Category Archives: Suffering & Grief

Choosing To Let Go…

“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now.” – Elisabeth Elliot

That is the lesson I am trying to live out every day at the moment. To embrace each day as a gift. I am who I am and can only do what I can do in this moment.

If I am always waiting till tomorrow, I will not fully embrace today.

I have been unwell for 2 years from a spinal CSF leak. Every day of that 2 years I have felt unwell. Some days more than others. But each day is full of challenge.

I never imagined how hard it is to live like this. How deep you have to keep digging to stay sane. It is definitely one of those things you can only fully understand once you have experienced it.

It’s tough.
Every day is a battle of sorts.
Some days we have to fight harder than others.
Persevering can just be so very exhausting.
There are moments it’s hard to muster up the strength to face the new day.

But what choice do we have other than to keep on taking hold of each new day and finding the opportunities here?

Some days are exhausting.
Others go that bit more smoothly.
Some are just plain tough.
Others have such beautiful moments within them.

But whatever the day brings I have to keep on walking forwards. Placing one foot in front of the other. Accepting the limitations whilst refusing to let them take me over.


If I am always waiting till tomorrow, I will not fully embrace today.


A big lesson I have had to learn is the ability to LET GO. Everyone reaches a stage on their journey with chronic illness or any other long term trial in life where you have to accept your current reality, let go of your old ‘normal’ life and choose to make the most of your life and what it looks like HERE today.

We can still hope for a better future, but not at the expense of living today.

Letting go is not an easy process. It’s a bit like grief – you can go through various stages to reach that point of acceptance. It is often painful. It’s choosing to say goodbye to who you once were and accepting the reality of who you are now. Not knowing when and if things will improve.

It’s the day you decide that you have to keep living within the uncertainties, the limbo and make the most of the reality in front of you now.

It’s choosing to keep going whatever barriers are thrown up before you. To get up when you fall down and to gather up the pieces when you feel broken again and again. To choose to keep on living.

It’s a letting go of the old to discover and embrace the new.

My faith helps a lot with the process of letting go. Over the years I have learnt the daily discipline of surrender, of saying to God – I am letting go of my life and future, please take control because I can’t do this alone. It is allowing His love to be my strength in weakness, my peace in the midst of the storm and allowing my struggles to develop in me more compassion and love towards those around me.

This process helps to keep my heart tender towards others rather than my heart becoming increasingly hard. It’s about keeping my perspective right so that negativity, bitterness or blame don’t take root and destroy me. A daily reminder to keep believing that good and positive things can come out of times of pain. A decision to look outside of myself each day to see what what I can still do here. To remember that there are plenty of others walking a similar or even more difficult journey than me. People I can encourage and walk alongside. Taking hold of new opportunities even within the difficulties.

choosing-to-let-go-copy

There is a freedom that comes in letting go of the things we can’t change and choosing to take control of the things we can.

So each day I have to choose to let go of yesterday and the unknowns of tomorrow. I have to see what I can do today and embrace it. Not comparing it to what I used to be able to do or what others around me can do. If I look around me I will often see those who continue in their ‘normal lives’, and I can forget the many for whom – like me – their old normal is becoming a distant memory. The ones that choose to stand up, amidst the pain, to face another day and to craft out a new normal.

A normal that although perhaps tainted by brokenness, cracks and wounds that might still feel quite raw, has the potential to be even more beautiful that what went before. Because we now know how to just about weather the never ending storm and LET GO in the midst of it. To craft out new meaning and purpose that has to go so much deeper than ever before.

We have to fix our eyes on our own path whilst doing what we can to help, support and walk alongside others as well. We can walk our unique paths – with others – whilst not getting distracted or fixated on the differences between us. Instead we can choose to support one another and learn from what is similar and what is different. Celebrating the good times and weeping over the hard times together.

One thing this journey has taught me is that..

  • once you know what it feels like to reach the utter end of yourself
  • once you have felt the pain of wanting to give up and escape this life and it’s seemingly never ending battles
  • when you have watched your life be thrown up in the air and fall into pieces on the floor around you

…your heart becomes more tender to feel others pain too.

You can then reach out to another and together you can find a way to LET GO in the midst of the storm. We can embrace who we can be and what we can do today rather than always waiting for the storm to clear.

So each day I will do the best I can to embrace the here and now regardless of the unknowns, uncertainties and future battles. With the resolve to be the best and do the best I can in the midst of all the limitations.

And just let go of the rest.

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time…”
– Reinhold Niebuhr

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

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

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

The Shame of Chronic Illness and Pain

‘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

Over the summer I read Brene Brown’s fabulous book ‘Daring Greatly’. The book follows on from her famous TEDTalk on vulnerability that had previously inspired me to write this blog post on the power of vulnerability.

The full title of the book is Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead.’ It encourages us to dare to be honest about who we really are, rather than trying to hide our weakness. It teaches that vulnerability helps us to live more ‘wholeheartedly’, connect more with others and that it helps us to overcome the destructive burden of ‘shame’ we all carry.

Her book really got me thinking about this concept of shame. 
It is not something we often think about.

I have been part of the Christian church all my life so I am used to hearing the word shame. We believe it is something destructive that we can overcome and that the grace provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection can break us free from its grasp.

And yet, this book caused me to really reflect on shame; what it is and what it really means. It inspired me to consider these questions;

Where does shame have a hold on my life?
How does shame effect my thoughts and actions?
How might shame be damaging my wellbeing & relationships?

shame-quote-2

What is shame?

Words we often connect or use interchangeably with shame are words like: embarrassed or humiliated. It can manifest as feelings of inadequacy, guilt or regret. It’s something we often hide and cover up. We might self medicate to avoid thinking about it. We dread people seeing it.

And yet although shame is often seen as one and the same as guilt, I have come to see that there is a distinctive difference.

One of the main differences between shame & guilt is that guilt is the feeling of embarrassment or regret about something YOU HAVE DONE WRONG. We can feel shame, on the other hand, even when we have NOT DONE ANYTHING WRONG.

Shame is more connected to who WE ARE and how OTHERS PERCEIVE US.

“It’s a painful feeling about how we appear to others (and to ourselves) and doesn’t necessarily depend on our having done anything.” – Joseph Burgo

The more I thought about shame and how it manifests in my life, the more I became aware that it is intrinsically linked to the struggles I face at the moment. I began to see how shame had got a hold on me and particularly how it has effected me over the past year or so.

Finally I began to see and recognise that;

I FEEL ASHAMED THAT I AM BATTLING A CHRONIC ILLNESS!

There we go I have said it. It’s out in the open…

I feel ashamed that I am ill.
I feel ashamed that it has gone on so long.
I feel ashamed that I can’t seem to get well.
I feel ashamed that I cannot work and be busy like I used to.

I feel embarrassed to be sick!

shame-copy

When I decided to speak up and write about feeling ashamed of being ill, it led me to google the words; ‘the shame of chronic illness.’ Through that search I found two insightful blog posts by a lady called Angelika Byczkowski in which she shares something of her battles with the chronic connective tissue disorder – Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).

She writes so beautifully about the humbling journey those with chronic illness and pain are forced to take;

“When I recently read the phrase, “I’m embarrassed to be sick,” it made my stomach clench and my breath catch. That’s exactly what I’ve been feeling….. I am ashamed of being sick….
…. If all the people not yet affected by chronic illness acknowledged all the undeserved pain in this world, they would be forced to confront their own vulnerability to the same forces. Instead, we all prefer to believe we have the power to prevent such disasters in our own lives. Sometimes I even catch myself thinking, “If you’re so smart, why did you let this happen to you?”

Those words were so revealing to my own heart. I have begun to see that I feel like a ‘failure’ for being sick. I feel like – ‘if I was only a bit stronger or wiser, made better choices, if only a bit more positive, if only I had more faith …. surely I could have overcome this sooner?’

Such thoughts often taunt me and drag me into a dark and negative pattern, which was particularly bad at Christmas, where I blame myself and feel responsible for still being ill.

It’s so humiliating to be so unwell and in pain long term.

Angelica highlights this so beautifully in another post called ‘The subtle arrogance of good health’. She writes about how many of us have fallen for the trap we set ourselves, because before we got ill we carried a form of arrogance at being healthy .

“My attitude was the typical thoughtless “arrogance of good health,” the attitude of those who can’t even imagine what happens when a body stops functioning properly. This arrogance knows only the kind of pain that heals, the kind of sickness that is cured.”

As I read those words I too knew it was talking about me. Before I got ill, I had carried the ‘arrogance of good health.’ I had believed that I was strong enough to shake it off when others couldn’t, because that was all I knew.

I was not the ‘type’ who would succumb to its chains. I was always so healthy and surely I could overcome anything thrown at me right? Surely my faith and positive mindset would win?

And then one day in January 2015 I fell off a step ladder and entered the world of chronic invisible illness and pain. I acquired a debilitating spinal CSF leak and brain injury that I haven’t YET overcome. I have been unwell for 20 months. Each and everyday I battle through chronic pain, physical & mental fatigue, a foggy brain, barriers to treatment and the challenges of not ‘being able’ to heal up, get well and get free.

And honestly,
I feel ashamed on so many levels!!

I feel ashamed that I have now become one of those people with ‘chronic pain’ and ‘chronic illness.’

I actually hate using the word ‘chronic’ at all! (Which is revealing of the sterotypes I accepted before).

I feel ashamed to tell you that I feel weaker than I ever imagined possible; physically, mentally and spiritually.

I feel ashamed that my ‘old’ positivity has taken a massive hit and most days I battle overwhelming feelings of despair at the thought of not getting better.

I feel ashamed that I broke down mentally at Christmas, exhausted and with nothing left for the fight, and seriously considered ending my life. I feel ashamed that the same ‘selfish’ thought has returned at times since then, although thankfully not to the same depth.

“In my view, suicide is not really a wish for life to end.’
What is it then?’
It is the only way a powerless person can find to make everybody else look away from his shame. The wish is not to die, but to hide.”– Orson Scott Card

I feel ashamed every time I have to update people on where I am at, and that I have to tell them I am still not well, it’s got worse and it is not yet over.

I feel ashamed when I can’t tell you that I have finished the fight, overcome, won and beaten this dreadful condition.

I feel ashamed that I cannot yet testify to the fact that I am now fully healed and whole, even though I believe in a loving creator God and Father who can do the impossible.

“O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed;” Psalms‬ ‭25:2‬ – The Bible

I feel ashamed telling doctors that I can’t seem to get better and hope that they will see past the ‘chronic pain’ patient with the unusual condition and know that it’s not ‘all in my head’ so that I can continue to get treatment.

I feel ashamed when the scans are clear and don’t show any evidence of a CSF leak, when the treatment I receive doesn’t ‘fix’ me or when my symptoms don’t always fit with the diagnosis.

Each day this drags on the shame gets worse.
Each day the shame is becoming almost as much of a burden as the illness itself.
Each day the shame is debilitating me and making me feel small.
Each day the shame is robbing me of my voice and tempting me to retreat from the world.

And it has to stop!

I HAVE TO BREAK FREE!shame-quote-copy

So today I am making the ‘unspeakable’ speakable; for myself and the multitudes who also travel the dark road of chronic illness and pain.

I am speaking out my shame so that it can no longer chain me up with its lies. I am choosing to acknowledge the space it has taken up in my thoughts; so that we can tear down its strongholds together.

Today I chose vulnerability; to speak the unspoken, so that you and I won’t have to suffer again in silence.

Today I choose to fight shame so that even though this condition taunts me daily, trying to persuade me I can never be free; it doesn’t have to define everything I am, do, and my relationships with those around me.

So today, whether you are battling chronic illness and pain or know someone who is; I pray that together we can tear down the ‘chronic pain’ stereotypes that perhaps we also once secretly adhered to ourselves, and no longer allow it’s shame to rule our and others lives.

“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


What do you feel ashamed of? We all carry shame in some form. Please feel free to comment below – if we can speak it then perhaps together we can beat it!

I have now written a follow up post to this one titled ‘Grapping With The Shame Having A Rare Invisible Illness‘.

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.

Here is the link again to Dr Carroll’s video.

Breaking Through the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

I had held on all year.

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

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

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

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

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

We give it everything we’ve got.

And then we find we have nothing left to give.

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

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

We discover….

THAT IS ALSO ME.

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

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

And a new journey starts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things spiraled out of control physically and mentally – my symptoms seemed all over the place – before crashing in every way.

It was Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAIN CONSUMED ME.

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

Breaking through the darkness copy

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

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

Hope deferred makes the heart sick – A Proverb‬*

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

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

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

I just wanted it all to stop!!

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

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

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

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

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

EVERYTHING BECAME DARK.

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

I JUST WANTED TO ESCAPE.

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

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

I DESPAIRED OF LIFE ITSELF

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

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

All was not lost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just couldn’t ‘perceive’ Him.

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

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

Breaking through the darkness quote copy

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

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

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

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

And yet.

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

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

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

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

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



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

*Proverbs 13:12 from The Bible

UPDATE March 2018: It is now looking likely that after epidural blood patches I may well have experienced some rebound high pressure symptoms. This is a very confusing condition, that can be a severe complication of epidural blood patching/ CSF leak treatment. Here is my more in depth post about experiencing this after my 4th EBP in September 2017.


 

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

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

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

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

The Power Hidden In Vulnerability. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A better term is torture! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have reached a new level of weakness. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been a tough year. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We couldn’t cope anymore. 

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

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

Talk about vulnerability and weakness. 

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

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

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

BUT

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

When there is no where left to hide.

You are just you. 

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

Yet loved, looked after and cared for. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be seen in weakness is to be truly seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never, Never, Never Give Up! 

“Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill

“The brave aren’t brave because they don’t feel fear. They’re brave because they pushed through it.” – Carey Nieuwhof

There are seasons in our lives where we will face a lot of discouragement and disappointments. Sometimes these knock on our door one by one. Other times we seem to face a barrage of them; where one thing after another seems to go wrong.

It feels like there are challenges and hurdles at every level. 

Each one has to be faced and each time you have to keep bringing yourself back, getting over the new disappointment and find the strength to move forward.

There are moments when despair knocks at your door. Pleading with you to let it in and yet you know if you let it in, you will also let in all the other feelings and thoughts that accompany it. Once they get a hold of you, it is hard to break free because those dark thoughts will pull you into horrible places.

It is not easy some days. You have to find the strength for each new day, each new battle, each new decision.

Sometimes all you can say (or shout) to yourself is:

“I WILL NOT QUIT! I WILL KEEP ON GOING – REGARDLESS OF HOW DIFFICULT THIS IS!”

Until you can again break through to a place of hope. A place where you can see light for your future. A place where you decide you will not let what is happening around you and to you destroy you. A place where you can gain a better perspective and will not let the bad news win!

It takes great courage and strength to keep on keeping on when the way forward is not clear. 

We had some disappointing news from the hospital this week. Following my relapse a month ago of CSF leak/ post-concussion symptoms, I was offered a second blind epidural blood patch as treatment. (I had one in March that got me back to about 70-80% normal for 5 months).

Two weeks ago I went to hospital to have this procedure, but when at last the anaesthetist was ready to call me to theatre, the day ward I was on realised that the ward would shut before I had taken the full recovery time.

So it was cancelled. 

I cried when they told me (thankfully I was wearing sunglasses due to photophobia). So I had to let my husband talk (because I couldn’t get my words out). He remains the most brilliant advocate through all this. Calm and understanding, yet strong and willing to fight where necessary.

When you have waited ten days for a procedure to help you get better, then you go into hospital, wait all day for it to happen, told they are ready for you in theatre, to then find it can’t happen after all – is really very hard. 

But we were assured it would get rearranged. So we pulled ourselves together and chose to keep waiting.

After two more weeks of waiting for another appointment (and after daily phone calls to chase it up), it turned out that the anaesthetists have changed their minds and have ALL refused to do the blood patch and instead I have been referred to the chronic pain clinic to manage symptoms. (A blood patch is an internationally renouned treatment to deal with the cause and symptoms of CSF leaks. And the treatment requested by my Neurology consultant. The problem is a lack of understanding about how they work and the diagnosis means Doctors don’t always want to take the risk with them). 

After already waiting for four weeks for a blood patch, to be told I won’t get it is unbelievably disappointing.

It feels like another ‘blow’ in a very challenging journey. 

It’s left us in a very difficult position in which we need a lot of wisdom to know the right course of action to move forward with.

I currently still need to lie down flat all day to deal with symptoms. 

Despair is knocking at the door of our lives coaxing us to allow it in.

But we WONT let it! 

It won’t steal my inner peace. 
It won’t
steal my inner strength. 
I will
keep on keeping on – Regardless! 

It’s hard but I won’t let it destroy my life. At every level, I am choosing hope. I won’t settle for fear, doubt, worry, anger, bitterness and blame.

As a Mum I have a responsibility to demonstrate to my kids how to face hard times and endure through them; yes – somewhat broken, but also stronger and wiser.

As church leaders Matt and I together have a responsibility to show that we can face what life throws at us and still remain full of faith and strength.

It doesn’t mean we find it easy. It certainly doesn’t mean we don’t feel weak. 

  • We get angry at the process. 
  • We daily face the frustrations of managing life with me in bed all day. 
  • It’s painful, it’s hard, we often don’t know what to do. 
  • There are tears, there is exhaustion.

But we have already decided:
WE WILL NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, GIVE UP! 

“Leaders are teaching others how to handle pain at the exact moment they are learning these lessons themselves. The pain is felt and the lessons are taught in real time.” – Samuel Chand

Despair, anger, frustration, hurt and worry come against us. Telling us their pitiful story of how terrible our life is and how hard this is for us.

But we have learnt and will continue to learn how to stop these thoughts as quickly as we can.

It’s not easy, but it is possible. 

“….let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” -‭Romans‬ ‭12:2‬ (The Bible)

We will not allow our perspective to be dragged down to the smallness of our current circumstances. We choose to look beyond this. To find purpose within the pain. To remember what we do have to be thankful for.

And when we don’t have the strength to fight, we know that God will carry us. We know that we have people around us standing and fighting with us and for us.

We are not alone and we will ENDURE! 

Endure: To carry on through, despite hardships; (The Free Dictionary).

We endure each day by facing and finding the strength for today. Not getting bogged down by what may happen tomorrow. If we look too far into the future it can overwhelm us.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” -Mother Teresa

This is the hardest long term battle I have faced in my life. 

It came out of nowhere and suddenly tried to take control of my life. My story of this year will always be a part of me but I will not allow it to consume everything in me as well.

I am not a diagnosis. I am Becky Hill who is having a challenging year fighting a complex diagnosis. 

I WILL come through this. However long it takes. I WILL get better.

And in the meantime I intend to travel through it as well as I can. Make the most of every opportunity. Do what I can do and not despise what I can’t.

Learn
Grow
Inspire
Lead
Live
Teach


Regardless! 

My life does not only consist of what happens around me. We cannot always change what happens around us or to our bodies. But what has happened won’t take me inside. In my heart, my spirit, my thoughts. 

So even when my body is weak (weaker than I have ever known). Even when physically my strength is limited.

My spirit can soar. My heart can sing. I will do what I can to still build myself up, stay encouraged and inspire others in the process.

I have to fight for the right perspective on foggy days.

But I will overcome. 

It will change me.
But good will come from this.

I will not allow it to take me down! 

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory” – Philip Yancey

Can good things come out of your suffering? What could you do to find purpose amidst pain?


Thankfully after finishing this post we got some better news from the hospital. It’s by no means clear cut but there is a bit of a way forward now. We can always hold onto hope and faith. 

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

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

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

 

Finding Peace In The Midst Of The Storm 

“Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”Author Unknown 

Do you ever crave true peace? 

We live in a world that competes for our attention. There are so many voices speaking at us and to us. Both from the outside, as well as the thoughts from within.

We often don’t feel peaceful. 

Decisions,
choices,
stress,
trouble
and people …
With all their thoughts, needs and opinions;
battling for our attention. 

Some days we feel like we are drowning in noise. 

Even in the silence. 

It is actually often in silence that our own thoughts become louder. All the different opinions, perspective and voices from ourself and others fly around in our heads, as we attempt to work out how to live this life as best we can.

It’s stressful.
We long for peace.
We search for it everywhere:

Perhaps a holiday will help.
Maybe TV will block it out.
Perhaps having a few drinks might drown the noise.
Maybe that bar of chocolate.
The perfect partner.
A night out. 

…Will distract and cover over all the noise, insecurity and stress that we feel in the hidden depths of our hearts and minds.

But when those moments of distraction have passed – the noise is still there.  Earlier I typed in ‘peace’ and ‘inner peace‘ into Google. This is what it found:

“Inner peace (or peace of mind) refers to a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace, with enough knowledge and understanding to keep oneself strong in the face of discord or stress. Being “at peace” is considered by many to be healthy and the opposite of being stressed or anxious.” – Wikipedia 

I love this definition and can totally relate to it. I have felt it, it is there in my heart. It is what gives me strength in hard times.

But some days I still have to seek it, find it and receive it. 

Peace is always there, but it sometimes gets hidden by all the other noise. Or we can get distracted from it, by the force of the storm around us.

I am in a storm right now that won’t go away. Whatever we do it won’t seem to budge. I have a spinal/ brain condition, from an injury, which means I have to lie down flat all day (apart from using the bathroom etc). Otherwise I feel exceptionally unwell.

Sometimes things go wrong in our lives. Regardless of how positive you are. How much you fight it. How much you pray. How much faith you have.

Bad things still happen. 

Sometimes we are responsible or someone else played their part. Sometimes it’s the combination of a crazy set of random circumstances. Sometimes it is a mix of the two.

But tough things do happen. Storms will come that won’t seem to budge.

And all we can do is survive them. 

But is that all we can do? 

Maybe we can do more than that. Perhaps we can thrive in the midst of them. Letting the storm rage around us, while we just bask in the peace within us.

Is that really possible? 
This is the place I have reached again in the last few days. To a new depth. 

The peace has always been there over the past 9 months. In fact, neither my husband or I expected or really worried that my injury would cause major health issues for this long.

Over the years, we have learnt to look at everything positively and with faith. I never even begun to imagine that all this could happen after ‘that fall’.

But it has. 

When I was first told I had a concussion – I dismissed it, in part, thinking ‘well it can’t be that bad’ I am sure I will be OK in a few days.

You see I am used to ‘bouncing back’ I have never really been ‘ill’ for more than the occasional few days. I am normally a very healthy person.

When they then told me I had Post-Concussion Syndrome‘ and I would probably be out of action for 8 weeks. I honestly thought – nah not me – give it 4 weeks tops.

When I was then diagnosed with a CSF leak after 9 weeks, I thought OK one epidural blood patch will do me and I will bounce back – no worries – and all this will be over. 

When it didn’t ALL go away after my first blood patch, I believed it’s perhaps just going to take a bit of time – I’m going to be 100% better soon. 

When five months later things started getting worse again, I thought, this is just a blip I’ll just take it easy for a bit and then I’ll be back.

When I completely relapsed and ended up back in hospital – I thought, I will be OK, they will give me another blood patch, I’ll be sorted and it’s all going to go away.

But that was nearly 4 weeks ago and there seems to be every barrier being thrown up to stop this blood patch from happening.

My condition is apparently complex. 

I have learnt that sometimes storms linger for a while. 

Whatever we do,
Whatever we say,
Whatever we pray,
Whatever we believe,
the storm lingers.

What do we do when nothing is working? When we are tired and weary? When we don’t know what to do anymore and there seems no way forward? 

There are two things we can do.

  1. We give up, allow ourselves to sink into self pity and be carried away by what is happening. Letting it begin a process that will consume and destroy us, our relationships, and our mental and spiritual health.
  2. We choose to dig deep and seek out the inner peace that is available in the midst of the storm, and keep on moving forward in faith.

Number one is not an option for me. I will NOT allow what is happening around me and to me to steal my inner peace and wreck my relationships. I won’t let it dictate how I should behave.

Because when there is nothing left, I still have God. Even when things are tough, I still have faith. Even if the wait goes on, I still have trust.

When the storm rages I can have a peace that passes all understanding. AND I KNOW, THAT I KNOW, my relationship with Jesus will sustain me through all the trials and all suffering.

If my faith in God and the peace I have only remains firm in the good times, then my faith is very shallow.

But when I can say:

I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS.
The way forward is not clear.
It is really hard.
I feel stretched and challenged everyday.
I have moments where I want to give up, crumple in a heap and get angry at everyone.
Moments that I break down because it’s too tough, I am again in pain and there is no end in sight. 

However, despite it all… 

MY GOD IS ALWAYS GOOD AND ALWAYS FAITHFUL.

That is when I know that my faith is secure. That is the moment that I know that I have peace because Jesus is with me every step of the way.

Like a small child whose anxiety and fear goes away because their parent is by their side. I have a Father in heaven who walks beside me saying “You are going to be OK because I am with you – ALWAYS. I will love you through this and cover you with my grace and strength.”

I no longer need to understand it all. I just have to trust in Him.

That is the inner peace that passes all understanding. That is how we can rest in the storm. In a place that discouragement, worry, anger, bitterness and blame can no longer eat away at us.

The storm then looses it’s power over us and we begin to thrive in it’s midst. Growing stronger, getting wiser and taking hold of that all consuming peace that never lets us down and empowers us to keep pressing on regardless. There is always peace hidden in the storm but you have to learn how to seek and find it. 

You have to learn how to seek and find HIM. 

“… God’s peace … exceeds anything we can understand.” –Philippians‬ ‭4:7‬ ‭The Bible

How do you find peace in the midst of the storm? 


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

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

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

The Beauty Revealed Through Brokenness

There are seasons that come in our lives that challenge us to the core of who we are. Times when, for all sorts of reasons, it feels like a light is being shone into the depth of our hearts, revealing the extent of our human frailty and weakness.

We can feel exposed and vulnerable. 

Our confidence is slowly chipped away, as our lives feel like they are being rigorously pruned. We can see all the branches being chopped off and lying on the ground around us.

It’s hard. 

There are moments when we feel so exposed that we wonder how much more we can take. 

The thing is, pruning is not a bad thing. Any gardener knows that you have to prune a bush for it to be healthy and grow better. Sometimes the pruning process leaves the plant looking bare and weak. But we know that actually it is making the plant stronger.

Following my relapse 3 weeks ago I have had to wait a lot. In fact, I am still waiting for treatment (an Epidural Blood Patch) for a recurring CSF leak, which keeps being delayed due to logistical problems in arranging this at our local hospital.

The longer the wait, the more you feel challenged. Patience gets harder over time, especially when you are unwell. Our patience can be short lived and we soon find ourselves in a place where endurance has to take over.

It takes a lot of strength and courage to stay positive during challenging times, particularly when they stretch out and do not appear to be resolving. 

When you know exactly how long you have to wait, you may find it hard, but you know you only have to keep going for a time. When the waiting becomes open ended, it gets a lot harder to maintain a good perspective.

Each new day requires new perseverance: your frustrations grow, negative thoughts and attitudes increasingly knock at your mind – coaxing you to let them in.

In these times perspective matters a lot. We have to see the bigger picture or we will become consumed by the daily challenges.

Something that has helped my perspective recently, is seeing my own journey in the light of the process an artist used to sculpt a work of art.  

A lump of stone or wood has to be crafted. It is the artist’s canvas. He carves into it and shapes the strong and solid material.

He strips back the strong material to reveal its hidden beauty. A design so intricate and detailed that it will draw people to its workmanship. It will speak and connect to people far more than the original block it was carved from.

The sculpture is a message or a gift given to the world by the artist who created it.

The artist reveals the true beauty hidden within the strength of the solid block of stone or wood. It always existed but it had to be foreseen before it could be revealed. 

The block first has to be broken and shaped to reveal the creator’s vision. 

This is the process I choose to believe is taking place in my life at the moment. I believe my injury was an unfortunate accident, but I know it is and will be used for good. 

It is painful but it is not without purpose. 

When your health is challenged over a long period of time, you inevitably feel weak. But the weakness isn’t only physical. It effects everything. It challenges you mentally, psychologically and spiritually.

You can feel stretched beyond what you have ever known. 

You don’t understand it and can’t seem to fully break free from it.

It’s easy to give in to the flood of self pity. Refusing it is hard. You have to learn how to fight and stand your ground from a place of peace and rest. You have to fill your mind with better things and feed on truth that strengthens you.

It is not easy.  

But! 

If we can embrace the journey of brokenness we actually become stronger. The process can shape us into something more beautiful, if we let it.

As we are stripped back and stretched, our true selves are unveiled.

We won’t always like what we see during that process. 

Our vulnerabilities and insecurities are exposed. We become more aware of our emotions and thoughts – both good and bad. Particularly, when also you have to rest a lot and don’t have a busy life to distract you.

Your thoughts are louder in silence. There is less to distract you. 

If we can learn to see and face these, we become more self aware and can work through them. That is what makes us stronger. That is the beauty of brokenness.

For me it’s an ongoing journey of grace. 

I know I am being stripped back. I know my identity is being challenged daily.

But I choose to embrace this process of brokenness, of being stretched and stripped back, because I know it is breaking through to who I really am and who I am meant to be.

I see that a storm that has tried to destroy me, in various ways, is being turned around into something beautiful. 

I am being crafted and designed into something more meaningful, more unique, with more depth.

My creator is taking my life and using everything that comes into my life – for good. Regardless of whether that thing comes to bless or hurt me – He will use it to make something more beautiful in the end. 

I am not talking about physical beauty. 

I am talking about the inner beauty of purpose and character. The beauty of being broken and yet in the brokenness discovering who you really are.

The beauty that comes when we surrender to the creator who has envisioned and seen our potential since the beginning of time.

The one who takes the same human mould we all have, but each time creates something unique, unlike any other. He can then take our past, present and future and shape it into something of value, something that makes a difference.

The creator didn’t stop creating when we were born. He had only just started.

Brokenness is painful. Being stretched and stripped back hurts. Facing our weakness is humbling.

But I know it is not without purpose. 

I know it will be always be used for good. Even that which attempts to destroy us can be used and crafted into something more beautiful. 

A masterpiece, like no other, that will reflect the awesomeness of the one who created it. A work of art that will always have purpose and value.

Even in times of pain. 

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well… How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!” ‭‭- Psalm‬ ‭139:13-17‬ ‭(The Bible)

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. -Ephesians 2:10 (The Bible)

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

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

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