What Having COPD Has Taught Me
You might think I'm crazy but I'll risk it:
COPD has taught me a lot of good traits I didn't know I had in me.
Any time people face adversity they react in ways they might not have expected. That moment of crisis lays bare attitudes and survival skills they didn't know they possessed. Chronic illness definitely fits into that category. Since the time the doctor diagnosed me with COPD the disease has progressed and forced me to change the way I view life and the world. In that time, I experienced several self-revelations.
The first and most important realization:
I possess an inner strength greater than I imagined.
I survived the shock of the diagnosis, all the breathing tests, the CAT scan, the PFT (twice), the asthma testing, and then the asthma injections, all the allergy testing (twice) with the needles under my skin, traveling to all the different doctors and specialists, having insurance then not having insurance then having Medicare (what horrors!), AND the research and paperwork.
I survived telling my loved ones about my diagnosis, which was difficult. I survived the loss of some friendships when they were uncomfortable around me because they couldn't help me. I survived all the exacerbations, illnesses, flareups, and bad days. I have survived my ongoing limitations and the frustration and sadness that comes with those. I have survived the depression and the anxiety. I have survived. I am surviving. In fact, I will quote one of the best anthems of our lifetime:
"Did I crumble? Did I lay down and die? Oh no, not I! I will survive. I will survive."
Seriously, you just sang that in Gloria Gaynor's voice in your head, didn't you?
Positivity is powerful and I am more positive than I thought.
I am generally positive about my life and bemused by what's happening to my body. Of course there are times when I'm huddled under my blanket fort coloring with crayons, or sniffling and complaining to the universe, cursing the four letter word C-O-P-D. I make sure those times are as few and fleeting as possible.
And if I'm being honest, and mostly I am, my antidepressant medications impact my outlook more than anything else I do. That might not be a popular opinion with some sections of society, but I call them my happy pills and they keep me mentally well. Before my doctor and I found the right antidepressant, I could be in a depressive state for months. I fancy – I like that word, fancy – living and being well oodles more.
Learning to live each day as it comes instead of dwelling on the future took some work, but also helped my positive outlook. My hobby, photography, makes me happy. My special little garden right outside the window, my serenity grove, lets the sunshine in. The flowers keep it colorful and the birds keep me entertained. My pets' unconditional love and warmth and comfort keep me going. Writing about COPD makes me mindful about being positive and I treasure the times when readers have told me my words helped them. Writing also fulfills my need to express myself and my experience.
So I have a lot to be positive about.
I enjoy the small things in the world and in life.
I actually credit photography for gifting me with this discovery. You see, I live in a very rural area on a good (vast?) tract of land. Our house, garden, sheep pasture, and serenity grove sprawls on around two acres of what we call our yard. I can't walk around all of it at once so I take short trips. By only seeing a bit at a time I get to explore different places to photograph. I also get fatigued and short of breath on these excursions so I tend to sit on the ground and rest. As I did that, I noticed that the yard is full of tiny flowers, baby trees, beautiful butterflies, honeybees, and other small miracles. So I take pictures of these in a style known as macro, which is closeups of small objects.
There's a whole fascinating miniature world at our feet. Literally.
Slowing down is okay. Really.
When I could no longer move quickly or work hard I started to notice more. My life became leisurely by necessity. Once I was forced to give up a busy schedule of work, volunteering, Scouts, errands, and all the stuff a modern lifestyle seems to require, I learned to actually enjoy the world and life we've been given.
Having a leisurely pace can make life more meaningful if you let it. There are so many books to read, so many spring evenings to sit on the porch and enjoy the breeze, so many birds to watch. So many naps in the hammock to take. So try and enjoy your life in the slow lane.
I realized that people – strangers and friends – gift me with many small considerations. When I'm out and in my power chair or wheelchair, people have held doors open for me, made room for me to pass through, stopped and gotten items off the top shelves for me, and all without me asking them to.
I've learned a little kindness goes a long way. In fact, it can have a ripple effect. I appreciate the concern others have shown for me and I, in turn, show concern for someone else to share that appreciation. I pay it forward.
Humor is important and I have more wit than I knew.
When my son started learning how to talk, his first words after “Mama” and “Dada” were “Mary Poppins.” He wanted to watch the movie again and I don't blame him. Mary Poppins is brilliant. One of our favorite scenes is when she goes to Uncle Albert's house and he is so full of merriment he's floating in the air. Uncle Albert is also brilliant. Here are some of his words of revelation:
“I love to laugh/Loud and long and clear/I love to laugh/It's getting worse every year/ The more I laugh, the more I fill with glee/ And the more the glee the more I'm a merrier me It's embarrassing/ The more I'm a merrier me."
Really. Did you just sing along with that?
I watch at least one funny video or movie a day. I read humor articles. My son tells me jokes. When I post on Facebook I like telling stories about amusing things that happen in our house. I laugh at my cats all the time, although they don't care much. The point is, laughing makes me feel better. Always.
Humor empowers me to gain some control over my illness. Because if I can laugh then it hasn't got the best of me:
My inhalers make me hoarse sometimes. It's nice to sound like Marlene Dietrich instead of Minnie Mouse.
I nap so much the cats have accepted me as one of their own.
Laughing is my favorite exercise.
Do you have an exacerbation toolkit?