Tag Archives: Positive thinking

Learning Calmness: Flowing through life with a spinal CSF leak

“Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.” – Warren Wiersbe

My journey over the past 2 years, or so, with a spinal CSF leak has been a journey of discovering deeper inner contentment, DESPITE physically battling the unending storm of so many physical limitations and chronic pain.

I have learnt more than ever over those 2 years that inner CALMNESS is the only way to flow through life with a CSF leak. Stress, worry, constantly pushing through symptoms too much and rushing about, simply make me feel incredibly ill and physically (and consequently mentally) anxious. They only exacerbate intense neurological symptoms.

So I am learning to…

Move slower
Think slower
Be slower

And surrender to a quieter calmer life.

This has not been an easy journey for me for many reasons…

  • I have ALWAYS lived a very full and busy life.
  • I was used to living at a FAST pace
  • I had bought into the lie, to a certain extent, that how busy you are equates to how significant your life is. As I wrote about here a while back.
  • CSF leaks mean you struggle to function upright for a long (or sometimes even a short time – as in my worst times) which brings a natural anxiety when you are feeling very ill.
  • Pain is not in anyway calming.
  • Parenting and calmness can be very challenging at times. (Especially when kids are fighting).

Because of this there were a number of things I had to face and let go of. That has been a process and a journey I am still on. So I have had to…

  • Let go of the need to be ‘someone’ and be ‘doing’ something significant and instead embrace the ‘me’ of this season and what I can do here.
  • Stop connecting my identity to what I do.
  • STOP ALL ‘rushing’ because my body simply can’t handle it.
  • Take each day as I can.
  • Learn to flow with my body and take regular lying flat breaks – rather than heroically trying to constantly to push through pain and other exhausting symptoms. (Most hours of being upright for me involve pushing through symptoms, I could not live life without ‘pushing through’ pain, exhaustion, brain fog, nausea etc. But it’s learning not to ‘push’ too much to my absolute limit, which will inevitably bring an element of physical and mental anxiety, as my body screams at me to lie flat and be released from the intense exhausting tension of being upright).
  • Be OK with missing out on events and things I used to enjoy.
  • Removing myself from stressful parenting moments – when appropriate – so as not allow stress/ raising my voice etc to make my symptoms worse.

I have had to rediscover the place of…
Peace….
Calmness….
& Tranquility….
Within me more deeply and learn how to maintain it as much as possible. This involves keeping control of my thoughts & embracing the deep serenity found in my spirit.

I have a wonderful friend who has kindly supported me a lot in this season. Who has helped me to see how to live more fully present in each moment. And to approach my ongoing health problems through ‘acceptance with hope’. This means facing and accepting my current limitations, so I can truly LIVE and embrace life here, whilst also holding out hope for a healthier future.

I read the Bible daily for wisdom and spiritual encouragement and it also talks about living in this present moment, not worrying about tomorrow, letting go of the past, whilst hoping for a better tomorrow. They are all things that have been a part of my life for decades.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:34‬

“…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,” -‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:13‬ ‭

However, having a spinal leak has meant I have had to delve further into these truths. So as to find the place deep within me where the river is serenely calm. It is always there – but some days it’s easier to find than other days. Sometimes the storminess above it clouds it from view. There are also times the surface pain distracts from that inner peace, because pain shouts at us so loudly.

The sky is ALWAYS blue way above the storm. If I can focus on the consistency of the blue sky above I can then dive into that river of peace within me and swim in its warm calming waters of love.

Some days and moments peace can feel elusive, you search for it and it’s a battle to find it. No sooner have you found it and get ready to dive in to its peaceful waters that you lose it again as some other anxious thought breaks in, as another memory unsettles the heart, as the pain takes over and the exhaustion floors you.

When I had a mental and physical breakdown at the end of 2015  I could no longer find that tranquil river within me anymore that had anchored me all year. It was still there but it was so hidden from me because of the chaos of my mind and body. I felt completely lost at sea, drowning in a whirlpool of negativity and mental deception.

Fear screamed at me!
Anxiety shook me!
Despair consumed me!
Exhaustion overwhelmed me!

I just needed it ALL to stop.

2016 marked my journey of acceptance and mental and spiritual recovery. It was my time of learning to LET GO. I had to conquer the anxiety that bound me. I had to find my new identity. I had to learn how to keep LIVING in the chaos and unknowns.

I had to….
look deeper
reach deeper
dig deeper
find deeper

Because I knew that was where the river of peace still flowed. I knew I had to learn how to dive in deeper.

I realised I had to go where I had never been before.

Learning Inner Calmness verse copy

That journey has been an adventure. A journey of both gritted teeth endurance, as well of a satisfying joy. A journey of discovery and rediscovery. A journey of realising a deeper and more profound love that overwhelms the fear. A journey of not focusing on what I don’t have but celebrating/ being thankful for what I do  so I can make the most of LIVING here.

God showed me the way. He gave me the sign posts. He brought the people I needed at the right time. And He spoke through the voices He placed around me. He gave me friends and loved ones to cheer me a long the way.

It’s April 2017.
I have been unwell for 2 years and 4 months.
It’s been the hardest season of my life so far.
My life looks very different to the one I lived before.

But I am a different person. If you look closely the old Becky can still be found. Many people will not see the change from the surface. My passion for God, my love for people, my fondness of communication and words are all still there. But if you watch me, if you listen to me, if you compare me to who I used to be. There is a deep transformation within me as well.

Perhaps not recognisable to everyone, but very clear to me.

And it is intrinsically linked to an increasing CALMNESS. A decision to FLOW through each day, whatever it may bring. An ability to ‘let go’ more easily and throw off the chains of worry and anxiety. A greater ability to make the most of every opportunity. More depth of wisdom…

…as I have been OVERCOME

BUT THEN…

…became the one who OVERCAME!

Yes this Becky is very different and even though I never want to relive those dark days again. Even though I daily wish I didn’t have to dwell in this debilitated body. There is no lesson more profound than meeting the full extent of your weakness and failure face on and falling apart in a way you never imagined possible….

To then rise again despite it all…
stronger yet calmer,
wiser yet more humble,
broken yet fuller,
different yet still me.

There is always more peace to be found. It is always being offered to us as a gift. We just sometimes have to take a journey to realise how much we need it. And to learn how to break through the storm around us on the outside,  so that we can then dive into the tranquillity that can only truly reside within.

“Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.” – Warren Wiersbe

Jesus said, “”I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” ‭‭- John‬ ‭14:27 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.

Reframing Negatives To See The Positives

The expressionREFRAMING NEGATIVES to see them in a more positive light, captured my attention recently. One of my friends had been talking about it and then a couple of days later I happened to read it in a book as well. I really liked the concept and have been pondering how I can apply it to my own life and current health challenges.

How can I reframe a negative situation so that it can be viewed more positively?

It’s often not easy to do this when you are facing challenging seasons. But I do have to ask myself daily – what is my other option? I could spend each day dwelling on, and being overcome, by all the negative implications of my current restrictions. But then I am just going to end up in a cycle of despair and frustration.

I have been there and it is fruitless, so very destructive and just makes me feel worse in every way.

So my only other option is that I have to reframe it! I have to find some positives here!

reframing negatives copy

Reframing is simply about looking at something with a different perspective. It’s about seeing ourselves, others, a circumstance or situation with new eyes. It can be a powerful and transforming process if we can fully embrace its potential.

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

Our lives here are such, that there is always a sense of uncertainty about tomorrow. Yes there are some things we can predict, believe or hope for, because of decisions and choices we make today. But very little of our day to day existence in this world is truly fixed. There is an impermanence about our current lives. We all have to dwell in these fragile bodies that are subject to death and decay.

And yet there is also always a bigger picture we can’t see. I may only know the significance of today when looking back from the hindsight of tomorrow. Some parts of today may look desolate, like the deadness of a tree in winter, but perhaps my spring is coming somewhere around the corner. Maybe green shoots of life will again appear and grow from what currently looks almost dead. And that may look very different than I can perhaps imagine with the limited perspective of today.

Perhaps tomorrow can and will be better than today. Or perhaps tomorrow will bring even more challenges. But then in the weeks, months and years that follow, things might again be totally turned around.

We often just don’t really know what the future might bring!

I regularly have to look at my current health problems like that. I can see how one day, if fully recovered, I would get to look back, and whilst not forgetting the struggles of this season, I would by then be more able to focus on the lessons learned as well as the depth gained.

But that perspective is so much easier to SEE when approached with the gift of hindsight. When the storm is finally over it’s easier to look back and be thankful about the fact you survived and have learnt so much from walking through it.

And yet,

It’s not so easy to do that when you still feel stuck in the storm and there is currently no true ending in sight. You are weary from the mountain of disappointments, you are tired of hoping and believing it will soon come to an end – but then it never does.

But life still has to go on regardless!

The storm won’t yet clear – but life is still happening, time is still ticking away.

reframing negatives LIVING copy

We have to find a way to keep on LIVING in this limbo – however long it lasts. I have to find ways to REFRAME the life I find myself living and find a way to live the FULLest life I can, amidst all it’s challenges and restrictions.

The unfinished painting, that is my life, is not looking as I hoped and intended it to look after 37 years on this earth. But rather than hide my unfinished ‘work in progress’ life painting away in the shame of its current state.

I have to choose to reframe it and hang it up for all to see – both the darkness AND the bright colours of this season. To show others that even the dry desert seasons, that seem to rob us of who we really are and want to be, can also produce exquisite detail. Detail that will reveal a new level of vulnerability and humility, if we let it. A deep work that brings growth, maturity and a better perspective during the struggle’s of this life.

I may not get to choose whether I walk through this road of chronic illness and pain. BUT if I can’t find a way to keep on LIVING here, how can I ask others to keep on LIVING and persisting in their own wilderness or stormy seasons? If I can’t reframe my own challenges to see the potential beauty here, then how can I support others to discover beauty when they are going through even tougher times than me.

I have a responsibility to my family and those around me, to find a way to reframe my struggles, challenges, weaknesses and failures. Until they become a voice to help encourage others in their own wilderness times.

reframing negatives voice of hope copy

Everyone faces battles that feel beyond them, at some point in their lives. And when we do, we need those voices that help us press in for the fight. People that understand both the pain of suffering and struggle, as well as finding a way to truly LIVE and press forward in its midst.

We need to hear the message that TOGETHER we can rise above the darkness of today. Until, even in the midst our own pain, we can become a beacon of hope to another.

So I choose to hang my ‘work in progress’ life painting where it can be fully seen. With all of its inaccuracies, imperfections and shadows. With both the lighter AND the darker shades both fully exposed. So that TOGETHER we can choose to SEE something different. And realise that the most inspiring and beautiful works of art are often not the ones of perfection. They are instead, the ones that tell a unique, expressive story of a REAL life lived.

A life of BOTH light and dark moments that are being made beautiful. Because the artist chose to see the potential of different shades of colour mixed together. A story that is being written to express something extraordinary. A masterpiece that will only become a masterpiece when it is finally finished. And when it is finished the times of preparation, rubbings out, mistakes, corrections and so many reworkings are no longer even perceived underneath.

A painting which tells the story of one person’s life journey. A human journey of both joy and pain, sorrow and laughter, suffering as well as true peace.

A picture that most of all I hope will tell a story of true love. A story about how it is love alone that truly conquers the darkness. It is love that can reframe any negative, until it ultimately becomes something far more vibrant and beautiful in the end. It is love that chooses to fight and never give up, even when our body is failing us.

So let me reframe my current challenges and see them in the light of love. How can I love in the midst of my ongoing storm? Who should I show love to in THIS season? How can I serve others around me, despite the many limitations of today?

So I welcome you into my world, with love, hoping and praying that TOGETHER we will find a better way through. That we can walk with each other celebrating the brighter seasons, whilst ALSO helping one another to reframe the darker moments of our lives. As well as the many many different shades of life in the inevitable seasons of the ‘in-between’.

“God had a purpose He knit you together for
But life has pulled at the seams
And you’re unravelling
And you can’t hold it together anymore
But God will, He will finish what He started
No thread will be left unwoven
Nothing will be left undone…..
But when He’s finished we will SEE
A beautiful tapestry
And know that nothing has been wasted in the end.”
– Steven Curtis Chapman ‘Finish What He Started.’

“For we are God’s masterpiece…”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭(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.

Being Real Whilst Staying Positive

Authenticity is really important to me. I have learnt that it is where true freedom lies. It’s when you have realised that you do not have to maintain a certain image or pretend your life is better than it is.

It’s liberating to just be you.
The real you!
With your strengths AND weaknesses.
Your failures AND victories.
Your achievements AND embarrassments.

When you have nothing to hide, you do not need to fear others finding out about who you really are. There is no need to ‘impress’ anyone.

Pretending is just far too exhausting anyway!

“When people have integrity, their words and deeds match up. They are who they are, no matter where they are or who they’re with. People with integrity are not divided (that’s duplicity) or merely pretending (that’s hypocrisy). They are ‘whole’, and their lives are ‘put together’. People with integrity have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Their lives are open books.” John Maxwell

However,

I sometimes wonder – How can we be ‘real’ without wearing our heart on our sleeves the whole time? Shouldn’t there be limits to our transparency? How honest should we be with people on a wider scale?

Is it better to sometimes stay silent?

Of course it sometimes is!

There are many occasions where it would not be helpful or wise to divulge EVERY little detail about our thoughts, feelings and lives. Personally, professionally and socially.

However, I believe we can stay authentic and yet still hold back, but it’s an attitude of the heart. We can keep information to ourselves and those close to us, without hiding or pretending. It’s all linked to having a humble heart. It’s all about our motive for sharing information or keeping it hidden. Having wisdom to be aware of the context we are in, and judging how appropriate our words might be.

“When we are humble, we are down to earth. No energy is wasted on pretension. A humble man can be taken at face value.” – Erwin McManus

Abstract background

For me having a chronic illness means every day is a battle of sorts. It is the daily battle of positional (upright) unbearable headaches and other nasty neurological symptoms caused by a 2 year persistent spinal CSF Leak that we cannot yet find.

Most days I see people at my daughters school, in the street, at the shops or at church. And they often ask that daily question – “How are you?”

And every day I struggle to answer!

How can I be ‘real’ without launching into a long narrative about all the daily battles and challenges? How do I respond to the ‘how are you’s’ without sounding moany and negative?

And to be honest – do you really want to know anyway? Or should I just respond with the classic ‘fine thank you,’ because maybe I am actually ‘fine’ in a ‘but still battling a chronic illness’ way that day and maybe I don’t have the energy for a long conversation anyway.

But my desire to be authentic means I don’t want to lie either, I don’t want to cover over the reality. That is no good to anyone, because then I will just end up staying quiet and pretending and no one will realise how unwell I still am. (Which has happened before).

So I have had to find new responses ‘well at least I can be here today.’ Or these days I sometimes don’t say much and just smile at people with a ‘hmmm’ or I will say ‘I am not sure what to say – I am still not well, still waiting for new scans to try and find the leak, but I am very thankful that I am not stuck in bed as much as I used to be.’

Perhaps I should give out little cards that say…

“I feel unwell a lot of every day, but for now, I have had to accept it and live with it as best I can. I am better than I have been in the past. I have better moments and worse moments. I have days where I feel more positive and days that feel like more of an endurance test – than the normal daily endurance test of living with chronic illness and pain! But I also have so very much to be thankful for. Each day I have to learn how to live here and do the best I can to love others and help those around me.”

Abstract background

I don’t want to moan.
I don’t want to only communicate the negatives.
I want to stay positive.
I need to stay thankful.

But I also do want to be ‘real’.

So for now I will try my best to be as authentic as I can. Without sounding like a broken record (because most people have heard all about it before). I will try not to hide so that people understand me and the condition better.

But how about instead of me telling you all about me – AGAIN. Please tell me about the real you too. Your victories AND your failures. Your celebrations AND your struggles. So that I am reminded that we are ALL human and all face our own unique daily battles. Yours might look very different to mine. But I am sure there is something that you are finding hard too.

Because if we always just tell each other we are fine. Then we will stay stuck with our own limited and potentially self focused perspective. Never really knowing what battles other people around us might be fighting too.

And that would be a shame, because then we will miss out on the beauty of true human connection. Connection that goes so much deeper, because we can be honest about our ‘whole’ selves. So we can listen and learn more understanding from one another too.

In the hope that it will help us to become better, kinder and more compassionate humans together.


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.

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.

When All That Remains Is Faith, Hope & Love

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love.” – 1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:13‬ (the Bible)

One thing is for sure; I am not going to forget 2015 for a while. I think for our family it will be known as ‘that year’ for a long time to come.

What a journey it has been!

When I started my blog at the start of this year I didn’t expect to be writing about all the very real and immensely difficult challenges we would imminently face this year.

When your life is stripped back it reveals what is at your core. What comes out of you during tough times shows what you are truly made of.

It’s a truly humbling journey.

Yet, through all the chaos, the pain, the distress and the brokenness this year, three things always remained. Many times they were all I could hold on to. Some days I had to dig deep for them; sometimes despair tried to take their place. But despair and fear always ultimately failed to take me down, because I knew these three things would always be there.

FAITH
HOPE
LOVE

heart shaped  in sand

They are unchanging powerful forces at work within the universe. The only eternal truths that were consistent even when so much was going wrong.

They are the divine characteristics of my creator; my father and friend who was always there with me, helping me, teaching me, guiding me and strengthening me.

A light in the darkness.
Peace in the storm.
Hope in despair.
Strength in weakness.

The still small voice bringing calmness, love and direction when life seemed to be falling apart.

If you have followed my story over the past few months you will know that following a fall off a ladder in January, I was diagnosed with a number of neurological conditions at various different times; conncussion, post concussion, whiplash, low pressure headaches and a CSF leak.

Following my relapse the Neurologists decided that most of my symptoms could be directly related to a CSF leak/ low pressure headaches and I perhaps never even had a concussion. However, this is all very difficult to prove, especially because none of my MRI and CT scans showed evidence of any diagnosis.

I finally did have another high volume epidural blood patch after much waiting and debating from doctors.

This procedure has helped me immensely.

I am very thankful for the neurologists at our local hospital who fought on my behalf, for weeks, so that I could access that treatment. All the delays were immensely difficult as well as frustrating and made my symptoms worse, but I always had to acknowledge that my case was unusual and doctors are still learning about CSF leaks and low pressure headaches. Hopefully my case will at least help things to change locally as the doctors learn more about the condition.

Finally a wonderful consultant anesthetist at the hospital agreed to try a second blood patch for me. I am so very thankful for that doctor who took great care over the procedure, was willing to learn about my condition and valued me as a person as well as a patient.

I had 28ml of my own blood injected into the epidural space in my lumbar spine, which is shown to often improve spinal fluid pressure levels and help heal any leak. As it was slowly injected into my spine, towards the end of the procedure, I felt the pain in my head and neck lift which was a great encouragement to me.

The procedure showed initial success and I saw the benefits straight away, but I still faced a massive physical, mental and spiritual battle over the following hours, days and these past two weeks to press forward into recovery.

When you have been ill for a while, especially following a relapse of symptoms, it’s hard to dust yourself down and get back up. There is a major mental battle to face when being upright is connected to so many horrible symptoms.

The blood patch went well but my body was completely out of condition because of the weeks in bed. Even finding the strength to get out of bed and spend time upright was a challenge, even though the direct low pressure symptoms were much improved.

You have to face a lot of fears. Fears of the blood patch failing, fears of relapse. Fears that come into your thoughts because of the continuing aches and pains that followed as my body began to heal and recover from the weeks/ months of trauma and weakness that had gone on in my body. Every ache and pain doesn’t suddenly vanish; some only improve as you get up and get back in shape.

Fear is not easy to face.
It’s not easy to overcome.
It eats away at your peace.
It causes additional symptoms in your body.
It makes recovery harder.

I realised that I had to overcome the fear and anxiety that can develop in relation to getting up and being upright again. Fear and anxiety can in itself bring new symptoms which mimic some of the actual low CSF pressure symptoms. The difference is these are improving as I face them and push through, whereas I was unable to do that with the actual low pressure symptoms.

The way I did this was to fill my thoughts with only things that can truly beat fear and anxiety. These are FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.

FAITH and FEAR are opposites.
Faith believes that good will prevail. Fear focuses on the negative possibilities.

“Fear is placing faith in the ‘what if’s.” – Craig Groeschel

Fear kept knocking on the door of my mind with all it’s ‘what if’s, worse case scenarios and statistics.

Our fearful thoughts alone are enough to keep us bound and stuck where we are. However, over the years I am learning how to fight fear. I am learning how to overcome it.

I knew that my God would help me. So I threw myself onto the one thing that never lets me down – FAITH.

I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I was worn out, scared that my debilitating illness would creep back, that it wasn’t or isn’t all dealt with.

But in the midst of it I knew that I could not listen to all the fears because they would tell me that I was safer staying in bed, that I shouldn’t risk getting up and pushing through. I did still have to rest a lot, but I also had to help my body fully recover by getting up and out.

Staying in bed

I had to listen and rely on three things that are always constant and provided the wisdom I needed and still need to move forward.

Faith
Hope
Love

heart shaped  in sand

I knew if I could take hold of these truths I had NOTHING to fear. They empowered me to face my fears, one by one, and begin to overcome them.

I immersed myself in truth. I spent all the time I could listening to truths from the bible and stories of faith that encouraged, inspired, strengthened and brought freedom to my body, mind and spirit.

I turned off distractions and focused on everything that built faith, spiritual strength and hope.

I knew that I could only fight fear with faith.

Faith is a powerful force.
It has attitude.
It is unwilling to back down.

It has energy to face the darkness of fear, worry and anxiety. It speaks words of love, hope and truth. It builds you up and spurs you on to press forward.

It’s calming, peaceful yet firm voice pushes you forward and says, “you can do this, you can overcome this, keep going.”

Faith gives you momentum to press through discouragements and keep going.

However;
Faith does not exist on its own.
You must feed it.
You must give it attention.
So it can be strong enough to withstand the test.

Faith is supernatural.

It is profound but it is also very real.

When the unseen becomes more real to us than what we see around us, faith is truly alive. It leads and guides us; it teaches us how to behave and act. It helps us to make decisions and brings certainty when the way forward is not clear.

Faith can bring security and stability, even when things get tough and the way forward is unclear.

Faith can also bring healing and restoration if we will let it. It helps to find a way through and will not accept defeat.

Faith fights!
Faith energises!
Faith empowers!

It is because of faith and good doctors that two weeks after my blood patch I am doing really well. I am building back my strength and most of the residual symptoms are leaving. Life is returning to a new normality. New because I am a new person, but a good new because I have grown and learnt so much.

I am building up my physical, spiritual and mental strength. I have discovered a new sense of freedom in my life. I am breaking through more of my fears and learning to embrace this present moment and not allow the ‘what if’s of the future to steal my daily contentment.

A few days ago I went to pick my daughter up from school. As I walked down the school path the heavens opened and it began to pour with rain. My first reaction was “Oh No!” Then very quickly instead I thought – “who cares… let it rain, let it rain hard! I get to walk, outside, on my own and pick my daughter up from school. No rain is going to steal the immense joy I feel in my heart in this moment.”

I never want to lose the wonder of health; of being able to breath, walk, talk, live life, enjoy blessings and be a blessing to others.

I am learning to be so immensely grateful for the small things. To find joy even when it pours with rain, to dance in the midst of the storm.

I honestly don’t know how I could have faced the past year without FAITH. I am not sure I would have survived without HOPE. I definitely couldn’t have overcome without LOVE.

I have realised more than ever before that these things are what are most important. That without my faith and relationship with God this year would have been unbearable. Without His loving hand guiding me and helping me, I would not be where I am at now.

So I am very thankful. Thankful to know Jesus. Thankful for faith, hope and love – in all its shapes and forms. Thankful for friends, family and all the support I have been given.

And I am thankful for life. To be able to live and to love. To be able to get up, be with my family and begin to do all the things that have been snatched from me for so much of this year.

In 2015 I have:
learnt,
grown,
struggled,
faced,
embraced,
survived
and thrived.

It has been immensely difficult but I have been sustained through everything because of these three things:

FAITH, HOPE & LOVE

And nothing can or will take them from me.

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:13‬ ‭(the Bible)


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

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

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

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.

 

Breaking Free! From Self Pity 

 “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” – Helen Keller (1880 – 1968)

(Helen Keller, although both deaf and blind became an author, political activist and lecturer.)

Do you ever have moments when you look at your life, your problems, your struggles and before you know it you feel so rubbish that you can hardly find the energy for anything?

Days or moments when you can only see what is wrong and struggle to see what is right?

I certainly do.

However, 

I am learning not to let these moments control me or to linger in my thoughts for too long. 

I am learning how to break free of them more quickly. 

Some days it is more of a battle than others.

But I have to fight, because I know that self pity will destroy us if we let it. 

When we feel sorry for ourselves we become consumed by our own problems. We cannot break free from the “if only you knew how hard it is for ME,” mentality.

We become consumed with ourselves. 

I am currently writing this post whilst lying flat, as I talked about in Surviving the Storm Eight months on. I have had a challenging few weeks with recurring CSF Leak symptoms which mean I have to lie flat for hours during the day to control them.

Over the past 2/3 weeks I have not been able to stay upright for as long as I did a couple of months ago.

And it is frustrating! 

There is only so much you can do lying flat! 

People have been asking me… ‘How are you doing?’ and I can’t lie. Things are a challenge at the moment.

That is my reality. 

Sometimes they then respond saying ‘that must make you feel down’. Thankfully this is not the case, but some days I do have to fight those feelings. I have to work at keeping the right perspective.

This is why I am writing this post. 

It’s currently 10am and I have been lying down since 9:30am (only having been upright for 2 hours). As I lay down I felt a wave of self pity begin to prod at me. I felt the ‘poor me’ begin to knock at my thoughts.

But as I felt this, as it fought for my attention, pulling me to listen to its complaints.

I decided I had to get free from it. 

How did I do that?
Well I am doing it now.
I am writing this post. 

I am speaking back to those thoughts trying to take control and saying;

Self pity you will not take me down. I refuse to be your victim. I refuse to be anyone’s victim. 

So today I invite you on my journey of dealing with my self pity.

In real time. 

In the exact moment it is happening. 

This is not theory, it is a practical lesson in breaking free from something that can break us – if it’s allowed to.

I don’t always get it right. I still struggle with self pity and selfishness, as we all do, but I am learning ways to stop it in its tracks.

Here is what I have learnt.

1. Remain Thankful 
Being thankful is the number one weapon that we can use to fight self pity.

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues. ~Cicero

I thank God for all the good parts of my life, how much better I am than at the beginning of the year & how much I can do. (I can write this post, for instance which I couldn’t do at first). I am thankful it wasn’t and isn’t worse than it is and that I have a great family and support network.

Whether or not you believe in God we can always learn how to become more thankful for life and it’s blessings.

2. Think about other people more
We can only get the focus off ourselves if we move it elsewhere. If we allow our eyes to be opened to the problems and needs of others it soon puts our problems into perspective as I wrote about last week.

Our mountain shrinks in size and becomes more of a hill in light of what some people face.

I have read of many people with CSF leaks who are in a much worse place than me. Compared to others my story has not been so bad. 

3. Hold onto hope. 
When hope is gone we feel like we have nothing to live for.
This is why depression is so destructive, because it strips us of our hope and of our energy for life. (I am so thankful to have not reached this desperation myself, but I have stood along side enough people struggling with it to understand the damage it causes and how difficult it is to get free from). 

How can we rediscover hope in the midst of hopelessness?

We have to battle through all the darkness & negativity to find that one beam of light. To find those encouraging words and thoughts and hold onto them.

We have to keep pressing through and believing we can come out the other side.

There is always hope to be found if we will seek and find it.

4. Changing the what ifs 
We have to choose to do away with the negative ‘what if’s’ about the future and focus on the positive ‘what if’s’. This doesn’t mean pretending or avoiding reality. We cannot live in denial. It just means choosing to see more of the positives rather than being blinded and consumed by the negatives that we cannot change.

5. Optimism vs pessimism

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller”

We can all learn to think more optimistically. Even if we are a ‘glass half empty’ person – we can change.

I know from my own life, I have moved from a more pessimistic to a more optimistic outlook over the years and it partly comes through retraining the way I think.

We don’t have to stay the way we are, we can learn practical disciplines which help change our thought processes.

6. Feed yourself with encouraging thoughts and words and get around encouraging people. 
For instance when you feel self pity knock at your door, whatever you do don’t sit dwelling on those thoughts.

Be careful about listening to sad songs or watching sad films that perpetuate the negative feelings.
Instead, you need to be encouraged. You need to find people and things that uplift you.

I keep a store of great bible verses and quotes in my phone for this purpose. So I can always find words to counteract negative feelings when they come. I also then have words for others when they need them.

Be intentional.

Store up encouragement for that rainy day. I really do believe that a few simple words can change your outlook for the whole day.

Self pity is always lurking round the corner in our lives. It calls us to listen to its complaints and excuses. But ultimately, it only leads to despair and destruction in our own lives and relationships with others. It amplifies our selfishness and drags us into dark ways of thinking.

We all need to take care of ourselves. We need to be real about the challenges we face. We need to ask for help when we need it.

However, 

It is possible to face the reality in front of us without letting it consume us. We can say to ourselves, ‘yes this is hard, it’s painful, it’s a struggle… BUT!!!! … Despite it all I still have so much to be thankful for’

That is the way to freedom.

“Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” Helen Keller


What practical things do you do to deal with self pity? It would be great to share your ideas with others. Please do comment below. 

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.