I vividly remember being told I had something called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). That day and conversation will be forever etched in my mind. I looked at the specialist revealing the news and said to him, “OK. What’s that?” Like most people, I’d never heard of this disease before it crept into my life and made its presence fiercely known.
That day was a little over three years ago. And I am still learning what it takes to live with a life-threatening lung condition.
The gamut of emotions I felt following my diagnosis was wide. I was caught between feeling relief that I finally had some answers to my unusual symptoms and extreme sadness and anger that my lungs weren’t healthy at only 28 years old. I feared sharing this news with my friends and family. It was almost as if I thought the diagnosis was my fault. I think that it’s important to let yourself feel the various emotions, work through each one, and then allow acceptance into your life.
I could deny the reality that my lungs will inevitably fail. I could fight the exhaustion, breathlessness, and limitations. However, battling against my disease leaves me feeling frustrated, angry, and defeated. Sadly, I know this because I’ve tried. I’ve often lost the struggle when trying to push through my symptoms. I’ve landed in the hospital or ended up in bed for days. In hindsight, if I had been better at accepting my limitations and finding a balance between completing tasks and resting, I would have been more successful at getting things done. However, I’ve learned that acceptance is an ongoing process and takes time to master.
It’s easier to state the importance of learning acceptance than it is to practice it. However, when we can get to a place of accepting our lung disease, our mental health will improve, as will our relationships. We will find inner peace.
Following are tips that helped me to accept my lung disease and current limitations:
- Look for alternatives: Accepting that I can’t do something that other young adults can has been the hardest part of living with IPF. I’ve never wanted to be different from my peers. The things they can do with ease have become difficult for me. I used to try to push through the symptoms of IPF to keep up, but I can no longer do that. Instead, I accept what I can’t do and look for alternative ways to reciprocate friends for their help.
- Let it go: Pushing through my symptoms and resisting my limitations causes me physical pain and mental anguish as well. I realize that there is no point in investing emotional energy in thinking about what I wish I could do. Letting go of what I can’t do and reframing what I can still do benefits my mental health.
- Ask for help: As a society, I believe we glorify independence. While I pride myself in being independent, I admit guilt in this worship of self-sufficiency. There is no shame in asking for help. Think of what you’d be willing to do for loved ones if they asked. I am sure many of our friends and family members would be happy to return the favor.
- Tell people about IPF: I’ve learned the hard way that withholding information from those around you sets everyone up for failure. When people know about your lung condition, and you’re upfront about what you can and cannot do, expectations remain realistic. As difficult as it is to be open, I believe transparency is best.
- Treat yourself: Living with a lung disease is hard, both physically and emotionally. On the days you’re struggling with tasks, give yourself a break and treat yourself to something you enjoy.
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.