Breaking Free! From Worry

I saw the words below on Twitter recently and they really got me thinking about what happens in our heads when we worry about something.


“Worry is a misuse of imagination.” -Dan Zadra


Just think about that for a moment…

WHAT GOES ON IN OUR THOUGHTS WHEN WE START TO WORRY?
HOW IS OUR IMAGINATION INVOLVED IN WORRY? 

When we worry our mind runs through lots of scenarios.
We imagine potential outcomes.
We picture things that could happen.
We see things that might go wrong.


Worry draws us towards the worst case scenarios. Our thoughts become irrational. Our imaginations can take us to dark places.


For instance, your spouse, partner, child or parent is travelling home from somewhere, they are late and not answering their phone. After a while you will probably begin to think:

Why are they late?
What has happened?

Which is very rational.

However, soon if we are not careful, worry begins to set in, our imagination is let loose and we start a thought process that can go something like this ….

What if there has been an accident?
What if it was a bad accident?
What if they are hurt?
What if they are badly injured?
What if they died?
How would I cope?
How would the family cope?

Before you know it, you are flooded with strong emotions anticipating and imagining what might be. You feel;

Worried
Anxious
On edge
Scared
Stressed
Overwhelmed
Unable to think straight
Unable to focus

Rationality flies out the window and is replaced by a jumbled mind that cannot seem to help but imagine the worst.

You lose control over your thoughts.
You lose any sense of peace or calm.

I have been there myself many times. It can creep up on you slowly, before you even realise it has taken hold.

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Or perhaps you have a strange and unexplainable symptom in your body so you ‘Google it’. Before you know it, you have diagnosed yourself with some of the worst diseases out there.

This happened to a lady in a bed near me when I was recently in hospital. She Googled her symptoms and found a shocking diagnosis. She asked the Doctor about it and unfortunately he didn’t really give a definitive reply. Somehow the lady took that to mean that this worst case scenario was a real possibility, or even probability, and before you knew it she was on the phone to friends and family, totally distressed, telling them how bad this illness could be and might get.

Unfortunately in hospital there is little privacy so you can hear everything that is going on.

This poor lady spent all day reading up on this condition, allowed her imagination to run wild with it and obviously ended up totally distraught for most of the day. At one point I heard her say to her husband, in floods of tears, ‘if it gets as bad as it says here (on the internet) I think I would just kill myself’.

It really did sound awful.

The next day it turned out her tests were normal and they couldn’t find anything wrong. She asked the Consultant if it could still be the diagnosis she had found on Google and they said none of the tests showed that or anything else out of the ordinary.

A lesson in being careful what you feed your imagination with.

Worry takes over our thoughts. Before we know it, our body and mind are filled with so much anxiety and fear that we can’t think straight and can start to feel physically ill.

However.

Most of the time we soon discover that worry was totally unnecessary. We put ourselves through torture and nothing came of it.

It all turned out to be OK in the end. 

That person walked through the door telling us that they only got stuck in heavy traffic or we discover that our self diagnosis was way off the mark. Our worry again wasted time, energy and head space.

BUT SOMETIMES THE WORST CASE SCENARIO DOES COME TRUE – WHAT THEN?

Yes, sometimes bad things do happen and in those moments we can think that our worries were justified. That they perhaps prepared us for what was to come. And yet;

Did the worry before hand actually make dealing with the crisis easier?

Often it doesn’t.

Instead it actually wears us out before the real crisis hits. When you let your imagination loose on that potential scenario before hand, you can fall apart just thinking about it. But when things actually do go very wrong you usually somehow find you do have the strength to deal with it.

That’s because when you do face the real crisis you have no choice but to get on with it. You have to find that strength to get through.

Breaking free from Worry quote copy
Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, with her family, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. In the end she was imprisoned for it.

 We only have today’s strength today!


Worry tries to get you to focus on yesterday, today and tomorrow all at the same time. Which is why we end up feeling so overwhelmed!

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭34‬ – The Bible)

SO HOW IS WORRY A ‘MISUSE’ OF THE IMAGINATION?

That word ‘misuse’ can almost sounds a little harsh. Is not worrying a natural part of life? Some of us are just ‘born worriers’…

Aren’t we?

Yes I believe many of us do have a natural tendency to worry and negative thinking. I know that from my own life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change that. If I understand that my imagination plays a key role in how worried and anxious I get, I realise that to find more freedom I have to look at my thought processes and think through how I feed my imagination.

I have to change the way I think.

BUT HOW DO WE REALLY CHANGE HOW WE THINK?
HOW DO WE TAKE CONTROL OF OUR IMAGINATION?

The starting point is becoming more aware of our own thought processes. For instance, if I start to allow my imagination to focus on;
worry,
fear &
negativity,
it will lead me to a dark place and I will then find I do not have room to;
create,
envision &
conceive
new ideas or best case scenarios.


Worry hampers our perspective and creativity.


We all have the ability to create. Being creative isn’t just about being artistic or musical. It’s also about;
vision,
ideas,
making things happen,
thinking outside the box,
solving problems,
offering solutions,
connecting,
exploring.

Creativity is vital to our growth.

But.

If my imagination is full of worry and negative scenarios it takes up lots of my mental capacity and energy that can be used for positive creativity.


Worry robs us of our positive creative energy.


The only way to change this is;
Track our thoughts back to their root.
Look at what feeds our imaginations.
Then retrain our thinking processes.

We can ask ourselves; Do I feed my imagination with good things? With people, words and things that inspire and encourage me to explore, dream, discover, create and build?

Or do I allow my imagination to be fed by dark and negative things? Which causes it to run away from me into worst case scenarios, dark thoughts and hopeless mindsets?

It comes down to choice, and good choices are the pathway to freedom. Freedom in our imaginations doesn’t come instantly, it’s a process, but if we choose it, we can learn mental & spiritual disciplines to encourage it.

Breaking free copy

I don’t know about you, but I want to use my imagination for good.

To create new things.
Find solutions to problems.
Dream dreams and see with vision.
Think differently and find new ways to do things.
Have faith and see with a healthy and optimistic perspective.
Creatively connect with those around me.
Encourage others and be part of changing lives.

That is what our imagination was built for and that’s what it needs room for. Our imaginations are a gift that need to be set free to see with new eyes, dream, create and spread great ideas.

How do you use your imagination? Could you use it more effectively?


Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. – Corrie Ten Boom


Let me know what you think, I very much welcome any comments below. This post is part of my .Breaking Free. series of blog posts. If you liked this post then maybe take a look at these which so far include:

Breaking Free! From Fear

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

Don’t you find the above quote both inspiring and liberating?

A few years ago, when I truly began to grasp this concept, it was such a revelation to me. I began to see that I did not have to wait for the feelings of fear to subside before doing something that I felt was right. I just had to muster up enough courage to do it despite feeling afraid.

It was so empowering!

I have found that the only way to conquer fear is to face it.
Avoiding it only ingrains it further.

Fear entraps you and lies to you that you can never get free from its claws. It takes control of your thoughts until your thinking becomes irrational. It feeds on worry, anxiety and negative thinking. It wraps around you, squeezing the life out of you, until you give in to its demands.

Fear stops you from being the person you really are and tries to lock you into a place you feel safe. And even within that safe place (or comfort zone) it can take hold of your thoughts, paralysing you and trapping you to that perceived place of safety.That safe place can then actually begin to choke the life out of you because you get stuck and feel trapped, longing to break free but not knowing how.

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I just put on my husband Matt’s album ‘Heart Bowed Down’ that he wrote, recorded and released two years ago. He wrote most of the songs and did most of the work, but there are two of my songs on there which I wrote and sing and I am also singing backing tracks on many.

Until we made and released the album I did not realise quite how many fears I had, and in fact still have to overcome, related to it.

It was a bold step to invest financially in the recording equipment, for Matt to spend the time learning how to use it and then going through the exciting, yet agonising process of recording them.

It’s a roller-coaster of emotions. One minute your emotions are up and you feel the adrenaline and anticipation of what you are doing. The next moment you are full of doubt, insecurity and fear, especially when things are not sounding how you want them to.

The biggest challenge though, definitely came in releasing the album. Selling the album and giving it to other people is when the fears really take hold.

‘What are they thinking?’
‘Will anyone like it?’

It goes round and round in your head as you wonder and analyse people’s reactions. You speculate about others opinions and it eats away at your thoughts.

I would say that even now as I put on the CD in the car or listen to it on the iPod and hear my songs, my first reaction is often fear!

What?

Why on earth do I feel fear when I hear my songs?

I feel a fear and awkwardness;
That others have listened to it.
Made up their own opinions about it;
love it,
like it,
hate it,
remain indifferent.
That we dared to put it out there.
That we gave and sold it to so many people.

What did they think?
What did they say?
How did they rate it? 
How did they rate me?

I also feel fear because I can, like many of us, be self critical. I hear all the mistakes, I am not sure I even like the sound of my voice most times I hear it. I compare our songs to professionally produced music and…

To be honest it often makes me want to cower under rock and throw the album in the bin.

You don’t know how much humility it can take to ‘put yourself out there’ until you do it. Often people can mistaken this courage for pride, but actually it can also take a lot of humility.

You have to fight through the fear that holds onto you with all its might. Tying you down, paralysing you, speaking doubts and insecurities into your mind, trying to stop you moving forward.

I am thankful that we had enough courage to release that album. I know it blessed and encouraged a lot of people. I also know it was a good test in facing and overcoming personal fears. It was an exercise in getting over what people think.

If we had waited until our fears subsided we never would have taken the plunge. Even in the midst of courage fear still knocked at our hearts and minds. But we knew we had to step out – despite our fears.

Fear can keep us bound up in mediocrity because mediocrity feels safe. It’s when you try it do something different, when you take that plunge, that fear becomes more pronounced.

And yet stepping out is also so liberating!

Breaking free copy

If you know me personally, you may well think of me as very confident around other people, an extrovert perhaps. (Although in reality I don’t feel that either the extrovert or introvert labels fully define me – I am a mix of the two in different ways). This is because one of the things that most defines my life is building relationships with others.

This means that I tend to know a lot of people.

Some people might then assume that I find it easy to meet, talk to and get to know new and different people.

But I would say that is only a half truth.

In actual fact, over the years, and on a daily basis I have trained myself to overcome my fears, break out of my comfort zone and speak to lots of different people I don’t know.

It partly comes with the territory of being church leaders. You can’t effectively lead people unless you can build relationships. We welcome new people into our church and the various activities we run on a weekly basis. Day in, day out, over the years, I have trained myself to reach out a hand of friendship and relationship to as many people as I can, from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures – regardless of their response.

Regardless of my fears about what they might be thinking.
Regardless of the potential rejection or hurt.

So I have broken through my social paralysis year by year, day by day, person by person. Deliberately placing myself in uncomfortable situations to attempt to break the power fear has over me.

Some days it’s easier than others.

Sometimes I want to stay in the shadows and not place myself again in the path of rejection or other people’s opinions. Maybe if I stay in the shadows people won’t notice me. Perhaps I won’t draw attention to myself. Maybe that would be safer and more comfortable.

And yet,

I would miss out!

If I obeyed my fears I would not have met and built friendships with so many wonderful people. If I had let my insecurities and speculation about what others thought overcome me, I would not be so rich relationally. I would not have the privilege of knowing and learning from such a diverse set of people.

It doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with fear.

Far from it!

Fears connected to what other people are thinking about me daily try to get their claws into me. I actually wrote about this in my post on the insecurity of others opinions.

But I have decided not to let fear win. That fear will not control my actions. That I will choose to ‘do it afraid’ until I reach a point where I have conquered it and hold firm to that calm voice within me saying ‘do not be afraid.’

What fears bind you?
Do you really want to break free?

Fear will stop us breaking free if we let it. It pushes us into a self preservation cycle, desperate to protect ourselves from what might harm or hurt us. It can pull people into self destruction and all sorts of bad habits and addictions. It causes people to put up barriers, push others away and build a hard exterior where they look strong, yet underneath they are scared, vulnerable and angry.

The tragedy is that each day so many of us allow fear to control our actions, fill our thoughts, damage our relationships and steal our strength.

Fear is exhausting!

We miss so many opportunities because:
Fear told us we couldn’t do it.
We cared too much about what other people might think.
We rehearsed all the things that could go wrong, rather than getting excited about what might go right.

Each day I know I have to choose to break free from fear. Not allowing my fears to win and deciding that when fear tries to paralyse me:

I will refuse to obey it.

So let’s cheer one another on to – press on regardless! To break free from the if’s and but’s and instead listen to the gentle voice of wisdom and truth within us saying,

Go for it, step out, don’t be afraid!

But even if you still feel full of fear.

Don’t give up!

Dig deep for that courage.
Decide to press on regardless.

DO IT AFRAID!

It’s the only way to overcome, conquer and break free!

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

    In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous so that he can lead the people.
In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous so that he can lead the people.

This post is part of the .Breaking Free. series of blog posts. Follow this link to read the series introduction.


Breaking Free!


Do you ever feel like you want to break free?

Break free from something … even though you cannot necessarily pinpoint what it is?
Do you feel like you want to break out and discover more freedom?
Do you desire change, even though you also fear it?

What does it mean to break free?
What does freedom really look like?

There are so many things that can trap us. That keep us bound up physically, emotionally, spiritually & mentally. Things that take control of our lives and stop us being the people we desire to be and doing what we desire to do.

What do you desire to break free from?
What is keeping you bound up?

Maybe it’s:
Fear
Worry
Sickness
Pain
Other people
A relationship
Others opinions
Comparison
Jealousy
A job
Family
Your thoughts
Depression
Anxiety
Addiction
Anger
Hate
Bitterness
Grief

The list goes on…..

Each of us know that there are things that trap and hold us back, but we can’t always see how to break free.

I believe the desire for freedom is something that is inbuilt within us.
To feel free & liberated is a deep human desire.

But what does freedom actually mean and why can we often feel trapped and bound?

At the start of 2015 the brain and neck injury I sustained was debilitating. My life became so restricted as I spent 22-23 hours a day lying down and could do very little for about 3 months (followed by another month of recovery). During that time I felt trapped physically within a body that would not function as it should. I desired my body and mind to work properly, but they wouldn’t and I felt trapped by it. I desired freedom from the injury and the damage it had caused, but each day things hardly got better and they actually began to get worse.

I couldn’t shake it off.
It wouldn’t go away.
If I fought it – it got worse.
I couldn’t break free.

However.

Even though I could not break free from the physical symptoms, I decided, from the start, that the injury couldn’t and shouldn’t control everything.

I decided that I could break free and choose freedom in other areas. I was adamant that the injury wouldn’t take my psychological health as well as my physical health.

Now this was a challenge because the brain injury affected my cognitive processing. At first I couldn’t really do anything. I couldn’t:
Read.
Listen to music.
Watch TV.
Look at or use screens.
Walk outside without support.
Sit up or stand for more than about 15 mins at a time.
Have long conversations.

However, I knew I had to take back what I could control and choose to stay positive, to stay thankful, to not let fear and worry control me.

Even when I could not break free from the physical symptoms I chose to fight for freedom spiritually, physiologically and mentally.

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Some days that was easier than others.

Even when we face setbacks and discouragements, when things seem to be getting worse rather than better:

We can still fight for freedom.

We cannot control everything in our lives but we can choose to take control of our thoughts and attitudes.

The times I felt most trapped by my injury and illness were the times I allowed my mind to dwell for too long on the negatives.

On the ‘what ifs’.
On the frustrations.
On the horrible symptoms.
On the restrictions.
On how I felt.

It was then that the battle would set in, trying to drag me into an unhealthy mental state. To pull me down into negative thinking and attack my physiological stability.

In those moments I had to fight to break free. To remember all the things I could be thankful for. To choose to believe that things would get better. To focus on the positives and to push through to the inner peace that I knew was deep within my soul.

I can remember as my husband drove me to A&E for the first time, 7 days after my initial injury, I was in a bad way. I felt so dizzy & out of it. Disconnected from the world. Keeping my eyes closed because my brain couldn’t deal with the lights and movement of the car. I could hardly talk, I couldn’t walk without help or support. And on that journey I just kept saying to my husband Matt – “everything’s fine isn’t it. It’s all OK.” And he would just gently, yet confidently, say, “yes it will be fine, everything will be OK.”

I am so thankful that Matt and I share the same outlook on life. That even when things get tough we dig deep to find that inner peace. To hear the gentle calming voice within saying – ‘it will all be fine, you are OK, don’t be scared’.

Now that was day 7 after my injury. I wasn’t, of course, OK and was diagnosed with Post Concussion Syndrome, but it wasn’t life threatening and that’s what the being ‘OK’ was about. However, by week 7 things had got worse; we took our 3rd trip to A&E and I was finally admitted and we got some answers as I was diagnosed with a Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CFS) leak. I then had to again fight to stay positive, to be patient, to trust I would recover, to choose everyday to keep on believing, trusting & pushing through and taking hold of that peace & hope within.

Even when I felt at my weakest physically, emotionally and mentally, when it felt like I was getting battered from all sorts of directions, in all sorts of ways, I had to choose to stay hopeful. To find that strength amidst weakness and to hold on to the way forward.

Breaking free is a mindset.
It is birthed in the heart and received in the mind.
You have to be determined to take hold of it.
You have to choose it.
You have to believe it.

There have been many seasons in my life as well as many daily battles when I have to push to ‘break free’.

My last two blog posts about insecurity, due to comparison and others opinions, talk about some of these daily battles.

We all have them and some of our battles will be similar. And yet because we are all individuals, many of our battles will be unique to our circumstances and personalities.

So to explore this subject of ‘breaking free’ I am going to write a series of blog posts about this subject.

As with all of my posts I will try and make them as ‘real’ as possible. Sharing stories from my own life and things that have helped me.

I am certainly not there yet. I still often have to fight to break free from the things that come against me. I still have days and moments where I feel more trapped, than free, especially in my thoughts.

But I am on the journey.
I have not arrived.
But I have left.
I have seen freedom.
I have tasted of its liberation, peace and joy.
I have lived it.
I have experienced it.

But I know there is more.
I know I can push in further still.
To grasp hold of my freedom and not let go.

And I will not give up pursuing it until I have experienced it in every area of my life and thoughts. That is a life time goal. Unattainable; perhaps, but…

What a vision for life – total freedom! For you and for me.

It’s available. We just have to reach out and take hold of it. We are not built to feel trapped & bound.

We are built to be free! 

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela

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The Insecurity Of Others Opinions

“What are they thinking about me?

The question goes through your mind again and again, sometimes in the forefront and sometime as a nagging whisper in the back of your thoughts.

“What are they saying about me?”
“Do they like me?” …

The insecurity of others opinions returns to rock our security again.

This is my second blog post on the subject of insecurity and how many of our insecurities come from both comparing ourselves to others and listening to and speculating about others opinions of us.

I know in my own life these are the two main issues that can leave me feeling like I want to hide under a rock, shut myself away from the world and never come out.

It’s these two issues that can end up consuming our thoughts, feed our anxieties and stop us in our tracks.

Even people who act like and say “I don’t care what other people think about me,” whilst holding on to their mastered, controlled and perhaps hardened exterior, cannot deny that it does reach, touch & affect them at times.

The wondering,
The thinking,
The questioning,
The avoiding,

“What’s going on in their thoughts?”

There are a few ways in which we are affected by what others think and say about us:
Firstly, when people openly talk about us, either to our faces, or indirectly on forums like social media.
Secondly the usual gossipy ‘behind our backs’ opinions. (which women are of course very prone to).
Then finally, although sometimes less discernible; through our own speculation about what others might be thinking and saying about us.

I think it’s the final one that is more damaging than it first appears, because our speculation means that we try and read people by the way they act towards us. This actually opens us up to potential misunderstandings because we read actions as related to us, even though they may just be related to someone having a bad day, their mind being on on other things or even due to that persons own insecurities.

How many friendships and relationships have broken down due to these type of misunderstandings?

This speculation is one of the greatest challenges I have to overcome in my own thought life.
It constantly nags at me trying to pull me in to an insecure way of thinking.
It attacks my confidence.
It attempts to stop me being myself and doing what I am built to do.
It feeds my fears.
It paralyses my purpose.
It tries to shipwreck my relationships with others.
It questions my identity and challenges the core of who I am.

It whispers in my ear….
“What are they thinking about you?”
“Do they really like you?”
“Maybe they find you annoying.”
“Maybe they pretend to like you but then talk about you behind your back”
“Maybe they don’t like what you say and do.”
“Maybe you offended them (even though you might not know why).”
“Maybe, Maybe, Maybe….”

Tell me that those thoughts are not enough to make you want to hide away under a rock, out of sight and not face anyone.

from darkness

People can be nasty and we know it!

We have all experienced it and have all done it. Especially if we are having a bad day or two, and if we have had a bad week – oh dear!

It’s all around us;
criticism,
gossip,
negativity,
hate,
trolling,
bullying.

It’s enough to make anyone cynical & even fearful of others.

It’s not surprising that we feel insecure.

So how do we battle through the insecurity and find more freedom in our thoughts?

As I have already said I still don’t find this easy myself. I daily take on the challenge to reign in my insecure thoughts. Some days it’s easier than others. But I have found some keys to freedom and they really help.

The best way I have learnt to overcome my own insecurities about what others are thinking about me is by choosing to relate to other people with GRACE. Now grace is one of those words we often either relate to girls names, meal time prayers or religion. But grace is actually an amazing concept. Grace basically means something described as ‘unmerited favour’. In the context of relationships I would put it like this: it’s not relating to others in response to what they think, say, act or what you get back.

It’s choosing to treat people well regardless.

In the context of faith; it’s loving people whether or not they deserve it.

And yes…. it’s a radical concept!

How is that even possible you might ask?

Well I only find it possible because I know that’s how I am treated. I know that God loves me regardless of what I do. He does not love me because of how good I am (that wouldn’t get me very far anyway because I miss the mark all the time). He loves me by grace and to understand that is so freeing. I no longer have to try and get everything right to get God to love me. He just does and nothing can change that unconditional love.

So from the security of knowing I am loved unconditionally by someone unchanging, I have found I can choose to offer it out to others.

“When we know we are loved we find it easy to love other people”. – John Sentamu

I can build relationships with others from a secure place. I do not need the other person to like, love or think highly of me to feel secure in myself, because I know that my security ultimately comes from God.

When you have to try and work out whether or not someone deserves your love or friendship you start down a confusing and rocky path. The outlook is changeable because one day they do and the next they don’t, which is why so many people have turbulent relationships.

It’s a stressful process!

If you no longer have to go through that process and you choose to approach all your relationships and those around you with grace; you decide to love others regardless.

And it is so freeing!

The challenge is that it takes a lot of humility. Which is why we have the battle in our minds & thoughts. We get angry, hurt and offended and our anger can often be rooted in our pride. We shut people out because we fear them getting close and hurting us. We get offended because the other person said or did something that we didn’t like. So we retaliate with criticism and even hate.

Humility on the other hand says:
I am going to choose to love this person regardless of what I get back.
It puts the other person first.
It chooses to try and understand rather than misunderstand.
I gives people the benefit of the doubt.
It realises everyone makes mistakes
It knows that everyone is fighting their own battles.
It does not stereotype, but sees everyone as worthy of love.

It forgives.
It reaches out.
It is constant.
It is never fake.

“Behind all strife you find ego. Humility always promotes peace”. – Jarrod Cooper

This doesn’t mean I want to spend and invest my time with people who have taken a dislike to me or want to hurt me.

That wouldn’t be healthy.

But it does mean that I can reach out a hand of kindness and friendship to others, regardless of how they respond. And if they choose not to like me that is up to them – you can only build a relationship when two people both want to invest in it.

So if this is the case, I have to let it go, I do not need to hate them or get them back for their dislike of me. It does not need to eat away at me until bitterness takes hold of my heart and I end up taking my anger out on everyone else, including those who love me.

Instead, I can rest in the security that I am loved. With a perfect love from the author of love. A love that is consistent, unfailing, stable and unconditional.

That security always overrides the insecurity that come from others opinions.

from darkness

Yes I still may have to face and overcome the hurt, the pain and embrace my vulnerability and fragility.

But when those insecure thoughts knock at the door to my mind and attempt pull me in, I can retreat to that secure place:

A place that is constant.
Where I know who I am.
A place of safety.
A place of love.
Where I am again built up.
Where encouragement gives me the courage to get back up.
To face the world around me.
Not to be rocked back and forth by the opinions of others.

A place where I realise that others opinions are just that – opinions; that often say more about them than me. Where I can stop being tossed about by the waves of speculation and instead be secure and anchored in the fact that other peoples opinions should never define me or stop me from being the person I really am.

The person that is truly me.

“Lead the life that will make you kind & friendly to everyone about you and you will be surprised what a happy life you will live”. – Charles Schwab

The Insecurity Of Comparison

Comparison is the thief of Joy ~ Theodore Roosevelt

I don’t know about you but when I compare myself to others I often end up feeling miserable. As the above quote says, it steals away my contentment, happiness and peace and yet it’s so easy to do. Sometimes we don’t even realise that we are doing it.

I mentioned the quote in my last blog post about perspective and the importance of thankfulness. At the time I decided that I wanted to expand on this point about comparison and jealousy because I know from personal experience that it’s one of the biggest challenges that I and many people I know face.

If we are honest we all struggle with comparing ourselves to others in so many different ways.

We see photos of others and instead of just thinking – “wow they look great!” We can often think – “they look great …. how annoying”!! (Because it automatically reminds me that I’m feeling pretty ugly/ fat/ rubbish/ insecure today).

Or maybe we see someone else’s achievements at work, school or within our friendship or family groups. But rather than being able to authentically celebrate it with them – instead it reminds us of our own weaknesses and failures (which can even cause us to lash out at others instead – both directly or indirectly).

Parents do this all the time. Someone else seems to be the perfect parent with perfect children (not that there really is such a thing) and we just end up feeling rubbish about our parenting skills rather than seeing what we do well.

Leaders do it. We look at a similar company, organisation, community group or church and rather than seeing & celebrating their strengths we instead find that their strengths reveal our own weaknesses & feelings of inadequacy. (Although we can hide that by instead looking for all their weaknesses to justify our own!).

Why is it that others’ successes often remind us of our failures?

Most of us have an inward default that compares our weaknesses with another’s strengths.

For instance, I can remember in my early teens one of the boys in my class at school made a comment about my nose. His words were something like, “Ha ha, your nose looks like a beak” and kept calling me Pingu (his observational skills sound quite amusing as I write that down & I think I laughed along at the time – as you do.) But before that day I had never really thought much about my nose. It all changed that day. For a long while after that I was so conscious of my nose. I examined it’s shape in the mirror constantly, wondering how much better I would look with a nicer, smaller, better proportioned nose. Most significantly, from that point on I noticed everyone else’s noses. I compared my ‘beak’ with the girls with the perfectly shaped little noses.

I developed nose envy!

The initial comment from that boy about my ‘beak’ drew my attention to my nose. But it was then my comparison with others’ noses which solidified my insecurity.

We do this all the time and it causes so many problems in families, relationships, communities, schools and workplaces.

from darkness

Comparison is an epidemic which has markedly worsened by the rise of social media. I appreciate so many of the positives of social media, which is why I use it. But I don’t think anyone can deny it has made comparison and jealousy worse.

When I was at school, as many others can relate to, I would constantly compare myself to all the popular, pretty and super clever girls. I’d wonder which of my friends really were my friends, who did or didn’t like me (and who said what behind your back), which (if any) boys did, or more usually didn’t, fancy me and of course face all the daily challenges of school life…… but at least then I could get some sort of respite from that at home.

Now comparison comes right into the home. It is carried around in your pocket & draws you in when you scroll through your social media, websites and the abundant pictures and information on your smart phone about others.

Selfies,
beautiful people,
their families,
friends,
holidays,
parties,
homes,
possessions,
jobs,
talents,
wonderful lives,
outstanding people and organisations.

The smiles,
the hugs,
the happiness of others….

And of course…

The bullying,
The nastiness,
The hate,
The complaining,
And the negativity.

Taken directly from the playground, workplace, community and moved into peoples homes and lives through the internet.

No wonder depression, self harm, eating disorders & even suicide seem to be on the rise. Especially in young people.

We are bombarded with the successes, celebrations and good parts of people’s lives. (Who chooses to put that horrible picture of themselves on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram? We obviously choose the best… and then add a few favourable filters…)

And we can come away feeling rubbish.
And subsequently we can end up despising those people.
Attempting to find cracks in their perceived ‘perfection’.
To fight back.
Competing in our minds and actions.
Whilst slipping further into insecurity.

Jealousy raises it’s ugly head but we don’t always see or perceive it for what it is.

from darkness

Jealousy and comparison are often so apparent with siblings. I see it all the time with my two girls (and remember it from growing up with my two sisters). It causes so many of the fights between them. A lot of their battles stem from competitiveness, comparison or jealousy.

But they often can’t see it themselves.

All they know is that they feel angry with the other person. They will find all sorts of ways to justify this anger…
She did this
She did that
She said this
She said that
It’s not fair
She had more
Why does she get to have or do that.
And it’s always the other ones fault!

They cannot see that often the problem is often not the other person.
It’s their jealousy,
It’s their comparison.
It’s those feelings that make them feel angry.
It’s those feelings that make them lash out.
That they themselves are a big part of their own problem.
That it takes two to have an argument.

You can’t change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react to it. -Nicky Gumbel

The problem is often not really about the other person; it’s often really about us and how we feel. We blame other people for our own feelings and insecurities, often without justification.

Yes, other people can hurt us, attack us, be nasty, be difficult, treat us unfairly. But we can rarely change them by fighting back. Actually, fighting back often destroys us more than it does them. We cannot control others’ feelings but we can manage our own feelings and emotions and learn to not let what others do or think dictate how we feel.

I truly believe we can begin to get free from many of the negative effects of comparison and jealousy if we choose to.

But how?

We need to become more aware of ourselves and what drives our insecurities.

To begin to recognise that what we really feel is jealousy when comparison draws out our insecurities.

To realise that we cannot make other people change but that we can only change ourselves and our own attitudes.

It’s only as I become more self aware and recognise comparison and jealousy as the source of many of my insecurities that I can begin to get free from its entanglement. It’s only as I realise that when I feel insecure it’s not the other person that made me feel like that – but instead my own reactions to them – that I can move beyond my feelings.

The first step to personal freedom is always self awareness.

Rather than getting frustrated and lashing out at people that make us feel insecure, we must see that most of the problem lies within us. It lies within our own perception of who we really are.

It’s not easy to stop feelings & thoughts of comparison and jealousy. But it is one of the keys to true freedom. It’s a battle worth fighting.

So how do we fight this never ending battle?

By becoming secure in our own uniqueness.
By knowing that we are created as:
One of a kind,
With a unique mix of:
personality,
body,
looks,
talents,
gifts,
purpose.
Not to be constantly compared to others but to be discovered & developed as unique and valuable.

from darkness

There is only one me.
Only I can be me.
To try & be anyone else is far too exhausting.

It’s not an easy path to tread. I have chosen to walk this path but still find I have to daily overcome the temptation to compare who I am and what I do with others. But it’s a path worth taking because it’s the only way to true freedom, contentment and inner peace.

So in this moment I choose to remind myself that I am who I am, a one off, unique, not to be compared with others. Pressing on to become the best version of ME I can be, whilst allowing YOU to be the best version of you that you can be. That way we allow ourselves and one another to discover more freedom.

….. Because I don’t know about you but comparison and jealousy are just not worth it! They just always make me feel miserable!

Comparison is the thief of Joy ~ Theodore Roosevelt


I press on to become the best version of ME I can be, whilst allowing YOU to be the best version of you that you can be. That way we allow ourselves and one another to discover more freedom.


This is the first of two posts on Insecurity. The second post, which I published a week later is The Insecurity of Other Opinions.

Perspective: The Happiness Found In a Thankful Heart

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

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

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

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

‘Normality’ never felt so good!! 

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

The last three months adjusted my perspective. 

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

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

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

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

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

Grunge Background

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a vicious circle. It never ends! 

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


 Comparison is the thief of joy – Theodore Roosevelt


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

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

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

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

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

Grunge Background

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

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

However.

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

For each breath that I take. 

For the wonder and opportunity of each day. 

For friends, family and community. 

For health and energy. 

For the beauty of the world around me.

For our beautiful home and food on the table. 

For provision in so many ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is always something to be thankful for.

 It’s all about perspective. 

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


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


We Are Not Meant To Be Alone: Individualism vs Community

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
― Mother Teresa

In my last blog post: Surviving the Storm I shared some of the story of the last 3 months of my life. During the post I wrote about the journey I had been on following a fall off a ladder which, for a while, left me with a debilitating brain & spinal fluid injury which stopped me in my tracks for a number of weeks. (And included a two and a half week stay in a local hospital).

It was an immensely challenging time for us as a family. Suddenly I found myself lying in bed pretty much all day, for 10 weeks, and if I did get up, for a minimal amount of time (usually 10-30mins) I was so lightheaded, dizzy, uncomfortable & in pain that I couldn’t function normally and quickly had to return to bed. Even lying in bed I battled various unpleasant symptoms.

My husband Matt, whose job can take him all over the country, as well as being one of the leaders at our local church, suddenly lost the day to day support of his wife (and our girls (age 8 & 10) mum) and had to take on many of my roles whilst coping with his own. Anyone who knows what a ‘full’ life we normally lead knows what a challenge that was for him. One to which he stepped up to and executed so well and calmly amidst a very challenging time.

However, in this season one thing we knew early on is that we could not face this alone – without our daily life falling apart.

We needed help.
We needed support.
We needed others.
We could not cope on our own.

It’s a humbling process when you can no longer manage day to day life on your own. Having to ask for and accept help from others so that life can somehow keep moving forward each day.

For this season we could no longer be the ones to offer help. Instead we had to accept others help daily. And that brings a new level of humility as well as a new level of gratefulness for family, friendship and community.

from darkness

It was the:
love,
kindness,
service,
sacrifice
and generosity
of so many people around us that made our storm bearable. This combined with the inner strength and peace that came from our deep relationship with God allowed us to push through our weaknesses and somehow weather the storm.

We are not meant to be alone.
We are created and built to be together in family and community.
We are built to show and share love even beyond our natural families.

It is so sad that our western societies often place individualism over community. I believe that individualism is often a fruit of selfishness and self preservation and it robs us of the joys of true community. Our societies have lost so much community spirit and although various people attempt to revive it, it can be a challenging battle to fight. People are so busy with their own lives & families that we can easily loose a sense of community on a wider level.

Although myself and my husband are big advocates of community; sharing our lives and journeying together through life with others through local church and in our general lives, the last three months revealed that even after years of advocating community we too could still be too self-sufficient, individualistic and prideful in our own thinking.

How did we recognise this?

Simply that we soon discovered that early on during my illness we didn’t find it easy that suddenly the roles reversed and so many people had to help us in so many ways. That we were the ones struggling, the ones in need of help and support.

I realised that I was so used to being self-sufficient, getting on with life, facing challenges, keeping going and often the one helping others that it was a challenge when we became the ones that people rallied around to help and support.

You can feel weak and helpless, a bit of a burden to people who are already so busy with their own lives and commitments. That you are letting others down by them having to find the extra time and energy to cover your roles. 

Matt and I are great advocates of grace and generosity. We believe in giving without expecting a return, loving whether or not someone is deserving and serving others without expecting anything back. We constantly do our best to teach and model all this within our church community.

Why then can it be such a challenge for us to receive others help and generosity ourselves?

Please don’t misunderstand me: we were utterly blessed by it. It touched us deeply to have so many people look after our children, get them to and from school, prepare us beautiful meals, shower us with flowers, cards and gifts, clean our house, step into our roles at work, church and school and offer up prayers and words of support.

We were and are so very grateful and thankful for the support of so many wonderful friends and family. It was a lifeline at a very difficult time.

However, I realised that sometimes we may not naturally allow others the joy of giving and helping us because of our own pride and self sufficiency that says we are OK and can manage, even when in reality we are struggling. This is often because we do not want to trouble other people and so we think we are helping them by not letting them share in our struggles.

from darkness

Thankfully in our case we have friends and family who know us well enough to know we needed help regardless. We hardly needed to ask because the offers came pouring in which was truly a God send and a wonderful blessing. However, we still learnt that people will not always have room to be the blessing they desire to be if we do not allow them into our weaknesses and struggles. One of the reasons we don’t always let people in is because it is not easy to be vulnerable.

It is not easy for self sufficient people to be the ones in need. 

Perhaps many of us are too used to being individualistic and self sufficient.
Maybe we are more a product of our western society than we first thought.

I have realised that my own self sufficiency can actually get in the way of us building the community that I believe God created us to live in. And that community is not healthy until we begin to lay down our own self sufficiency and learn to both GIVE and to RECEIVE with grace and humility.

When you are used to giving, it is not always easy to receive. On the reverse, some people are so used to being in need and receiving that they do not find it easy to give. Which is a challenge, because we need to be doing both for community to work.

Our own individualism and pride can stop community working as it should, if we do not allow others to share in our STRUGGLES as well as our VICTORIES.

As I wrote in a recent blog post about the anniversary of my Mums death I believe that:

Sometimes our hearts need to be exposed.
Our weaknesses need to be seen.

I believe it is important because it’s often our vulnerabilities that bring us the greatest connection to other people. It’s in our weaknesses that we realise:

That we all need others.
That we are not built to live life alone.
That pride & self-sufficiency are the enemies of true community.
That if we want to be part of a community that we need to let people into our lives – warts and all.

The challenge of community is to become people who are open about our lives and will choose to both GIVE and RECEIVE graciously.

The beauty of humanity is majestically displayed when we are loving & serving one another. For it is love that creates real community. At the heart of love is humility & generosity. And it is humility & generosity that breaks down pride, individualism and self sufficiency.

Which, in turn, opens the way for true community.

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

How can we allow others to share in our lives in a way that builds true community? Do you find it easier to give or to receive? How can we embrace the humility needed to model healthy community to others?


Community is not healthy until we begin to lay down our own self sufficiency and learn to both GIVE and to RECEIVE with grace and humility.


 

Surviving the Storm: My Battle With Concussion & A CSF Leak.

‘The longer I live the more I realise the impact of attitude on my life. Attitude to me is more important than failures or successes, than what people think, say or do, it is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. The remarkable thing is that I have a choice everyday as to the attitude I will embrace and I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.’  – Charles Swindoll

It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog. In fact, only a few days after I started the blog, I had (what I considered at the time) a little accident and fell off a step ladder and hit my head, neck, & spine as well as sustaining some other minor bruises.

The end result of this little fall was two and a half months of, at times, severe symptoms which were diagnosed by various medical professionals, firstly as Concussion, then Post-Concussion Syndrome & Whiplash and finally, about 3 weeks ago, I was diagnosed in hospital by neurologists as having a spinal CSF (Cerebral Spinal Fluid) Leak. (This is a tear in the membrane that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. It results in the spinal fluid leaking out and absorbed into your body, reducing pressure and causing your brain to drop in your skull.)

I am not sure we really fully know which of my symptoms could be attributed to what diagnosis, at what point. However, in the end, the CSF leak seemed to fit many ongoing symptoms, a lumbar puncture confirmed ‘low pressure’ spinal fluid and I received treatment for this which helped a lot. (This included an epidural blood patch following over 2 weeks of lying flat in hospital whilst taking caffeine supplements & pain relief).

In short I had battled for weeks with an array of symptoms which included:
Severe dizziness
Lack of balance
Pressure headaches
Severe head and neck pain
Cognitive (thinking) impairment
Sensitivity to light and noise
Nausea
Body shaking and spasms
Struggling to walk very far (and only with support)
Struggling to talk at times
A constant need to lie down flat to alleviate/ ease symptoms. (typical of a spinal CFS leak).
Exhaustion of body & mind

Over the last 11 weeks I saw multiple NHS doctors & consultants, nurses, physios, had 3 trips to A&E, one ambulance to the house, a two and a half weeks stay in an NHS neurology ward, a CT scan, X-rays, 3 MRI scans, (all inconclusive) 1 lumbar puncture and 1 epidural blood patch.

I am currently still on the journey of recovery and building up my strength. Not fully back to normal and still have to lie down at times during the day, especially in the evenings, but I am so much better than I was.

It’s certainly been a challenging 11 weeks which totally disrupted my, and my family’s, normality. I spent 22-23 hours a day, for the first couple of months, lying in bed in a dark room, mostly on my own, doing very little and then two and a half weeks in hospital lying flat as much as possible whilst I waited for various tests and procedures.

Grunge Background

After starting my blog in January, the third blog post I wrote was about Perspective: Stepping Back From The Detail To See The Bigger Picture. I wrote about how our perspective is really important and how we sometimes we need to step back from the details to see the bigger picture. I spoke about how sometimes it’s not circumstances that need to change but the way we see what is happening. Sometimes we have to choose to see things differently, we have to see with new eyes.

Who could have known that the words that I wrote at that time could be so significant for me in the days, weeks, and even months after I wrote them. Sometimes it’s our own words that become powerful in speaking back to us. The words we say or write in one season of our life becomes so applicable to another season of our life, in a new way.

So over the past few weeks I’ve learnt a lot about perspective. Many hours, of many days, I’ve had to step back from the detail to see the bigger picture. I have had to step back from the symptoms to get a larger perspective.

Some days you have to fight for a better perspective.
Sometimes you have to push your way through the details to gain a better understanding.
Sometimes you have to step back from the circumstances and choose to change your attitude.

Especially when things can be:
Scary
Unknown
Different
Exceedingly frustrating
Exhausting

When you can feel:
Very unwell
Naive
Helpless
Weak
Uninformed
Mentally impaired

When the new season requires new:
Patience
Endurance
Wisdom
Strength
Faith
Determination

Grunge Background

The past number of weeks again opened my eyes to new perspective. I can’t recall in my life ever being ill for more than a few days. I’ve never had a brain injury before and I really didn’t know a lot about them. I now have a much better understanding, and a better perspective of people who experience them and similar things.

The challenge of mild traumatic brain injuries, is that they are often unseen. They are not a visible injury. Concussions, whiplash, and often CSF leaks, don’t appear on normal CT or MRI scans so it creates problems in diagnosis, all you have is the symptoms to go on.

It’s a humbling process as you try and work your way through the symptoms, often having to rely on the information you seek out yourself, to work out what on earth is wrong with you and how to get the right treatment. It’s a challenge when you are diagnosed with something that people don’t know a lot about. When your illness or injury is not fully tangible, yet so debilitating, and can often only be diagnosed by the symptoms that you experience and have to try and communicate to medical professionals.

So it’s been a season of learning.

Challenge and hardship are often a place we grow, a place we learn, a place we develop. If we choose to approach them in the right way and with the right perspective.

The Bible NLT Translation, James‬ ‭1‬:‭2-4. You can experience joy through challenging times because you know that it is stretching your ability to endure.
The Bible NLT Translation, James‬ ‭1‬:‭2-4. You can experience joy through challenging times because you know that it is stretching your ability to endure.

Sometimes:
We just have to be patient.
We have to keep walking through the storm and trust the calm will come.
We have to face the challenges of life and then use what we learn to make us stronger and help other people.
We have to keep holding on to hope without knowing all the answers.
We have to fight to stay thankful and see the positives within a difficult time.

It’s all about having the right perspective.

It’s not easy.

Some days you have to fight through the frustration, the fear, the worry and the negative thoughts. Until you can again see with a better, more positive and hopeful perspective and step back from the details of your circumstances.

When I stepped back from the detail in my situation, I could see that it could have been worse. Yes this accident interrupted my life, yes it was frustrating, a real challenge. It totally changed my life for a number of weeks and months. However, I had so much wonderful help and support from my family and friends. I have learnt so much and gained a better perspective and more appreciation of life. And I am now coming through my storm, I am doing well in recovery and I am getting back to some kind of normality day by day.

There is never any point in wasting energy on the ‘why me?’ or ‘what ifs?’ A negative mindset, looking backwards or forwards, just destroys you from the inside out. Even amidst very difficult times there’s always something to be thankful for and others worse off than you. I always chose to believe that my storm would pass (even when I seemed to be getting worse rather than better), others don’t have that blessing, the storm just gets worse and doesn’t go away.


Some days you have to fight through the frustration, the fear, the worry and the negative thoughts. Until you can again see with a better, more positive and hopeful perspective.


So again, with new insight, I say that so much is linked to perspective. We can choose to see the positives or become consumed by the negatives in our lives. We can choose remain thankful for the good things, even when we are going through a dark time.

Often it’s not the circumstances of our lives that need to change. It’s our perspective, it’s our attitude, it’s the way we ‘see’ and think about our life.

Sometimes we need to step back from the detail to see the bigger picture. We then realise that often the storms in life come and go. And with the right attitude and a hopeful perspective we will come through it:
a little stronger,
a little wiser,
a little more thankful for daily life,
and have a little more compassion for others.

It’s all about perspective!

I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.’ – Charles Swindoll

Lets keep asking ourselves: What parts of our own lives could we see with a more positive perspective? Self awareness is always the first step to personal change.


UPDATE: Please note that in August 2020 I was also diagnosed with arachnoiditis as well as a spinal CSF Leak – I now have radiological evidence to support both those diagnosis. To read more about the new diagnosis please see this link.

I have now written two update posts about my recovery journey at 6 months and at 8 months; I then have a series of posts about a relapse at 9 months  when it was decided that I probably never had a concussion and all my symptoms could be attributed to a spinal CSF Leak

To read more about my 20 months on 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 Hospitals.

To find out more about Concussion and Post Concussion this video is a great resource: Concussion Management

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

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


A Year Ago Today: A journey through grief and what I have learnt.

A year ago today we sat in an ICU relatives room being told that today was the day that they would turn off my Mum’s life support.

Those few days were a tough and exhausting journey.

In November 2013 we discovered that she had a brain tumour. On January 8th 2014 the doctors operated on it. The operation was complex and took 14 hours. In their eyes it was a success. However, the next 48 hours proved fatal as it emerged that she also had an infection in her pacemaker that caused septicemia, and this combined with the brain surgery overwhelmed her already fragile body.

Those few days opened my eyes.

This was my first experience of ICU. There were critically ill people everywhere. Attached to machines keeping them alive. Many of whom would recover and yet many of whom would not make it or at least only ‘make it’ through to a life dramatically different from their previous one.

Mothers,
Fathers,
Sons,
Daughters,
Sisters,
Brothers,
Friends,
Lovers,
Husbands,
Wives.

And the waiting room was full of people waiting for them. But unlike most waiting, it was often waiting to see whether a loved one would live or die. Waiting to see what that life-changing injury, illness or surgery would do. What it would look like within their family. To say goodbye or to welcome someone back. And even if they came back, their life may be radically changed.

And in that room it was different. A different perspective. An unsaid understanding that people were fighting a battle. That people were riding a storm.

Waiting.
Hoping.
Loving.
Holding on.
Surviving.

When you left that room and went out into the wider hospital or world outside, it was different. Staff at work. People visiting patients. A coming and going of life and normality….for some.

But our experience was far from normal.

There was a part of me thankful to have been there and seen it. To be there and remember & realise that while we go through our ‘normal’ lives, others are facing turmoil, crisis & pain. Sometimes it’s hidden away behind a door titled ICU in the middle of a hospital. Sometimes it’s in a hospice down the road. Sometimes in a house next door. Sometimes it’s hidden in the lives of those you work with, walk past, sit next to on the bus. The shop assistant, the teacher, the security guard, the single mum.
 
People are hurting even though you may not know.

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We lost my Mum a year ago. A year ago I experienced my first real experience of personal grief, along with all the questions and thoughts that go through your mind.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.” – C.S. Lewis

For the first few days & even weeks after it happened, I felt an anxiety & what was like a ‘fear’ I hadn’t felt before. The above quote from C.S. Lewis resonated with me. It’s a feeling like anxiety and fear and yet you are not actually afraid. A heaviness. A pain within. A pressure that builds up inside you and you don’t know what to do with it. The thought of going out and seeing people you know can be hard. A ‘fear’ grips you. An anxiety I had not felt before.

And yet…

I chose to push through, to fight, knowing that I couldn’t let those feelings debilitate me. I had to push through, to break through. To discover purpose through pain. To face the questions. To let go of guilt & embrace the way forward. The way out. The way that sees good triumph over evil. The way that does not allow death to destroy.

I have learnt that the best way in life is not denial.
It is to face challenges head on.
Knowing that you will get battered through the journey.
But knowing that taking a battering and coming through stronger is better than allowing yourself to be destroyed inside due to denial.

So that is the journey I have walked. A journey that turns difficult things into challenges that make you stronger and wiser. A journey of self-awareness. A journey that helps you to feel more empathy & compassion for others. And a journey that becomes part of your identity, but that does not define who you become.

Some great words that someone sent me at the time that really helped.

So, one year on, I sit here and I remember the pain. I remember the exhaustion. I remember those days in hospital where my loving God was my only strength & the source of the deep peace I felt throughout. When words from the Bible, music & other inspiration carried me and become an anchor that held me tight.

I remember the relief when my husband, Matt, was able to come to London a day after my Mum died. I remember the drive back to Leicester in the car: utterly spent, physically & emotionally exhausted and yet finally being able to share with my husband the full journey of the last few days.

I remember when I got home. The desperate need to find a photo of my Mum looking healthy, so as to replace the image of someone who hardly looked human lying in that hospital bed. Grotesquely swollen from head to foot. Covered in wires.

I remember the pain, the questions & things to work through in my mind. The tears. The memories. The exhaustion of sleep lost, of pushing through.

But here we are a year on.
Today marks the anniversary of that day.

I have learnt that each person deals with and faces grief differently. There are few rights and wrongs. I have always felt grief was much easier for me than some. Partly, because I lived over 3 hours away from my parents. Our lives were no longer as intermingled as they were as I was growing up. I did not have to look daily at the empty chair. I was not reminded hourly, daily of the person lost. And perhaps because my relationship with her was quite complex anyway and had been for a long time. (Although that brings its own challenges into the grieving process).

And yet I know that what gets me through this, and all the things we face, is an ability to see the positive amidst the negative. A training of the mind to face challenges head on & to learn and grow through them. An inner strength that comes from my deep relationship with God. An innate gratefulness that there are always blessings, hope & joys in life to be found – even amidst the pain of death.

While we were in the ICU waiting room there was a couple waiting for their 20 year old son to wake up. He had been in an accident & was in a coma. They didn’t know if he would wake at all.

They waited,
ate,
slept,
and washed,
in that hospital waiting room.

They had been there about 10 days. They didn’t want to leave in case he woke up and they were not there.

On that Friday afternoon my family sat with my Mum as they turned off her life-support. An agonising time which seems to go on forever as the heart continues to beat for a good few minutes after the breathing has stopped. And the heart rate goes up and down until finally, agonisingly slowly, dropping to zero.

It was horrible.

I tried to put music on my phone and hold it to my ear to drown out the beeps of the heart monitor that lie to you that a person who is gone is still there.

However, as we left the ICU that day for the final time, I saw that couple we hardly knew still waiting for their son to wake. We had shared a connection. We had shared the pain of watching a loved one in the throes of death. And as I looked up at that mother she immediately knew what had happened.

That anxious mother, who did not know if her son would live or die, responded like this:

She held me.

In that significant moment, someone I hardly knew hugged me.
With a touch that I needed.
A touch that understood and felt the pain.

And I whispered to her, with all the strength I could muster “I really do hope things are different for you.” She replied with deep gratitude and briefly shared how touched she was for someone to say that in the midst of their own pain.

I will never know what happened to that family. But I do hope things went well for them.

Never let your pain define you.
Never become so consumed with yourself that you cannot feel another’s pain.
Instead allow your heart to become tender.
Allow yourself to reach out to others amidst your own struggles & vulnerabilities.

Everyone you meet is facing some kind of battle. Some are having to fight harder than others at that moment.

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.

So let’s choose to journey through life with compassion and care. Understanding that we are not dissimilar. We do not need to fight one another. Instead we can support one another and choose to ‘hold’ one another even in the midst of our own pain.


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.


Perspective: Stepping back from the detail to see the bigger picture

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

Yesterday I was painting a mural on a wall at a local school. In the evening I was talking to my husband Matt and I was saying that because the picture is so big, as you are designing and painting it on the wall, you have to keep stepping back to get a better perspective. When you are next to the wall, drawing or painting, you lack the ability to see the bigger picture. You can’t quite see if something is straight or big enough or if it fits together ok with the rest. So you have to keep stepping back to take it all in and see how everything is fitting together.

It’s all about perspective:
When you are close to the details you can’t see the bigger picture.

Perspective is so important in life.
Perspective often dictates our response to situations.
Perspective is often limited to our view of the details in front of us.

For instance, if I have a critical or negative perspective about something or someone, I will tend to see everything from that perspective. Even if something good happens or the person does something good, I will often not see it, because I will only see what was wrong. Unfortunately, I will also communicate to others from that perspective, meaning that they too are now being influenced by my limited negative and critical perspective.

On the other side of the spectrum, when you love someone you should have the opposite perspective. (We often use the old ‘rose tinted glasses’ saying to describe seeing things from a rosy perspective when we are overly positive or especially when we are in love!) When you love someone you see them and what they do through different eyes. You demonstrate compassion and understanding. You choose to see more from their perspective rather than just your own. Because love is primarily about sacrificing your selfishness for another. Which means thinking less of yourself and more about them.

So perspective matters.

So much of what we do is connected to our attitude and perspective. How we choose to ‘see’ affects so much of what we do.

I may not be able to change the world I see around me, but I can change the way I see the world within me. -John Maxwell

Grunge Background

Sometimes we can become so consumed with our day to day lives, struggles and priorities that we can lose the bigger picture. We are so focused on ourselves and what we need to do that we become blinded to the challenges that others face, which in turn means we can lack empathy and understanding.

Sometimes we need to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Sometimes we need to look around us and choose to ‘see’ with a larger and more understanding perspective. Sometimes we need to see with ‘new eyes.’

New eyes of:
Gratitude
Compassion
Love
Generosity
Kindness
Forgiveness
Renewed hope, purpose & vision.

Often it’s not until a traumatic change takes place in our lives that we really ‘value’ the normality of our everyday lives. It’s not until we lose something or somebody that we realise that we maybe valued the wrong things. It’s all linked to perspective.

However… we don’t need to wait until something bad happens to us or someone close to us to change our perspective. We can choose to do it now. Sometimes we do not need a major change in our lives. Instead we have to choose to see things differently. Sometimes we need to see life and the people who surround us with ‘new eyes’. Maybe we need to open our eyes to a new way of thinking and a new way of relating to the world.

It’s then we realise that our problem was not really the circumstances of our lives but was instead our limited perspective and view of it.

What will our lives look like if we choose to ‘open our eyes’ to a new perspective?

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

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