cannot know if it’s become adhesive at all over the years without scan evidence – so that needs to be investigated) as well as a spinal CSF leak.

He put me on an oral prednisolone taper as well as diclofenac (for neuro-inflammation), pregablin, omeprazole (to protect stomach) and very occasional use diazepam if needed (only used so far for travelling as sitting in the car for long journeys can still be torture). Restoring the (oral) steroids helped to again reverse things getting a bit worse again after the IV treatment ended.

Improvements Continue

It’s still early days but I can report that my legs continue to get stronger and I am now walking at least three times a day from 20 mins to 1 hour at a time. (I have not been able to do that since before my last relapse in April 2019). I am keeping this routine because walking and gentle stretching is thought vital to help stop the disease progression and nerve adhesions developing. And walking and gentle stretching exercises can potentially help any scarring and adhesions that might already have been there. My 5 year journey has also shown my best times came from more walking (but within balance) when I was able to. So that gives me confidence that it is of key importance.

So I am thankfully doing much better than I was.

A key feature being I can be upright a lot more than I have been able to for over a year and my head is much clearer than it has been for a long time. I still have many issues – so fatigue or the sacrum nerve pain is often the main thing still causing me to lie down to rest currently – although my head issues are always present too.

But I am so happy that we have perhaps reversed me moving more permanently into a more severe category of disease progression at this time and for that I am so very very grateful and thank all my doctors who worked as a team to help me.

The Tennant Foundation

I have to also say here that I am immensely grateful for all the expertise, medical articles, research and even direct emails from the founder of ‘The Tennant Foundation Arachnoiditis Research & Education Project’. Although in his late 70s and retired from clinical practice Dr Forest Tennant continues to offer so much advice, support, research and help to patients with arachnoiditis, AA or chronic cauda equina inflammatory disorders (CEID). It is his hard work and ongoing research (amidst others) that has helped myself, my dear friend who helped me & my specialist Neuro and many other doctors learn so much through his work.

Useful Links from Arachnoiditis Experts including Dr Tennant….

‘Arachnoiditis – Taming the Most Painful Pain’ video
https://youtu.be/VGuS1iTuhLo

Arachnoiditis: A Clinical Update https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/pain/spine/adhesive-arachnoiditis-no-longer-rare-disease

Patient & Family Handbook for Adhesive Arachnoditis http://arachnoiditishope.com/pages/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Arachnoiditis-Handbook-5th-Edition-2019.pdf

Then this was also helpful to myself & my doctors… Dr Sarah Smith: The Arachnoiditis Syndrome http://www.arachnoiditis.co.uk/index.php/information/medical-papers-2/124-the-arachnoiditis-syndrome-dr-sarah-smith

And this other article of hers is interesting and highlights that a normal MRI does not rule out the diagnosis of arachnoiditis. https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/pain/spine/adhesive-arachnoiditisa-continuing-challenge

And this: Suspecting & Diagnosing Arachnoiditis (J. Antonio Aldrete) https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/pain/spine/suspecting-diagnosing-arachnoiditis

Ongoing Journey

So I am at the start of a new medical journey… As well as 5 1/2 years into it. I am still not well or normal by any means. But I have made massive improvements since this recent flare & in many ways on how I have been for about the past year since my last relapse. I still have intracranial pressure issues. I still have major sacrum nerve pain problems – but less than I did. It’s also very hard to know what could be directly related to the arachnoiditis/ possible AA/ chronic cauda equina inflammatory disorder because these can all effect spinal fluid flow and can cause leakage, seepage and can cause spinal cysts to form/ grow which can then add to inflammation issues. My head seems better than it has been in a long time – but still has many issues.

What is simply the spinal CSF leak? What is connected to the new things were are learning about now? It’s hard to know.

Multiple Spinal Procedures

I still believe this all started as a direct result of that fall and my biological predisposition. I had so many of these symptoms for the two months before my first ever spinal procedure (a lumbar puncture to check pressure which was a 7 at the time). However, my multiple spinal medical procedures (1 diagnostic LP (OP 7), 4 BEBP, 2 LP’s for Cisternogram (OP 10) & CT Myelogram (OP 11) and 1 LP accident instead of an EBP), may well have added to my spinal nerve inflammation issues in different ways. I often found EBP could clearly help some things but as time went on they could also could cause flare ups of intense pain in the following weeks/ months too. We often wondered if this was due to Rebound High Pressure issues, but perhaps it was also (or perhaps more of) an inflammation flare.

My CT Myelogram in September 2017 also caused a seizure within a couple of hours of the procedure (perhaps that was partly due to both the horrific pain, contrast irritation or me staying lying flat afterwards). My already acute symptoms then became even worse – including my weak legs, restricted gait and ‘drunk head’ sensation. So they admitted me – then requested an EBP (although the first attempt became another LP unfortunately). I then had a massive spinal and non-positional head pain flare for at least two months after that (although interestingly I could also be upright more than before the EBP). But the constant pain and often nausea around that time again- at times- left me feeling suicidal as it was so unrelenting. Until I instinctively started walking rather obsessively – which again may have been my saving grace back then as walking can help prevent adhesions forming.

I am NOT Angry with Doctors who Tried to Help me

I feel no resentment at all towards the doctors who requested those procedures or did them. They were trying to help me with ongoing debilitating low pressure headaches as best they could and didn’t always understand these other complications well. Many of those doctors also fought their own battles to try and help my case at the time – so how can I be angry with them doing their best for me according to what they knew then? Also some of those same doctors have been wonderful at listening – and absolutely instrumental – in helping me now which helps the sense of learning together. And learning together means learning through both the good and the bad – especially in rarer/ misunderstood conditions. So as long as they will now also learn lessons from my case in being much more aware of complications such as arachnoiditis and spinal nerve inflammation, then I remain grateful for all their help on my journey.

I DON’T expect doctors to know what they just don’t know. But I DO expect them to listen, learn and consider with humility when new possible complications and complexities emerge they may have little current understanding of.

Other Previous Flare Triggers

Also I have equally had flares/ relapses due to a second bad trip and fall in May 2017 or over-exercising perhaps without also reducing neuro-inflammation (esp a few weeks following my second EBP in November 2015 from which I had actually seen much low pressure symptom improvement). However, I tried some heavier exercise due to all the residual neck, spine stiffness, pain and ongoing head issues – but this ultimately lead to a serious pain and awful symptom flare including severe insomnia 6 weeks after the patch & my first serious mental health crisis.

I have had other flare ups perhaps triggered by long car journeys, or even plane or bus rides, like in April 2019 after a holiday to Italy which again also caused a very serious mental health crisis too due to severe insomnia and constant unrelenting awful pain. See my A Window into a Suicidal Mind blog post. (‘Bucket seats’ like in many planes & cars are reported as really bad for arachnoiditis/ AA patients). And perhaps this time the Covid lockdown added to the flare because I was doing a lot less walking and natural physio (shopping & driving locally) than before which I now understand is so important to stop disease progression. We must keep walking and moving to stop nerves sticking and clumping together.

The Next Step

The next step is hopefully to continue with a low dose anti-inflammatory/ steroid treatment and gentle exercise protocol. But that is all to be discussed further with my GP & Consultant Neurologist. I also need more appropriate scans and to get them read by someone with more expertise. (I am currently waiting for a further outpatient MRI at the hospital I was admitted to.)

I know from experience that having the ‘evidence’ many doctors like to see isn’t always possible. But not having it doesn’t mean you do not have these conditions. (It took 4 years and multiple scans for a neuroradiologist and neurologist to spot a suspected spinal CSF leak in my neck.) I know people whose scans have been read for years by top neuroradiologists, neurologists and neurosurgeons who have all missed CSF leaks, arachnoiditis or AA that has only been picked up by a specialist on those same scans some years later.

Sometimes we unique patients do not ‘tick all the boxes’ or give the desired evidence – especially with rare / misunderstood conditions – as I wrote about in my widely shared post ‘Dear Doctor, A Letter from Your Naked Patient.’ But it doesn’t mean we are not exceedingly unwell.

Sometimes the truth is there – but it’s hiding – and can’t be seen by most doctors until someone more knowledgeable gets involved or those same doctors spend a lot of time researching these conditions to make the necessary connections. Also arachnoiditis will often not show on scans unless it becomes adhesive.

Which is why a clinical diagnosis and emergency treatment – without scan evidence – can be vital in preventing potentially catastrophic adhesions and nerve clumping which may only show on scans once that patient is significantly permanently disabled by the condition.

Gratitude for Doctors

I will keep on pressing forward. Seeking more answers. Looking for the correct treatments and working with some of the wonderful doctors I have supporting me on this journey – both old & new.

Without an open minded and open hearted multi-disciplinary team of doctors across two hospitals coming together to help me in recent weeks. – including the two key doctors who have followed/ dealt with my case for years my current prognosis could no doubt be even more bleak. I have never been THAT bad and so many red flags were being raised that I was perhaps moving into realms of more permanent spinal damage if left like that. Especially if things could have been becoming more adhesive.

Some people with severe adhesive arachnoiditis can end up paralysed, partially paralysed and incontinent and possibly with intractable pain syndrome IF they do not receive the right treatment and ongoing treatment protocols at the right time. So if someone is in a seriously debilitating ‘red flags’ flare, like I was, then it should be considered a medical emergency.

The Joy of Gratitude

I am so deeply deeply thankful for all the support I have had from my ever faithful, constantly sacrificially loving and understanding husband and very resilient teenage daughters. As well as many wonderful doctors, other fantastic medical staff, our family, special friends (already battling these conditions), our church family who have cooked and prayed hard for my family and looked after us and many many more supportive professionals and friends. And that gratitude and wonder is something I will allow my mind to keep pondering, to keep meditating upon – even whilst I continue on my journey of enduring what is often the burden of unimaginable daily struggle & pain.

… Although at this moment in time that is a bit easier than it has been for a long time.

Because to remain grateful in suffering – to keep remembering all the abundant love, support, care, kindness and compassion you have been shown by God and others – is a big part of always seeing that beauty in the brokenness.

As I keep being reminded of every time I see, yet another, stunningly designed, beautiful butterfly resting in the broken and cracked dust & dirt.

There is always beauty to be found – even in the dirt. IF we will keep our eyes & heart open to SEEing it.

“When we are grateful, we are most fully alive. Gratitude allows us to absorb every possible pleasure from a moment…. When your heart is full of gratitude, life paints itself in far brighter and more vivid colours…Life becomes an endless celebration… There is always something that fills you with joy & unleashes hope and inspiration.”

From ‘Uprising’ by Erwin McManus

For more previous posts about my story of living with a spinal CSF Leak (from before we understood the arachnoditis element) 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.

Please see this  May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition.

Enduring the Pain of a Chronic Spinal CSF Leak

“Try to understand others. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other.”

John Steinbeck

Trying to understand others is a big motivating force in my life. I have learnt from experience over the years that the more we can TRY to understand others – and they TRY to understand us – the kinder we will be to one another. Ignorance about others’ lives and what they have had to deal with in the past, or what they currently face now, is often one of the reasons we misunderstand and judge others behaviour and words. Listening and more understanding, on the other hand, is often the key to treating people with more love, grace & compassion in every way.

This is one of the reasons I have tried to tell my own story over the past five years as honestly as I can. To help me to understand and process my own journey. To also help others to understand me. But probably most importantly to try and help others suffering to not feel so alone and misunderstood.

I want to use my writing abilities to be a public voice and advocate for the suffering and oppressed – to help them express and understand the inexpressible within themselves and to help those around them to also understand. Whilst also providing a window to those in the medical profession to help them understand spinal CSF leak patients better.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.”‭‭

Proverbs‬ ‭31:8‬ ‭

Many doctors have no idea how much damage they can physically and mentally do to their spinal CSF leak patients due to their own misunderstandings and ignorance of the condition. As I wrote about in Dear Doctor, A Letter from your Naked Patient.

My Background Story

In January 2015 I fell off a small step ladder whilst painting and hit my head and spine hard. Although a little dazed and bruised at the time, I generally felt OK. But over the next 48 hours I started to feel more and more unwell until I was left predominately stuck in bed in a dark room (to read more about that see my original Living with a Spinal CSF Leak post or Surviving the Storm post). At first I was diagnosed with a concussion, then post-concussion syndrome. But finally after admission to hospital 8 weeks later with things not improving and in some ways worse (on my third trip to the ED) – I was diagnosed with a spinal CSF leak.

Although my cranial and spinal MRIs were deemed normal at the time, I was diagnosed after 2 weeks of observation on a NHS city hospital neurology ward where it was obvious I only ever felt well lying completely flat. I also had a diagnostic lumbar puncture which was low (7). (Although I would never recommend using LPs to diagnose because of the high risk of a new leak and the fact that about 60% of leak patients will not show low pressure anyway*). I also then had 5 much better months directly following a blind lumbar 30ml epidural blood patch before fully relapsing again that September.

I have now had 4 blind epidural blood patches – all gave me obvious consistent relief for weeks to months. Although never fully and always transient. I have also had countless MRIs, a cisternogram and a CT Myelogram. Although it is only recently that my UK CSF leak team have flagged seeing a suspected leak on my spinal MRIs.

High & Low Pressure Fluctuations

Over the past 5 years I have experienced months of being almost constantly flat in bed and months of being upright all day (following epidural blood patches). But never symptom free and always struggling with hypersensitive reactions to normal pressure changes in my skull. At times after blood patches my symptoms have also typically seemed to shift into a more high pressure pattern of getting worse lying down and better upright. Although those times were also very confusing – as they often are for many spinal CSF leak patients who experience hypersensitive pressure fluctuations. Which can be even more heightened after treatment/ healing.

I have discussed this with a number of people over the years. There is an online support group for patients experiencing symptoms consistent with Rebound High Pressure symptoms and treated for such symptoms.

My friend Lisa’s experience of pressure fluctuations and rebounding from low to high pressure following spinal CSF leak self healing is documented here. (Also found at Series 2 Episode 6 here: www.nationalmigrainecentre.org.uk/migraine-and-headaches/heads-up-podcast/)

Micro-Managing ICP Equilibrium

We were actually recently discussing over Twitter how spinal CSF leak patients both before and after treatment/ healing become experts in ‘micro-managing their ICP (skull pressure) equilibrium’. Bending, carrying, lifting, stretching, straining, going to the loo, shouting, singing, twisting, exertion, opening stiff jars, lifting a full kettle, travelling on bumpy roads, stress & anxiety etc etc all tend to send pressure bursts/ waves into our head. Which when we are leaking, just seem to also make us leak more until it builds and we can no longer maintain a manageable pressure equilibrium in our skulls.

So to manage the condition, I have to ‘micro-manage’ my ICP. For me this means avoiding many of the things I mention above as much as possible or plan them before I lie down to rest. I also ask my family to lift/ carry/ bend for me as much as possible. I use a ‘litter picker’ stick to pick things up off the ground. I often try to delay using the loo until before I know I can lie down where possible. I also stand up most of the time I am upright because sitting makes me worse far quicker for some reason. (Perhaps due to the location of the leak and the stretching of the dura from sitting down.) Keeping my spine completely straight is my key to more upright time. And reducing the ‘pressure busts/ waves’ in my skull which build up to make me progressively worse until I cannot tolerate the symptoms any more.

How it Feels To Have a Spinal CSF leak.

Please note these symptoms are there every day without fail. This pattern is consistent each and every day.

The best way to explain it, is like an ever-increasing overwhelming dull pressure/ intensity in the head. As it gets worse (over minutes to hours depending on how acute the leak is), you feel more and more detached from the world around you. That feels a bit like being drunk/ or using ‘gas and air’ – but accompanied by a heavy, pressure pain. The pressure is in the whole head but I feel it particularly in the occipital area, in my neck and behind my eyes. At its worst it is accompanied by a ‘pulling sensation’ which leaves you feeling like your head is being pulled into your neck. Or that your neck isn’t strong enough to hold your head up. Also many of the nerves around that area hurt more and more.

It just builds and builds until your brain starts shutting down. You can no longer think straight, process well, everything feels impossible, you become disoriented and confused and you can feel very very nauseous and I sometimes even want to gag. Although never actually vomit like some people do.

I also get pain in the bottom of my spine which gets increasingly worse. So I have described to others that it often feels like I have a metal rod going through my spine with a clamp at the bottom of my skull/ top of my neck. And one at the bottom of my spine. The sensation is then like someone is tightening the clamps either end so that my spine is being tightened, shortened and my skull is being pulled into my neck.

I imagine that it’s simply the sensation of your brain ‘sinking/ slumping’ into your skull because of the intracranial hypotension. Caused by the lack of spinal fluid to keep your brain in its cushioned, buoyant place. I think then this causes me to feel tension throughout my spine hence the clamp feeling.

The overriding feeling is…

‘I CANNOT COPE.’

I cannot cope…. with this intensity in my head.

I cannot cope …. with this level of pain & trauma.

I cannot cope …. with thinking and making decisions.

I cannot cope… with attempting to formulate words to explain what is happening.

I cannot cope …. with attempting to function whilst my body and brain feels like it is shutting down.

I cannot cope …. with this impossible illness.

My husband says I become vacant, distant and increasingly slow to respond as it becomes obvious that I am in a bad way.

Those feelings just increase until you feel like…

I CANNOT COPE WITH ANYTHING!!!
I MUST LIE DOWN & REST!!!!

You then think about the best quiet place that you can lie down flat in that moment….

Like a drug addict needing their fix….

…. Or a person in perpetual excruciating pain needing a morphine injection.

It’s obsessive.

My ‘morphine’ or ‘drug of choice’ is to lie down.

Morphine itself doesn’t work nor do any other pain killers. ONLY lying down/ resting works. Hence the debilitation.

The Impact of Lying down To Rest

As I lie down flat I feel a wave of relief as, almost instantly, things get easier. It can take anything from seconds to minutes to begin to feel the easing of symptoms. Although if things have got too bad because I have pushed myself too long, gone out for a longer walk or if I have just been on a longer car journey, it can take up to an hour-plus for my symptoms to fully calm to more manageable levels – where I feel more fully relaxed again from the extreme tension and trauma in my brain and body.

But as it does ease, it’s like your head slowly begins to clear. The intensity gradually eases. The ‘clamps’ loosen. The pain begins to dissipate. The brain fog and confusion gets better.

I can finally think and talk more clearly again.

I feel more normal again … although never fully normal. Never how my head used to feel before the accident.

At my worst times – when I was probably leaking most acutely – after being upright too long (sometimes a matter of minutes) I would not even be able to walk or talk properly. My speech would become slurred and incomprehensible. My legs would turn to jelly and I would struggle to walk without holding onto things to pull myself back to bed. And everything would feel like a dream.

My brain would just begin to completely shut down.

Until I would HAVE to lie down, as if being saved from drowning in pain, trauma & confusion… and after 5-10 minutes of lying flat I could think and talk more normally again.

Countless doctors and nurses in hospital over my various stays observed this which helped confirm the diagnosis at that time.

Those were more my classic spinal CSF leak symptoms. My problems with doctors came when those times were extended to hours or even most of the day of being upright. Especially after epidural blood patches. That is when many spinal CSF leak patients fall through the ‘text book diagnosis’ cracks. Into the ‘chronic migraines’ or ‘NDPH’ (New daily persistent headache) or chronic fatigue boxes.

And yet I know hundreds of patients in the UK/ world wide who can be upright most, or even all of the day, with spinal CSF leaks still evidenced on their scans or found in exploratory surgery – proving that it is possible, and actually more common than once thought (as any up-to-date research on the subject will tell you). Some patients with all the symptoms but no scan evidence turn out in exploratory surgery to have a thin membrane covering the leak which stops them fully healing but provides enough covering to not show on scans and give them more upright time. Some of these patients started off leaking through a simple lumbar puncture, but were previously told by doctors that they definitely could not be leaking still, and suggestions made that they ‘spend too much time on Google’ or it is simply ‘all in their head.’ Which regularly pushes very unwell patients into deep despair.

This is part of what makes this condition very difficult to endure.

The fact is that lying down not only helps much of the intense, traumatic pain. But it also helps my focus and ability to concentrate so much. This means that I often opt to lie down to write messages or emails to people, or talk on the phone for extended periods – simply because I can ‘think straight’ lying down – much better than I can upright. Especially if I have been upright for a while.

I normally write most of these blog posts lying down too.

Current Symptoms

I currently find I have about 1-4 hours upright AT A TIME. Generally more first thing in the morning and if I am well rested. Before things get too unmanageable and I have to lie down again for 1-2 hours to recover. I am then up for a while then down again throughout the day. I have also learnt to generally try and pre-empt when I really need to ‘get flat again’ so it doesn’t get too bad. Otherwise I can’t cope and it takes me longer to recover. Some days – like today – I am more up and down like a yo-yo for shorter time’s to try and avoid longer periods flat and do more writing or things on my phone lying down.

This has actually all been much easier for me in COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ because being at home all day means I can plan my lying down breaks much more easily. It’s extended periods upright outside of the house which are hardest for me.

However, as much as lying down is my ‘painkiller’ of choice. I must tell you that it doesn’t always ‘make all the pain go away’.

We Do Get Pain Lying Down Too

I live with a constant underlying dull head pressure and pain to varying degrees. Since my accident I have never had a fully clear head without any pressure, fogginess or pain at all.

Not one day, not even for one hour.

I imagine that everything is so messed up, inflamed and damaged in my head and spine these days and with my ICP equilibrium. That the pain and feelings of pressure (to differing levels) never really fully leaves. And often if I ‘over do it’ either upright or trying to do too much lying down. (A lot of typing, reading or talking). I can get a different type of headache on top of my normal one. A very painful more frontal headache, combined with a feeling of pressure and nausea. That can really stop me in my tracks for a bit. I actually feel it a bit now as I write this on my iphone whilst lying flat. I imagine it’s partly the exertion of holding my phone, and typing a lot on it. Whilst also concentrating to write. Sometimes normal painkillers can help this additional headache a bit but not always.

That kind of headache makes me feel very sleepy and I yawn a lot to try and release the pressure. If I then get up I often feel my ears popping as if my pressure is trying to equalise again. I still obviously have a lot of problems regulating my skull pressure.

I must also add here that I can also get those ‘pressure bursts’ I mention about being upright – lying down too. If I stretch, move or turn over too quickly, speak too loudly or even ‘pass wind’ (funnily enough – that’s how sensitive my head is!!!) I get a tangible wave of dull pressure and pain into my head. That can also make me feel rather light headed for a few minutes. But it normally eases again lying down if I am still and quiet for a bit – but not always.

The Vicious Cycle of Stress and ICP Regulation

Stress is also a MAJOR problem for spinal CSF leak patients. Due to the natural increases in ICP stress and anxiety brings – it is one of our worst enemies. Which is a major problem when our symptoms and the resulting debilitation are SO stressful, and at times traumatic, to deal with. I fully believe that the 2-3 major mental health crisis’ I have experienced were in seasons of major stress caused by the trauma and exhaustion of dealing with the illness and trying to get medical help long term. As well as experiencing relapses and pressure swings post treatment.

That is when I go from manageable head pain (if I have consistent lying flat breaks). To unmanageable, perpetual, excruciating, persistent head pain.

Upright AND lying down.

It is the EXTRA PAIN (on top of the normal more positional spinal CSF leak symptoms) that pushes me ‘over the edge’. And that level of pain feels impossible to deal with. That is what happened when I fully relapsed last year and later wrote this article as a window into the torturous suicidal mind.

At that point I had relapsed again and was desperately unwell physically AND mentally. I saw my neurologist in May 2019 and we were rather confused as to whether my symptoms could be high or low pressure related. Due to some features that looked more like high pressure linked to terrible symptoms on a recent flight to Italy on holiday and previously head pressure and pain lying down and in the night/ early morning. Although after an ‘acetazolomide trial’ (a drug used to reduce ICP) made my symptoms doubly worse until I could hardly move, walk or talk upright at all. It became clearer that it was probably another low pressure relapse. And after a few weeks following the full relapse my symptoms fell into a clearer low pressure pattern anyway of symptoms being greatly reduced lying down. (Especially once my sleep was restored & extra Neuro pain helped by medication from the GP – Mirtazapine, Zopiclone & Nortriptiline which was approved my my neurologist.)

These confusions about pressure are very very common as there are so many symptom overlaps between high and low pressure and their differences are often not clear cut. ** They can also have paradoxical symptoms which can confuse many. I know people with low pressure sounding symptoms that turned out to have IIH. It is also possible to have high ICP/ OP readings from intracranial monitoring or LP AND a spinal CSF leak. (I know of many people who have had normal or high pressure readings (one with an OP of 45 and I have heard with someone with over 50) WITH an evidenced spinal CSF leak. So it’s never a simple process to know what is going on.)

Also Rebound Intracranial Hypertension symptoms following treatment – although increasingly documented are often sneered at or laughed at by most neurologists. I was onced asked by a neurology consultant secretary after none of the neurologists in the office had heard of it… “did you see it on google Mrs Hill?” in a sarcastic tone. It’s this kind of experience that just leaves you feeling stupid about the complexity and debilitation of your symptoms. I replied, “Yes you can find it on google – can I send all the links so someone can actually consider it.”

Holistic Calmness to Manage Symptoms

So, regarding all this, and as I have previously written about – holistic calmness is often the key to managing a chronic spinal CSF leak. But calmness is not easy to come by when you deal with the stress of everything I have described above. Calmness for me has to go so much deeper than for the average person to try to maintain enough balance to keep my symptoms under control.

I tried to explain this once to a friend of mine who is also a doctor. My ‘normal ups and downs’ are so exaggerated by this condition that I imagine what to ‘normal people’s’ body and mind might feel like small changes in equilibrium – to me is felt so much more acutely. Hence some doctors will perhaps purely attach such issues to a patients lack of mental and emotional stability, rather than recognising the underlying physical medical problem creating these ‘mental and emotional’ swings and issues.

Mental Health & CSF Leaks

As I have explained again and again to both patients and doctors – You cannot separate the physical and psychological in any medical condition… But especially in this condition. I like to call the combination of the physical and mental in spinal CSF leak patients and during recovery as ‘a big ball of mess!!’ Where it is impossible to know where the physical ends and psychological begins.

You just cannot separate them.

Especially due to the way this condition effects our ICP (head/ skull pressure) and how that then both responds to stress & triggers stress.

When I say: ‘I CAN’T COPE!’ It’s not normally because I cannot cope in my mental health – per se. It’s mainly that I cannot function physically in that moment so then cannot cope any more mentally with the physical trauma of those symptoms either.

Once I lie down for a bit “I CAN COPE” much more.

But anyone will tell you when you are in a lot of pain or feel really really ill physically – you also struggle to cope mentally too. So the more I try and push my body to do what it struggles to do physically, the more pressure that puts on me mentally and emotionally. Causing this vicious circle where the physical and mental simply feed off one another and you can end up in dangerous places psychologically too. This is why many spinal CSF leak patients can have both underlying depression & anxiety AND be prone to major mental heath crisis’ when their body and mind pack in after trying to ‘push through’ for too long. I believe we are massively more at risk of complete physical and mental breakdowns than the normal population.

I never had any mental health issues at all before my accident. All my problems have always been directly linked to my medical condition – as confirmed by both psychiatrists and the counsellor I have seen since.

Why I Share My Story Publicly

So there is more of my current story of battling a spinal fluid leak (and at times more recovery) for 5 1/2 years. This condition is still so often so unrecognised, under-diagnosed and so misunderstood that it causes many patients untold amounts of extra pain and distress.

This is seen again and again and again when you hear the hundreds of stories in the private Facebook UK and International Spinal CSF leaks and recovery support groups. Most patients have a MAJOR battle to be heard and it causes them untold trauma physically & mentally that can effect them well into the future. Even if they can and do more fully recover in the end.

That is one of the reasons I continue to share my story. To be a voice for others struggling – as much as for myself. To try to reach some who are suffering so deeply and feeling so alone and misunderstood. And to help their family, friends and maybe even their doctors understand this condition better.

Case Update

In my own case – I am still working with my UK NHS specialist neurologist and his intracranial pressure team to try and find a way forward to help me. At the moment this includes considering Digital Subtraction or Dynamic CT Myelograms to try and locate the actual leak site (which is often very complex and hindered by the fact that my last CTM caused me to seizure) or trying a fifth blind epidural blood patch as these have helped a lot in the past.

Although the current pandemic had delayed all that somewhat. And our NHS – although wonderfully free at point of access – is also often very very slow. Particularly for patients needing multiple scans and procedures to help them with long term conditions such and this.

So mostly I have had to learn how to live with this awful condition and find the best life I can within all of the pain and restrictions. And this is where I am immensely thankful that with the help of my amazing husband, family, church family, many friends and the spiritual support from my faith. As well as some wonderfully supportive doctors I have discovered on my journey. I have found a way to live and enjoy life – amidst all of its pain. With God’s help I have found purpose, meaning and hope even amidst so much personal destruction.

So I want to encourage all those reading this today. That even if your life will never return to what it once was. There is still more beauty, joy and meaning to be discovered here and now. It will take a lot of grieving, support and wrestling through the journey. But to find more meaning within it perhaps you could reach out to support someone else, help educate others about CSF leaks, volunteer for one of the CSF Leak charities or find new creative ways to use your skills & expertise to make a difference in our world.

Your Life May Never Look Like How You Once Imagined It

But maybe rather than giving up hope we need to re-imagine a life that IS worth living. Through grieving the losses deeply – accepting our new reality – but then by finding a new way of living. Here and now. As many others have had to do before us.

My story is a testimony that it is possible to rediscover a new way of living even when you are not yet well. A spinal CSF leak is not the end of everything.

It may be the death of the life you were living, or imagined you would be living.

But sometimes it is also the beginning of some new things discovered that can be even more beautiful than what you knew before.

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

Dale Carnegie


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 is a continuation of my Living With a Spinal CSF Leak post that I wrote 3 years ago. To read more about my spinal csf leak journey then please see the Spinal CSF leak tab in the top menu.

*Please see this new May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic over 5 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstanding and great distress on my already immensely long winded and difficult medical journey.

**Please also see this other in depth 2018 medical paper about both low and high intracranial pressure syndromes and their similar and different symptoms. It also mentions cross overs with other headache types. When a patient suffers with a spinal CSF leak long term it can cause massive fluctuations in their whole pressure system both whilst suffering from a spinal CSF leak and following treatment. This is why lumbar puncture pressure readings and ICP pressure monitoring can prove an inaccurate diagnostic tool for SIH as this paper refers to as does the 10 myths paper. My initial LP reading was a 7 which was considered ‘evidence’ of low pressure by some doctors and normal by others. 

Finding Peace in the COVID-19 Storm

It feels stormy out there right?

Everything is so strange. In one moment our whole world has changed. A surreal season which we are struggling to understand. To catch up with or comprehend.

And as time goes on…

We all know people deeply affected by this world-wide tragedy. Those who got sick and recovered. Those who never did recover and so sadly lost their lives. NHS & care staff working on the frontlines dealing with new levels of stress, pressure and anxiety that those of us stuck at home can hardly fathom. Our day to day lives so completely transformed.

Will we ever return to the normality which was once known?

Can we truly find peace in this uncontrollable storm?

Our chaotic unpredictable universe is reminding us of how out of control our lives often seem. We have again recently all had to face our own mortality and brutally realise how fragile we truly are.

Is anything certain any more? What does the future hold for any of us?

It feels stormy out there for so many. But it also often feels stormy in here too – right? Within us, in our chaotic minds. In our homes, families, relationships and lives.

Chaos is not at its worst outside of us. It’s actually most dangerous when it takes over within us.

How can we find stillness in chaos? Is it even possible without escaping from, or numbing away, our anxious thoughts? Or in trying to escape or distract ourselves from the reality of the current major struggle in our world?

These are important questions. Ones that I have had to dig so much deeper into and wrestle with a lot over the past five years since I fell off a ladder in January 2015 and sustained a debilitating brain/ spinal injury that I still have today.

In that one moment my life suddenly rocketed out of my control. One day I shifted onto a new life path I was never meant to take. A place I had not planned for or envisioned to live or endure.

These current restrictions due to the Coronavirus lockdown are actually not so strange for me, because the past five years have kept me predominately at home anyway. And for many hours a day lying down to control debilitating brain and spinal pain and other symptoms which means I still spend an awful lot of time in bed or on the sofa.

So many times my life felt devastated, as the restrictions and debilitation overwhelmed me. I watched so many around me continue on with their ‘normal’ lives whilst mine remained somewhat ‘on hold’ and out of control.

…. until ‘one day’ I would hopefully get fully well.

Then things could return to ‘normal’ I could again shift back onto the path I should be on.

But I never did get well…
I never got to take back control…
My old ‘normality’ never came…

So I have had to learn how to live here. To find a haven of peace even when the storm rages. To let go of my need to try and take control of my, or others, destinies. To climb out of the box of ‘normal living’ to embrace new spaces found in the ‘abnormal’ reality here.

It’s not an easy journey.

I know that so well.

It’s painful! It’s full of grief.

But it’s full of wonder and profound new discoveries too.

The letting go of control.
Of embracing a new way of living.
Allowing old dreams to fade.
So that new ones can arise.

I have had to adapt, I have had to change so much so as to find a new way of life that can be lived in this place. To discover new hopes and dreams within all of the restrictions. Rather than constantly grieving the life I hoped to be living right now.

I have had to dig deeper. To find peace and stillness – even when life doesn’t look like how I imagined it before.

Through all of my wrestlings I have discovered a deeper peace that I know is always there to be found. If I will continue to ‘let go of the old’ and ‘embrace the new’. Settling in my heart that change must come and that life can still be lived in the midst of all the restrictions and pain.

I must look for the firm foundation amidst all of this shifting sand.

Where is this unchanging peace found?

In my experience there is only ONE true and reliable avenue to discovering lasting peace. A peace that is described and experienced as ‘passing all understanding’. It’s unfathomable because it is not based on your circumstances going well. It’s not reliant on a peaceful place being found. It’s not even discovered only when everything is quiet & still.

Because for me… true peace is not the ABSENCE of something. It’s not a place where there is no longer struggle, pain or discomfort. Instead my experience of peace is the PRESENCE of something far more beautiful.

To be exact – my peace is the PRESENCE of SOMEONE!

A person who is always there and will never leave me, because He forever lives with me. He constantly dwells within me. He is all around me and will never forsake me.

My peace is a person… yet He is also a supernatural force.

My peace is so gentle … and yet He is also known to roar.

My peace is abundantly loving… and yet He challenges me each day.

My peace upholds me… even when I can no longer feel Him there.

My peace is Jesus Christ.

The tangible stillness that guides my life’s ship through the storm.

A place where He is fully in control even when everything within me feels like a storm.

An indescribable presence, so still, so restful, so easy. Where the heavy burdens I have been carrying are lifted. And His gentle yoke of unconditional love and undeserved grace is left in its place.

He is the ONE who has won my heart with the beauty of His unending Love.

He is my ultimate calm.

So many people misunderstand my Saviour. But it doesn’t mean that He is not there. He is always standing patiently, glimmering in the shadows of our lives. Knocking at the door of our hearts. Willing us to let Him in. Desiring us to allow His Light to radiate into our dark places and shine through our broken pieces into our hurting world.

So that we can experience the supernatural power of His peaceful presence. An unimaginable Love that takes you over as He enters in. Awakening you by the grace that He plants within.

In His peaceful presence there is a realignment of His Spirit and your soul. You find that you become restored back to who you were always meant to be. You discover the purpose for which you were created. You finally discover what it really means to truly be ‘me’.

In His presence the striving will cease as His supernatural rest takes over as He does His own work in you. His peace descends as you cease resisting who He made you and who you were designed to be.

I wonder – do you know that peace yet? Have you experienced its stillness?

Do you feel it now?

I feel that peace. The deep calm of knowing Him and Him fully knowing me. It emanates through and from His Spirit who came to live within me the moment I fully surrendered. The time that I was born again into His family. The occasion that I was made fully new.

He is my peace.
My love, my life, my all.

Do you desire to feel deep peace today? Has anxiety taken you over and you long for even just a taste of peace again? For normality to be restored? To discover the joys of how life used to be. To go away somewhere, to retreat back to your favourite places of beauty & joy. To return to a life that was more ordered and controlled, when your plans were not put on indefinite hold.

Well He is here for you – if you will call out His name.

His name is Jesus.

Call to Him today.

He is always waiting, always willing and always longing for your call.

Jesus said, “”I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.””

– John‬ ‭16:33‬ The Bible ‭‬

We will have trouble in this life. Our broken world is full of it. If we can avoid it today – it will somehow reach us tomorrow. But Jesus transcends the trouble in our world. And with your permission that presence of peace can enter into your own personal chaos.

You simply have to…
Let go.
Surrender,
And dare to let Him in.

You cannot earn peace. You cannot muster up enough positivity to win it as your reward. You can only surrender to Him and allow Him to do His deep work within you. Until peace begins to take control of all that you say and do.

I assure you – once you start to taste and experience the glorious fruit of His peaceful presence, you will be ruined for anything else.

Because peace is not a place. It is not an absence. It is not even an escape.

Peace is a person.

Peace is a presence.

His name is Jesus.

And you can experience Him now.

IF you will surrender and let Him in!

“Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the Light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.”

– A Gaelic Blessing

Waves of Grief in Chronic Illness

Yesterday was a hard day. A day where the horrible constant pain and nausea nagged and taunted me the whole day. A day where grief again came as waves that wouldn’t stop washing over me.

Reminders of loss, of restriction, of the shackles of chronic illness.

Grief doesn’t just come when people die. (Although that is one of the worst kinds.) Grief comes wherever there is loss in our lives of things that were important to us.

There is often a lot of things lost with chronic illness.

Grief brings an anxiety that attacks you. An inner pain that can take your breath away. A deep sense of loss and forced change. A feeling of being somewhat out of control. Not knowing what the future will look like. Unsure that you will always find the strength you need to hold on.

The grief is real yet unwelcome.

Grief is the uninvited visitor who barges into your life, to brutally remind you of everything that has gone. You don’t want it there – you fight, resist it and want to chase those thoughts and feelings away.

Sometimes you can: You find a way to refocus. To remember all the good things still left to enjoy. But some days the battle rages: You spend all day exhaustingly trying to dodge and jump wave after wave…

Until in one moment – it catches you unawares – and crashes over you again. You want to scream, cry and shout out all your pain. All the heartache. The weariness of the constant battles. You want the world to know that you don’t want to be like this. You don’t want to live like this. This is not how it was meant to be. You don’t have the energy to keep facing these levels of pain and suffering.

But there is absolutely nothing you can do but try to flow with it. To try and wade through the turbulent waves. In the fight to find that deeper peace again.

Sometimes you just have to grieve. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to lament as David did in the Bible Psalms. Sometimes you must take a moment to face the reality of the struggle. To say how much it all hurts. To acknowledge how unfair it feels.

To speak the REALITY, that these days you perhaps rarely share.

I honestly get so tired sometimes of the relentless battles I have no choice but to fight.

“Confessing weakness is the doorway to hope. It marks the end of self-reliance and the beginning of letting grace do in you what you could never do for yourself.”

Paul David Tripp

Grief is such a painful word. It’s even more of a painful feeling.
It takes you over from the pit of your stomach. As you remember how things used to be. How you hoped they would remain. The person you thought you were and would be. The life you always had in mind.

Which no longer exists… Like it did before.

A significant part of my life died five years ago. My health was shattered after one fall. I have honestly forgotten what good health feels like. I don’t remember how it feels to have a body and brain that works normally. To not have this constant pressure and pain in my head and spine. It’s constant screaming for my attention. Pulling me to distraction.

I want to be present… Here with you in this moment… With others. Focusing fully on the things I need to do. Focusing fully on this time with you. But this illness, the never-ending pain keeps pulling at me. Taunting me. Shouting at me. Demanding my attention. Trying to take over my thoughts. The relentless noise in the background of everything I do.

Sometimes I just need to speak it out. To get it outside of my own mind.

To tell you how it feels. To let someone else struggling know that I go through it all too.

And in this moment I feel it with you. You are not alone. I am present with you in this distressing place. I am here with you in…

The grief. The pain. The shame. The constant distraction. The doubts that you will make it. The exhaustion of the fight.

But that is not enough is it? To acknowledge such a terrible thing and then to leave it there with no hope. With no way forward. Because that place is too hard to stay long term. That place leads to darker and more deadly places where despair takes hold until all life is squeezed out from you.

We can’t deny it. But we must find a way through it.

Otherwise we might drown.

“Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

John Piper

Some days the battle is harder. Some days it is a little easier.

But when those horrible waves of grief do come, I am learning to let them BE for a moment. To acknowledge them – to voice them. Denial never helps – it only builds then bursts you open one day to levels that are unbearable. So I must learn the patient endurance again as today I attempt to rest as much as I can, and wait for the waves to still a little more. Returning to a more steady place I can again find the strength again;

To re-frame. To refocus. To SEE with new eyes the beauty that is still here.

It’s in the facing and accepting of grief that we find a new way forward. A journey of many wrestlings where we MUST learn how to accept the things we cannot change, whilst having the wisdom and courage to change the things we can.

Neither living in denial nor getting pulled into the pit of despair.

Gratitude helps that. To see, remember and focus on all the wonder still around me. My loving husband, family, a beautiful home, food on the table, amazing friends. The opportunity to write, to see others, to encourage and teach different people through church, to make a small difference in someone else’s life. To remember all the things I can do amidst all the restrictions…

… To continue to love and to be loved.

To see beyond my own pain and allow it to produce a deeper sensitivity to others pain –physical, mental and emotional. To know that learning how to deal with my own personal battles – gives me new wisdom to help others deal with theirs. The goal that in overcoming each day – I can help someone else overcome too. To stay and fight to see the wonder still around us, the hope that can still be found.

I have to again remember that my life has purpose and meaning within all its restrictions and despite its debilitation.

This is not always as easy as it sounds. The theory is good, the practice can be so hard. Because when grief comes – it not only reminds you of what is lost, it also tries to steal everything you have left. It can paralyse you as it attacks your confidence, your peace, your mental stability, your ability to know you still have purpose and worth.

“Suffering is never abstract, theoretical, or impersonal. Suffering is real, tangible, personal, and specific.”

Paul David Tripp

Grief can pull us into itself – into ourselves.

It’s suffocating. Distressing. Disconcerting. Disconnecting.

But we have to both accept it – whilst also finding a way through it. We know we can’t stay here. Without it pulling us into dark places that are full of despair.

We have to choose to wrestle our way back into brighter places. Where we can see and be thankful for what we do have. Where hope for the future can return – despite what that actually looks like. A place where we can again see that our life matters, it has purpose and can lead to new adventures, to new places.

However, to embrace the new we must first let go of the old.

That is why we grieve.

It’s in the letting go.

It’s in the feelings of loss.

But it’s also in the letting go that we discover more freedom. In accepting what has now gone – we become more open to discovering a different way of life that is still worth living. It may not look how we imagined it. It will probably still be full of a multitude of challenges. It doesn’t mean the pain will all go.

But as we again let go of the reigns, as we stop trying to stay in control. End trying to compare our lives to an idealistic fantasy that doesn’t actually exist. Whilst we learn to accept that life can be full of things that seem to go wrong. We can also learn to ‘let go’ and discover a glorious deeper surrender in the here and now. Surrendering to a new way, a new plan and new purpose that is ordered by One who is greater than we are – if we will seek Him. A way forward in hope – even in midst of the brokenness of our world and our fragile humanity.

A way that is full of love and life. Despite the pain and restrictions.

But to embrace the new we must grieve and lay down the old. Otherwise we will never see the beauty in this season. We will never witness new birth coming from dead things. The new shoots of spring, of new life, coming from the death and desolation of the winter.

So sometimes we just have to let the waves of grief come. I have to simply allow them to break over me. And even though sometimes I may rawly feel their brutality. I hope that I can keep holding on through them to discover the beautiful horizons, that although perhaps currently hidden, still remain to be explored and discovered on their other side.

“I know it’s all you’ve got to just be strong. And it’s a fight just to keep it together, together. I know you think, that you are too far gone. But hope is never lost. Hope is never lost. Hold on, don’t let go. Just take, one step, closer. Put one foot in front of the other. You’ll, get through this. Just follow the light in the darkness.”

Jenn Johnson ‘You’re Gonna be OK

To explore how I find a deeper strength to face the reality of living in a broken world with a debilitating chronic illness please see “Suffering Into A Deeper Spiritual Awakening.”

To read more about my 5 year journey with a spinal csf leak please click on the SPINAL CSF LEAK heading above or read this post: Living with a Spinal CSF Leak.

Five Years Ago: A Poetic Reflection of my Spinal CSF Leak Journey

Five Years ago this week…

I fell from a small step ladder.
Five years ago this week – my life took a dramatically different turn.
Five years ago this week – I got sick and have never fully recovered.

Five whole years…

Of enduring
Of fighting
Of grieving
Of accepting

But also five whole years…

Of learning
Of growing
Of loving
Of living

One fall. One injury.

Changed so much.

My girls were just 7 & 10 the day I fell.
They were there watching me paint.
They saw it all happen.

The fall.

The getting up again.
The dusting myself down.
The continuing to paint.

The next 48 hours where their mum got more and more ill.
The constant medical, GP, A&E visits, followed by multiple hospital stays.
Seasons of me being stuck lying down flat for months on end.
Followed by the seasons (post epidural blood patches) of being upright all, or most of, the day.

They have seen it all!

The turmoil and struggle.
The wrestlings and pain.
Their mum so different.
Our lives forever changed.


Never to return to who she once was.

Lives dictated by multiple restrictions.
The never ending storm of tragic depictions.
We have had to learn how to ‘live here’ to ‘find life’ amidst all the challenges.
To find a way to live in, and through, the never-ending seasons of chaotic pain.

Sometimes life doesn’t look like we imagined it to…

We always believed I would get well!

In days…then weeks…then months…then years…

Surely I would get well again?
Surely I wasn’t such a bad case?
Surely ‘normality’ could and would be restored?
Surely the longed-for redemption would come?
Surely this, or that, treatment would work?
Surely time would bring the full healing that I need?

But ‘normality’ never came.
It remained elusive.
At times tantalisingly near.
But always on shifting horizons.
Never to fully appear.

The start of last year was another journey towards that goal.
Following a year of healing with a good trajectory. Feeling better, things improving.

Until that haunting plateau returned.

I again stubbornly kicked and pushed against it.
Determined – this time – to fully overcome.
As I tried to win the never ending bid for freedom…
I brutally whacked right into that figurative brick wall.
Running at full speed.
Determined to this time to make it fall.

It didn’t fall.

I did.


Shocked and dazed I crumpled into the mud – yet again…

Completely spent
Totally wrecked
Utterly broken

I dramatically relapsed in the Spring – physically and mentally.
I shouted and screamed internally – again.
I fell into the pitch blackness of total despair.
And I grieved like never before.

‘How am I supposed to keep living like this?
I cannot do this any more!’

Four and a half years of pain and struggle had taken their toll.
Four and a half years of fighting to be heard, and get well, had left its open wounds.

I had nothing left to fight with.

It was tough to come back from that figurative fall.

But we did find a way again.
In God we discovered a resilience that can only be found in Him.
His Words provided a way forward – an indescribable peace within.

There is always a way forward if we don’t give in.
There is always beauty to be found – even amongst the mess.
Always a light shining somewhere – even in dark places.
Always a deeper love to be discovered – even amidst intense pain.

IF we can keep following the light.
IF we can keep focusing on its radiating beauty.
IF we can allow ourselves to be guided into new horizons.

New mindsets.
Hidden joys.
Intense loves.


IF we choose to never give up…

Only then…

Can we find a new life.
Can we find a new depth of love.
Can we find new purpose.
Can we find pathways to new adventures.

If we will simply stay the course.

Who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Five years ago this week…

I fell off a small step ladder whilst painting.
Five years ago this week I tasted of the devastating debilitation of a spinal CSF leak.

I wouldn’t want to relive these past five years.
I wouldn’t want anyone else to experience those depths of struggle.
So I will fight and keep speaking out until our stories are heard.

Until change comes.

But I also know…

That I wouldn’t want to go back to who I was before that week either.
I am changed forever.
But the change is not all bad.


There has been something deeply beautiful about this impossible journey.

A profound way where excruciating pain teaches you what ‘living’ truly means.
A hard and winding path that brought many wonderful and inspiring people – whom I never would have known.
A wandering that has at times felt aimless – but has also led to glorious discoveries.
A stormy voyage that has shown me stunning new spiritual landscapes and revelations previously uncovered.

Five years ago this week I fell from a ladder.
Five years ago this week I got a life-destroying spinal fluid leak.
Five years have passed of leaking (& at times somewhat recovering).

But never getting fully well.

But regardless of the pain, the suffering, the seeming wrecking of so many many dreams.

I have lived.
I have loved.
I have learnt.
I have grown.
I have spoken out.
I have used my writing.


In the hope that one day things will be different.
Perhaps other families will be saved our pain.
Maybe one day someone’s similar journey will be easier.

Simply because,

I ran the relentless marathon first.
Refused to give up.
And told my never-ending story – despite all of it’s indescribable pain.

“I abandon my addiction to the certainty of life
And my need to know everything
This illusion cannot speak, it cannot walk with me at night
As I taste life’s fragility…
I can’t pretend to know
The beginning from the end
But there’s beauty in the life that’s given
We may bless or we may curse
Every twist and every turn
Will we learn to know the joy of living?”

(Looking For a Saviour – United Pursuits)

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.

Please see this  May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic 5 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstanding and great distress on my already immensely long winded and difficult medical journey.

Learning Patience: Eighteen Months of Spinal CSF Leak Recovery

Please note: that in April 2019 I again fully relapsed in my spinal CSF leak symptoms. During the eighteen months prior to that I did believe that I was more fully recovering. The change was dramatic. However, since my relapse doctors believe they may have finally seen the leak in my neck on new MRI’s. In which case, although I have always experienced seasons of dramatic recovery after EBP. It is possible that I may well have been leaking spinal fluid all along. Hence ongoing symptoms. Although my case has often confused my neurologist as to whether I am experiencing more low or high pressure symptoms – especially following epidural blood patches. Which is normal for many long term ‘leakers’ following treatment.

“What doesn’t destroy me makes me stronger.”

 – Martin Luther King, Jr.

This timeless quote has certainly been my experience over the past four years or so of having – and then recovering from – a long term spinal CSF leak. Although, to be honest, at times it did feel like I was being ‘destroyed’ through the process. My journey has taken me to immensely dark places of wrestling and torment on so many levels.

It often felt like so much of who I was – at the deepest level – was simply being destroyed.

However, as I slowly recover physically, mentally and spiritually from the trauma of the last four years, I can see more and more how even what felt like ‘destruction’ has actually ultimately made me a more rounded, secure, loving and compassionate person. I have found that some things, and attitudes in my life, needed to be ‘destroyed’ or at least ‘shaken’, so that I could become the person I am now.

I am stronger on so many levels – but the strength comes from a more authentic place.

The strength comes from a deeper acceptance and acknowledgement of my human frailty and weakness. I no longer feel the need to have to ‘muster up’ an outward – or even ‘inner’ – show of strength to look like I ‘have it all together’. Instead, I can rest in my weakness and rely on God’s strength to carry me through the ongoing challenges of life in a more REAL way.

And there are ongoing challenges…

Eighteen months since my fourth high volume (40ml) lumbar epidural blood patch seemingly sealed my leak, I am still not back to where I was before my accident in January 2015.

My head, spine and nervous system still do not operate as they once did.

And yet…

Month by month I see more of the new ‘old me’ being restored.

Slowly… gently… patiently… Becky Hill is returning to a ‘fuller and deeper strength’.

But did you notice that I said the ‘NEW ‘old me’?

I had to add in that extra ‘new’ …. because the ‘old me’ doesn’t actually exist anymore in many ways!! And in fact I wouldn’t want to return fully to who I was before my accident anyway. Because there is a ‘new me’ that has emerged from the ‘wilderness cocoon’ I was catapulted into for those years. It is the ‘new me’ that will walk into the future and face whatever comes my way.

It is the ‘new me’ that is better in many ways than the ‘old’

However, the reason I am writing this article is to get into the nitty gritty of my experience of spinal CSF leak recovery. I want to continue to tell my story in the hope that it connects with and helps you, or someone you know, on their own seemingly impossible journey. I want to tell you the REAL tale of what it’s like to walk along such a difficult and desolate road, whilst attempting to keep focusing on the beautiful horizon of hope and redemption.

A new horizon that thankfully, for me, is growing ever closer.

So let’s get back to basics.

What is my life currently like day-to-day, eighteen months into recovery from a nearly three-year spinal fluid leak?

Corrie ten Boom said:

‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow; but it empties today of strength.’

That has had to be my ongoing ‘mantra’ throughout my illness and recovery. At first, fears for the future and fears of relapse consumed and crippled me. Unsurprisingly, of course, because – until this last blood patch – that had been my very real experience. These fears have reduced so much through a combination of learning to stay focused and thankful on the present, whilst accepting what IS today’s reality, and also seeing the progress that I continued to make day by day. I had to ‘throw myself’ into God’s arms of grace to find the strength to keep moving forward and keep trusting that things would keep improving.

As they currently do!

If you try and fight the slow process of recovery to ‘speed things up’, I found it simply makes you worse! Your body can’t handle the stress of the striving to do more than it can do. You instead have to ‘fight’ from an inner place of strength, peace and acceptance of the way things currently are, whilst being gentle with your body and mind as you trust for better days in the future.

The reality is, my head, spine and nervous system still struggles with hypersensitive reactions to changes in ICP (Intracranial (head/ spinal fluid) pressure). I still seem to have some ‘pressure’ issues in my head and spine (as I talk comprehensively about in my year of recovery update). The same old movements and actions still bring a clear reaction. My head, neck and spine fills with pressure, my ears pop and crackle, my cognition (mental processing) gets a little more sluggish, everything feels harder, and I often have to just take some ‘quiet time’ alone to still my head.

This might mean being silent for a bit, sitting down quietly or going for a quiet walk.

But I have to say that this becomes more and more manageable and less and less of a major problem. The adjustments needed are not so dramatic anymore. They are still there, but more subtle. And they thankfully keep improving. Over time you realise you are less aware of symptoms – they are still there but less and less prominent. They seem to impact things that little bit less week by week, month by month.

That’s when you feel like you are recovering more of the ‘old healthier’ you.

Blog learning patience_edited-1

Here are some of my personal ongoing symptoms and the way that I approach managing them. They may not be the same for others, but I share this to help educate other sufferers, their family and friends, and any medical professionals that may be reading this blog. This way, we can all show more understanding and compassion to one another and ourselves.

  • My head can still get very overwhelmed with a lot of things happening at once. It’s the ‘layering’ of things, one on top of another, that causes the biggest issue. Noise especially. My family and I are all natural singers so we love to have music on, and their default can be to sing along (singing can still be more of a challenge for my head). But I really struggle with both the music and others singing simultaneously – especially if there are other noises around too. It becomes a ‘mental overload’ for me, as does trying to think, listen, talk and cook at the same time. I often just can’t ‘compute’ it all as well as I used to. But this is also all improving over time.
  • Multi-tasking is slowly getting a little easier but is still a lot harder than it was before the accident. It’s again a ‘layering’ issue.
  • I can’t rush about, which although frustrating has actually taught me to ‘flow’ through life more calmly, and to be even more organised. I have to keep moving around gently without rushing about. My head and spine can’t take the twists and turns that rushing often brings. Also, moving around and talking a lot at the same time is still very hard. I can focus better if I stay still whilst talking.
  • Speaking for a long time can be hard still, especially if my head is already feeling more hypersensitive, or if I’m walking or moving about at the same time. I can talk for noticeably longer than I used to be able to though, which helps me with relationships in general, as well as with the mentoring and pastoral visits and teaching groups I do with church. I do find once I have talked for a while I often need some ‘quiet time’. My family know to let me be quiet, and I often put my headphones in and go for a walk, or focus on being quiet to still my head.
  • I still spend quite a lot of time being quiet at home doing the housework I can do, looking after my family and cooking. We love having people around for food, or to stay, so we are really enjoying re-discovering this joy of ours. I just have to plan everything well in advance to avoid any last minute stresses. I also love to cook for others who are struggling for any number of reasons (as people did for us when I was at my worst) so I often take food with me on visits to suffering people. I have been able to increase my ‘pastoral visits’ and the church admin that I do from home. I also continue to teach and speak in smaller groups and do a lot of ‘one-to-one’ personal development work with people. I am so very thankful to be able to take on what I can, when I can through our church, and this it fits in with our home life and me keeping on top of that.
  • Bending, lifting and turning my spine and neck still makes my head worse. I usually get a burst of pressure into my head that can take a little while of being calm and quiet to clear. Generally, the straighter I keep my spine the better. However, it does mean that I remain very careful with movement and what I carry. We still have a cleaner (who we employed when I was leaking) who comes for a couple of hours every two weeks to do hoovering, mopping and bathrooms, since this would involve at a lot of bending or lifting for me, and I avoid it where possible.
  • I am still very careful to always go on my knees or crouch instead of bending my back to get things from low down. This action is better for my head and also protects my spine (although it’s not as good for my poor knees. However, the garden kneeler I bought does help a bit with that in the kitchen and outside!!). But I’ve found that it’s just not worth pushing my spine and head. It’s too uncomfortable (sends pressure into my head) AND too much risk for me to see how much I can ‘push’ things safely. There are too many unknowns to take the risk, too many memories of multiple relapses. And treatment and recovery takes such a long time, if I was to relapse again. So I keep movement and general rehabilitation gentle and safe. I want to give my spine the best chance of full and lasting healing.
  • I can carry much heavier things than I used to (with clear self-imposed limits) but I avoid lifting them from low down and I always – by default – tend to carry things against my chest with both arms i.e. one ‘heavier’ shopping bag at a time. This seems to put less strain on my spine and so is better for my head and I guess protects my spine more too.
  • Bending my head to look down (i.e. to read, write or use my phone) is still uncomfortable and can send more of a ‘pressure rush’ into my head. But again, this is improving, and I am aware of it less than I used to be.
  • Sitting down for a while in one position can leave my spine and head full and my body very stiff, possibly linked to my spinal nerves and the pressure changes throughout my spine. So I still have to regularly get up and have a walk about.
  • If I sit down I am still better sitting on a harder surface with a very straight spine. Sitting on the sofa is especially bad for my head. If I’m watching a film or something of length, after about 30-45 mins my head can often feel fuller and cause me to yawn. I can feel very sleepy and my ears start to pop. I often have to get up and move around slowly to ease it a little. I can’t relax back on the sofa or lie down on it either – it’s too uncomfortable for my spine and head.
  • Going to the loo can still affect my head, I have to be very careful not to strain in any way. Even normal slight straining (just going for a wee) can still affect my head, especially first thing in the morning or if I’m trying to clear my bladder last thing at night.
  • When the pressure increases in my head, the tension and pressure in my neck, spine (particularly the bottom of the spine) tangibly increases as well. I feel it as a full pressure-like pain which is uncomfortable, but not unbearable.
  • In the mornings (especially but not exclusively) the feeling of pressure increasing in relation to action or movement can still occasionally make me want to cough, sneeze or even gag. It’s a bit like the sensation of having a ‘head cold’. This is especially true if I end up talking too excitedly OR too frustratedly (normally with difficult children :-)). It can also happen when I am getting ready and using more exertion to put on clothes and things like socks (even though I rest my foot on the end of the bed to avoid bending to do it). But it will normally subside reasonably quickly with some quiet and still time. It has also improved a lot recently.
  • The weather being rainy and stormy can make the above a bit worse (probably due to atmospheric pressure changes), as can having my monthly period.
  • I still have some light and noise sensitivity. Particularly to flashing lights, fast moving images (both of which can still feel overwhelming and make me feel nauseous) and listening to heavier music with a lot of drums and beats.
  • The worst times for my head result from increased stress, rushing or a lot, or talking a lot whilst doing things. I had an occasion a couple of weeks ago when I had to get ready for a church group that meets at our house weekly. Matt was away with work and one of my daughters was being persistently ‘difficult’ and talking frustratedly at me a lot. It completely overwhelmed my head, which quickly filled with pressure, and everything just felt so difficult to do until I could hardly think straight, or concentrate on anything, and simply felt tearful. In these situations I just know that I have to be completely silent to get what I need to done, then try and be as still and silent as I can until people arrive. But sometimes convincing my kids that I cannot deal with talking to them any more when they are already frustrated is the challenge. It took a little while of being very quiet but, by the time people arrived, my head could handle a bit more and I could lead the meeting OK. (Thankfully we began by listening to a recorded group Bible meditation for 10 minutes, so I got to be quiet – which helped settle my ‘full’ head too).
  • Sometimes a lot of talking, stress or attempting to rush can build the pressure and leave me feeling a bit sick and nauseous – like the above occasion did at first.
  • My general biological ‘coping mechanisms’ are still not what they once were. My body and head still cannot physically – and subsequently mentally – cope with and manage stress very well. I was always pretty good at coping with stress and pressured environments before my leak, but now I have to very carefully manage stress and anxiety because of the natural impact it has on ICP. (As I talk more about in my year of recovery update post). As with everything else though, this is thankfully improving slowly but surely.
  • The acute headaches I got post-blood patch whilst lying in bed – especially when I woke (that I mentioned in my year update) have improved a lot in the past two to three months. So I can thankfully generally stay in bed, even if I wake in the middle of the night or early morning, rather than having to get up at crazy hours. But I still often feel uncomfortable and have a milder headache, or my head will especially feel strangely ‘full’ (sometimes it’s still a bit worse and I just have to get up). So I don’t really do ‘lie ins’ and I still NEVER lie down in the daytime. My sleep can fluctuate a bit too, although I tend to have really good times followed by more wakeful times. But that is normal for many people anyway.
  • I am now medication free! About 3 months ago I finished weaning myself fully off the last of my Nortriptyline prescribed for neurological pain. I believe taking it somewhat helped some of the higher pressure symptoms from a couple of months after the last blood patch in September 2017, but more recently I wasn’t sure it was doing much, and I was tired of the constant dry mouth. Coming off it slowly didn’t seem make any significant difference to my symptoms, apart from I no longer have to drink as much in the night or early morning, or chew gum constantly to deal with the dry mouth. Interestingly, though, when my head pressure increases, the dryness in my mouth can return too.
  • My heart finally seems to beat pretty normally again these days. This took a long while to settle from the constant mis-beats and irregularities that a previous ECG confirmed (but were considered annoying but not concerning medically) when I was leaking badly during the summer of 2017. My leak definitely seemed to affect my heart, and then the increasingly poor conditioning probably made the issues worse. Even after successful treatment, this took a long time to gradually get better. All the strange beating patterns made lying down and relaxing harder at first, as they were more prominent when lying down. And this all added to the anxious feelings at the time. So life is more restful not having this problem anymore.
  • I have had to learn to live and ‘flow’ from more of a place of ‘inner peace and rest’. I am learning a whole new, more peaceful and less chaotic and busy ‘way of life’. I have embraced the lessons learnt from this over the past years and vow to maintain a more restful balance in my life moving forward. I want to resist falling back into a more ‘busy or chaotic life’ in the future, even when I can cope with those pressures more. Living from a place of ‘spiritual peace and rest’ is the best way to live long term.
  • I still find long, gentle walking helps my body, head and mind – as well as my connection to God. So I still generally take two approx. 20-50mins walks a day, when I can. I appreciate the surrounding countryside so much more since my years of debilitation. My pace has also picked up a lot in the past year, but I still cannot rush.
  • Filling my mind with positive, calming, spiritual thoughts is so important to enable me to live from a place of increasing peace, rest and love.  I am enjoying using this new peaceful Christian meditation app to help with this (mainly whilst walking or quietly doing housework) www.soultime.com. It’s a great resource to bring more peace, rest, calmness, love and spiritual connection into my day. I also love more peaceful contemporary Christian worship music but generally have to avoid louder heavier music.

So that is a summary of some aspects of my day to day life and the ongoing challenges of recovering from such a life-changing injury.

People often ask me these days …

‘Do you think you will ever get back to feeling ‘normal’ like you did before all this?’

I have learnt to answer honestly…

‘I simply don’t know’.

Perhaps only time will tell!

But my hope and faith rests in God alone and in the fact that I do see so many ongoing improvements all the time. Yes, they are slow, often so very gradual, and sometimes frustratingly subtle in the short term. And yet, as we look back we can see the MASSIVE changes in the past year, and even in what I can do and cope with over the past six, or even the past three, months. That is the hope of continual improvement we hold onto.

When you can keep seeing change it does encourage you to never give up believing for better times ahead.

When I was obviously leaking, we would, at times, also see very slow, gradual improvements. But any improvement would ALWAYS seem to plateau in the end. I would always reach a kind of ‘lid’ that I couldn’t break through. And even if things remained a bit better for a while (especially after treatment) in the end they would always regress or I would fully relapse again weeks or months later due to clear or unclear triggers.

So, seemingly having no ‘lid’ to my ongoing improvement brings us so much encouragement for the future. 

So again I want to share my hope with you all.

It’s a clear hope for the future but mixed with realism about the journey. My journey has been made somewhat easier in that my family never relied on me bringing in an income of my own. Thankfully my husband’s salary covers our family’s living expenses. My ‘church work’ is voluntary – which has actually been beautifully freeing because I can balance it all with the general demands and pressures of family life.

Had I had to try and get back to a demanding career, or had we been reliant on me getting back to earning a wage, we know that it would have made my recovery and our family’s lives unbearably chaotic and perhaps impossible. The reality is, even now I know I couldn’t function working full or even part time in a busy and intense job or career. It’s important that people are aware of this as a potential longer term consequence of living with a spinal fluid leak followed by walking the slow and complex road to recovery.

It is not as simple as ‘being fixed’ then quickly ‘getting your life back’!!

Life may now look very different to what it did before – long term.

And yet, we are all different…

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Our stories and experiences will be different. Each of us has to learn to work it all through as best we can with the lives we currently live. Some people may find that they can give more time and energy to re-discovering a job or career, especially if they don’t have so much responsibility around the home and family, and if they have a very understanding employer that is aware of their limitations and their need for a quieter work environment. It’s a balancing act and will take much wisdom to find creative ways to embrace what you can do, whilst being very aware of the limitations and sometimes unknowable risks of what you can’t.

This all takes a certain level of acceptance in finding true peace about your ongoing limitations.

So my deepest prayer for all of us is this…

That we may all receive more of God’s grace and strength to find the way through the unique storms, and sometimes living nightmares, that this broken world throws at us. Your story might have some parallels with mine – or it might be completely different! However, despite the differences, ALL of our stories are powerful. So please consider who your own story might help – today, or tomorrow.

And please don’t suffer in silence!

Speak up, get the help and support you need, and then maybe you can BE help and support for someone else.

Because you never quite know what a difference your seemingly ‘boring’ tale of suffering and pain might have in the life of another desperate, struggling and often lonely soul. You never know what your REAL tale of living in and rising from the ruins of destruction might mean to someone else who currently feels so trapped and destroyed by their seemingly never-ending struggle.

As I was reminded recently in these profound words;

“Your story is the key that can unlock someone else’s prison.”


Please do comment or ask any questions below. Or alternatively you can email me at beckyhillblog@outlook.com

To read more about my story of living with and recovering from 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.

Here is a medical journal publication about rebound intracranial hypertension (rebound high pressure) as a short or long term complication following epidural blood patching – as I seemingly experienced at least after my last three blood patches. 

Please see this new May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic nearly 3 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstandings and great distress on my already immensely long winded and very difficult medical journey.

This other in depth 2018 medical paper is about both low and high intracranial pressure syndromes and their similar and different symptoms. It also mentions cross overs with other headache types. When a patient suffers with a spinal CSF leak long term it can cause massive fluctuations in their whole pressure system both whilst suffering from a spinal CSF leak and following treatment. This is why lumbar puncture pressure readings and ICP pressure monitoring can prove an inaccurate diagnostic tool for SIH (low pressure)  and RIH (rebound high pressure) as this paper refers to as does the 10 myths paper. My initial LP in February 2015 reading was a 7 which was considered ‘evidence’ of low pressure by some doctors and normal by others.

We are all the Same. We are all Human.

Recently I have thought a lot about our shared humanity. The fact that we are ALL equal humans.

One is not above the other.
We are all the same.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, we all have hurts and joys, we are all somewhat fragile – never fully knowing what our tomorrow will look like or what the years to come might bring.

We are all the same.
And yet we are all utterly unique.

There is only one of you and there is only one of me. And yet, however different we are, we also share so much that is similar. Wherever we go in the world – there are people who are similar to us. In that we share a common humanity.

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One of the great joys of my life is getting to know people from backgrounds and cultures that are very different from my own. I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet and become friends with such a wide and varied spectrum of people from all over the world. And ironically the more diverse the people I meet – the more I see the common threads of our humanity. I love to celebrate and learn from the differences. But most of all I love to see how much we are all the same underneath.

Over the past few years I have especially discovered how brokenness and weakness has the potential to help us to see our equal humanity. Experiencing more of our own human inadequacy can bring much more humility – which helps to crush any sense of superiority. Superiority and judgement are probably the biggest barriers to us connecting with others and embracing our shared humanity.

“Humility is about coming to grips with our humanity… Pride is a determination to be seen as bigger than we are. When we are humble, we are down to earth. No energy is wasted on pretension. A humble man can be taken at face value.” – Erwin McManus

However, it’s not just superiority that’s the problem – often both a sense of superiority AND inferiority can bring a feeling of ‘separateness’ and ‘individuality’. Both feeling above and beneath people separates us from others because both cause us to focus on ourselves more and how much better or worse we are than other people. Which can stop us truly SEEING others and can cause us to miss what is going on in their lives.

As I have so vividly learnt over recent years, it is often suffering that is the equaliser. In my own experience suffering tends to somewhat level the playing field. When we are hit – face on – with our human vulnerability and fragility we soon start to see how we and  humanity as a whole is prone to such brokenness. It doesn’t matter how well you are educated, how many letters you have after your name, what titles you have collected or how much money you have.

As humans we will all face times of suffering. And those seasons of suffering tend to remind us of who we are…

Fragile humans trying our best to live this life full of unknowns the best we can.

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“Suffering invites us to be radically human with one another, perhaps doing nothing more than reaching across the table, clasping hands, and weeping together. We are afforded the chance to create a safe place for someone else to mourn…”  – Jen Hatmaker

It is true, in my own life experience and observations, that it is often suffering that ‘invites us to be radically human with one another.’ It strips us of all our titles, labels and achievements and touches the heart. The rich get sick and die and the poor get sick and die. One might have the money to make that journey of suffering a bit less painful. But both the rich and poor still have to walk the painful journey that suffering brings.

It is thus, often through suffering, that we discover a potential for more authentic connection with others. Suffering can strip us of our ability to ‘hide’ from others. Especially when our suffering is obvious and effects our everyday life. Suffering can expose us – but if we can embrace the vulnerability that the exposure brings, then we have the potential to discover more human connection in that place.

IF we are willing to live in the discomfort of being more fully known.

“The strongest relationships are formed in heat of difficulty and the confession of weakness…. sometimes we feel like we have to present a perfect image to the world that everything is OK because we have faith. But in reality honesty breads more honesty… it’s about sharing our common humanity” – Patrick Regan

It is true that honesty breads more honesty. When I talk openly to others about my many physical and mental health battles over the past few years since falling off a ladder in 2015 and experiencing a long term debilitating spinal/ brain injury, I find that others are more willing to open up about their own physical and mental health battles. When you are honest about your own battles with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts – others will often open up to you about their’s as well. Sometimes people who you never even knew struggled with such things, will reveal more of the dark depths of their own similar wrestling’s. Sometimes they have never really told anyone before. It brings more common understanding and empathy. And it is in that safe place of empathy that you discover more connection.

Human connection is most beautifully seen and experienced when we open up our lives and become increasingly REAL and honest with others. When we allow ourselves to be more fully known.

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So I would like to invite us all today to choose to be more ‘fully seen’ to remember that we are ‘all the same’. We are neither superior or inferior to others. Your background, titles, labels, achievements, failures or weaknesses do not make you any more or any less human than the next.

We are instead ALL simply the same underneath.

Beautiful yet broken, strong yet weak, secure yet insecure, lovable yet unlovable, achievers yet inadequate, unique yet ordinary…

Equal humans trying to find our way through our crazy lives. So as the saying goes…

‘Be kind. Because everyone you meet is fighting a battle that you know nothing about’.

Everyone experiences suffering – if it’s not you today – then it might be you tomorrow. So let’s embrace our common humanity. And we might just be able to help to make our broken world a better place for us all to live. Regardless of what comes our way.


The Bible*- 2 Corinthians ‭4:7‬a

Rising Again: My Year Of Spinal CSF Leak Recovery

Please note: that in April 2019 I again fully relapsed in my spinal CSF leak symptoms. During the eighteen months prior to that I did believe that I was more fully recovering. The change was dramatic. However, since my relapse doctors believe they may have finally seen the leak in my neck on new MRI’s. In which case, although I have always experienced seasons of dramatic recovery after EBP. It is possible that I may well have been leaking spinal fluid all along. Hence ongoing symptoms. Although my case has often confused my neurologist as to whether I am experiencing more low or high pressure symptoms – especially following epidural blood patches. Which is normal for many long term ‘leakers’ following treatment.

“Time is not really spent. Instead, it is invested in a future we cannot see.” – Alicia Britt Chloe

When I read this quote recently in Alicia’s book ‘Anonymous’ it resonated with my perspective on life. Our time on this earth should not simply be ‘spent’ and should certainly not be ‘wasted’. Instead, all of our time is an investment for a future we cannot yet see – whether it’s intentional ‘learning or doing’, time invested in family and relationships, or facing a set of circumstances which force us to use our time in a new or unforeseen way.

If we can see like this, then we can know that nothing needs to be wasted. Everywhere our life takes us – both the good and bad – is an opportunity to learn, grow and invest into who we are becoming. It’s also an investment into who those we parent, lead and influence are becoming.

All life’s circumstances are opportunities to invest in the future – whether it’s ours, or others around us.

That’s how I’ve had to see the last four years of my life. Most of the first three were spent battling a debilitating spinal CSF leak, and the last has been all about investing in my recovery. Which has again required great patience, raw resilience and immense endurance.

The pathway of recovery, after a long term spinal fluid leak, is often a long, arduous and immensely slow process – even after more successful treatment.

The wonderful news is that – a year on from my seemingly successful 4th blind lumbar (40ml) epidural blood patch (EBP) – I am doing comparatively well. I have been upright all day every day since mid December 2017 (some days recently that is from 4am – 11pm!! If I happen to wake up early and have to get up due to ‘lying down’ headaches).

I can walk for miles, happily drive locally, get a lot done at home and look after my children (now 11 & 13). I can cook & bake for our family and others, spend quality time with people, go on holiday, and invest increasing time in my life-calling of pastoring and helping hurting people, in and through our local church. This is currently mainly through a lot of one-to-one mentoring and personal development time with others, as well as teaching in small group settings. I also do bits of admin for our church. Thankfully this is all flexible and I can do what I can, when I can, without any added pressures.

I have so very much to be abundantly grateful for. Last year I was acutely unwell and utterly debilitated – initially by the spinal fluid leak, then subsequently by severe post-treatment rebound high pressure symptoms. For four months over the summer of 2017 I had to lie down flat nearly all day, every day, and could only manage an exhausting 10-30mins upright at a time. Then after my EBP I just had a pretty much constant debilitating non-positional headache – amidst many other symptoms (as I talk about in this post) – for months. It is hard to explain how extremely unwell you are with both those conditions, and how confusing it is to work out which is which after treatment.

They are both truly awful to endure!

The road to full healing, even after successful treatment, is not an easy one at all. After a while, you can see that you are making some progress – albeit slow – in moving up the mountainside from the darkness of the valley below. But even the mountain climb of recovery is utterly exhausting in so many ways. It continues to take so much endurance, patience and resilience to scale the never ending rocky slopes.

But I am getting there….

In the light of how ill I was for so long – I am doing exceedingly well! I haven’t been this well since my accident in January 2015. In the light of how healthy and busy I was before my accident – and the onset of the leak – I am still not fully well. But I’m increasingly heading in the right direction.

How ‘well’ I am now is all a matter of perspective. I have to keep focusing on the wonder of how far I have come and the fact that I can easily be upright all day, which is a small miracle to me. So I must embrace all I can do – which is comparatively a lot – and not resent or get frustrated with what I can’t!

The slowness of my recovery can certainly feel frustrating at times – to say the least. Who doesn’t want to get back to full health and be able to embrace more of the life they once knew? And yet I’ve begun to learn and see more of the wisdom that can be found in the slowness. It’s not just my body that needs to heal physically – I (and my whole family) have needed to heal holistically, in so many different areas.

Having lived with a chronic debilitating neurological illness for years, and then experiencing the slow process of holistic recovery, I believe in some ways the whole journey through illness, healing and recovery can be viewed in a similar way to grief. It’s a journey, a passage, we walk through. It’s not something we experience one day, then ‘get over’ it the next. It lives with us as we attempt to move forward with our life. We have to wholeheartedly face, embrace, and walk through what we discover on the journey of sickness and healing – whether traumatic, painful or beautiful. We must give it the time and attention needed to move ‘through’ it, as well as we can, and find more lasting healing in every way.

My mind, emotions, memories, and soul need healing just as much as my physical body. They have needed to find increasing restoration, fresh confidence and new freedom.

You can’t ‘rush’ holistic healing!

It’s a process of working through complex and traumatic memories, emotions and thoughts. Unless you’ve walked the spinal CSF leak road, or a similar long term debilitating illness, you may not understand the trauma involved at every stage. Simply the daily holistic trauma of living with the illness itself is enough. When ‘leaking’, simply being ‘upright’ is often utterly traumatic for our bodies, brains and minds. Then add in the trauma of trying to seek medical help and support for a condition that very few doctors really understand (IF you can get diagnosed and ‘believed’ – that is). And add to that the mental and emotional trauma of being so debilitated and unable to function, anything like normally, in the short and long term. With this combination you can see that there is a lot to work through – as I write about in one of my most widely read posts, Living With a Spinal CSF Leak.

Sometimes it’s not until you start getting well that you actually realise how exceedingly unwell you truly were for so long. This is traumatic in its own way. The fear of going back there again can be overwhelmingly crippling – especially in light of how long recovery takes. This isn’t helped when, like in my own case, multiple major relapses have been your very real past experience. Moving on from the fear of relapsing again is so very difficult. True freedom from this fear can only come slowly, as your confidence builds with the longer you go without getting worse again. These fears can also leave us completely confused and unsure of what we should allow our body to do or not do.

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On a purely physical level, I have also discovered that, after years of leaking spinal fluid from your spine, your whole nervous, and intracranial pressure, system seems to be completely messed up!! Over the months and years of leaking I have become hypersensitive to even the smallest pressure changes in my head and spine. These physical ailments added immensely to the struggle to cope with even small amounts of stress and anxiety whilst leaking and during recovery. This is due to stress and anxiety naturally affecting intracranial pressure anyway, meaning that the physical, mental and emotional become even more intrinsically linked. Even more so because any heightened emotion, especially crying and laughing (or raising your voice in excitement, passion or anger), are brutal on our already hypersensitive heads.

I found the only way to try and deal with all this was by learning to stay as calm, peaceful and quiet as possible. (I already experienced this from leaking – as can be read in this article). This means we have to avoid stressful and anxiety inducing situations when we can – whilst ‘leaking’ and especially in the early months of recovery – which is not easy when we are trying to holistically manage and recover from a debilitating illness, still have to deal with medical professionals and hospitals, and have a family and home to look after (at the very least). It would be even harder if I had had to try and go back to any of a massive spectrum of jobs and careers which do not allow an abundance of time for calm and quiet individual activity. I cannot ‘multi-task’ anything like I used to be able to. Such things are still often way too overwhelming for my current cognitive capacity – although still obviously improving. Even now I also still struggle to ‘rush about’, especially in ‘busy’ or ‘bustling’ environments (even more so if I have to talk to and interact with others as well) so I have to try and maintain more order and calm throughout my life than most people.

Initially, even simply doing more ‘normal’ things again – like going to shops or being in an environment with lots of people – can induce anxiety. As it would for anyone recovering from a long term, previously debilitating, medical (especially a neurological condition). However, this then perpetuates itself because we are already so hypersensitive and thus prone to such things. These environments are already ‘taxing’ on our ‘foggy’ heads because of all the overload of mental stimulation. But having to interact with people and talk a lot can also soon leave our heads even more full of pressure and thus struggling to concentrate and cognitively process what is happening and how we need to respond. So we have to be careful about how much we subject our heads to.

This unfortunately meant I often found myself ‘avoiding people’ at times – especially for the first few months of recovery. This was truly heartbreaking for me because I really do love people and like to talk to them about their lives. But talking, for even short periods of time, would simply make my head worse. Although this has very much improved overtime, my head getting worse from simply talking can still regularly be an issue.

The other key problem with our recovery is that to improve our physical conditioning we have to exercise. But exercise involves exertion, which is another trigger for the higher pressure hypersensitivity. So again it’s a vicious cycle. After the first awful couple of months post-treatment when I still couldn’t walk far at all, I subsequently found that gentle, and initially slow, walking often helped my head more than trying to rest lying down or reclined. Since early December ‘17, I decided to keep my body upright all day and quickly increased the amount I walked up to an average of 3-5 miles a day over 2-4 separate walks. The walks started off very slowly – but my pace slowly increased as my head and spine improved. Long walks – alone – also gave me, and still give me, the much needed space to calm and relax my body and mind, as well as improve any anxiety and my general conditioning. Walking is also very liberating after the many months over the past few years I couldn’t really leave the house.

I did discover that walking was much easier on my head if I walked quietly (or normally listening to something uplifting, inspiring and calming on my smartphone) on my own. Due to the increased breath use – walking and talking at the same time are more of a challenge. I can walk much further more easily on my own than with others. Similarly, I can also get more done at home when I am not required to talk at the same time. Moving about a lot and talking (especially more loudly) can be a bad combination for my head. Although this slowly gets better over time.

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Other ongoing physical symptoms include varying head pressure often felt mostly in the lower forehead and especially around and behind the eyes when worse. (When particularly bad it can feel like your eyes might burst out of your head). But I can also feel pressure in the occipital region (bottom of skull/ top of spine) and down the spine (especially in the lower lumbar spine). But it’s a slightly different sensation to ‘low pressure’ (leaking) occipital/ neck ‘pulling’ headache. Although harder to differentiate in the early days of recovery.

The main difference that slowly becomes clearer (after much initial confusion) with this ‘higher pressure’ type of pain is – rather than increasingly getting worse throughout the day (or even over a short period of time being upright) – like it did when obviously leaking, it tends to instead come and go at various points in the day according to what is setting off the ‘hypersensitivity’ at that time. Even now, it can still get worse until my head feels full, my ears crackle and pop and sometimes it makes me yawn a lot and feel rather sleepy – especially due to the pressure behind and around the eyes. It can also make me feel slightly shaky, rather detached from the real world, my vision can get slightly blurry, my cognitive processing gets a bit more sluggish, I can occasionally feel a bit nauseous (in the early weeks after my EBP it could often make me physically gag) and my heart can beat noticeably faster. Hence adding to an ‘anxious’ feeling. But this normally gets better again if I spend some time staying upright but being quiet, calm, keeping my spine straighter and move about more gently and slowly. If it gets too bad – often a quiet walk or sitting quietly for a bit helps.

The other main difference to ‘low pressure headaches’ is that it doesn’t get better lying down – although lying down may still rest your body somewhat – hence the confusion. I never lie down in the day anymore because it tends to make my head worse. However, all of these kind of reactions mentioned above are slowly getting less acute or intense and much more manageable as recovery improves.

Waking up in the mornings can also still be problematic at times because of the lying down. I still often (most days) have increasing headaches around and behind my eyes and in my lower forehead, and can sometimes feel slightly nauseous soon after I wake up (this is especially prominent if I try and stay in bed too long once awake). Unlike when ‘leaking’ – I subsequently find that I must get up once I have been awake a little while – whatever time it is. I am known to get up anytime from between 3:30am-8:30am depending on the day and when I happen to wake up (unless the 6:30am alarm on school days wakes me first). Once I do get up the main headache goes away quite quickly these days – although my head and spine can remain feeling strangely ‘full’ but without obvious pain. (In the initial weeks after my blood patch, the headache wouldn’t always ease much getting up – at least at first. I think the exertion of getting up and interacting/ talking with my family would complicate it and I could often feel very unwell and often feel sick and gag from trying to ‘do things’. So then I would then try and lie down again to be still and quiet – but would end up still feeling very ill and then simply continue to physically gag from the nausea and increasing pain from lying down (which simply adds to the exertion headache – perpetuating everything). It’s tormentingly confusing and very hard to get relief in any position in the early days of recovery. Medication (initally acatezolomide, then after 2 months a switch to nortriptyline, in my case) can help some of the underlying problem or pain. But not necessarily the hypersensitive reactions to changes in intracranial pressure. Which is why it is so utterly confusing and brutal on your mental health – which adds to the anxiety we are already prone to – as I write about here in my 6 month post patch update).

Bending my neck down to read, whilst walking or to look at things (like my smartphone), or bending my spine to do things – tends to also obviously increase the pressure in my head and make my ears feel full and pop. As does carrying moderately heavy things. So I am still super careful and gentle with movements involving my spine. I just can’t be sure that it’s OK to lift and bend much still, so I still self-impose many post-EBP style restrictions and tend to always kneel first to pick things up off the floor, unload the dishwasher or put washing in, or take it out, of the machine. Over time I have gently allowed my spine to bend and lift a bit more – but only very carefully and cautiously.

During my years of leaking and my experiences of rebound high pressure (post treatment) I always found sitting down would tend to increase the pressure in my head/ spine or increase my leak symptoms when leaking. So I used to stand a lot more when upright. This has improved so much and I can sit for longer and longer, but it is often still harder for me to sit (relaxed) for longer periods of time (the sofa can be the worst place due to the softness of the seat). I actually find I am better sitting with my back very straight and legs bent directly in front, with the soles of my feet touching the floor. Slouching, leaning back too far or putting my feet up is no good, at all, for my head or spine.

I know the sitting issues have also been aggravated too by the general ongoing tension up my spine. I personally hypothesise that much of this is probably down to the higher pressure/ higher volume of spinal fluid pushing against my nerve roots. But it’s obviously also linked to the years of pain and physical tension in my head and spine and also the lack of natural movement. It’s hard to know how to combat this much whilst still restricting movement. It improves little by little and lots of walking and the general rehabilitation of doing things around the house and going shopping (limiting how much is carried) etc helps it a lot, thankfully. But I have found that this can’t really be overcome by trying to ‘force it better’. Gentle movement and gentle lifting, whilst remaining very patient with regards to ongoing ‘pressure issues’ is so important. I just have to listen to my body and head. Trying to ‘push myself’ and rush this process of less pain and tension in my head and down my spine can just lead to relapse and in hindsight has probably contributed to my own before.

(In hindsight, I now think that I experienced rebound high pressure symptoms at least after my second (11 months post leak onset) and third blood patches (15 months in – when I was also treated with acetazolomide) but I always got worse again many weeks to months later. I do not know if I was also still leaking a bit too after any of my patches (apart from a bit after the first perhaps) or what exactly brought on the consistent obvious major relapses. (Apart from when I fell over again badly in May 2017). I always got much better after blind lumbar high volume EBP and could spend much more time upright – often all day – over the following weeks and months – but was never symptom free. But it’s all FAR too confusing to say for sure and the confusion only gets harder the longer you have been leaking. Medical professionals in the UK normally do not understand these medical conditions enough to support you well eitherWhich makes living through it immensely hard and another challenging battle to fight, whilst you are utterly exhausted and acutely hypersensitive to stress and anxiety anyway. This all contributed to a major crisis in my own mental health (see Breaking Through the Darkness), including acute suicidal ideation, 2 months after my second EBP. This almost reoccurred again 2 months after the 4th patch that sealed me, as I try to describe in my 6 month post patch update). 

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However, regardless of all the immense and overwhelming challenges of living with a ‘leak’ for so long and now enduring the slow recovery process…

There is still so much from the past few years to treasure!

So it’s that which I want to focus on to finish…

Beauty can become even more beautiful once you have tasted of deep pain and debilitation – a theme that I wrote about in ‘Suffering into a Deeper Spiritual Awakening’. I have certainly learnt more about what truly matters in life. I see and notice beauty even more clearly around me – throughout creation and in other people. My heart is so much more tender and compassionate. I truly FEEL others pain much more deeply than I used to. My understanding of other people’s struggles is so much more profound.

If I could go back and had the choice to have or not have the leak – of course in so many ways I wish we had never had to walk through such an awfully traumatic and exhausting season in life.

And yet…

I would never want give up the beautiful lessons learnt or the wonderful people met. I could not deny the privilege of experiencing the depth of the valley of darkness – whilst actually being able to rise and recover again, as I hopefully increasingly move up towards more heights of better health. It has changed and increased the capacity of my heart in ways that I cannot even begin to fully explain. It has stretched my limited perspective and expanded my horizons. It has changed how I see and relate to others and deepened my love – for God and all people.

So with hindsight would I choose to personally go through such a desolate season of pain and suffering – because of what can be learnt and gained?

If I could have known, in advance, what the never-ending, deeply dark, valley entailed, I could not have chosen that road for myself or my family. Nor would I choose for anyone else to go through it either. Which is why I continue to raise awareness about the realities of living with the condition. In the hope that others will not have to suffer as deeply and as long as I have.

But… I would choose the new heights of beauty discovered in and from the depths of pain. Because they have transformed me for the better. They have brought holistic growth and resilience in ways I could never have achieved without going through such a raw deep struggle. I have also been able to connect and help others going through the same hell that I had to.

I have honestly been utterly shattered and broken by the past few years – in so many different ways.

And yet…

To be ‘broken and shattered’ is not always a bad thing long term. It strips you back, shows you what is truly important and gives you a new perspective on life and love. We can then hopefully one day, perhaps one day, become even more stable, loving, humble, understanding and holistically healthy people in the end. Until we can truly see that the years of pain become an investment for a better future – all round – that we previously could not see.

So for all those still suffering immensely with these awful conditions. I honestly feel the depths of your never-ending pain with you – but please take heart! And do not give up hope! Last year I wasn’t sure I could or would ever be well. I wasn’t sure that I had the strength left to make it through another day of fighting on so many different levels. I had again reached the absolute end of myself. But my journey shows that we really do not know what tomorrow might bring. That is why I have wanted to tell you my own story. In the hope that we will keep holding on and hoping for a better future – we cannot yet see – together.

“Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.” – Richard M. Nixon

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Our family on a beautiful and very blessed holiday (fully upright!!!) in Weymouth, UK, July 2018! (Which we had to cancel in 2017 due to a complete relapse of my chronic spinal CSF Leak). Our children Aimee and Beth were 7 & 10 when this nightmare began and our lives completely changed, they are now 11 & 13.


Please do comment or ask any questions below. Or alternatively you can email me at beckyhillblog@outlook.com

To read more about my story of living with and recovering from 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.

Here is a medical journal publication about rebound intracranial hypertension (rebound high pressure) as a complication of epidural blood patching. 

Please see this new May 2018 medical paper about the 10 most common myths and misperceptions about spinal CSF leaks. It is by some of the top world experts in treating this condition. I was told so many of these myths by various neurologists, anaesthetists, radiologists and many other doctors during my lengthy and traumatic nearly 3 year battle with a spinal CSF leak. This kind of misinformation caused many delays, misunderstandings and great distress on my already immensely long winded and difficult medical journey.

This other in depth 2018 medical paper is about both low and high intracranial pressure syndromes and their similar and different symptoms. It also mentions cross overs with other headache types. When a patient suffers with a spinal CSF leak long term it can cause massive fluctuations in their whole pressure system both whilst suffering from a spinal CSF leak and following treatment. This is why lumbar puncture pressure readings and ICP pressure monitoring can prove an inaccurate diagnostic tool for SIH (low pressure) and RIH (rebound high pressure) as this paper refers to as does the 10 myths paper. My initial LP in February 2015 reading was a 7 which was considered ‘evidence’ of low pressure by some doctors and normal by others.

Compassion Starts with Embracing our own Pain

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” – Henri Nouwen

The meaning of the word compassion is literally ‘co-suffering’ or ‘to suffer together’. Compassion is not simply a feeling that comes and then passes like sympathy or pity. Having compassion is being so deeply moved in your heart with the pain of another that you are compelled to act to somehow alleviate that suffering.

We are literally ‘joining together’ with the one suffering to help and support them.

It’s actually a deeply painful emotion. But the intense feeling is not focused on ourselves – it focuses on ‘the other’ who is suffering in some way. This means, although painful, it is a deeply beautiful and even freeing emotion. Because it takes the focus off our own challenges, trials and pain and focuses our attention on supporting and helping someone else.

However, the irony of compassion is that we only truly feel it, and are moved by it, once we have first embraced our own life struggles and pain. Until we recognise the pain that suffering brings to us, we cannot truly begin to understand the pain it brings to others.

This is why some of the most compassionate people you will come across are those who have felt a similar pain to yours. It may not have been exactly the same, but they at least experienced it enough to see it and feel it in you.

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Compassion is linked to empathy. Empathy enables us to understand and relate to what someone else is feeling. Compassion then takes empathy a step further, in that those empathetic feelings are intensified into a passion that leads to action. We are deeply moved to act! To do something to alleviate the person’s suffering. That act might be seemingly big or small, but it will be something that we actually do practically to help them. Motivated by the hope that it will help alleviate that persons suffering – even if only a little.

I really do love the quote at the top by Henri Nouwen. I believe the last sentence is particularly poignant:

“Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

What does he mean by this, what is the ‘condition of being human’? 

To me one of the most striking characteristics of our humanity is our brokenness. It’s the fact that we are all born as vulnerable, weak and dependant babies. And we will also all die vulnerable and weak from sickness, an accident or old age. Our human body has a fragility and mortality about it which means that we are plagued by weakness in different ways. We have many vulnerabilities; physically, mentally and emotionally. We are all prone to seasons of suffering and struggle. We are also all imperfect, we all make mistakes.

There are no humans who truly make it through their whole lives feeling perpetually strong, having it ‘all together’ the whole time, without any obvious weakness, vulnerability or struggle. Some people might like to project that mirage to others but the reality is we are all imperfect and fragile in similar and different ways. The fact is, our common humanity dictates that – if we do live to old age – all this will become more than evident, as eventually our body and mind fade and stop working altogether. If we do not live that long then death perhaps will ‘take us out’ early, again brutally revealing our weakness and mortality.

It’s this understanding of our ‘common humanity’ that helps us to become more loving, empathetic and compassionate people. This is why it is actually in times of trial and suffering that our deepest bonds with other humans can be formed – through mutual understanding, love and compassion. This is because it’s often only as we come brutally face to face with our own personal weakness and vulnerability that we can potentially connect more wholeheartedly with others because of it.

“The strongest relationships are formed in the heat of difficulty and the confession of weakness… honesty breads more honesty… it’s about sharing our common humanity.” Patrick Regan

Those we can share our whole lives with – our struggles, pain, vulnerabilities, weaknesses, shame and guilt – are those who we generally form the strongest bonds with. Relational safety comes in someone knowing our weakness and failings – but loving and staying loyal to us anyway. This is always when our connection with others becomes more deeply profound.

This is when love is most beautiful and its bonds become most powerful.

It is only when someone sees the depths of your own ‘darkness’ – but chooses to love you regardless – that the true beauty of deep relational connection blossoms. There is perhaps nothing more deeply moving in life than this. This is where true unconditional love abounds.

This is also the place that our sense of compassion is potentially deepened, because we have arrived at a place where we know what it is to be faced with our own darkness, vulnerability, suffering and shame. Our hearts can potentially become softer and more malleable towards others. We have been humbled by the distressing awareness of our weakness, which can make us kinder and more understanding to other’s weaknesses.

However, you will see that I used the word ‘potentially’ in that last paragraph twice! The truth is, not everyone who suffers will show increasing compassion to others. This is because suffering can go two ways: it can cause us to become more self consumed, hardhearted, angry and bitter OR it can help us become more tender, understanding, compassionate and loving.

Ironically, embracing our own weakness and pain in seasons of suffering – but then turning those feelings outward to focus it on having compassion for otherscan actually help alleviate the suffering of both of us. Suffering always grows darker the more it pulls us back into ourselves. Compassion, instead, provides a light for the both the giver and receiver – as the giver directs their own pain into helping alleviate the pain of someone else.

Acting to alleviate another’s suffering helps bring more meaning and purpose to our own.

Compassion

In reality though: in what ways can we practically act compassionately? Especially when in so many situations what we can actually do is so restricted?

The thing is, compassion doesn’t demand that we fully fix another’s difficult situation. For instance, when I was immensely suffering from an acute spinal fluid leak in recent years – I couldn’t reach out to another, who was also leaking, and fix their main physical problem. As much as I would have liked to have done so, we were both somewhat at the mercy of a debilitating and misunderstood condition. We couldn’t actually ‘fix’ it ourselves – we needed compassionate doctors to help. However, there are so many ways I could respond to and share another’s pain and act with compassion to their suffering.

Just telling another that we ‘get it’ and understand their pain can be an act of compassion. Which is one of the reasons I decided to write so honestly in this blog. If we can humbly ‘get over’ our own fears and insecurities of ‘getting real’ about our struggles, we can then choose to act compassionately by connecting and reaching out to another honestly – amidst our own, and their, pain. We can’t just think about it – that is sympathy or empathy. Compassion calls us to act on those feelings and practically connect to encourage, support and hopefully help alleviate some of the potential loneliness of suffering. Simply hearing ‘I get it’ means a lot to someone really struggling. This is often the first step in acting compassionately.

Giving your time to support someone struggling through spending time with them in person, over the phone or digitally can be an important act of compassion. Often patiently listening to them process their struggle and trying to understand their pain can help them immensely. Or simply looking for ways to encourage or uplift them in an empathetic way by sending some kind words, a card or gift. Practically, if we do live near by we might show compassion by cooking a meal, taking their kids to school or on a day out, or offering to drive them to a hospital appointment.

Little acts of compassion can speak the loudest when someone is struggling to make it through the next hour, let alone the next day. It was often the things above that spoke the loudest to me at the darkest moments of my own journey with a debilitating long term illness.

“Do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

Compassion doesn’t always require us to do something BIG! In fact, normally we can’t do something big – even if we had more time and resources. Many situations cannot be changed overnight with one action. There is a long and arduous process involved in acceptance, change and potential recovery. Compassion is often most profoundly shared in the little acts. The little things that shows someone in pain that you understand (or are trying to) and that you care.

However…

We need to keep in mind that the first step to being ‘moved with compassion’ – in choosing to ‘co-suffer’ with another – is that genuine compassion requires us to SEE and feel that person’s pain and struggle first. Before we do or say anything! That way, our words and actions will pour out from that heartfelt overflow of empathy. They will then be more obviously genuine and tender. You can’t fake compassion – it is easy to see in someone’s eyes, words and body language whether their supposedly compassionate words and actions are truly real or simply forced. In my own experience this can often be a problem for members of the medical profession, especially those who have lost that connection with their and their patients ‘common humanity’. 

Genuine compassion will only flow out of our true hearts, when we have first seen, felt and embraced our own pain, vulnerability and weakness. If we have not done that effectively, if we insist on denying and attempting to cover over our own human brokenness, we will simply become increasingly self focused and self absorbed human beings who spend their time pridefully keeping up their mirage of strength and pretension at other’s expense. This will inevitably end up with those people getting increasingly frustrated with others or even despising other’s suffering – rather than being moved with compassion by it.

Is it not time to see more compassion in our world? Whether it’s loving the poverty stricken orphan in Ethiopia through child sponsorship, or simply actively listening to or taking a meal round for a friend or neighbour who is struggling. Can you imagine if our neighbourhoods, schools, hospitals and workplaces were full of truly compassionate people who knew personal pain, but could look past it, to recognise it in another. We could then support one another through the ups and downs of life without judgment, misunderstanding or ignorance.

Perhaps, if we embraced our own pain more, tried to understand it, then turned it outward to connect with another equal human – then we would all suffer a little less throughout our own unique life journeys. Compassion rarely makes all the pain go away. But all of our collective small acts of compassion can become another necessary cog in the bigger wheel of changing our world for the better – person, by person.

“Love your neighbour as yourself.” – The Bible (Mark 12:31)

So let us not forget that we are ALL the same. We all share a common humanity. We must try to love as we would want to be loved. Try to care, as we would like to be cared for. Try to understand, as we would want to be understood. Try to show the compassion that we would like to receive.

In the hope that little by little, kind word by kind word, small act by small act, we might help alleviate some more of the suffering and pain in this world – TOGETHER!

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” – Henri Nouwen

Falling Into Grace

“Grace can’t be explained; it has to be experienced … grace always has a story.” – Kyle Idleman

Grace is a word that we are all familiar with. We might think of it as a quick prayer at the start of a formal dinner. Or maybe a popular baby girls name. Perhaps you might think of a ballet dancer or figure skater moving gracefully around the room. You may of even heard it talked about in church.

But as the quote above says – grace is so much more than all that. It is not simply a word, a short prayer or even a religious concept…

Grace is an experience!

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Over the past few years God has really deepened my experience, understanding and revelation of grace. Grace has become such a powerful reality in my life that even just hearing or thinking the word can often bring tears to my eyes, or tangibly move my heart very deeply, as I hear and ponder it.

To me, the concept of divine grace is one of the most beautiful things in the world!

This is mainly because I believe, know and have profoundly experienced – that divine grace truly is the ultimate foundational building block of unconditional love.

You cannot separate grace from love. They are fully dependant on one another. Unconditional love is only possible because of undeserved grace.

Of course, we are talking about a specific definition of the word grace. I am referring to the word as a Biblical concept, a spiritual experience. So before I move on, let me first attempt to describe to you what I SEE when I read, or hear, the word grace in this context.

In the Bible’s New Testament, grace is translated from the Greek word ‘charis’ which can be translated as God’s unmerited or undeserved favour and ability. To favour someone or something is to prioritise, show preference to, demonstrate a special kindness towards and basically give approval to that person or thing.

Normally in our day to day world we would show ‘favour’ to someone that we love more than others, ie. a spouse, child, family member, best friend, someone who has helped or shown us more kindness than others. We would rarely show ‘favour’ to someone who had been unkind, treated us badly or someone that we dislike.

Therefore we usually show favour (or grace) to people conditionally. We repay love for love, kindness for kindness, generosity for generosity, dislike for dislike, rudeness for rudeness, hate for hate. The way someone behaves or acts towards us dictates how we react, treat and respond to them in the vast majority of cases.

This is where ‘charis’ blows normal human behaviour and convention out of the water.

The whole point of the New Testament concept of charis is that it is wholly undeserved. There is no initial assessment about whether someone’s behaviour merits us favouring them. We decide to favour them – before we know how they will treat or respond to us. AND we choose to favour and show kindness to them DESPITE wrong, hurtful or negative treatment or attitude towards us.

Do you see how undeserved grace is the foundational building block of unconditional love?

Can you SEE how outrageously beautiful it is as a concept to me? However, the stunning nature of undeserved charis can never be fully explained in words. It has to be SEEN & EXPERIENCED. For us to truly get a life changing revelation of its glorious divine nature and intention you have to have lived through, and from, its awesome perspective. As the lyrics to this song show is so beautifully…

“And nothing ever LOOKED like this
The wonder of a world I missed
The clarity I find in GRACE
Never thought I’d SEE this way.
You’ve been there every time I fall
Been there through it all
All this time to SHOW me
The VIEW from here.”
– Stu Garrard (The View From Here)

Those words help to describe the profound transforming metamorphosis that occurs from the day, or season, that we truly begin to SEE via divine grace.

It revolutionises the way that we SEE the world. It completely changes our own perspective of God and humanity. We start viewing everything from the eyes of our hearts – rather than with our limited heads and minds. It is a wholly new ‘view from here’. And today I want to try and describe something of the view from the vantage point of divine undeserved grace.

“The view from here
So beautiful
It’s so beautiful…
… can you SEE it now?”
(Stu Garrard ‘The View From Here’)

The view from the outlook of grace is truly stunning. It is simply indescribably beautiful. As you look out at the world, you begin to increasingly see the beauty in each and every person you meet. Even when they are in a bad mood, even if they treat you terribly, despite their good or bad behaviour. You see hidden beauty within them and you long to reach, connect with it and draw it out from them. You feel a profound depth of love for them before you even meet or know them.

Undeserved grace is truly THAT radical!

Isn’t it beautiful?!

Can you imagine a world where everyone could see and treat others from that viewpoint?

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But I can also hear the cynics among you mumbling: “Well that’s simply unattainable idealistic ‘world peace’ rubbish – who on earth can love to that depth? How can you love someone you don’t know or have never even met ... if you don’t know them – how do you know if that person really deserves your love?”

And all true Jesus followers should quickly reply with a resounding…

“We don’t! – But that’s the whole point of grace.”

How deserving someone is of love is taken right out of the equation.

There is nothing they could do to make us love them more. There is nothing they can do to make us love them less. We simply love them because we just love them. Full stop!

Isn’t it beautiful?

But…you might say… is it really possible to live like that? With that radical view of the world? Seeing every person you meet as uniquely, but distinctly, beautiful?

It is ONLY possible if you have ‘experienced’ that undeserved grace and unconditional love yourself first personally. You can’t view the world like that until you truly see and experience that level of divine love from the source of perfect, infinite, Divine Love Himself – Jesus Christ! When people have truly experienced divine undeserved grace and love. It will naturally flow out of them like streams of living water – to increasing measure, to everyone they meet. You can’t make it, will it or force it to happen. It should just increasingly become as natural as breathing, for those people who have truly surrendered to God’s unconditional love and grace.

However, unmerited grace is not a one-off experience alone. That is where it begins. But it’s real beauty is seen when people experience an ongoing deeper and deeper revelation personally. Day by day. Month by month. Season by season. And as they do it will just naturally transform the way they think, feel and behave until they increasingly drip and bleed undeserved grace and unconditional love to everyone they meet.

That metamorphosis has to be one of the most stunningly beautiful processes to watch happening in both yourself and others. Once you have seen and tasted what grace can do in your own and other people’s lives. Once you have experienced the restful ease of it’s transforming power. When you begin to rise up and view the worlds valleys and humanities brokenness from the lush green hills of grace.

You are never the same again!

However, the hidden glory of that transformation is that you will only truly experience it mesmerising depths, IF you begin from a place of witnessing the true extent to which it is undeserved. In your own life first… then in others second.

The truth is you will only experience grace in proportion to how much you acknowledge the depths of your own brokenness and weakness.

The divine key – given freely via Jesus Christ – to unlocking this view of undeserved grace and unconditional love in your own heart… Is surrendering to and receiving it’s ultimate core revelation…

That you have done nothing and can do nothing now, or in the future, to deserve miraculous divine perfect love.

The moment you believe you have done something that helps make you worthy of unconditional love and undeserved grace, you have voided the whole revelation and experience. You cannot experience grace by earning it – you can only receive as the ultimate gift.

You can only experience grace when you see how absolutely undeserved it really is!

And that is also humanity’s biggest hurdle to receiving the life transforming experience. Because humans like to justify how good and deserving they are; of respect, life and love. They have believed the lie that has completely corrupted people’s understanding and experience of love in our world – that love is something you give and receive because of how much you have earned and deserved it. This is why human convention dictates that you love those who love you, show kindness to those who are kind to you, and dislike and even hate those who dislike and hate you. Which makes the most sense to our human minds.

However…

People can’t see that it’s just that corruption of love that has polluted and destroyed our world, it’s inhabitants and all our relationships. The world is falling apart because it doesn’t truly understand and hasn’t truly experienced perfect unconditional love.

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All this is because the truth is ‘weakness is the ONLY way’ to receiving that love. And unfortunately humanity hates feeling weak. We spend our lives trying to cover over and whitewash the cracks and crevices we ALL have. We will do anything we can to show off our strengths and sometimes go to any extreme to hide and cover over our weaknesses.

This results in our own ‘view from here’ being totally corrupted, polluted and full of both:

Pride AND shame.
Superiority AND inferiority.
Self-promoting AND self-hiding.
Self-prioritising AND self-loathing.
Arrogance AND false humility.

All of which will pollute and destroy perfect love.

Paul said in the Bible; “But he (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬

Anyone who has followed any part of my painful three year journey through a debilitating and devastating chronic illness will have heard and seen how it’s relentless waves have completely wrecked me again and again. I cannot begin to describe to you what has happened in my life over the past three and a half years. But perhaps I would say that, at times, it felt like a mixture of a devastating typhoon that ravaged its way through my life and attempted to destroy everything in its path. Whilst I sailed through its unrelenting storm in an exposed wooden rowing boat trying to not be completely sunk by the untamable wind and waves that seemed to strip me naked and constantly flood over me. On and off, I thought I was physically, mentally and spiritually drowning. Unable to cope or see a way through.

I can’t tell you how weak and vulnerable you feel when you are quite literally mostly bed bound and debilitated by a ‘life wrecking’, widely misunderstood, illness.

But as the never-ending storm raged and ripped through my life, stripping me of so many parts of my identity, dreams for the future and so much of what I could do, it revealed a deeper and deeper vulnerability. It exposed more and more of the real, naked, hidden and weak me. Until at moments I wasn’t totally sure what was left behind amidst the tatters of my old life.

Its destructive path at times completely overwhelmed me... but through it all... that still small voice of the Holy Spirit whispered…

“Weakness is the way”
“You can’t – but I AM can”
“Let yourself fall into My undeserved grace”
“Immerse yourself in My unconditional love”

And over time I began to SEE more and more of the depths of my Creator’s unconditional love – that could only be experienced through falling into and being completely immersed in His undeserved grace.

The old me who wanted to look, and be, so strong, the old me who struggled with pride and shame as the depth of her weakness was exposed, the old me who wanted to cover her nakedness with various worldly ‘fig leaves’ as Adam and Eve did after the fall…. Had to let herself be brutally killed off more and more –  so that I could experience His ever increasing grace.

All of my heroic self-attempts to keep striving to be strong, all of my ugly self-reliance that tried to fight the battle on my own, all of my projected ‘able, high-achieving, pretentious’ self-identity had to be brutally crushed and wounded.

… until I could again see that we can do absolutely NOTHING to earn or deserve God’s divine favour. We cannot add – even a morsel – to His unmerited ability or His unearned strength at work within us. 

“It would be so much more comfortable if God would keep us in our “strengths zone” wouldn’t it? But God keeps thrusting us into our “weakness zone” because it is only in our weakness that he is made strong”. – Christine Cane.

My Father, Lover and Friend… in His incomprehensible wisdom, allowed me to walk through the relentless ‘valley of the shadow of death and destruction’. So that I would learn to fall more deeply into Him. So that He could keep leading me like a Shepherd leads his scared lost sheep, up the greener, more peaceful, lusher mountainside. Up towards the higher ground where ‘the view from here’ would look even more stunningly beautiful than ever before.

My view of undeserved grace and unconditional love could only be widened and deepened when I truly realised that…

“It’s NONE of me… it’s ALL of Him.”

And that is what characterised His constant whispers to my soul throughout the storm…

“You can only do this through I AM’s undeserved grace. It’s My strength in your weakness. I didn’t build or design you to try and scale this mountain by your own human striving, strength and perseverance. I have allowed you to feel and see the depth of your weakness – so that you will see how much you need My grace. So FALL into My grace My precious, dependant, child and allow my SHALOM peace and completeness to STILL your heart again. And watch as you are saturated by My unconditional Love – so that when you look into the eyes of every person you meet, you will truly SEE with My eyes of pure unadulterated love.”

That is my ‘view from here’ which grows clearer and clearer each and every day.

That is why the word grace can cause me to catch my breath, bring tears to my eyes and deeply move my burning heart once again.

That is my story of undeserved grace.

That is what I need you to hear as you listen to my tragically beautiful tale.

Weakness is the only way to truly experience God. His grace can only be received as a mind-blowingly generous undeserved gift. His unconditional love is given despite our faults and failures. So that when we receive it – it will overflow to everyone we meet. In the stunning form of unconditional love for ALL people – regardless of how they feel about us in return. 

The view from here is so very beautiful. It’s so beautiful… can you SEE it now? 

“Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands”. – Brennan Manning

Writing to explore what life is about. Amidst its captivating beauty and deepest pain. In the hope that we can learn, grow and be inspired together.