Category Archives: Suffering & Grief

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

Suffering into a Deeper Spiritual Awakening 

“Any great calamity in the natural world – death, disease, bereavement – will awaken a man like nothing else could and he is never the same. We would never know the treasures of darkness, if we are always in the place of placid security.” – Oswald Chambers

If you have ever faced pitch black darkness – you know how hard it is to get around. In that place, if you want to get somewhere, you will have probably also experienced the desperate longing to discover more revealing light.

We tend to fumble around in darkness, utterly lost and insecure about where our feet should go. We have to move so slowly. Feeling our way around and through. Hoping to find a flicker of light, some moonlight, a torch or that revealing light switch that should instantly show the right path ahead.

In pitch black darkness, we all know that we must move towards a source of light to find a way out.

I can still vividly remember being on holiday in Menorca years ago – when our kids were small. We were staying in a small villa, which had shutters and at night was pitch black. One night, one of our small girls screamed out after having a nightmare and I literally jumped out of bed, half asleep. I instantly felt completely disorientated and enveloped by the confusion of the darkness around me.

Where was I?
How could I reach my screaming child?
Where was that light switch that I desperately needed?

In the pitch black, fear and anxiety often overwhelm you. Especially when you face the urgency of trying to get to your screaming child. In that moment I felt completely and utterly helpless as I felt the walls, trying to recall where that light switch was.

Eventually – after fumbling around for ages – I found that precious switch. With it came a stilling burst of light. My panic began to subside as I could see the way to reach my distressed little girl in her own room. And as she felt my presence in the light, as I held her in my reassuring arms and listened to her describe her scary dream – I was so thankful for that light.

The same is true in our lives.

Times of deep darkness disorient us. We can panic and become anxious as our way forward is hidden. We might fumble about trying to find a source of light to make the path ahead clear. We can feel desperate – longing to discover even a flicker of light.

Darkness quickly feels enveloping and all consuming. Its black fog often starts to seep into every area of our thoughts, emotions, actions and lives. We can’t seem to shake it off. Its mist covers everything we do. Until we feel like we are slowly being sucked to its desolate and empty core of despair.

And as it does… the desperate longing and need for light increases and intensifies every hour of every day. Until we know the flicker of a flame – ‘a little hope’ – is not enough anymore to guide us through the dense fog we are immersed in. We need a more powerful light – a more ‘substantial and secure hope’ – to get us through and illuminate, reveal and secure the path ahead. 

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But it is also in the ‘deep darkness’ that the ‘treasures of darkness’ are waiting to be found. For it is only in that place that we truly see how much we long for and need the light to survive. It is only when our eyes are blinded by the darkness that we fully realise the depths of our desperation and longing for the light to again truly SEE!

The past three years, or so, have been the hardest physical, mental, emotional and spiritual challenge of my life. My journey through an utterly debilitating chronic illness following my accident in January 2015 left me feeling more broken and weak than I ever have before.

And yet…

I have increasingly discovered that ‘broken and weak’ is the avenue God uses to draw us more deeply towards Him. It is in true human desperation that we realise how little strength we really have alone. Weakness, and the subsequent new level of humility it can usher in, is always the path to discovering just how deeply we need God.

But the stark reality is – the intense journey of brokenness is truly a painful and raw place to walk. Where layer upon layer of self-sufficiency, self-security, self-identity and self-confidence are brutally peeled away. Leaving us more and more exposed in our human ‘naked’ vulnerability and fragility. Even as you begin to tentatively emerge and ascend out of the valley of deep darkness, you can still feel very battered, bruised and disorientated from the utterly exhausting and often overwhelming fight.

Finding your way through the darker valleys of life, although intensely difficult, can also be an exceedingly beautiful journey; as your heart is softened, opened and humbled like never before. IF – and only IF – we truly invite God into the hidden depths of our vulnerability and pain.

It is only then that we discover and SEE the light of His love,

More intimately.
More stunningly.
More remarkably.
Than ever before!

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” – ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭34:18‬ ‭(The Bible)

It has not always been easy on that relentless journey through life’s darker valleys. There have been moments of anger at God. Thoughts of betrayal. So much lack of understanding about what was really going on. I have had to wrestle through intensely difficult questions and thoughts.

I needed to ‘discover more of God’ in a FAR more real – and yet gritty – way. 

I have also had to come to a deeper acceptance of the fact, that we all currently live in a ‘broken world’. And that it is probably not going to change, for many of us, any time soon. 

The world was originally created perfect, with God, humanity and creation living in perfect Shalom’ (peaceful) completeness, wholeness and harmony. But ever since humanity decided to do things ‘their way’ rather than the ‘Creator’s way’ in the garden of Eden. The ‘completeness and harmony’ of creation has been fractured and has been subsequently breaking down & slowly falling apart. Sickness, disease, genetic deformity, natural disaster, selfishness, rebellion and pride all entered the world as a consequence of that ‘fall’ and separation of humanity from the Perfect Designer of the universe.

It doesn’t mean God wanted me – or any of us – to be sick. Or that He caused me to fall that day to teach me a lesson. Sickness is just part of our broken world that is groaning to have its ‘Shalom’ completeness restored. God wasn’t the ‘author’ of my sickness, but He does promise to work with our fractured creation and turn it around for my good.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭(The Bible)

Over the past few years I have increasingly ‘groaned’ alongside the whole of creation for the ultimate redemption and restoration of the Shalom. Matt and I have also never been more aware of the deep, yet at times exceedingly painful, tension that exists between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’. Between God’s perfect kingdom and the current world in which we live.

This life is our ‘in the meantime’ life…

Yet the promise is that we can also begin to increasingly experience the ‘not yet’ perfect kingdom of God – His Shalom – in the ‘now’ through Jesus Christ. Jesus broke into His fractured creation to reach broken humanity. He came to live in the centre of the tension – as one of us. To see and then experience the deepest and most painful suffering here – to bring the ‘not yet’ of God’s glorious kingdom into the broken reality of creations ‘now’.

God’s complete ‘Shalom’ (perfect, whole life, restoring, enveloping peace) is what we ALL yearn and long for in the depths of our spirits and souls. Especially in the midst of suffering. But it is not just a ‘fuzzy’ feeling of ‘inner peace & calm’.

‘Divine Shalom’ – is so much more!

It is the stillness of our entire being – even amidst the storm. It’s illuminating light – even when everything appears dark. It’s the divine ability of undeserved grace – displayed through our human weakness. It loves us whole – in the reality of our brokenness. It is perfect completeness – in the midst of our imperfection.

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It’s so very hard to explain to you – with simple words – what has happened to me spiritually over the past three years. How can mere words describe the indescribable?! The only way I can explain it to you is that it was a profoundly deeper ‘spiritual awakening’.

I now SEE with new eyes.
I now HEAR with new ears.
I now FEEL with a new heart.
I now THINK with new wisdom.

My own human ‘nakedness’ of weakness and vulnerability has been exposed and uncovered to a much greater depth. And it was in that place that I found more indescribable divine Love waiting patiently for me. It was as if, all the way through my journey of brokenness and pain, I was being drawn further to seek and discover, being taken deeper to search and find.

It was only when I saw and felt the depths of my weakness and inability that I experienced the glorious wonder of His strength rising up within me. It was only as my self-reliance was brutally crushed by my inability to cope, that my dependency on Him grew so much stronger. Until from deep within the broken clay jar vessel of my life I cried out to the one who created me…

“Make me whole again Daddy.
Then shape and fill me anew, Holy Spirit.
Mould me into Your Divine image Jesus. 
Nothing else really matters… All I need is You!!”

I had again reached that intimate place of deeper surrender. 

When the darkness intensifies – our need for light increases. When blindness envelopes us – our longing to SEE truly grows. When our inner being is parched and empty – our spiritual hunger and thirst becomes more desperate. When the world can only offer silence – our spiritual ears long for His eternal song.

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When trying to describe spiritual – awakenings, encounters or experiences. We often use ancient images, words and metaphors. That to some might sound ‘cryptic’. To others may be simple ‘poetic words’. But to those of us who have truly tasted and experienced the eternal immeasurable love of God – Father, Son and Spirit. To those who have discovered Him waiting for them in their deepest brokenness and pain. To those who have seen His mesmerising light in the darkness. To those who know they cannot live without His beautiful grace…

Such words truly connect with the deepest longings of our hearts. Desires that we know nothing in this world can even begin to satisfy.

I wrote these words about my recent struggles to inspire us today. So that – together – we can again perceive the divine call to our souls – in the midst of suffering – to stretch further, to reach out deeper and uncover more of the dazzling light of His Truth, that will enable us to SEE and experience more of …

…the stunning, transcendent, everlasting – yet intimately personal and experiential – Triune GOD

Who is pure unconditional LOVE.
The Author of undeserved GRACE.
And the central beating heart of the perfect infinite SHALOM.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” ― C.S. Lewis, (Mere Christianity)


Click here for a great video explanation of the Hebrew word ‘Shalom’

For more posts about my three year battle with a spinal CSF leak – please click here or click on the CSF Leak tab at the menu above.

The Humility That Is Found In Suffering 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

….. And it is truly humbling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… but only IF…

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

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


*Bible Verse from Galatians 6:3 NIV

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

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

Facing Disappointment After Disappointment But Pressing On Regardless…

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

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

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

It’s been tough!

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

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

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

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

BOOM!

I am back to where I started.

And it is honestly wearing me out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For as long as this journey takes.

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

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

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

This is my story!

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


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

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

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

Grappling with the Shame of Having a Rare Invisible illness

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

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

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

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable…. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to whither.” – Brene Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the shame can pile up….

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

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

…and after…

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

Shame quote copy

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

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

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

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

Which is not easy!! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because….

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

You do not really know what it is like!

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

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

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

But we can fight TOGETHER!!

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

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

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

So will you join our fight of many TOGETHER?

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

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

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

Life is ALWAYS better when we face it TOGETHER!

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


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

For more posts about my story of living with a spinal CSF Leak please look at the subject heading on the menu bar above.

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

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

‘Why Me?’ The Soul Destroying Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this happening?

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

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

What can I DO with my suffering?

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

Our RESPONSE to suffering.

Can I still find meaning and purpose here?

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

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