Finding My Way Back
It has been seven years since my respiratory failure and two-month hospital stay. I was discussing that time in my life with a friend the other day. I forget how far I have come, not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well.
The turning point
As much as I would like to forget that first year, I think it does us good to remember the struggles to appreciate overcoming them. Perhaps it is because the changes have been subtle and gradual. I don’t always realize I am physically stronger doing a particular task until it is pointed out to me.
Pulmonary rehabilitation was my turning point. It provided that light at the end of the tunnel. Twenty-one weeks at three days per week showed me that life could get better. I felt hope again. Then the crash! Without a place to go and the supervision, I took a few steps backward in my recovery. Always finding a reason not to continue exercising, breathing became very difficult again.
I can’t say when it all came together for me. I think it was a combination of events. It was the right article, the right support group, the right motivational speech that made me sit up and say, “Enough of this. I want my life back.”
The road ahead
Before my mom passed away from cancer, she said she knew she didn’t have to worry about me. I always landed on my feet. I wasn’t so sure this time, but I have always lived my life with an upbeat and positive mindset. It may waiver at times, but it always returns. I think it has been my most important tool in living with COPD.
I certainly made many mistakes along the way. It is difficult for me to make exercise a priority. I know I must. I consider it as important as the inhalers I take daily and the oxygen that keeps me alive. It keeps me breathing easier and I know it. I feel it. Yet, it is something I will always have to push myself to do every single day.
Exercising became less of a burden when I stopped comparing myself to what others with COPD could do. I tried to keep up a few times with the more athletic and only hurt myself. Over time, I found my own routines that fit me, my health, and my lifestyle.
Do you feel like you're a different person since your COPD diagnosis?
A new discovery
For a very long time, my goal was to get my life back. As months turned into years of living with this disease, I no longer wanted to go back. A new person had emerged from the struggles and I kind of liked her! There has been a lot of journaling, a lot of reading motivational and spiritual books, a lot of meditating, and a great deal of soul searching.
Living life with COPD, or any chronic illness, changes us. We can give in to it or find a new way. I know I will always be short of breath. It is the major symptom of this disease. It will provide some physical limitations. I will probably always be on oxygen. I am thankful that because of hard work through the years, my oxygen use is less.
There will be bad days. Everyone has them. I don’t like them, but I accept them. That has been key to me, acceptance. Some things I cannot change with medicine, exercise, or diet. They just are. I know I am doing my best to manage this disease so I can live my life with the attitude of - the best is yet to come!
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Editor's Note: We are heartbroken to share that Carol passed away in February of 2022. Carol's storytelling and advocacy will be deeply missed, but her legacy lives on through her articles and in all the people she inspired.
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