“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein
Over the past couple of years I have often felt like my life has been aggressively and almost completely stripped back. The core of my life is still much the same as it has always been. Yet I often feel like a tree that has been radically pruned. With so many of the branches of my identity and the things that I used to do being brutally chopped off and left to die. Leaving something quite exposed and bare, with many stubs where branches used to be.
When you spend most of your day lying down, and the time you can be upright is exceedingly limited by various intense and horrible neurological symptoms, you find that your life becomes extremely restricted. Everything becomes immensely simplified in many ways (even though there are also many complexities to contend with too). Life mainly consists of things you can do lying flat, or the few limited things you can do whilst upright – although still feeling very ill.
It’s been a very challenging journey to embrace a more simplistic life.
It doesn’t help that we live in a society that often glorifies busyness!
Our Western society is full of people who often seem to wear badges of importance – based, in part, on how busy their life is. Most people are forever expressing how immensely busy they are. This makes it extra hard for those of us who are ill long term, because we have to instead embrace a new identity that can no longer be defined by our busyness. Suddenly we can feel somewhat detached from normal society – a bit of a ‘nobody’.
Everyone around us seems to be carrying on with their ‘normal lives’ whilst we feel like ours is stuck.
We live in a never ending state of limbo, not knowing if or when it will change.
In my 2015 post Is Busyness a Choice? I spoke about an article by Scott Dannemiller called ‘Busy is a Sickness’. In it he wrote:
“… we are defined by what we do. Our careers. What we produce. It’s the first question asked (of us) … The implication is that if I am not busy doing something, I am somehow less than. Not worthy. Or at least worth less than those who are producing something.”
I really do believe that this is a massive problem for those of us who face long term debilitation.
We not only have to take a very humbling journey of coming to terms with it ourselves; we will also often have to face others’ questions, attitudes, and sometimes prejudice – as well as naivety and ignorance – towards our disability and inability to do what we once could do.
We find that we begin to lose much of our identity, because it feels like we are not doing much anymore. Rather than being an active member of society – we feel pushed to the side lines, often misunderstood and sometimes even forgotten about.
We are suddenly not so sure who we really are any more and our condition begins to knock our confidence – until we perhaps no longer feel like we ‘fit in’ with normal society like we used to.
Over time, we realise that we have to go through a deep and painful process of grieving and letting go of who we once were. And much of what defined us.
So that instead we can truly embrace who we are now – in this season. We actually have very little choice in the matter – if we cannot change our current circumstances ourselves then we have no option but to accept it and find a way to live the best life we can amidst all the restrictions.
I learnt over time that I had to stop torturing myself with what I could be doing IF I was well. I had to give up imagining how different life could be if I was healthy. I had to refuse to compare myself to what ‘normal’ people were doing and instead embrace the quieter and more simple life, of mainly being at home, often lying down. I had to see the opportunities that could be found here instead.
We must learn to establish a daily discipline of choosing to see the beauty and wonder in simplicity. To somehow embrace a simpler life. The more I go on that journey – the more I see that there are still so many things to be thankful for and enjoy here.
Despite the restriction, debilitation and pain.
Really it is all a matter of perspective. As many things in life are.
Attitude is everything!
Since I have battled this chronic illness I have realised more than ever that we are often fed a lie by society and the media that our life should always be lovely, fun, immensely satisfying and great. Everything should be as perfect as it can be – and it will be – IF you have enough money, health, great jobs, nice homes, loving families, expensive holidays and up to date gadgets etc. Then we will all be perpetually happy.
BUT it’s just not true!
Hence why there are so many miserable, struggling people who actually have all those things in abundance. Sometimes it’s the people I know who have the most of all those things who are the least happy. Mainly because that mindset draws you into a never ending cycle of desiring more and more – which only leaves you increasingly discontented in the end. Because there is always someone around who seems to have a better lot in life and appears to be happier than you.
I have learnt so much through my two-year journey about trying to be more grateful for the small, everyday things, whilst learning to let go of ‘the dream’ of ‘normal living.’ In doing that (which is a very raw and painful grieving process) I learnt I could find so much joy and wonder here too. And if I can find it here, then I will be so much happier – as well as more content and thankful – when I do hopefully get well. If I can learn contentment without having all the things the media tells me I need – then I will be happier for a life time regardless of whether I stay sick or get well.
It’s a lesson I have also had to embrace with regards how I parent my children. It truly is heartbreaking when sickness robs you of being the parent you always desired and planned to be. It’s a very difficult thing to face and unfortunately you can find yourself envying other healthy normal parents, which doesn’t help.
When I experienced a complete physical and mental breakdown at the end of 2015, it was the grief of letting go of being the Mum I was and wanted to be that caused some of the deepest inner pain. I am so very thankful that my girls are now that bit older and slightly more independent, which makes things so much easier for us as a family. And yet currently I can’t go out with them or do most of the fun or even necessary things we used to do.
I really am currently stuck at home, mainly lying flat, nearly 24/7.
However, I have also learnt that sometimes my kids can learn better life lessons from us facing this as a family than they could if life was just ‘normal’ and great. I realised that if I can’t find a way to truly live here, in the midst of the disappointments, then how can I help them to know how to face their own challenges and disappointments in life? They will certainly come at some point. If as a parent I can’t come through the crisis, then what does that teach them? But if my children can learn how to endure life trials – from me and my husband – then they will hopefully be much more stable and wholehearted adults.
Adults who can weather the storms of life and stick out long term relationships much better. Meaning they may well be happier and more fulfilled adults because of this. It will also hopefully help them to grow in compassion for others, so that they learn not to ignore or avoid another’s pain, but instead look at how they can share it and help support another in and through it.
Compassion is a stunningly beautiful quality to have.
As my body is so restricted on the outside, I actually often feel the energy of what’s within intensify. It’s like there is this ball inside me with a mixture of so many different emotions. I know I have to redirect the ones that want to pull me into a dark place and allow the positive ones to become increasingly dominant. So I am trying to focus my own pain on connecting and helping others in theirs.
I have decided that I must find a way to live like this – so that I can help another walk through their own deep darkness of facing this condition or similar debilitation.
It’s allowing the love, grace and compassion that is within me to break out to help someone else. It’s channelling my hurt into feeling another’s pain with them so that I can then say, “How can I help you today? What advice can I give you from the lessons I have – sometimes painfully – learnt over the years.”
These are some of the simple things in life that I can still embrace and still do. And it’s when I am focused on things such as these that I am drawn less into only seeing the negatives of my current predicament. It is then that I often find the beauty that is found in simplicity. And it reminds me that even if my body remains debilitated, on the inside I can still feel fully alive.
So let me embrace the wonders hidden in the simplicity of my current circumstances. Because if I can do that – in this place – I will hopefully discover a deeper contentment and satisfaction that may well last a lifetime as well. So that IF one day I can leave this whole immensely difficult season behind for good, I will at least have learnt more lessons and disciplines through it that will become the firm foundations of my life tomorrow.
So that although I have had to experience a major pruning and cutting back that has left me looking exposed and bare today, perhaps in the end it will simply leave room for growth that will allow new shoots to form tomorrow. Producing a stronger tree in the future that is happier, healthier and bears good fruit in the right season.
None of us know what tomorrow will bring.
But if we can all learn and grow enough today, so that we can somehow find the inner strength to face whatever might be thrown at us tomorrow, we will be able to take our stand in the crisis and allow this cry to rise up from within us to say:
“However bad this gets and however long it goes on for… I am determined to find the best life that can be lived here – in all its gloriously redefined simplicity.”
To read more about my story of living with a chronic spinal CSF Leak click here.
Here is a brilliant 2 min animation about Spinal CSF leaks.
For more information about spinal CSF leaks please see the UK charity website at www.csfleak.info or the US charity website at www.spinalcsfleak.org.