Tag Archives: Low Pressure Headaches

Living With a Spinal CSF Leak.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Maya Angelou

I started this blog at the start of January 2015. For a while I had wanted to write. But in all honesty I was scared.

“What if I write and nobody wants to read it?”

I soon learnt that writing isn’t just dependent on others reading it. It’s a great form of self expression in its own right. It’s the attempt the find the right words to tell our own stories about our lives.

One of the first momentous, yet deeply personal stories that I shared was the first anniversary of my Mums death in a post called ‘A Journey Through Grief and What I Have Learnt.’ I had felt that in telling my own unique story, people might just connect and maybe they could relate as they struggled through their own story of grief.

Little did I know that the same week I started this blog and wrote the above piece, would be another life altering week for me.

That was the week that I sustained a brain/ spinal injury I am still battling now –

21 months later.

That day I was painting and needed to reach high up near the ceiling. So I used a relatively small step ladder to stand on, but it was resting in a place that wasn’t completely stable. I had already used it that way for hours and felt confident it was ‘stable enough.’

But my confidence was misplaced.

I took a seemingly small risk, the type that we all take everyday. But on this particular day my risk taking didn’t pay off. It was that day I had an accident. It was that moment where it felt like so much went wrong.

I have been living with the consequences of that decision ever since.

In one horrible moment the whole ladder had toppled over and took my feet from under me with it. I fell onto my back and hit the back of my head….

But,
It’s OK!
I am fine!
A bit dazed!
A bit bruised!
No real damage done!

Or so I thought!!

So I finished that painting. Exhausted & aching all over, but obviously to be expected after painting all day and having a few bruises from the fall. But within 48 hours it became obvious,

I WAS DEFINITELY NOT OK!!!

Two days later I was diagnosed with a concussion.

“You should be better by next week.” they told me.  But I wasn’t….It got WORSE!!
So we went down to A&E.

“I am sorry Mrs Hill you have Post Concussion Syndrome. You are looking at about an 8 week recovery time.” they said.

No surely, not me.
Give it four weeks.
It can’t be that bad.
That is such a long time!!! (I confidently, yet naively thought!)
I’m sure I can bounce back like any other time I have been ill for a few days.

Eight weeks later of being pretty much bed bound, in a dark and quiet room, and things still getting worse.

We head down to A&E for the third time since my fall.

I was finally admitted that time because I was so unwell, in severe pain and vomiting after being given morphine which didn’t touch the pain, only made me feel even more ill. I was finally seen by a Neurologist the next day and she moved me to their ward to look for evidence to support their initial diagnosis of low pressure headaches caused by a spinal CSF leak.

I am not going to list all my symptoms because I have done that all before. But what I will say here is that I am so very, very grateful to a handful of people who in the midst of their own pain and struggles decided to help others like me.

I have to tell you about the wonderful team at www.csfleak.info who helped me to understand more about my injury and helped me to realise that the fact I ONLY ever felt remotely well LYING FLAT IN BED for those two months, was not due to post-concussion syndrome after all,

It was probably due to a  SPINAL CSF (Cerebrospinal Fluid) LEAK!

This meant that somehow the accident had caused a small tear in the membrane in the centre of my spine (the dura) that holds in your spinal fluid. This means that my spinal fluid leaks out and is absorbed my body.

So when I am upright sitting or standing, due to gravity, my brain drops in my skull, because it lacks enough fluid to hold it in place.

Twenty One months after my fall.

I am still not better!

I have had some ups and downs along the way. Bad months in 2015 of being almost fully bed-bound. And other months after epidural blood patches (I have had 3) of being mostly upright.

But since that fall I have never had one single day of being…

Fully
Symptom
Free.

Such is the journey to full healing with this unusual and often under-diagnosed condition. Many people do get diagnosed, receive treatment, get well quickly, and never look back.

But many others face constant battles, discouragements, set backs and difficulties throughout their journey of being diagnosed and treated. Often a lack of knowledge by the medical profession makes getting fully better hard for many.

stone wallRecently, I have become so acutely aware how little many doctors, and the general public, know about spinal CSF leaks. I have heard so many stories of people struggling to get a diagnosis and, even when they do, facing many barriers to treatment.

There are many hospitals that really don’t know what to do with ‘these rare patients’ and this often makes delays in treatment an unfortunate reality for many.

I am so grateful for an amazingly supportive and well informed group of CSF leak sufferers who form an online community through the ingenious invention of Facebook groups. Many of us cannot imagine how we would have faced this journey without one another and I honestly think that some people in those UK and US based groups would not be alive today without that wonderful resource. Despair and suicidal thoughts are very prevalent within this group of patients.

Having someone tell you “I get it” whilst you both spend yet another day staring at the ceiling, flat in bed, can mean everything to someone really struggling. Even when that other person is half way across the country or even the world.

We face the daily struggles together!

It can be a lonely and difficult road battling a chronic illness. That road sometimes feels impossible when you slowly begin to realise how little knowledge a lot of doctors have about your condition.

I recently watched a very moving video, that is on the wonderful US spinal CSF leaks charity website. www.spinalcsfleak.org/resources/patient-stories/ About a lady who got a spinal fluid leak from a very badly placed epidural for the birth of her second child. She got two dural tears from the needle which caused spinal fluid to leak from her spine.

It took her 2 1/2 years to recover (she had a new born and 4 year old at that time) and she had to have 11 epidural blood patches (where they inject your own blood into the epidural space in your spine) and two surgeries to get better.

But what struck me the most was that even though everyone knew the area of her spine the leak would have been in (which is half the battle with traumatic (or spontaneous) leaks like mine) time and time again doctors refused to listen and often implied that there is no way she could be leaking CSF, and perhaps it was instead, ‘all in her head’ or something she would ‘just have to live with’.

I cried so much watching it because myself and many other leakers have faced similar battles to hers.

I find it heart breaking when people are suffering and needing help and support. And yet due to a lack of knowledge and understanding by the medical profession AND the general public, people are often told things like;

‘We have got nothing left to offer you,’
‘Try your best to get on with your life’
‘Perhaps you should try and get out more.’

Which is just a slap in the face when you are literally stuck lying flat in bed!

And yet, it doesn’t need to be that way!

There has been so much research done about spinal CSF leaks already. There IS knowledge out there. There are specialists who are leading the way, publishing medical papers and providing hope that many people CAN fully recover and perhaps don’t have to just learn to live with it after all.

Peoples minds need to be opened.

Medical professionals need to know that there is more information out there than they might realise. That there are a whole range of diverse symptoms. That people can still be leaking and debilitated, yet still function (well sort of) upright most of day. That there are many different kinds of treatments available and things that can be done to help.

  • Recently I have been thinking; how I can spread awareness?
  • How can I do my bit to help make the way clearer for those patients coming after me?
  • What skills can I offer the cause that might make a difference for both me and others?

One thing I have chosen to do is write. I can use my words to draw attention to this condition. I can tell my story in the hope it eventually reaches the people who need to hear it.

“Well, everybody’s got a story to tell and everybody’s got a wound to be healed.” Plumb

So today that’s what I want to do. I want to welcome you in to my world. I want to share with you a snap shot of what it is like living with a chronic CSF leak. So that you might have some more understanding yourself.

These days I am so very thankful that I get more hours upright than I used to. It really does make it that much easier to deal with. It helps me to feel more a part of the world around me and connect better with my kids. But it is still very very hard and debilitating to live like this.

stone wallHere is a typical start to my day….

I got up about 7:30am this morning. Lying in bed in the mornings I can actually feel pretty normal. But that feeling never lasts for long!

I get up, shower, get dressed and have breakfast, including a cup of tea and 2 pro plus caffeine tablets (because I can’t stand coffee!!)  – which can help to give me a bit more up time (although I often find it can be an artificial type boost feeling). During this time I already feel the neck stiffness and occipital (bottom back of the head) pain beginning to build up, but it’s manageable and relatively mild.

I drive part way and then walk my youngest to school. Chat to the other parents/ carers, go back to the car. Then this morning I decided I would pop to the shops.

My head is getting worse bit by bit, the pressure is building, the pain in my neck/ occipital region is increasing and my head is beginning to feel more full and a little cloudy.

I go into the supermarket – only to get a few things so it’s not too heavy. I don’t use trolleys, I don’t use a basket. I don’t take a handbag – only my purse – so that I can get as many things as possible and carry them without making my symptoms much worse.

So depending on what I have that might be 4-8 lightish items that I can hold in my hands/ arms without dropping them. If I do drop one of them (like the other day), I have to leave it or ask a shop keeper to pick it up for me. (Because bending down might make my leak, and will certainly make my symptoms, worse. At home I use a grabbing stick like the one below).

FullSizeRender

The nausea is setting in.

I pay for them on the self service check-out which is at an awkward angle so you have to bend a little to put them on the counter once scanned.

This increases my symptoms.

I bag them up and pay and by this point – just carrying the weight of those few things is making the nausea worse, so I start gagging in the lift to the car park, feeling like I want to vomit (although I don’t think I am ever fully sick).

Thankfully there is no one else in the lift with me!

I drive the short distance home – put the things away. Talk to my husband while he’s making a cup of tea (he is working from home today). During our conversation my head and neck is getting worse (I feel like someone has whacked me round the back of my head with a baseball bat!!) and I start gagging again uncontrollably – but thankfully I don’t actually vomit.

So my husband says, “you’d better go and lie down.”

I walk up the stairs and can feel my legs beginning to get very weak, I have to think about the steps I am taking, willing my legs to keep moving. The cloud in my head thickens. That feeling of not being able to cope with the intensity in my head floods over me! 

It’s 9:30am – I have been up two hours and can no longer function upright!!

I am now lying down flat in bed – feeling a lot better and writing this. I will stay here for probably an hour or two before getting up again to do some more jobs at home for maybe half an hour to an hour before the same thing happens and I have to lie down flat again.

That’s how it goes throughout the day every day although later on in the day the up times are often less and the down times can get longer.

If you saw me at the school at 8:30am, even though I had symptoms, you would think I looked fine, chatting to people (which is great because some days I don’t get to see many people).

So this is me on a good day – last year during my worst times the above would all happen with my symptoms within about 10mins of being upright.

I couldn’t even have a shower.

I would have a shallow bath once a week which I would have to lie completely flat in. As soon as I got out I would have lie on the bed with a towel round me, with my wet hair on a towel. It would take at least 1/2 hour to 1 hour before I might manage to be upright enough to put some clothes on and dry my hair a bit with the hairdryer. Or often my husband would help try and dry it whilst I lay flat.

When I was in hospital, a year ago, waiting and battling for more treatment (a second epidural blood patch) – I was in a bad way. I would spend all day lying in a head tilted down bed to alleviate symptoms and keep my brain in the place it should be. I could only manage about 5-10 mins upright at a time which makes things very hard.

We were facing lots of barriers and delays at that time (which I write about here), because the anaesthetists didn’t want to blood patch me a second time (after 5 much better months following the first) they instead wanted me to try an occipital nerve block done by the pain management team. (I did have the nerve block, it didn’t work at all, but it did leave my head, neck and hair covered in the sterile cleaning stuff.) Following that it took me two whole days to find the strength to get my husband to take me into the shower in the hospital bathroom so that he could help me wash all the chemicals from my hair and neck and help me get changed. He then dried it with a hair dryer whilst I lay flat again. (That would pretty much do me in for the whole day!!)

It’s an utterly debilitating condition. It’s not good for anyone’s physical and mental health to have to lie flat in bed all day. And yet some people are left that way, long term, because doctors don’t know what to do with them. They don’t understand how to treat them.

They do not seem to realise how impossible it is to live like that!

People are just not aware that many spinal CSF leak patients end up feeling suicidal (as I did at Christmas and write about here) because of the physical and psychological toll of the condition. Which is often exacerbated by the battles to find doctors who understand the condition, show compassion and actually do their best to help you.

There can still be an ‘old school’ mentality at large in the medical profession, even following correct diagnosis, of trying one epidural blood patch (and sometimes not even one) but if it fails to fully get you well, then they recommend that they should just try to help you manage the pain.

‘Manage the pain?’

I don’t have a sore leg, or a mild headache that goes away with some pills or a even a worse headache and stiff neck that is solved through a nerve block.

My brain drops in my skull when I am upright, wreaking all sorts of havoc in my head and body until I literally can’t physically or mentally cope. You can’t just ‘manage’ that kind of pain. And actually I wouldn’t always describe it as ‘pain’ it doesn’t do it justice. It is an intensity that can actually only be described as a sensation that is ‘beyond pain.’

(And just to add here that no painkiller I have had (Including IV morphine) has ever touched it)!

IT’S REAL!
IT’S HORRIBLE!
IT’S DEBILITATING!
BUT – IT IS TREATABLE!

Things ARE changing, patients are speaking out and coming together as a force to challenge conventional thinking about CSF leaks. And thankfully, little by little there are more wonderful doctors who are meeting enough well informed leak patients to see how great their suffering is and are slowly beginning to offer them new opportunities for diagnosis and treatment.

When someone with a leak meets a doctor who understands, or at least tries to understand, it’s truly a beautiful thing. It honestly means so very much to us.

Those doctors will never be forgotten.

We don’t expect miracle workers. We know we may not be easily fixable. But to meet someone with a willingness to try, an ear to listen, a humility to learn and a compassionate heart can make all the difference to someone on such a difficult road.

stone wall

In February this year (2016) a video was posted on You Tube that is doing so much to help change people’s minds and hearts about spinal CSF leaks. In the video Professor Ian Carroll from Stanford University Hospital in the U.S. gives a passionate lecture in which he is trying to enlist the help of doctors and medical professionals to help find and treat those suffering from spinal CSF leaks.

Through this video Dr Carroll has become our spokesperson, bravely, boldly & passionately challenging conventional thinking in the medical profession at large. And joining others in the quest to change current practice and stop people suffering unnecessarily from a mainly treatable condition.

I know for me, and many other longer term suffers, Dr Carroll’s video on YouTube is a breath of fresh air that reminds us that we are not going completely mad. So many patients have taken great hope through the impact it, and other recent information, is slowly having on awareness, diagnosis & treatment of spinal CSF leaks.

I am so very grateful for this wonderful resource from a doctor who is wanting to reach both doctors AND patients. I have gratefully been able to share this resource with some of the many doctors who have cared for me over the last 21 months. Some who have gone to great lengths to understand the condition more and do their best to support and treat me.

It is always a special moment when you meet a doctor who does watch the video or reads though the websites. People’s hearts and minds CAN be changed and it is wonderful when you see that happening.

Change does not often happen instantly. We are not all going to wake up tomorrow in a world where every person with a spinal fluid leak is going to get properly diagnosed, treated and fully recover. These conditions are complex and it takes time for understanding, research and practice to filter through.

But we can all play our part!

So today I want to ask sufferers and their families to think about;

  • How could you speak up and tell your story?
  • How can you be part of raising awareness too?

We might not all be able to write blogs, create websites, volunteer for the charities, fund raise or spread the word on the street. But perhaps we could post on social media, share a link, wear a t-shirt, or tell something of our own story.

Or perhaps you could respectfully share with a medical professional a medical paper on leaks, tell them about the UK and US CSF leak charity websites, or send them a link to Dr Carroll’s video.

You never know, they might just take a look especially if you approach it well.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  – Mother Teresa

Change will only come;
little by little,
step by step,
patient by patient,
doctor by doctor,
hospital by hospital.

By individuals and groups choosing to raise awareness and helping to challenge and transform conventional perspectives and opinions.

Perhaps we can all work together to enable patient and doctor to compassionately help one another to understand this debilitating yet treatable condition. So that even if we have had a tough and difficult journey ourselves, we can seek to build bridges with others that can open lines of communication. That might just change people’s hearts and minds for the future.

That way, we are building a legacy for the future. We are making the road that bit clearer for those following behind.

Mindful of the fact that they may never fully know the difficulty, struggles, sacrifices and battles of those who went before.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson


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.

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.

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

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.