Tag Archives: Intracranial Hypotension

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it has to stop!

I HAVE TO BREAK FREE!shame-quote-copy

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Through the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

I had held on all year.

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

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

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

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

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

We give it everything we’ve got.

And then we find we have nothing left to give.

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

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

We discover….

THAT IS ALSO ME.

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

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

And a new journey starts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAIN CONSUMED ME.

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

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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.

The Power Hidden In Vulnerability. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A better term is torture! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have reached a new level of weakness. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been a tough year. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We couldn’t cope anymore. 

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

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

Talk about vulnerability and weakness. 

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

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

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

BUT

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

When there is no where left to hide.

You are just you. 

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

Yet loved, looked after and cared for. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be seen in weakness is to be truly seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never, Never, Never Give Up! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it was cancelled. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we WONT let it! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not easy, but it is possible. 

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

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

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

We are not alone and we will ENDURE! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn
Grow
Inspire
Lead
Live
Teach


Regardless! 

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

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

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

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

But I will overcome. 

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

I will not allow it to take me down! 

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

Nine Months On: My Ongoing Journey Of Overcoming A Spinal CSF Leak. 

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

Each of us has a story. Our life stories are unique to us. Lives, circumstances and even illness and injury are not often ‘text book’. 

We are all individuals and our lives and bodies are complex. 

I want to continue to share my own story, in the hope it might help you on your journey and also hopefully educate people about some of the complexities of these conditions.

I have chosen to write the post specifically with CSF leak and post concussion sufferers in mind. Which is why it is longer than my normal posts.

Over the months I have read about other peoples stories.

Some of them tie into my own experiences. 

Some don’t. 

So I wanted to add my own story to those out there. Maybe you will relate to it. Maybe not. But I hope that it helps you regardless.

“Facing pain may require more courage than we’ve ever had in our lives.” – Samuel Chand

We all have days and times in our lives when we don’t want to get up in the morning. When life is busy, stressful and hard work. Times that you crave to be able to stay in bed all day read a book, watch TV or listen to music.

Then you get ill or injured and, for a time, staying in bed all day becomes your reality.

And it is far from easy. 

If you have seen any of my previous blog posts you will know I fell off a ladder 9 months ago and sustained a concussion (mild traumatic brain injury) and was later diagnosed with post-concussion then 8/9 weeks later, a CSF Leak (Cerebral Spinal Fluid Leak). Which we assume is somewhere in my spine.

At the moment I am lying flat in bed writing this. I have spoken about lying flat in many of my blog posts, but what does this actually mean? 

I mean my upper body and particularly my head has to be flat on the bed or sofa. Sometimes I can use a very thin pillow to support my head. Often even that lifts my head too high, so I tend to spend most of the day, and sleep, without a pillow. I can be on my back, side or even front.

But my head must be as flat as possible

When I was in hospital, both times, It would intrigue me that so many very ill people are propped up in bed with pillows and their beds raised up.

That concept is unthinkable for me at the moment. In fact the reality is that would just be a form of torture. It seems alien to me to be unwell and sitting propped up. 


I have a routine now where I drink lying flat (even cups of tea) using straws. I eat all my meals and snacks (apart from dinner) lying flat. (I just eat dinner extra fast so I can lie down again quickly). 

My first time in hospital the pain had got so unbearable that my husband would feed me dinner, so I could lie flat, because that is the only way I could manage the symptoms and the pain.

Nine months later, following a relapse, I have learnt to manage it a lot better. The main way to do this is just to avoid being upright for more time than absolutely necessary. Five or ten minutes is normally manageable. Beyond that is often unbearable.

You have no choice but to lie down because it reaches the point you literally just can’t function upright. 

So I currently try to only get up when absolutely necessary.

When I lie flat I am almost symptom free. I say almost, because I still can feel weak and dizzy and get some aches and pains. 

But lying flat I generally feel more like me: 
I can write,
I can talk,
I can think.
I feel more normal! 

Sitting or standing at the moment is a whole other issue. You would not believe how you can go from feeling mainly symptom free to feeling really very ill in a matter of minutes or even sometimes seconds of being upright.

Since I was diagnosed with a CSF Leak, I have caused the doctors and Neurologists a lot of confusion because my full set of symptoms are not fully in line with their normal experience of a CSF leak. 

Most doctors experience of CSF leaks are mainly from epidurals that have gone wrong or lumbar punctures (LP’s/ Spinal Taps) where the hole in the spinal dura won’t close. Also people can obviously get cranial/ skull leaks from trauma, which can be seen through spinal fluid dripping out your ear or nose. These can be (but not always) easier to diagnose and often easier to treat.

Spinal leaks, whether spontaneous or through trauma (as in my case), often cannot be easily seen or proven. Which makes diagnosis and treatment problematic.

Mine also seems to be connected to the original post-concussion diagnosis. Which tends to confuse doctors because I often present at A&E with symptoms that are more in line with post-concussion syndrome/ post traumatic migraine.

The telling sign that there is probably a CSF leak, in the mix, is that I have the postural element of the injury. I am generally symptom free lying flat, but symptoms build when upright. If I am upright for too long the symptoms will also extend to lying down for a while after, but they always dramatically improve. 

This has lead the Neurologists to conclude that they think I probably have a CSF leak that exacerbates post-concussion migraine symptoms. I will try and explain this to you further in the hope that it might help other people with similar issues.

A couple of weeks ago I was admitted to hospital following an almost total relapse of symptoms. There are a few things that were slightly better than last time I was admitted 6 months ago, but generally it’s the same thing. I think perhaps part of the difference now is that I know how to manage the injury better than I did before. 

Here were my symptoms I was admitted with (in no particular order). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dizziness,
Balance issues,
Walking difficulties,
Speaking difficulties, including slurring of words and inability to fully express myself.
Drunk like behaviour.
Pressure in the head.
Neck stiffness & pain.
Pain at the lower back of my head.
Photophobia (light sensitivity)
Shaking and spasms.

These are actually almost the same symptoms I had every time I visited A&E since my injury (4 in all). The third visit I was in such acute pain in my head/ neck that they tried to give me morphine, which rather than take the pain away, made it worse and made me very sick so they decided to admit me for a brain MRI scan.

It was only through this first admission that I finally got to see a Neurologist who raised the possibility of a CSF leak due to the postural nature of my symptoms.

The consultant looked into two possible diagnoses: Post traumatic migraine from the concussion or a CSF leak.

Neurology then set about to investigate the CSF diagnosis which proved more problematic than we would have hoped.

If you read up on CSF leaks you will soon discover that diagnosis can be immensely difficult.

Unless you have recently had a lumbar puncture/ spinal tap, an epidural or spinal surgery and then present with postural headaches. Proving you have a leak and finding it can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.

They firstly did an MRI brain with contrast which came back clear of Intracranial Hypotension or ‘brain sag/slump’. This is the condition that low CSF causes. Basically, because there is less fluid round your brain, your brain then falls in your skull, due to gravity, when you are upright. The pain and symptoms are due to the pressure this puts on this area of your head and the stretching/ squashing that occurs.

It is not unheard of for these scans to come back clear. And from what I have read, severity of symptoms do not necessarily correspond to these scan results.

So they attempted to find a leak site in my neck via MRI. This also came back normal. Which is again not unusual.

The leaks are often minute. Most imaging, even MRI, is not powerful enough to locate them. 

They then did a lumbar puncture/spinal tap to look at opening pressure. Mine was a 7. They said they would consider it to be low if it was 8 or lower. Worse cases of CSF leak are often a 3 or below. (Normal is about 10-20).

So that supported the diagnosis but it was not a definitive diagnosis. 

When they did the LP I knew it was the same sensation I felt. However, following the LP I had an additional headache which was even worse, again postural, and all my other symptoms increased too:

Head pressure,
Neck pain,
Dizziness,
Instability walking etc.
My back also hurt a lot at the site of the LP. 

These restored back to what they were before the LP a couple of days later.

I then had an MRI of my spine which came back clear. 

The neurologists then decided to try a high volume blind epidural blood patch. Which is used to treat spinal CSF leaks when they can’t locate the leak site.

Usually if you have had an LP or an Epidural they know where the leak is so they can inject the blood patch into the same location in the lower epidural space in the spine. This is supposed to help seal the leak through the blood clotting and generally increase the spinal fluid pressure. These procedures have a high success rate. 

It wasn’t easy for them to agree to get an anaesthetist to do a blind patch at first, because of the higher risks involved and lack of evidence to back up the diagnosis. Blind blood patches are a lot less effective than ones directed at the actual leak location. 

The problem is we think, it is possible, that my leak might be in the upper or even cervical (neck) spine. To do a blood patch higher up the spine is very high risk because of the lack of space between the vertebra to reach the epidural space and because of the proximity to the brain.  

Eventually a team of anaesthetists agreed to do a blind blood patch and they took me down to surgery to do it. I think they managed to inject 30ml of my blood, taken from my arm, into the epidural space in my lower spine. 

The consultant anaesthetist then advised not to do a second blood patch, even if symptoms did not improve. When people have blood patches following an LP or epidural CSF leak, relief can often be quite instant. They will also often do a second or even third blood patch if the first one fails. In my case they were concerned about doing another high volume patch without further investigation. 

I laid flat on my back for about 15 hours after mine, without moving, to help it to ‘take’.

When I was able to get up some things had improved, some things hadn’t. 

I had the choice whether to be discharged or stay at hospital to pursue more investigations and treatment (which was not a simple route). I chose to go home (having been there 18 days) and work on my recovery and hope and trust that things would improve.

And things did improve, a lot.    Within a few days I was back on my feet. I could walk on my own again outside, I could drive short distances. I didn’t have as much problem with head pressure and pain.

But it was still there. 

I always put this down to the fact I had had a brain injury (concussion) prior to this and had been in bed for 3 months.

Surely things would just take time. 

Symptoms improved gradually and I thankfully pretty much got back to normality.

But I still suffered with head pressure, head pain, spaced out symptoms, dizziness, back pain (from the blood patch) and neck pain.

I still found I could not get through a whole day without lying down flat. Life became about pacing myself. Staying positive and believing that things would keep improving. 

Then I relapsed. 

Perhaps I did too much.
Perhaps I took too many risks.
Perhaps it happened regardless of what I did.  

Over the period of about 2/3 weeks things got progressively worse. I had to lie down flat more and more during the day to cope and compensate.

I went back to the GP, got a referral back to Neurology (which I would have to wait for an appointment for). Tried lying down for most of two days to see if that helped.

Then symptoms got overwhelming and we headed back to A&E for the fourth time this year. As I talk about in ‘Learning Patience’. 

The thing that again confused the Neurologists was why did I always present with symptoms more in line with post-concussion syndrome/ post -traumatic migraine BUT the symptoms are obviously very postural.

Why did I not just present with an unbearable postural headache, as in ‘normal cases’?

I understood this dilemma myself because when I read about symptoms. Most people would talk about unbearable headaches, and even though I experienced headaches, they were not always fully in line with others descriptions.

In fact, other people’s descriptions were probably more in line with the additional headache I experienced during the couple of days after the LP. That headache was more distinctly a headache as well as increasing all my other current symptoms.

What I tend to experience is nothing like I had ever felt before. 

I will try and explain the sensation I experience at its worst

I sit up, almost instantly my head begins to cloud over and the pressure builds, that makes me feel dizzy and unstable on my feet. Each minute of standing this increases. It feels a bit like you have been whacked round the back of your head by a heavy object.

What feels like a stiffness in the upper neck then increases followed by what moves from an ache to an increasing pain at the bottom back of my skull.

After a bit it can feel almost like I am being strangled, from the back of my head. I can also feel a pressure behind my sinuses, it can make me cough and gag, the front of my neck gets tense. I struggle to think, can struggle with my words, increasingly struggle to walk without support and then if I am up too long I can end up twitching/ shaking and having small spasms.

You become consumed by doing what has to be done as quickly as possible and getting back to lying flat. I feel very irritable and shaky because I just physically and mentally cannot cope with being upright.

The longer you are upright, the worse it gets and the longer it takes to recover lying down. Once back lying flat it often can take a few minutes to recover from what can only be described as the trauma of being upright. (Occasionally it takes longer to recover). 

The doctors always ask me ‘do you have a headache’? or ‘how is the headache’? But to me it’s not simply a headache.

It’s not just about a crazy ‘pain in my head’ it is more than that. It’s an intensity that is unrelenting and sets off various other symptoms. Pain is one of those but not necessarily the over riding symptom. 

The overriding unbearable symptom is intense unrelenting and increasing pressure in my head that makes doing anything immensely difficult. Until I reach a point my body and mental processing cannot cope with it anymore and it begins to react accordingly by shutting down.
I just cannot function properly sitting or standing. 

It is a headache, I guess, but nothing like headaches I ever had before my injury. I often feel the pain more in my upper neck than head.  Previously, the very occasional headaches I had were always at the top front of my head and were completely different. There is no comparison. I think it’s perhaps more migrane like but I never had a migrane so I don’t really know.

Headaches are unpleasant. You lie down and they are still there. You take painkillers to get rid of them. (I have occasionally had a normal headache in addition since my injury – they don’t go away lying down). 

These so called ‘headaches’ feel like you are being tortured. My body literally cannot handle being upright. Which is why when I have to sit up to travel to and wait in A&E waiting rooms, my symptoms always increase and I act like a drunk person. I cannot physically or cognitively cope with the strain put on my brain.

When eventually I get to lie down (usually before I see an A&E consultant) I am suddenly not quite as bad. Which is probably one of the reasons the first two times I was discharged as just having post-concussion syndrome.

We didn’t understand the relevance of posture at that time. 

When I finally was admitted. I still didn’t fully understand the need to be fully flat. My bed was often at first a little raised. I used large pillows. I sat up to drink drinks, eat, get changed, use the bathroom, speak to people.

I now realise that is why the pain built up to be unbearable. I have learnt not to do that any more. Which means I have generally learnt to manage the pain, without medication.

As long as I lie flat pretty much for 24 hours a day. 

It’s a part positive of the condition – I get relief from the torture. 

But you obviously can’t live a normal life like that. 

“When we face life challenges, we must find a way not only to survive them, but in time, to actually grow from them. We must find a way to keep on keeping on, no matter how hard or painful life becomes. As a result, we can avoid getting “stuck” and live life in spite of our circumstances.” – Kelli Horn

After a few days in hospital, after my relapse, they agreed to try another blind blood patch. Which was again the subject of great debate between the Neurologists themselves and the Anaesthetists (especially because they had initially advised only doing one). 

So that is what I am currently waiting for. They said I could have it as an ‘outpatient’ so I get to wait at home rather than hospital. (One blood patch was already cancelled though because of lack of theatre time available and then a subsequent recovery bed). 

Blind Epidural blood patches usually have a 50% success rate. Being a person of faith in God and optimism I am choosing to believe it will work and again get me back on my feet.

It did last time. We are trusting it will again. But this time we are praying that it fully heals and will never come back.

You don’t realise how precious a normal life is till it is snatched away from you. 

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” – Helen Keller

I have and am learning a lot and developed more compassion towards others with long term health issues. Compassion means ‘to suffer together’. There is a beautiful thing that can happen if we allow our own suffering to develop our compassion towards others.

Humanity becomes more unified, gracious and loving as I wrote in ‘We Are All Messed Up’.

If you suffer with post-concussion or a CSF leak I hope that you find a way through, discover the strength you will need and that you will find doctors who understand and can help you.

Having a unusual injury or illness is hard, but let’s choose to keep holding on to hope for the future. Encouraging one another and hoping that doctors become more knowledgable and understanding of this debilitating condition.

There is always hope, there is always progress being made. Life may be hard but there is always something we can do and achieve.  

Even amidst the pain. 

“Your past mistakes, hurts & pain can help give someone else a future. Whatever we have gone through enables us to help others.” – Christine Cain


I would love to hear about your stories and experiences with concussion, post-concussion and CSF Leaks? Please do comment below. You never know you might help someone else in the process.

For more of my posts on this subject please see my first post here. You can see my ongoing series of posts by clicking on the CSF Leak and Concussion menu at the top of the page. 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grunge Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grunge Background

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

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

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

So it’s been a season of learning.

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

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

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

It’s all about having the right perspective.

It’s not easy.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

It’s all about perspective!

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

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


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

To read more about my 20 months on story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.

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

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

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, misunderstanding and great distress on my already immensely long winded and difficult medical journey.

Click here to read more about my spinal CSF leak recovery following my 4th blind lumbar 40ml epidural blood patch in September 2017 and subsequent ‘rebound into higher CSF pressure/ hypersensitivity to higher pressure’ following that treatment. 

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

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