Tag Archives: spontaneous intracranial hypotension

Enduring the Pain of a Chronic Spinal CSF Leak

“Try to understand others. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other.”

John Steinbeck

Trying to understand others is a big motivating force in my life. I have learnt from experience over the years that the more we can TRY to understand others – and they TRY to understand us – the kinder we will be to one another. Ignorance about others’ lives and what they have had to deal with in the past, or what they currently face now, is often one of the reasons we misunderstand and judge others behaviour and words. Listening and more understanding, on the other hand, is often the key to treating people with more love, grace & compassion in every way.

This is one of the reasons I have tried to tell my own story over the past five years as honestly as I can. To help me to understand and process my own journey. To also help others to understand me. But probably most importantly to try and help others suffering to not feel so alone and misunderstood.

I want to use my writing abilities to be a public voice and advocate for the suffering and oppressed – to help them express and understand the inexpressible within themselves and to help those around them to also understand. Whilst also providing a window to those in the medical profession to help them understand spinal CSF leak patients better.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.”‭‭

Proverbs‬ ‭31:8‬ ‭

Many doctors have no idea how much damage they can physically and mentally do to their spinal CSF leak patients due to their own misunderstandings and ignorance of the condition. As I wrote about in Dear Doctor, A Letter from your Naked Patient.

My Background Story

In January 2015 I fell off a small step ladder whilst painting and hit my head and spine hard. Although a little dazed and bruised at the time, I generally felt OK. But over the next 48 hours I started to feel more and more unwell until I was left predominately stuck in bed in a dark room (to read more about that see my original Living with a Spinal CSF Leak post or Surviving the Storm post). At first I was diagnosed with a concussion, then post-concussion syndrome. But finally after admission to hospital 8 weeks later with things not improving and in some ways worse (on my third trip to the ED) – I was diagnosed with a spinal CSF leak.

Although my cranial and spinal MRIs were deemed normal at the time, I was diagnosed after 2 weeks of observation on a NHS city hospital neurology ward where it was obvious I only ever felt well lying completely flat. I also had a diagnostic lumbar puncture which was low (7). (Although I would never recommend using LPs to diagnose because of the high risk of a new leak and the fact that about 60% of leak patients will not show low pressure anyway*). I also then had 5 much better months directly following a blind lumbar 30ml epidural blood patch before fully relapsing again that September.

I have now had 4 blind epidural blood patches – all gave me obvious consistent relief for weeks to months. Although never fully and always transient. I have also had countless MRIs, a cisternogram and a CT Myelogram. Although it is only recently that my UK CSF leak team have flagged seeing a suspected leak on my spinal MRIs.

High & Low Pressure Fluctuations

Over the past 5 years I have experienced months of being almost constantly flat in bed and months of being upright all day (following epidural blood patches). But never symptom free and always struggling with hypersensitive reactions to normal pressure changes in my skull. At times after blood patches my symptoms have also typically seemed to shift into a more high pressure pattern of getting worse lying down and better upright. Although those times were also very confusing – as they often are for many spinal CSF leak patients who experience hypersensitive pressure fluctuations. Which can be even more heightened after treatment/ healing.

I have discussed this with a number of people over the years. There is an online support group for patients experiencing symptoms consistent with Rebound High Pressure symptoms and treated for such symptoms.

My friend Lisa’s experience of pressure fluctuations and rebounding from low to high pressure following spinal CSF leak self healing is documented here. (Also found at Series 2 Episode 6 here: www.nationalmigrainecentre.org.uk/migraine-and-headaches/heads-up-podcast/)

Micro-Managing ICP Equilibrium

We were actually recently discussing over Twitter how spinal CSF leak patients both before and after treatment/ healing become experts in ‘micro-managing their ICP (skull pressure) equilibrium’. Bending, carrying, lifting, stretching, straining, going to the loo, shouting, singing, twisting, exertion, opening stiff jars, lifting a full kettle, travelling on bumpy roads, stress & anxiety etc etc all tend to send pressure bursts/ waves into our head. Which when we are leaking, just seem to also make us leak more until it builds and we can no longer maintain a manageable pressure equilibrium in our skulls.

So to manage the condition, I have to ‘micro-manage’ my ICP. For me this means avoiding many of the things I mention above as much as possible or plan them before I lie down to rest. I also ask my family to lift/ carry/ bend for me as much as possible. I use a ‘litter picker’ stick to pick things up off the ground. I often try to delay using the loo until before I know I can lie down where possible. I also stand up most of the time I am upright because sitting makes me worse far quicker for some reason. (Perhaps due to the location of the leak and the stretching of the dura from sitting down.) Keeping my spine completely straight is my key to more upright time. And reducing the ‘pressure busts/ waves’ in my skull which build up to make me progressively worse until I cannot tolerate the symptoms any more.

How it Feels To Have a Spinal CSF leak.

Please note these symptoms are there every day without fail. This pattern is consistent each and every day.

The best way to explain it, is like an ever-increasing overwhelming dull pressure/ intensity in the head. As it gets worse (over minutes to hours depending on how acute the leak is), you feel more and more detached from the world around you. That feels a bit like being drunk/ or using ‘gas and air’ – but accompanied by a heavy, pressure pain. The pressure is in the whole head but I feel it particularly in the occipital area, in my neck and behind my eyes. At its worst it is accompanied by a ‘pulling sensation’ which leaves you feeling like your head is being pulled into your neck. Or that your neck isn’t strong enough to hold your head up. Also many of the nerves around that area hurt more and more.

It just builds and builds until your brain starts shutting down. You can no longer think straight, process well, everything feels impossible, you become disoriented and confused and you can feel very very nauseous and I sometimes even want to gag. Although never actually vomit like some people do.

I also get pain in the bottom of my spine which gets increasingly worse. So I have described to others that it often feels like I have a metal rod going through my spine with a clamp at the bottom of my skull/ top of my neck. And one at the bottom of my spine. The sensation is then like someone is tightening the clamps either end so that my spine is being tightened, shortened and my skull is being pulled into my neck.

I imagine that it’s simply the sensation of your brain ‘sinking/ slumping’ into your skull because of the intracranial hypotension. Caused by the lack of spinal fluid to keep your brain in its cushioned, buoyant place. I think then this causes me to feel tension throughout my spine hence the clamp feeling.

The overriding feeling is…

‘I CANNOT COPE.’

I cannot cope…. with this intensity in my head.

I cannot cope …. with this level of pain & trauma.

I cannot cope …. with thinking and making decisions.

I cannot cope… with attempting to formulate words to explain what is happening.

I cannot cope …. with attempting to function whilst my body and brain feels like it is shutting down.

I cannot cope …. with this impossible illness.

My husband says I become vacant, distant and increasingly slow to respond as it becomes obvious that I am in a bad way.

Those feelings just increase until you feel like…

I CANNOT COPE WITH ANYTHING!!!
I MUST LIE DOWN & REST!!!!

You then think about the best quiet place that you can lie down flat in that moment….

Like a drug addict needing their fix….

…. Or a person in perpetual excruciating pain needing a morphine injection.

It’s obsessive.

My ‘morphine’ or ‘drug of choice’ is to lie down.

Morphine itself doesn’t work nor do any other pain killers. ONLY lying down/ resting works. Hence the debilitation.

The Impact of Lying down To Rest

As I lie down flat I feel a wave of relief as, almost instantly, things get easier. It can take anything from seconds to minutes to begin to feel the easing of symptoms. Although if things have got too bad because I have pushed myself too long, gone out for a longer walk or if I have just been on a longer car journey, it can take up to an hour-plus for my symptoms to fully calm to more manageable levels – where I feel more fully relaxed again from the extreme tension and trauma in my brain and body.

But as it does ease, it’s like your head slowly begins to clear. The intensity gradually eases. The ‘clamps’ loosen. The pain begins to dissipate. The brain fog and confusion gets better.

I can finally think and talk more clearly again.

I feel more normal again … although never fully normal. Never how my head used to feel before the accident.

At my worst times – when I was probably leaking most acutely – after being upright too long (sometimes a matter of minutes) I would not even be able to walk or talk properly. My speech would become slurred and incomprehensible. My legs would turn to jelly and I would struggle to walk without holding onto things to pull myself back to bed. And everything would feel like a dream.

My brain would just begin to completely shut down.

Until I would HAVE to lie down, as if being saved from drowning in pain, trauma & confusion… and after 5-10 minutes of lying flat I could think and talk more normally again.

Countless doctors and nurses in hospital over my various stays observed this which helped confirm the diagnosis at that time.

Those were more my classic spinal CSF leak symptoms. My problems with doctors came when those times were extended to hours or even most of the day of being upright. Especially after epidural blood patches. That is when many spinal CSF leak patients fall through the ‘text book diagnosis’ cracks. Into the ‘chronic migraines’ or ‘NDPH’ (New daily persistent headache) or chronic fatigue boxes.

And yet I know hundreds of patients in the UK/ world wide who can be upright most, or even all of the day, with spinal CSF leaks still evidenced on their scans or found in exploratory surgery – proving that it is possible, and actually more common than once thought (as any up-to-date research on the subject will tell you). Some patients with all the symptoms but no scan evidence turn out in exploratory surgery to have a thin membrane covering the leak which stops them fully healing but provides enough covering to not show on scans and give them more upright time. Some of these patients started off leaking through a simple lumbar puncture, but were previously told by doctors that they definitely could not be leaking still, and suggestions made that they ‘spend too much time on Google’ or it is simply ‘all in their head.’ Which regularly pushes very unwell patients into deep despair.

This is part of what makes this condition very difficult to endure.

The fact is that lying down not only helps much of the intense, traumatic pain. But it also helps my focus and ability to concentrate so much. This means that I often opt to lie down to write messages or emails to people, or talk on the phone for extended periods – simply because I can ‘think straight’ lying down – much better than I can upright. Especially if I have been upright for a while.

I normally write most of these blog posts lying down too.

Current Symptoms

I currently find I have about 1-4 hours upright AT A TIME. Generally more first thing in the morning and if I am well rested. Before things get too unmanageable and I have to lie down again for 1-2 hours to recover. I am then up for a while then down again throughout the day. I have also learnt to generally try and pre-empt when I really need to ‘get flat again’ so it doesn’t get too bad. Otherwise I can’t cope and it takes me longer to recover. Some days – like today – I am more up and down like a yo-yo for shorter time’s to try and avoid longer periods flat and do more writing or things on my phone lying down.

This has actually all been much easier for me in COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ because being at home all day means I can plan my lying down breaks much more easily. It’s extended periods upright outside of the house which are hardest for me.

However, as much as lying down is my ‘painkiller’ of choice. I must tell you that it doesn’t always ‘make all the pain go away’.

We Do Get Pain Lying Down Too

I live with a constant underlying dull head pressure and pain to varying degrees. Since my accident I have never had a fully clear head without any pressure, fogginess or pain at all.

Not one day, not even for one hour.

I imagine that everything is so messed up, inflamed and damaged in my head and spine these days and with my ICP equilibrium. That the pain and feelings of pressure (to differing levels) never really fully leaves. And often if I ‘over do it’ either upright or trying to do too much lying down. (A lot of typing, reading or talking). I can get a different type of headache on top of my normal one. A very painful more frontal headache, combined with a feeling of pressure and nausea. That can really stop me in my tracks for a bit. I actually feel it a bit now as I write this on my iphone whilst lying flat. I imagine it’s partly the exertion of holding my phone, and typing a lot on it. Whilst also concentrating to write. Sometimes normal painkillers can help this additional headache a bit but not always.

That kind of headache makes me feel very sleepy and I yawn a lot to try and release the pressure. If I then get up I often feel my ears popping as if my pressure is trying to equalise again. I still obviously have a lot of problems regulating my skull pressure.

I must also add here that I can also get those ‘pressure bursts’ I mention about being upright – lying down too. If I stretch, move or turn over too quickly, speak too loudly or even ‘pass wind’ (funnily enough – that’s how sensitive my head is!!!) I get a tangible wave of dull pressure and pain into my head. That can also make me feel rather light headed for a few minutes. But it normally eases again lying down if I am still and quiet for a bit – but not always.

The Vicious Cycle of Stress and ICP Regulation

Stress is also a MAJOR problem for spinal CSF leak patients. Due to the natural increases in ICP stress and anxiety brings – it is one of our worst enemies. Which is a major problem when our symptoms and the resulting debilitation are SO stressful, and at times traumatic, to deal with. I fully believe that the 2-3 major mental health crisis’ I have experienced were in seasons of major stress caused by the trauma and exhaustion of dealing with the illness and trying to get medical help long term. As well as experiencing relapses and pressure swings post treatment.

That is when I go from manageable head pain (if I have consistent lying flat breaks). To unmanageable, perpetual, excruciating, persistent head pain.

Upright AND lying down.

It is the EXTRA PAIN (on top of the normal more positional spinal CSF leak symptoms) that pushes me ‘over the edge’. And that level of pain feels impossible to deal with. That is what happened when I fully relapsed last year and later wrote this article as a window into the torturous suicidal mind.

At that point I had relapsed again and was desperately unwell physically AND mentally. I saw my neurologist in May 2019 and we were rather confused as to whether my symptoms could be high or low pressure related. Due to some features that looked more like high pressure linked to terrible symptoms on a recent flight to Italy on holiday and previously head pressure and pain lying down and in the night/ early morning. Although after an ‘acetazolomide trial’ (a drug used to reduce ICP) made my symptoms doubly worse until I could hardly move, walk or talk upright at all. It became clearer that it was probably another low pressure relapse. And after a few weeks following the full relapse my symptoms fell into a clearer low pressure pattern anyway of symptoms being greatly reduced lying down. (Especially once my sleep was restored & extra Neuro pain helped by medication from the GP – Mirtazapine, Zopiclone & Nortriptiline which was approved my my neurologist.)

These confusions about pressure are very very common as there are so many symptom overlaps between high and low pressure and their differences are often not clear cut. ** They can also have paradoxical symptoms which can confuse many. I know people with low pressure sounding symptoms that turned out to have IIH. It is also possible to have high ICP/ OP readings from intracranial monitoring or LP AND a spinal CSF leak. (I know of many people who have had normal or high pressure readings (one with an OP of 45 and I have heard with someone with over 50) WITH an evidenced spinal CSF leak. So it’s never a simple process to know what is going on.)

Also Rebound Intracranial Hypertension symptoms following treatment – although increasingly documented are often sneered at or laughed at by most neurologists. I was onced asked by a neurology consultant secretary after none of the neurologists in the office had heard of it… “did you see it on google Mrs Hill?” in a sarcastic tone. It’s this kind of experience that just leaves you feeling stupid about the complexity and debilitation of your symptoms. I replied, “Yes you can find it on google – can I send all the links so someone can actually consider it.”

Holistic Calmness to Manage Symptoms

So, regarding all this, and as I have previously written about – holistic calmness is often the key to managing a chronic spinal CSF leak. But calmness is not easy to come by when you deal with the stress of everything I have described above. Calmness for me has to go so much deeper than for the average person to try to maintain enough balance to keep my symptoms under control.

I tried to explain this once to a friend of mine who is also a doctor. My ‘normal ups and downs’ are so exaggerated by this condition that I imagine what to ‘normal people’s’ body and mind might feel like small changes in equilibrium – to me is felt so much more acutely. Hence some doctors will perhaps purely attach such issues to a patients lack of mental and emotional stability, rather than recognising the underlying physical medical problem creating these ‘mental and emotional’ swings and issues.

Mental Health & CSF Leaks

As I have explained again and again to both patients and doctors – You cannot separate the physical and psychological in any medical condition… But especially in this condition. I like to call the combination of the physical and mental in spinal CSF leak patients and during recovery as ‘a big ball of mess!!’ Where it is impossible to know where the physical ends and psychological begins.

You just cannot separate them.

Especially due to the way this condition effects our ICP (head/ skull pressure) and how that then both responds to stress & triggers stress.

When I say: ‘I CAN’T COPE!’ It’s not normally because I cannot cope in my mental health – per se. It’s mainly that I cannot function physically in that moment so then cannot cope any more mentally with the physical trauma of those symptoms either.

Once I lie down for a bit “I CAN COPE” much more.

But anyone will tell you when you are in a lot of pain or feel really really ill physically – you also struggle to cope mentally too. So the more I try and push my body to do what it struggles to do physically, the more pressure that puts on me mentally and emotionally. Causing this vicious circle where the physical and mental simply feed off one another and you can end up in dangerous places psychologically too. This is why many spinal CSF leak patients can have both underlying depression & anxiety AND be prone to major mental heath crisis’ when their body and mind pack in after trying to ‘push through’ for too long. I believe we are massively more at risk of complete physical and mental breakdowns than the normal population.

I never had any mental health issues at all before my accident. All my problems have always been directly linked to my medical condition – as confirmed by both psychiatrists and the counsellor I have seen since.

Why I Share My Story Publicly

So there is more of my current story of battling a spinal fluid leak (and at times more recovery) for 5 1/2 years. This condition is still so often so unrecognised, under-diagnosed and so misunderstood that it causes many patients untold amounts of extra pain and distress.

This is seen again and again and again when you hear the hundreds of stories in the private Facebook UK and International Spinal CSF leaks and recovery support groups. Most patients have a MAJOR battle to be heard and it causes them untold trauma physically & mentally that can effect them well into the future. Even if they can and do more fully recover in the end.

That is one of the reasons I continue to share my story. To be a voice for others struggling – as much as for myself. To try to reach some who are suffering so deeply and feeling so alone and misunderstood. And to help their family, friends and maybe even their doctors understand this condition better.

Case Update

In my own case – I am still working with my UK NHS specialist neurologist and his intracranial pressure team to try and find a way forward to help me. At the moment this includes considering Digital Subtraction or Dynamic CT Myelograms to try and locate the actual leak site (which is often very complex and hindered by the fact that my last CTM caused me to seizure) or trying a fifth blind epidural blood patch as these have helped a lot in the past.

Although the current pandemic had delayed all that somewhat. And our NHS – although wonderfully free at point of access – is also often very very slow. Particularly for patients needing multiple scans and procedures to help them with long term conditions such and this.

So mostly I have had to learn how to live with this awful condition and find the best life I can within all of the pain and restrictions. And this is where I am immensely thankful that with the help of my amazing husband, family, church family, many friends and the spiritual support from my faith. As well as some wonderfully supportive doctors I have discovered on my journey. I have found a way to live and enjoy life – amidst all of its pain. With God’s help I have found purpose, meaning and hope even amidst so much personal destruction.

So I want to encourage all those reading this today. That even if your life will never return to what it once was. There is still more beauty, joy and meaning to be discovered here and now. It will take a lot of grieving, support and wrestling through the journey. But to find more meaning within it perhaps you could reach out to support someone else, help educate others about CSF leaks, volunteer for one of the CSF Leak charities or find new creative ways to use your skills & expertise to make a difference in our world.

Your Life May Never Look Like How You Once Imagined It

But maybe rather than giving up hope we need to re-imagine a life that IS worth living. Through grieving the losses deeply – accepting our new reality – but then by finding a new way of living. Here and now. As many others have had to do before us.

My story is a testimony that it is possible to rediscover a new way of living even when you are not yet well. A spinal CSF leak is not the end of everything.

It may be the death of the life you were living, or imagined you would be living.

But sometimes it is also the beginning of some new things discovered that can be even more beautiful than what you knew before.

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

Dale Carnegie


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.

This post is a continuation of my Living With a Spinal CSF Leak post that I wrote 3 years ago. To read more about my spinal csf leak journey then please see the Spinal CSF leak tab in the top menu.

*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 over 5 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.

**Please also see this other in depth 2018 medical paper about both low and high intracranial pressure syndromes and their similar and different symptoms. It also mentions cross overs with other headache types. When a patient suffers with a spinal CSF leak long term it can cause massive fluctuations in their whole pressure system both whilst suffering from a spinal CSF leak and following treatment. This is why lumbar puncture pressure readings and ICP pressure monitoring can prove an inaccurate diagnostic tool for SIH as this paper refers to as does the 10 myths paper. My initial LP reading was a 7 which was considered ‘evidence’ of low pressure by some doctors and normal by others. 

Five Years Ago: A Poetic Reflection of my Spinal CSF Leak Journey

Five Years ago this week…

I fell from a small step ladder.
Five years ago this week – my life took a dramatically different turn.
Five years ago this week – I got sick and have never fully recovered.

Five whole years…

Of enduring
Of fighting
Of grieving
Of accepting

But also five whole years…

Of learning
Of growing
Of loving
Of living

One fall. One injury.

Changed so much.

My girls were just 7 & 10 the day I fell.
They were there watching me paint.
They saw it all happen.

The fall.

The getting up again.
The dusting myself down.
The continuing to paint.

The next 48 hours where their mum got more and more ill.
The constant medical, GP, A&E visits, followed by multiple hospital stays.
Seasons of me being stuck lying down flat for months on end.
Followed by the seasons (post epidural blood patches) of being upright all, or most of, the day.

They have seen it all!

The turmoil and struggle.
The wrestlings and pain.
Their mum so different.
Our lives forever changed.


Never to return to who she once was.

Lives dictated by multiple restrictions.
The never ending storm of tragic depictions.
We have had to learn how to ‘live here’ to ‘find life’ amidst all the challenges.
To find a way to live in, and through, the never-ending seasons of chaotic pain.

Sometimes life doesn’t look like we imagined it to…

We always believed I would get well!

In days…then weeks…then months…then years…

Surely I would get well again?
Surely I wasn’t such a bad case?
Surely ‘normality’ could and would be restored?
Surely the longed-for redemption would come?
Surely this, or that, treatment would work?
Surely time would bring the full healing that I need?

But ‘normality’ never came.
It remained elusive.
At times tantalisingly near.
But always on shifting horizons.
Never to fully appear.

The start of last year was another journey towards that goal.
Following a year of healing with a good trajectory. Feeling better, things improving.

Until that haunting plateau returned.

I again stubbornly kicked and pushed against it.
Determined – this time – to fully overcome.
As I tried to win the never ending bid for freedom…
I brutally whacked right into that figurative brick wall.
Running at full speed.
Determined to this time to make it fall.

It didn’t fall.

I did.


Shocked and dazed I crumpled into the mud – yet again…

Completely spent
Totally wrecked
Utterly broken

I dramatically relapsed in the Spring – physically and mentally.
I shouted and screamed internally – again.
I fell into the pitch blackness of total despair.
And I grieved like never before.

‘How am I supposed to keep living like this?
I cannot do this any more!’

Four and a half years of pain and struggle had taken their toll.
Four and a half years of fighting to be heard, and get well, had left its open wounds.

I had nothing left to fight with.

It was tough to come back from that figurative fall.

But we did find a way again.
In God we discovered a resilience that can only be found in Him.
His Words provided a way forward – an indescribable peace within.

There is always a way forward if we don’t give in.
There is always beauty to be found – even amongst the mess.
Always a light shining somewhere – even in dark places.
Always a deeper love to be discovered – even amidst intense pain.

IF we can keep following the light.
IF we can keep focusing on its radiating beauty.
IF we can allow ourselves to be guided into new horizons.

New mindsets.
Hidden joys.
Intense loves.


IF we choose to never give up…

Only then…

Can we find a new life.
Can we find a new depth of love.
Can we find new purpose.
Can we find pathways to new adventures.

If we will simply stay the course.

Who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Five years ago this week…

I fell off a small step ladder whilst painting.
Five years ago this week I tasted of the devastating debilitation of a spinal CSF leak.

I wouldn’t want to relive these past five years.
I wouldn’t want anyone else to experience those depths of struggle.
So I will fight and keep speaking out until our stories are heard.

Until change comes.

But I also know…

That I wouldn’t want to go back to who I was before that week either.
I am changed forever.
But the change is not all bad.


There has been something deeply beautiful about this impossible journey.

A profound way where excruciating pain teaches you what ‘living’ truly means.
A hard and winding path that brought many wonderful and inspiring people – whom I never would have known.
A wandering that has at times felt aimless – but has also led to glorious discoveries.
A stormy voyage that has shown me stunning new spiritual landscapes and revelations previously uncovered.

Five years ago this week I fell from a ladder.
Five years ago this week I got a life-destroying spinal fluid leak.
Five years have passed of leaking (& at times somewhat recovering).

But never getting fully well.

But regardless of the pain, the suffering, the seeming wrecking of so many many dreams.

I have lived.
I have loved.
I have learnt.
I have grown.
I have spoken out.
I have used my writing.


In the hope that one day things will be different.
Perhaps other families will be saved our pain.
Maybe one day someone’s similar journey will be easier.

Simply because,

I ran the relentless marathon first.
Refused to give up.
And told my never-ending story – despite all of it’s indescribable pain.

“I abandon my addiction to the certainty of life
And my need to know everything
This illusion cannot speak, it cannot walk with me at night
As I taste life’s fragility…
I can’t pretend to know
The beginning from the end
But there’s beauty in the life that’s given
We may bless or we may curse
Every twist and every turn
Will we learn to know the joy of living?”

(Looking For a Saviour – United Pursuits)

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  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 5 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.

Dear Doctor, From Your Naked Patient

Dear Doctor,

Perhaps we once met, perhaps we never will.

Regardless of which it is – today I just want us to try and understand one another better. Because if we can TRY to understand one another more, then perhaps we can work together to help your patients find more holistic healing and hopefully make your job a little easier too.

I decided to try and connect with your heart today, because I know that under all those important professional masks, doctor degrees, awards, uniforms, stethoscopes, fancy clothes and endless medical guidelines….

You are simply human like me.

Today, you might be my doctor and I might be your patient.

But perhaps yesterday, today or tomorrow we will equally face the same or similar challenges in our lives. The kind of personal difficulties and traumas every human faces at times. The types of trials and wrestlings that are simply common to our humanity, and a normal part of our broken world.

Maybe tomorrow you may even face the horrible illness I am facing today. Or perhaps one day you will find that one of your loved ones is in my ‘patient shoes’ – and someone else is in your own ‘doctor shoes’.

So please could we connect as equals – as human to human.

Rather than my inferior condition to your superior position. Or my entitled demanding to your service providing.

Please would you take a moment to humbly listen, as I attempt to open my heart to you today?

First, I need you to know some of my own story for you to understand me better. To know that I have been very unwell for nearly five years now. In January 2015 I fell off a small step ladder and that one moment changed my whole life. And from that moment I was catapulted into a life of constantly being someone’s patient.

Maybe being your patient.

During that time I have met some wonderful doctors who were able to connect with me, listen, and who tried to help me as much as they could. I appreciate them more than they will ever know.

They were bright lights in immensely dark places.

But most of the time I have met doctors who didn’t really understand. And some who didn’t seem to even want to try. I met many doctors who treated me as another inconvenience in their very busy day. Another form to fill and box to tick. The nameless, faceless puzzle to try and solve that day.

You see dear doctor…

I have a condition that you may not know much about. And even if you think you do know a lot about it, if you spent a couple of hours in my home listening to me and my family you would probably find that you don’t know as much as you think you do about my complex case. Even many ‘top neurology specialists’ don’t truly understand my condition – even though many of them think they do.

And because of that, some of you have unknowingly added to my pain, giving me wound after wound that I am still healing from today.

You see, for the past five years I have been battling a spinal CSF leak. Perhaps you have heard a bit about them. Patients can get them after lumbar punctures, epidural anaesthetic injections or spinal surgery. Recently more doctors are realising that spinal fluid leaks resulting from these procedures are probably more common than previously recognised. The truth about their devastation seems, in the past, to have been hidden – mainly because many doctors only knew of the classic acute PDPH (post dural puncture headache) symptoms; they didn’t know that you can be leaking spinal fluid and not be stuck flat 24/7. It’s possible that you can be upright a lot of the day, but still be very, very ill. Experiencing all sorts of other horrible, debilitating, distressing, rarely recognised and widely misunderstood neurological symptoms.

I acquired my leak from that step ladder fall in January 2015. More of that original story is here if you want to learn. All my scans – until recently – failed to show IH (intracranial hypotension) or evidence of a leak in my spine.

And yet….

Every single day since that ladder fall I have felt exceedingly unwell. I have not had one fully pain free day. I have not experienced a single day when my mind was clear and my brain worked like it used to.

I need you to know – dear doctor – that every day is a struggle for me. I have fluctuated between being bed ridden for months on end, to months of being upright all day.

And everything in between that as well.

But never well. Never normal. Never knowing the health I used to know.

I could never fully explain to you how impossible it has sometimes felt to live like this.

Recently – after more than four years – my UK NHS specialist team think they have located my CSF Leak in my cervical spine, a ventral leak, hidden at the back my dura on new MRIs. We are currently waiting for new scans to be read and reported to confirm and categorise the leak and work out a better way forward.

I was diagnosed with a suspected spinal CSF leak two months after my original fall. For a while they thought it was post-concussion syndrome – until I was finally admitted to hospital after my third trip to A&E. An understanding neurologist finally picked up on the fact my symptoms only went away lying down. Since then I have had 8 separate MRIs, a radionuclide cisternogram and a CT myelogram of my brain and spine. Until recently, they ALL failed to show any evidence of a spinal CSF leak at all.

Can you imagine how hard it is to be so very, very ill, but lack the vital evidence that definitively PROVES to you – dear doctor – that I am leaking CSF from my spine?

I know I am as ill, and sometimes even much worse, than some of those who have the scan evidence you want to see. And yet I know that some of you still doubt me, and I know that some of you still don’t think it’s all quite true.

Even though…

  • Research shows that at least 25% of spinal CSF leak patients don’t show classic signs on their brain MRI. *
  • Medical papers show that around 50% of patients don’t show the leak on spinal MRIs.*

And yet I still often feel that I have to ‘prove’ to you how ill I really am.

That my lack of evidence is my own curse.

My own fault maybe?

I have been there with you. Lying flat in a hospital bed as you have towered over me, asking question after question, requiring me to prove myself to you. Like I am a criminal standing in your ‘doctors court’.

With you as the ‘self appointed judge’ over my medical destiny.

Do you know how deeply you have wounded me?

To be unbelievably and traumatically ill with a ‘apparently rare’ brain condition, and then find I also have to summon up energy (I don’t have) to ‘fight my case’ in your ‘doctors court’.

Challenging me to PROVE how ill I really am.

Do you know what damage that has done to me?

You probably have no idea how much it has affected me these past five years. How much it wears me down. How much it has infected my mental and emotional stability. How much shame I have had to carry.

Simply because in your busy, overwhelming, important – and often under-valued – job, some of you seem to have forgotten that your patients are simply human.

Just like you!

We share a fragile humanity.

I know that to some of you we are simply different diagnoses that come and go. Some more complex than others. Some that don’t quite fit the ‘diagnosis box’ you are trying to force us into. Simply ‘medical cases’ – charts, scans and notes – that walk into your busy world one day…

… never to be seen again.

Do you realise how much it messes with our heads?

The reason I am writing to you today is in the hope that somehow, I can re-connect with your human heart. Maybe – just maybe – we could get better at understanding one another again. So that we don’t have to end up with all of these painful misunderstandings and confrontations, which can sap your energy just as much as mine.

I know as patients we also need to realise that you are only human too.

That you are not ‘miraculous supernatural healers’ that can defy the laws of medicine, physics and nature. You are simply humans, trying your best to help other sick humans heal up and get well. Many of you wish you could do more for us – not less. You are bound up by the ‘system’ that controls you, by ‘modern medicine’ with all its exhausting bureaucracy, targets and restrictions. We know that there are those of you with equally broken hearts who wish you could offer us more than you do.

I am sorry that we sometimes forget that you are human as well. When we get lost in our own vulnerability, shame, pain and confusion and lash out at, and blame, you unfairly. I am sorry when we also fail to treat you with the kindness, compassion and gratitude that you deserve, as you work with systems that often overwhelm you and bring you crashing to your own exhausted knees.


But today, I can only speak from what I know. I can only try and share from the heart of a very broken patient, who knows that things really do need to change.


You are all overworked and overwhelmed in many ways. And yet some of you seem to be more connected to your own humanity than others. Some of you seem to know how to connect with your patients heart to heart. Some of you achieve this despite all the many challenges of your role.

So I want to say thank you. I know that you are the ones listening to me more openly today.

Recently I have been thinking more deeply about what ‘being a patient’ can feel like for us and how to try and help you understand more – dear doctor. Especially for those of us stuck lying completely flat in a hospital bed due to a spinal CSF leak.

But also as A VOICE for your many other patients as I try to explain what it feels like for us to enter your normal vocational world.

You see, for you, the hospital is your workplace. For us, it’s often an immensely distressing place.

We are not normally there by choice, but because we know that there is no other way to get well than to come to you. So when we enter your ‘hospital work place’, we often feel so vulnerable, so confused, so distressed, so exposed, and often in so much pain.

One way to describe it to you is that we feel like we are metaphorically simply naked and exposed for you all to see.

You may not have ever been a deeply vulnerable and distressed patient yourself – so we know it’s hard for you to fully empathise and understand – but if you want to try and understand us better when you come to see us…


Can you take a moment to imagine and picture what it would feel like if it were you lying on that hospital bed, fully naked – so exposed, vulnerable and ashamed – with absolutely nothing to cover you up?


Our own masks, worldly titles, fancy clothes, make up, hairstyles and badges of honour have ALL been snatched or stolen away. So we are subsequently feeling so cold, so messy, so vulnerable, so distressed, so confused and so naked – whilst you are simply getting on with your daily grind in your normal place of work.

Please be kind to us. Please be patient with us. Please listen carefully to us. Please TRY to understand us.


Don’t stand at the foot of the bed and tower over your patient – she feels small already – take a minute, sit down, listen…Try to understand. Realise you will never understand. Try anyway.”

– C. Sebastian*

Dear doctor, we feel small already… please don’t make us feel even smaller.

In our smallness you can often appear so big, so important and so intimidating. You are covered in all your doctor masks, fancy doctor clothes, doctors badges and medals of honour, and talk with your important-sounding ‘doctor speak’.

Sometimes we don’t even understand what you are saying.

Because you are not talking to other doctors; you are talking to your naked patient who already feels so very small and so very stupid lying down in that hospital bed.

Please listen carefully to us before you attack and accuse us of not feeling as ill as we say. Please open your minds to the fact that just because we don’t fit your boxes, it doesn’t mean we are not truly very, very sick.

You are meant to be our healers – not our accusers.

Dear doctor, you should know that after leaving your hospital or doctors office and perhaps never seeing you again, over the past five years I have experienced two intensely excruciating complete mental health collapses. I have also found myself close to those places again and again.

And in those places – normally when I completely relapse physically, I stop sleeping and have no energy to fight anymore – in those places, all of my traumatic memories of encounters with intimidating and insensitive doctors return to me. I picture you as scary ‘doctor-judges in the medical court’, and I don’t have the energy to try and ‘prove myself’ to you again, and face getting my case thrown out with the lack of suitable evidence.

So I want to just give up.

Dear doctor, did you know that in those dark and distressing places my broken and exhausted mind decides that death might be my only way out. The only escape from the constant battles. The only way to end the never-ending fight. The only way to stop having to defend and prove myself again and again to another intimidating ‘doctor-judge.’

Did you know that your insensitive words and actions one day could indirectly contribute to my death?

Do you realise how serious that is?

You see, when my impossible medical journey pushes me to places beyond what I can endure, when my mind packs in and my body breaks down due to the immense stress and strain of daily battling a debilitating and distressing misunderstood neurological illness year after year…

I end up feeling more broken, more vulnerable, more distressed, more naked and smaller and smaller than ever before.

I feel like a worthless and insignificant judged ‘chronically-ill’ nobody. Who just cannot get well. However hard I try.

Dear doctor, I then need you to know that I need you to see me as…
Just another naked and vulnerable human patient…

…. looking for someone to help cover me up. Someone who can put a blanket of compassion, kindness and hope over me so that I won’t feel so very very cold, ashamed and completely overwhelmed from the fight.

You see…

I am your naked patient.

So please understand that in my nakedness, all I can see is all your importance, all your knowledge, all your intimidation, all your doubts about me and my case, all your intelligence and words I don’t always understand.

So you scare me!!!

I can no longer see your equal humanity; I can only see my naked inferiority beside your beautifully adorned superiority.

So dear doctor, please be gentle with me. I am not as strong as you think. My heart has been broken and wounded again and again. Some days I just think I will sink.

All I see is my broken humanity. All I see is my naked vulnerability.

So dear doctor, today I wanted to connect with your heart. I wanted to try and reach you, human to human.

As your equal.

To please ask you…

When I feel that naked, the best way to help me is to remember that underneath all of your adorned and celebrated doctor-robes, you are just a naked human too. You may not feel it so much today… or even tomorrow. You may not really ever understand what I am actually trying to say.

But please try and imagine yourself as that naked patient, lying in that hospital bed. And think about how you can move a little closer to our inflicted lowered level and status; to sit down, to listen, to try and understand…

Whilst realising you can never fully understand.

But please do TRY anyway.

Because one day…

That naked patient…

Might be you!

And then you will want to meet a kind and gentle doctor, who can also relate and connect to your vulnerable and exposed naked humanity.

And I hope that they will try to bring you more holistic healing….
Rather than inflicting wound after wound after wound... that can sometimes be even harder to heal from than the original condition over which you met.

Sent, with heartfelt tears, gratitude and deep respect for your willingness to listen and learn,

From,

Your naked patient


“Don’t stand at the foot of the bed and tower over your patient – she feels small already – take a minute, sit down, listen…Try to understand. Realise you will never understand. Try anyway.” – C. Sebastian

*Quote from this beautifully insightful TED talk on encouraging ‘Narrative Humility’ in the medical profession.
Narrative Humility: Sayantani DasGupta at TEDxSLC youtu.be/gZ3ucjmcZwY

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 5 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.

*Please also see this other in depth 2018 medical paper about both low and high intracranial pressure syndromes and their similar and different symptoms. It also mentions cross overs with other headache types. When a patient suffers with a spinal CSF leak long term it can cause massive fluctuations in their whole pressure system both whilst suffering from a spinal CSF leak and following treatment. This is why lumbar puncture pressure readings and ICP pressure monitoring can prove an inaccurate disgnostic tool for SIH as this paper refers to as does the 10 myths paper. My initial LP reading was a 7 which was considered ‘evidence’ of low pressure by some doctors and normal by others.

What is My Purpose? Do Small things with Great Love

“Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”

Mother Teresa

A few months ago, I was again immersed in the intense and dark storm of a traumatic spinal CSF leak symptom relapse – which also triggered the major mental health crisis I wrote about here. Part of my turmoil included the sense of feeling completely worthless.

Being perpetually stuck in bed with very distressing neurological symptoms often means you feel like your life has so little worth, value or purpose. Especially when you see most other people around you getting on with their seemingly important, full and valuable lives.

Feeling ‘purposeless’ amidst suffering and chronic pain really negatively impacts your mental health. Because when you feel like your life has no purpose, you simply feel burdensome to those having to care for you, and to the world in general.

In that crushing darkness I was immersed in, I just couldn’t see how my life could bless and help others. I just felt like I was, and would always be, a negative influence and drain on others. I even felt like deleting this whole blog, and my all of my public writing, because I decided that stories without happy endings are just depressing. If I cannot offer hope to those suffering then my writing may just discourage those already unwell and spread negativity rather than positivity. I thought to myself: what’s the point of me telling my sad story when the world is just full of sad stories?

In the end, I compromised and managed to just privatise this blog for a few weeks – until my perspective began to get a bit more healthy and balanced again.

However, as time went on – and the sun slowly began to break through the dark clouds – I realised that my mind had again got lost in the LIE often peddled in this world that ….

What you DO is far more important than who you ARE!

The lie that subtly tells us each day that if I can’t actually DO anything then my life is surely worthless?! I am just a chronically (and at times mentally ill) ‘insignificant nobody’ who is struggling to find the energy to live and breath, let alone have the energy or capacity to make a difference in the lives of my immediate loved ones – or the world in general.

“Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others.”

Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Why do we so often fall for that ageless deception – that we only truly ARE what we DO?!

“What do you do?” everyone asks you when you first meet. “What do you do?” the doctors ask when they first see you – as if knowing such things means that they can now interpret your ‘medical story’ through the bias of what title the world has given you.

Those few ‘what do you do’ words often unknowingly heap shame on those of us in Western society now unable to DO as we used to.

The fact that we don’t, or can no longer, wear societies ‘badges of honour’ (its job and career titles) – perhaps because of immensely difficult seasons of debilitating illness or disability or other challenging seasons in our life – suddenly means that we become insignificant second rate citizens of the world.

When I get lost in such lies, it cripples me. Shame consumes me. I lose track of my identity. I feel completely lost and not sure where to anchor myself so as to move forward.

But as my perspective begins to improve one of the first things I begin to SEE is that I have again got deceived into believing a lie.

Slowly I can SEE again that I instead need to connect with the deeper truth of this universe, that is…

I am not what I DO!

I am still Becky Hill – whether I can be busy DOing a certain job or task, or if I can only lie in bed and look for ways to find purpose in the midst of all my pain and restrictions.

It was at that time and in that place of deep wrestling that one day I was sharing what I like to describe as a ‘Psalms type prayer of lament’ to God. I was crying out to Him, overwhelmed by the feeling that I didn’t have a purpose anymore. I was just so restricted by my physical condition that I was questioning what the point of me being alive was. If my life is simply about existing and enduring the pain, then is it really worth living??

And in that moment I felt God reply to me so clearly through the peaceful gentle whisper of His Spirit to mine…

“Precious child – your purpose is to daily ask yourself, “who can I show LOVE to today?”

It immediately EXPLODED in my heart!

It was so simple – yet the revelation so profound…

God wanted me to get the focus off of me and ask Him for creative ideas to show love to others – DESPITE my pain and limitations. He was telling me that even though, at that point, I was stuck in bed most of the day … I could still choose to love others from that place.

Those words from God that day resonated with and reminded me more deeply of the truth I already knew and lived by – that LOVE is only love when it is given and offered sacrificially. In the same way Jesus gave His life to love mankind by dying for our brokenness, we also need to be inspired by his example – by daily looking for ways to love others sacrificially too.

However, the key thing God continued to show me in that moment which has powerfully stayed with me ever since… is that the acts of love didn’t have to be BIG things. I just had to love as much as I could through the small things I could do. It was at this point the sign in the photo that we have hanging in our hall became a deeper revelation which has become my fundamental purpose for living…

DO SMALL THINGS WITH GREAT LOVE!

It’s so very simple and yet so deeply profound.

DO ORDINARY THINGS WITH EXTRAORDINARY LOVE!

It doesn’t matter how small or how ordinary what you have to offer is.

What matters is the amount of love you offer it with.

So …

It doesn’t actually really matter how BIG or extraordinary your job title is! What matters is how much love you do all the small and ordinary things in that job and the rest of your life with.

In that way the standard is equalised for all.

Our purpose is always the same.

No one has a more significant purpose than others.

So if today I can only hang some washing on the line, send a couple of empathetic messages to other people struggling and order some shopping for my family online – I can do it all with as much love as I can. I can serve others with a sacrificial heart. Which means the pain invested in the small things causes the love shown to be even greater.

So those words “who can I show love to today” have become the habitual daily question of my heart. Those few words – “do small things with great love” – have helped me immensely in walking through what seemed like an impossible time I couldn’t endure.

When I would wake up in the morning on those days and the dark reality of the struggle ahead would hit me like a ton of bricks, I would try to accept where I was grieve my limitations – and then change my focus to ask God – ‘please show me who I can love with small acts of love and kindness today.’ In that place I tried to be mindful of others who were finding life challenging and think of how I could encourage them. I would look for very small jobs that I could do at home and try and pour my love for my family out through them. If I was shopping online – or later could go to the shops – I would try and think of who I could buy a special gift or card for.

And slowly…but surely…that sense of PURPOSE – EVEN AMIDST PAIN – was restored to me.

Because I again discovered that being alive meant that someone else could be loved, served, encouraged and blessed today.

It took the focus off me and my problems…

And shifted my gaze and contemplation onto His sacrificial LOVE flowing through me.

And the more I loved.

The more I felt His love.

So the more love I then had to give.

“The greatest thing about helping other people is for the moment you forget about yourself.”

Matthew Barnett

I again discovered that the giving and receiving of true love is probably one of the best medicines to help sooth the pain. It is certainly the highest and most significant calling of our lives.

So today I decided to share my story with you again – to tell you with great love to never forget

That despite your chronic pain, despite all of the debilitation, despite your current disabilities and limitations, despite all of the restrictions you seem to be facing…

There is still a much greater purpose for you.

Please don’t lose sight of that like I did. The truth is – there is still so much to live for. There are things that only you can do. There are words and tasks that only you will be able to see need doing, or saying, that may be able to connect with and encourage someone else really struggling.

So choose to love daily.

Choose love as the highest purpose of your life.

And whoever you are – whatever worldly title you do or don’t havewhether you feel important or insignificant – try to simply do…

Small things with great love.

That way, the world will shine a little bit brighter because you are still in it. Which is so important to both us, and others, who seem to be constantly stuck in a cycle of – at times – overwhelming darkness, brokenness and pain.

As I write these words today and try to infuse them with as much love as I can, I hope that you will today truly SEE how extraordinary you can be – IF you will just do and say ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Whilst knowing how much greater that love is – when it is given with the deep sacrifice of your ongoing pain.

“I was broken so that I may understand the broken, so that I may reach out to the hurting, and comfort the wounded. I have the capacity to bring hope and love and healing. A once fractured mirror finding new purpose, because I am no longer reflecting myself, I’m reflecting Him. This is my reason for living. This is why I was created.”

Sam Re

To read more about my recent mental health crisis please try this post; A Window into a Suicidal Mind  To read more about my beginning to understand how crippling shame had become in my life please see; ‘The Shame of Chronic Illness and Pain.’ For an article on a similar theme to this one please try: Is Busyness a Choice?

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

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.