Tag Archives: illness

Compassion Starts with Embracing our own Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suffering together copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing Simplicity

“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein

Over the past couple of years I have often felt like my life has been aggressively and almost completely stripped back. The core of my life is still much the same as it has always been. Yet I often feel like a tree that has been radically pruned. With so many of the branches of my identity and the things that I used to do being brutally chopped off and left to die. Leaving something quite exposed and bare, with many stubs where branches used to be.

When you spend most of your day lying down, and the time you can be upright is exceedingly limited by various intense and horrible neurological symptoms, you find that your life becomes extremely restricted. Everything becomes immensely simplified in many ways (even though there are also many complexities to contend with too). Life mainly consists of things you can do lying flat, or the few limited things you can do whilst upright – although still feeling very ill.

It’s been a very challenging journey to embrace a more simplistic life. 

It doesn’t help that we live in a society that often glorifies busyness!

Our Western society is full of people who often seem to wear badges of importance – based, in part, on how busy their life is. Most people are forever expressing how immensely busy they are. This makes it extra hard for those of us who are ill long term, because we have to instead embrace a new identity that can no longer be defined by our busyness. Suddenly we can feel somewhat detached from normal society – a bit of a ‘nobody’.

Everyone around us seems to be carrying on with their ‘normal lives’ whilst we feel like ours is stuck. 

We live in a never ending state of limbo, not knowing if or when it will change.


In my 2015 post Is Busyness a Choice? I spoke about an article by Scott Dannemiller called ‘Busy is a Sickness’. In it he wrote:

“… 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 really do believe that this is a massive problem for those of us who face long term debilitation. 

We not only have to take a very humbling journey of coming to terms with it ourselves; we will also often have to face others’ questions, attitudes, and sometimes prejudice – as well as naivety and ignorance – towards our disability and inability to do what we once could do.

We find that we begin to lose much of our identity, because it feels like we are not doing much anymore. Rather than being an active member of society – we feel pushed to the side lines, often misunderstood and sometimes even forgotten about.

We are suddenly not so sure who we really are any more and our condition begins to knock our confidence – until we perhaps no longer feel like we ‘fit in’ with normal society like we used to.

Over time, we realise that we have to go through a deep and painful process of grieving and letting go of who we once were. And much of what defined us. 

So that instead we can truly embrace who we are now – in this season. We actually have very little choice in the matter – if we cannot change our current circumstances ourselves then we have no option but to accept it and find a way to live the best life we can amidst all the restrictions.

I learnt over time that I had to stop torturing myself with what I could be doing IF I was well. I had to give up imagining how different life could be if I was healthy. I had to refuse to compare myself to what ‘normal’ people were doing and instead embrace the quieter and more simple life, of mainly being at home, often lying down. I had to see the opportunities that could be found here instead.

We must learn to establish a daily discipline of choosing to see the beauty and wonder in simplicity. To somehow embrace a simpler life. The more I go on that journey – the more I see that there are still so many things to be thankful for and enjoy here.

Despite the restriction, debilitation and pain. 

Really it is all a matter of perspective. As many things in life are. 

Attitude is everything! 

Since I have battled this chronic illness I have realised more than ever that we are often fed a lie by society and the media that our life should always be lovely, fun, immensely satisfying and great. Everything should be as perfect as it can be – and it will be – IF you have enough money, health, great jobs, nice homes, loving families, expensive holidays and up to date gadgets etc. Then we will all be perpetually happy.

BUT it’s just not true!

Hence why there are so many miserable, struggling people who actually have all those things in abundance. Sometimes it’s the people I know who have the most of all those things who are the least happy. Mainly because that mindset draws you into a never ending cycle of desiring more and more – which only leaves you increasingly discontented in the end. Because there is always someone around who seems to have a better lot in life and appears to be happier than you.


I have learnt so much through my two-year journey about trying to be more grateful for the small, everyday things, whilst learning to let go of ‘the dream’ of ‘normal living.’ In doing that (which is a very raw and painful grieving process) I learnt I could find so much joy and wonder here too. And if I can find it here, then I will be so much happier – as well as more content and thankful – when I do hopefully get well. If I can learn contentment without having all the things the media tells me I need – then I will be happier for a life time regardless of whether I stay sick or get well.

It’s a lesson I have also had to embrace with regards how I parent my children. It truly is heartbreaking when sickness robs you of being the parent you always desired and planned to be. It’s a very difficult thing to face and unfortunately you can find yourself envying other healthy normal parents, which doesn’t help.

When I experienced a complete physical and mental breakdown at the end of 2015, it was the grief of letting go of being the Mum I was and wanted to be that caused some of the deepest inner pain. I am so very thankful that my girls are now that bit older and slightly more independent, which makes things so much easier for us as a family. And yet currently I can’t go out with them or do most of the fun or even necessary things we used to do.

I really am currently stuck at home, mainly lying flat, nearly 24/7. 

However, I have also learnt that sometimes my kids can learn better life lessons from us facing this as a family than they could if life was just ‘normal’ and great. I realised that if I can’t find a way to truly live here, in the midst of the disappointments, then how can I help them to know how to face their own challenges and disappointments in life? They will certainly come at some point. If as a parent I can’t come through the crisis, then what does that teach them? But if my children can learn how to endure life trials – from me and my husband – then they will hopefully be much more stable and wholehearted adults.

Adults who can weather the storms of life and stick out long term relationships much better. Meaning they may well be happier and more fulfilled adults because of this. It will also hopefully help them to grow in compassion for others, so that they learn not to ignore or avoid another’s pain, but instead look at how they can share it and help support another in and through it.

Compassion is a stunningly beautiful quality to have. 

As my body is so restricted on the outside, I actually often feel the energy of what’s within intensify. It’s like there is this ball inside me with a mixture of so many different emotions. I know I have to redirect the ones that want to pull me into a dark place and allow the positive ones to become increasingly dominant. So I am trying to focus my own pain on connecting and helping others in theirs.

I have decided that I must find a way to live like this – so that I can help another walk through their own deep darkness of facing this condition or similar debilitation.

It’s allowing the love, grace and compassion that is within me to break out to help someone else. It’s channelling my hurt into feeling another’s pain with them so that I can then say, “How can I help you today? What advice can I give you from the lessons I have – sometimes painfully – learnt over the years.” 

These are some of the simple things in life that I can still embrace and still do. And it’s when I am focused on things such as these that I am drawn less into only seeing the negatives of my current predicament. It is then that I often find the beauty that is found in simplicity. And it reminds me that even if my body remains debilitated, on the inside I can still feel fully alive.

So let me embrace the wonders hidden in the simplicity of my current circumstances. Because if I can do that – in this place – I will hopefully discover a deeper contentment and satisfaction that may well last a lifetime as well. So that IF one day I can leave this whole immensely difficult season behind for good, I will at least have learnt more lessons and disciplines through it that will become the firm foundations of my life tomorrow.

So that although I have had to experience a major pruning and cutting back that has left me looking exposed and bare today, perhaps in the end it will simply leave room for growth that will allow new shoots to form tomorrow. Producing a stronger tree in the future that is happier, healthier and bears good fruit in the right season.

None of us know what tomorrow will bring. 

But if we can all learn and grow enough today, so that we can somehow find the inner strength to face whatever might be thrown at us tomorrow, we will be able to take our stand in the crisis and allow this cry to rise up from within us to say:

 “However bad this gets and however long it goes on for… I am determined to find the best life that can be lived here – in all its gloriously redefined simplicity.”


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

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

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

The Shame of Chronic Illness and Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

shame-quote-2

What is shame?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally I began to see and recognise that;

I FEEL ASHAMED THAT I AM BATTLING A CHRONIC ILLNESS!

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

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

I feel embarrassed to be sick!

shame-copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it has to stop!

I HAVE TO BREAK FREE!shame-quote-copy

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Breaking through the darkness copy

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

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

Hope deferred makes the heart sick – A Proverb‬*

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

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

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

I just wanted it all to stop!!

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

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

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

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

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

EVERYTHING BECAME DARK.

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

I JUST WANTED TO ESCAPE.

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

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

I DESPAIRED OF LIFE ITSELF

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

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

All was not lost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just couldn’t ‘perceive’ Him.

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

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

Breaking through the darkness quote copy

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

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

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

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

And yet.

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

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

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

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

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



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

*Proverbs 13:12 from The Bible

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


 

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

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

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

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

Finding Peace In The Midst Of The Storm 

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

Do you ever crave true peace? 

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

We often don’t feel peaceful. 

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

Some days we feel like we are drowning in noise. 

Even in the silence. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad things still happen. 

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

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

And all we can do is survive them. 

But is that all we can do? 

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

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

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

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

But it has. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My condition is apparently complex. 

I have learnt that sometimes storms linger for a while. 

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

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

There are two things we can do.

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

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

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

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

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

But when I can say:

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

However, despite it all… 

MY GOD IS ALWAYS GOOD AND ALWAYS FAITHFUL.

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

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

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

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

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

You have to learn how to seek and find HIM. 

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

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


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

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

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

The Beauty Revealed Through Brokenness

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

We can feel exposed and vulnerable. 

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

It’s hard. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is painful but it is not without purpose. 

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

You can feel stretched beyond what you have ever known. 

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

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

It is not easy.  

But! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me it’s an ongoing journey of grace. 

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

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

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

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

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

I am not talking about physical beauty. 

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

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

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

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

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

But I know it is not without purpose. 

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

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

Even in times of pain. 

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

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

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

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

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