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Mourning the Death of your Previous Life - Part 1.

Mourning the Death of your Previous Life – Part 1

The reaction to being diagnosed with COPD is as varied as the people that get COPD. Being diagnosed with COPD may cause feelings of denial, fear, anger, blame, guilt, confusion, and depression before accepting the fact your life as you once knew it is gone forever. Most people with COPD don’t understand why they feel these emotions. I belong to many groups and often read comments or questions from other members such as; “I can’t get past my denial. How long will it take me to accept I have COPD?”, “I never smoked yet I have COPD. I blame my parent’s secondhand smoke for that, I’m so angry with my parents for giving me this horrible disease. What do I do?”, “I feel so guilty about putting my family and myself through this horrible disease due to the fact I smoked.” “Every time I find something new I can’t do, I get so frustrated. I can’t stop crying, help!” “I’m depressed all the time and can’t seem to get over it”, “I’m so angry at my doctor. He says I have COPD but I don’t believe him”, “I never smoked, I did everything right, yet I still have COPD, there is no God.” I could go on and on but you get the idea.


All of the emotions you’re feeling are a natural part of the grieving process one goes through when a loved one dies. In this case the life that’s died is your own. When you have COPD, your old life dies and you’ll never get it back so you have every right to grieve the loss. The way you handle it depends on your individual experience, how much COPD has affected your life and how much your life has changed. I often read a comment from a COPDer about them having feelings of grief, but it doesn’t seem to open a discussion of any duration or give any helpful info about how to deal with those emotions. Becoming aware of and acknowledging the fact that you have the right to mourn the loss of your life, is a good first step in moving past your grief and getting on with your new COPD life.

Denial and Disbelief
When first diagnosed with COPD, most people react with disbelief & denial. Some even pretend not to have been diagnosed with COPD, like smokers, sometimes they don’t want to face feelings of self blame. By denying your diagnosis you’re protecting yourself from being emotionally overwhelmed all at once. This denial can last weeks, month and sometimes even years. Some COPDers who continue to deny the diagnosis do so because to admit they have COPD fills them with guilt and self blame for having smoked. Others feel being sick is a sign of weakness, or that COPD is a death sentence and their fear of having it keeps them in denial.

There were several people in my family who have COPD. At this time there’s one in particular who won’t admit he has COPD. He’s on an inhaler, (that he overuses like many COPDers in denial do), has been getting sick more frequently yet he still smokes and has no intention of stopping. He won’t let his wife go to the doctor with him, he keeps saying nothing’s wrong, but, if something is wrong and I die I guess it’s just my time. And when I talk to him about being in denial, after we bantered for a while, he shrugged it off, and laughed. He is a person in classic smokers denial of having COPD. This denial will cause him and the family a lot of pain, as your denial may to your family.

Accepting your diagnosis is the best way to cope/deal with the changes in your life. With acceptance comes the possibility of changing your lifestyle and environment, slowing the progression of your COPD down to a snail’s pace. All denial does is postpone the inevitable and when it comes to COPD, that postponement can mean the difference between having to use an inhaler when you get short of breath, to being on oxygen 24/7 and still being short of breath. If you have to, get a second or third opinion, but then get over the denial and get on with learning to live with COPD.

Guilt
COPDers feels guilt for many reasons. The lack of ability to do the things they once did is a biggie. The fact they can no longer work to support their family, they can no longer maintain their house or body the way they once did, every time they must ask for help they feel guilty for imposing on others. The guilt felt at the thought of what we are putting our families through even though it’s not our fault we got sick we still feel guilty. Most of the guilt is unwarranted but we feel it anyway. It’s hard when you’ve worked all your life to support your family and suddenly you need your family to support you. Or the mother/father can no longer play with their children/grandchildren without gasping for breath. Making apologies because your house doesn’t look the way you think it should, or you haven’t the energy to do the washing or cooking that day. These are just a few of the things that cause guilt in those with COPD. People who don’t have COPD or other chronic illness cannot understand the guilt and frustration we feel. Some even cause guilt by dismissing your struggles as trivial or nonexistent, all in your heads. Those are the type of people you need to get out of your life as fast as you can, no matter who they are. You’ll be a lot healthier and happier for it. Most of the time the guilt only serves to make your COPD worse and is unjustified. Guilt is one of those emotions that is hard to get over. Perhaps if you understand the definition of guilt you might better be able to come to terms with yours.

Definition of guilt; “feeling remorse or negatively judging yourself for things you either did or did not do, which you believe had a negative effect on someone or something else.”
If you’re feeling guilty that means you’re judging yourself negatively for something you have no control over. You didn’t give yourself a chronic illness, it’s not your fault you can’t do what you used to be able to do and need to rely on others for help. Justified or not, all that really matters is your perception of why you feel guilty. In some cases feeling guilty is our way of punishing ourselves for getting sick and in our minds letting down our families. But you have to remember it’s not your fault you can no longer work, you did nothing wrong. The same goes with cooking, cleaning, driving, requiring help or frequent hospitalizations. The only purpose served by this type of guilt is a destructive one. It makes one feel shame, worthless, and resentment towards others. You have to learn to forgive yourself for a perceived wrong you never did. Nobody’s perfect, so you can’t do the things you used to, if you just do what you can, the best you can, there’s no reason to feel guilty.

You may have feelings of guilt/regret over smoking in the past or the fact you are still smoking. You can’t change the past, but you can change the present and future. If you have stopped smoking, you have already changed and are on a good path to a better future. Try to get over the guilt of the past, you have given yourself a better future, and hopefully a long enough life to see a cure for COPD. Bravo to you all! If you’re still smoking you might feel guilty because of how difficult it can be to quit. We all know it’s not good to smoke with COPD, to continue to smoke when you have COPD could even be considered form of denial. To help you face the difficult task of quitting smoking, you could try joining a group or asking your doctor for help. But one thing you will definitely need if you’re going to be a successful quitter, is self-control and a strong will. Any ex-smoker with COPD will tell you within a few months of quitting your breathing will improve tremendously. Good luck, I’ll say a prayer you all become ex-smokers in the near future. Your life will be so much better.

Read Part 2 where I deal with anger, blame, depression & acceptance, breathe deep & easy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • ebrunson6
    2 months ago

    Just read Part 1. I am new here and part one hit the nail on the head. Thank you.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi ebrunson6 and thanks for your post. Glad this article resonated so clearly with you. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • lovinggrandma
    11 months ago

    This is such a helpful article. I was a smoker that always thought oh, that will never happen to me. Well, I am in stage 4 cold and was diagnosed last Jan. I still have feelings of guilt when I see my grandchildren out playing knowing I can never do the a lot of the things I used to. I try to ease myself by teaching them board games and inside projects. Just being with them while they are little, and I can, helps me. Thank you for listening.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    11 months ago

    Hi lovinggrandma and thanks for your post. We all understand how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing. I’m sure your grand children are appreciative of the time you are able to spend with them. We can always lend an ear and are happy to listen. Wishing you the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Mary Ultes author
    1 year ago

    Hi Pamela, Keeping exercising will help a lot. You may not be able to do as much as before. but even on oxygen you can go to the gym & do a light workout on days you don’t go to rehab. Some on COPD have improved what they can do & slowed the progression of their COPD. I have been on oxygen 24/7 for 19yrs at stage 4. Never let it get the best of you, never give up hope, & live as much as you can.Don’t let COPD get the best of you, Be COPD strong. Breathe deep & easy

  • Pamela191
    1 year ago

    At my birthday last year I noticed that I had shortness of breath. I quit smoking immediately but the shortness of breath just got worse till now 11 months later I am on oxygen all the time. I used to go to the gym 3x, tai chi, qi qong, cardio now I cannot do any of it. I go to pulmonary rehab but the one by me is on 2x a week. I think what is hardest is realizing that I will never get better only worse.

  • jsielke
    2 years ago

    I guess I never got beyond the “denial.” 15 years ago, when diagnosed I was told I would need to be on oxygen. I resisted, and got sent to Pulmoinary Rehab, which was the greatest. I kept up exercise, lost 73 pounds, and now 15 years after diagnoses I still walk 3-5 miles in the park, do Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and for the past 3 years, Aikido. So the loss of my previous, sedentary life is not mourned at all. COPD was a wake-up call. BTW, I quit smoking way back in 1981. Age now 73.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    That is excellent, jsielke – it looks like you’ve managed to do even better with this ‘wake up’ call! Keep up the good work!!
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    Good for you jsielke, that has been my saving grace I never give up. Breathe deep & easy

  • Bonnie
    3 years ago

    I drank coffee all day and looked at pictures of disabled people, amputees, and people with terrible disfiguring illnesses and accidents to try to feel better. I can’t seem to do what I need to do to cope. I live alone and work at home and have only a psychotherapist and one friend, who has her own problems, as a support system. I am so anxious now and fearful. I haven’t been able to go to church, and I’m thinking that maybe I should call them for a pastoral visitor. My faith does help me, but today I’ve just drunk four cups of coffee and eaten nothing. Is there no way to get a notification of a response. I just happened to come back to this page today.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Bonnie and thanks for posting so candidly. You may also want to share these feelings with our online community, especially if you’re looking for responses and interaction. If you give them an opportunity, I’m confident the community will offer many thoughts, ideas and support to you.
    If you haven’t already, go to our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/copddotnet/
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Bonnie
    12 months ago

    Hi, Leon and Mary,
    I’m back! Thank you for your thoughtful replies. I came back to these articles because I’m still struggling with negative feelings. Saying one should let the negative feelings go makes it sound so easy. Exactly how does one do that?

    I’ve improved in the two years since I wrote my comments on Part 1 and Part 2 of this column, but I’m not where I would like to be.

    Meanwhile, the survey doesn’t give a choice for “not in the last three years,” so there was no choice I could make in it.

    Anyway, I’m making slow but steady progress. This past winter I had to stop going out because of the cold, in which I just could not breathe and make it from the building I live in to a cab. I couldn’t move. So I stayed inside for several months. I hired a physical therpist who is working with me, and I am back to going out now to psychotherapy appointments twice a week, and hope to someday get back to church. It’s great that my PT and I pray together and devise ways for me to stay close to from Whence my Help Comes.

  • Bonnie
    3 years ago

    The guilt I feel is for smoking and knowing I had COPD and continuing to smoke. I was self-medicating my depression and yet was on antidepressants, but only nicotine made me feel like I could go on living. I feel that I am guilty of giving myself COPD. I wish your article could have talked more about that. I’m trying to forgive myself, but it’s a slow process. I did what I thought I needed to do, and now I’m on oxygen 24/7 (2L) and planning to go back to the gym (my pulmonary rehab allocation with Medicate has run out) with my portable concentrator. I still get depressed, too, and sometimes just feel like I’ll never get used to wearing oxygen. There’s one saving grace: I can sit and talk without wearing it, but my sats go down a bit when I do.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Bonnie:
    I see that Mary has suggested you might find it helpful to read COPD.net’s published article “Mourning the Death of your Previous Life, Part 2”.
    You can find the article here: https://copd.net/living/previous-life-part-2/
    Please check back with us and let us know how you’re doing.
    Best regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    Hi Bonnie, don’t beat yourself down because you kept smoking. I smoked for 8 yrs after I was put on oxygen. I wasn’t stress out I just liked smoking. I didn’t stop till the third time I almost died, was told I had six month to live & put on Hospice, I’v been smoke free for 8yrs now. Didn’t die, went off Hospice & writing to try & help other COPDers like you.I have been on oxygen for 17 yrs & I never take it off. O2 is one of the best things to help COPDers have a longer, better life. Every time you take it off, (even just to talk) & your stats drop you are doing your lungs on good. Keep it on & after awhile you will get use to it. As for feeling guilty over giving yourself COPD & forgiveness, reading part 2 of Mourning the Death of your Previous Life might help.
    Stay as fit as you can & do breathing exercises. Breathe deep & easy Mary

  • lynn2u
    3 years ago

    I have been diagnosed as stage 4, severe COPD for several years now. I am a retired psychologist. I learned a lot about COPD when my husband was was diagnosed in 2000, put on a respirator in emergency and then all sort of meds, oxygen and treatments until 2004 when he died of pneumonia. When I had my first spirometry, in about 2007 and received my current diagnosis which has not changed over the past 8 years, i went through the grieving of the loss of my past very energetic, and active life. I continued to work until 2010 when I retired. I have chosen to remain medication free, and work now on exercising and nutrition, breathing exercises from yoga and positive visualization and relaxation to manage my symptoms. I am blessed with a pulmonologist who respects my decision to remain medication free and has explained and illustrated in our support group how it isn’t just smoking that can cause the damage and symptoms of COPD. I smoked for 41 years but have not smoked now for 16 years. I remain active and social, do all my own housework and volunteer as a foster mom for cats for a no kill shelter. Life is good. I have learned to enjoy what I can do and to permit myself to turn over some things to others, (for example, all my own pool care and maintenance.) .

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    Hi Lynn, Glad you shared your story. You’re an inspiration to all. A lot of those without COPD aren’t as with it & active as you. I have had stage 4 for 17 years & over those years I have learn to change my environment, diet & life style to manage my COPD with as little meds as possibly. I’m on oxygen 24/7 use a nebulizer twice a day, Spiriva once a day & sleep with a Bi-PAP. It may seem like a lot but it is the best I can do with the severity of my COPD. As of last year I stop seeing my pulmonologist or cardiologist. I only see my GP once a year for blood work & few shot. I no longer go to the ER or hospital,(last time I went for my COPD was 2yrs ago& that was for CO2 poisoning) anything they can do for me in the hospital I can do at home & if I can’t I’m ready to meet God at his pleasure. In the mean time I live life to the fullest of my ability. You keep doing live your way.You seen to have a good handle on your COPD. Stay positive, active & take only meds you have to. Breathe deep & easy Mary

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