It is inevitable that people living with a chronic illness will experience days that are difficult, both physically and mentally. Since being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) three years ago, I’ve had many of these days. Fear of the future with this disease, physical limitations or restrictions because of failing lungs or fatigue, or a tough medical appointment can cause them.
It is important to ensure that we have adequate coping strategies for these challenges, because they can consume us. Everyone deals with difficulties differently, which is why I believe there cannot be too much discussion about the subject. Other Pulmonary Fibrosis News columnists have also written about this topic. Sometimes it is important to talk about coping with physical symptoms such as pain or fatigue, and at other times, the mental anguish of IPF.
I found advice on Pulmonary Fibrosis News on coping with breathlessness a few years ago. I benefited from this immensely. Recently, PF columnist Mark Koziol wrote about how negative thoughts consumed him shortly after his diagnosis, and how he dealt with those. Kim Fredrickson, another beloved columnist, wrote about what she, as a patient reliant on oxygen, did when the electricity went out.
But what about learning to cope with bad test results or doctor’s appointments, or adjusting to a life you never really wanted because of IPF?
For me, coping with IPF has been an ongoing learning process. I must remain open to this process; otherwise, the grief and anguish of living with a life-threatening lung disease will swallow me whole. Many of us are aware of the link between mental and physical health. If I let my mental health suffer, inevitably, my physical health will follow. As a result, I try to keep generalized coping strategies in mind when I am starting to feel sad or angry as a result of my health.
It is no one’s fault that I got sick, and nothing that I did growing up contributed to my developing IPF. One could argue that I have nowhere to direct the emotions associated with having this lung condition, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling them occasionally. In order to combat the sadness or anger — sometimes even depression — that comes with a lung condition, I hang onto generalized coping strategies that typically make me feel better. While I’ve referenced these in previous columns, they continue to evolve. Here are the tips I try to remember during my most difficult days:
- Confide in a close friend. There are an abundance of quotes that talk about the quality of friends versus the quantity, and how you can consider yourself lucky if you have one dear friend you trust wholeheartedly. I am fortunate to have several, and I’ve confided in them during different parts of this journey. I can be vulnerable within those moments and know these friends can help me carry some of the weight of this disease. Whether online or in person, being able to discuss your thoughts openly and without judgment really helps.
- Distract yourself with something good. It is important to take time for yourself and enjoy something that will make you feel good, whatever that may be. Maybe it is your favorite food, movie, or hobby. Immerse yourself in it, guilt-free, if it’ll help distract you.
- Control the impact of the bad news. This is an interesting coping strategy, and one I am still learning. The more people with whom we share bad news, the bigger impact there is. As an example, I have disclosed difficult news to my colleagues in the past, and their response was that they all reached out and asked what I needed. While this was well-intended, of course, it quickly became overwhelming, as I couldn’t get away from the news I’d shared. Strategically choose when and to whom you disclose difficult news to minimize the impact of reliving the details over and over.
- Ask questions! Knowledge is power, and I know I always feel better during moments of difficulty or uncertainty when I have answers to my questions.
What are some additional coping strategies you use to deal with bad news or difficult days with IPF/PF?
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.