Tag Archives: Anxiety

Rising Again: My Year Of Spinal CSF Leak Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are both truly awful to endure!

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

But I am getting there….

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t ‘rush’ holistic healing!

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

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

Rising Again verse copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rising Again copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rising Again quote copy

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

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

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

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

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

And yet…

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

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

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

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

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

And yet…

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

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

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

IMG_1644
Our family on a beautiful and very blessed holiday (fully upright!!!) in Weymouth, UK, July 2018! (Which we had to cancel in 2017 due to a complete relapse of my chronic spinal CSF Leak). Our children Aimee and Beth were 7 & 10 when this nightmare began and our lives completely changed, they are now 11 & 13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning To BE

Walk with me
Let’s forget the what-might-be
And slow to now.
– Speak Brother (Slow to Now)

These beautiful lyrics are a reminder that we sometimes have to slow down enough to live in THIS moment. To not let life rush us by. To make the most of every experience and to enjoy sharing those moments with others. Forgetting the ‘what-might-be’s’ and learning instead how to ‘slow to now’ so that we can be fully present;

Today
Now
In this moment.

The challenge of learning to BE, is just that. It’s about being present now, today; whatever today may bring. To not be defined by what we do or the titles we own.

Instead it’s about being:

ME, simply me, NOW.

This is probably one of the main lessons I have been learning over the last 18 months.

To be fully present TODAY, not distracted by fighting the limitations I currently face or the unknowns of tomorrow. But instead choosing to embrace THIS MOMENT and making the most of the opportunities I have HERE.

It’s not been easy. In fact, I have probably found it harder than any other point in my life. Because when you are dealing with difficult circumstances it is so easy to miss the wonder of the small things that still surround us. And yet, I have set out to learn and change for the better. To learn how to ‘let go’ of the unknowns, even when it’s so hard and when the future can seem so uncertain.

It’s a journey.
I am still learning.
I face the daily battles everyone else faces in their minds. (Particularly those of us fighting serious/ chronic illness or other turbulent circumstances).

And yet I hope that in sharing what I am still learning that we might learn together and in that way my journey might just help someone else.

Learning to Be copy

So how do we learn to BE?
It all sounds deep, but what does it really mean?

LETTING GO

Recently I have learnt a lot about the need to ‘let go’. To realise that there is so much I can’t control that I can only let go of. To choose not to allow worry and anxiety to take over and constantly dictate my mood and behaviour, overshadowing all I do.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own. – Matthew 6:34*

Worry and anxiety are usually caught up in our fears of the future and the ‘what if’s’. When we allow them to take over our thoughts they pull us to a place where we feel out of control and where the future feels beyond what we can cope with. That is what happened to me during the dark days at Christmas 2015 that I write about in ‘Breaking Through the Darkness.’

Letting go is often challenging, because you feel like you are letting go of everything you can’t control one minute only to find yourself taking it back the next. It actually takes learning new disciplines of the mind to learn to replace negative thoughts and learn how to redirect them.

It can often feel like an exhausting battle. But I do believe it is possible to find ways to replace negativity with positive thoughts and perspective.

On a practical level, deep breathing & relaxation can be a good outward form of letting go that can sometimes help us to deal with the inner things. The physical action of breathing in deeply then breathing out slowly can help us to let go of some of the tension and anxiety in our bodies.

BEING GRATEFUL AND THANKFUL

“It is not happiness that makes you grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes you happy.” David Steindl-Rast

These words are from David Steindl-Rast’s TED talk; ‘Want to be happy? Be grateful’. He talks about how we can learn to be grateful in EVERY given moment. It’s about a thankful perspective; CHOOSING TO SEE what we DO have instead of focusing on what we DON’T.

This is so important. Especially when we are dealing with difficulties in our lives. The storms in life have a tendency to pull us into them so that we can’t always see what we DO still have and the things that we CAN still be grateful for.

For me, gratefulness is often directed towards God. I daily try to thank Him for all the wonderful things in my life. We can learn to develop a daily habit of being thankful – practically we can write things down, pray about them or just choosing to focus our thoughts on them.

“I think that many times we let what should be extremely special to us—things we should be extremely grateful for—become too commonplace”. – Joyce Meyer

LEARNING TO SEE WHAT IS AROUND US

Learning to BE allows us to open our eyes to SEE more of the wonder of the world around us. To notice the beauty of nature and the joys of human relationship. We can become more aware of our surroundings. Taking time to look more deeply and discover new things.

I have walked a lot in our local area over the past few months and discovered so many new places I had never been before. Sometimes there can be beauty all around us but we miss it because of our busyness or the distractions in our mind. Some days we need to be intentional about looking to SEE what is ALREADY around us.

REDISCOVERING PURPOSE

I believe that we are all designed to have a purpose; a role in this world that only we can fulfil. Endeavours that help us to feel alive and make our mark on the world. However, ask anyone who has faced having to ‘give up’ what they love to do due to injury, illness or other circumstances and they will probably tell you how hard it’s been.

Our identity is so caught up in ‘what we DO’ that when we can no longer DO those things we can feel purposeless. It feels like our life is of little value anymore.

Scott Dannemiller writes:
“… we are defined by what we do. Our careers. What we produce. It’s the first question asked (of us)…. The implication is that if I am not busy doing something, I am somehow less than. Not worthy. Or at least worth less than those who are producing something.”

I have definitely grappled with this over the past 18 months and wrote about it in Is Busyness A Choice?.

WHO AM I WHEN I CAN’T DO ANYTHING?

It is actually these seasons that draw out the deepest questions about our identity. Who am I really? We have to search for new meaning and purpose because it is not always obvious.

I have had to learn that I am valuable without having to DO anything. I have a place in this world just being me. And whatever the limitations are, there are still so many things I CAN DO:

  • I can love others.
  • I can hold my family and speak words of love and encouragement to them.
  • I can use my words to encourage and help others going through hard times.
  • I can choose to be grateful for every blessing, big or small and communicate that to others.
  • I can keep enduring through the trial so that we can all learn through it and that those coming behind me can have an easier path.
  • I can broaden my mind by listening to other people’s thoughts and ideas.
  • I can go deeper in my faith by spending time listening to and speaking with God in the quietness and allowing His words to shape my heart, heal my hurts and reignite my hope and purpose.

FINDING PEACE AND REST AMIDST THE STORM

Is it really possible to learn how to find true rest and peace in any moment, even when those moments are stressful?

I believe it is. I write about it in this post.

We can learn to manage our emotions rather than allowing them to manage us. –Joyce Meyer

But I also believe that we have to learn new ways to deal with negative circumstances so that they don’t pull us into a cycle of negative thoughts.

The fact is physical rest is NOT always good for our minds. We DO need to rest and we certainly DO need quietness. But sometimes the silence can be deafening, especially when rest is enforced. This is because rest can cause our minds to go into overdrive. Our thoughts take over and if they are more biased towards the negative, silence can make them worse. (Think of times you couldn’t sleep because your thoughts were ‘so loud’).

So we need to have resources that help us to be still and restful and yet simultaneously focus on more positive things. Music and meditations are good. I also love listening to inspiring talks like TED talks, other people’s stories of trials they have faced, as well as teaching and inspirational messages that encourage my faith. These help me to focus my mind and gain a better perspective through prolonged rest.

Learning to Be be still and know copy

So I am again choosing to ‘learn to Be’. I am not yet fully recovered from my CSF leak journey. Whilst some of the symptoms linger I have no choice but to learn a new way of living in which I cannot DO everything I would like to do.

But instead of fighting this season and getting worn out as I did at Christmas, I have to ‘let it roll’ to a certain extent. Yes, there are many things I can do and can change that will help my situation and I need to celebrate those. But I also have to realise that there are also many I just cannot change myself. So instead of frustration consuming me, I have to learn, each and every day to ‘let go’ of the ‘what may be’s’ and ‘slow to now’ so that I can savour;

Every
Beautiful
Moment
That STILL exists HERE.


Please do comment below and share some of the things you have learned about ‘living in the moment.’ You never know, it might really help someone who is struggling.

You can listen to Speak Brother’s song ‘ Slow to Now’ here.

*Verse from the NIV translation of the Bible.  (The verse in image from Psalm 34:14 is from the NLT translation of the Bible)

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.