I’m Embracing Desensitization as a Coping Strategy
I was diagnosed with a fatal lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) three years ago. Since then, my life has been full of ups and downs — most of which my peers, who are other young adults, cannot relate to as a result of living a healthy life.
This disease has given me unexpected gifts such as writing for Pulmonary Fibrosis News, where I’ve been able to build an online network of support with other patients. IPF has also been the culprit of extreme heartache, resulting from the loss of activities I was once able to do and no longer can, plus the gut-wrenching losses of friends with this disease.
Sometimes I wonder if IPF has made me more empathetic toward people with chronic illness or if it has desensitized me from the hard things that come from living with IPF. The answer to this question depends on the situation, but I recently caught myself experiencing something I would have reacted to differently prior to my diagnosis. I learned of a faraway friend’s death from IPF, and instead of showing emotions when I discovered the news online, I found myself shaking my head and quickly transitioning to another activity as a distraction. It felt as though I expected the news and wasn’t surprised when I learned of his passing.
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I have referenced Personality Dimensions on the PF Forums before. Many of you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that my primary color is “authentic blue,” which means I have empathy, compassion, and understanding for others. Each color on the Personality Dimensions test reveals a lot about someone, and each color has its own strengths.
While I would agree that my primary color is still blue, I can’t help but notice that IPF has reduced the primary traits of my “blue” personality. I remain empathetic to others, but I am also realistic and now anticipate or expect difficult things to happen in life. I believe that IPF has forced me to become desensitized to difficult events, especially compared to my healthy peers.
Following are two situations that I have reacted differently to as a result of IPF:
- A new diagnosis of chronic or acute illness: I remember several years ago when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I was unable to cope with the news and was emotional, unfocused, and at a loss that I couldn’t really help her. Recently, however, I had a close friend diagnosed with cancer and noticed a drastic shift in how I digested the news. I wasn’t emotional and immediately shifted into problem-solving mode to assist her in any way that I could. After being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness like IPF, patients have no choice but to carry on and learn to live with our disease. I now take this approach when supporting others through a new diagnosis, which is a drastic change in how I would have previously reacted to the diagnosis of a friend’s illness.
- The death of a friend: I hate to admit that this is now something I expect and mentally prepare myself for. I used to be optimistic and hopeful that someone would live a long time with their chronic illness, and while I still want to believe that, I am also realistic about the fact that they could die. This has been a gift in a way because I focus on spending quality time with friends as opposed to quantity, which is a lesson that many of us learn too late or after someone passes away. Mentally preparing myself for this possibility helps me cope when it happens, but I am sad that IPF has forced me to face the reality that I will lose many friends in my chronic illness circle.
Generally speaking, I still feel deeply for others when they are going through hardships, but the impact on my ability to function and focus on my own life while holding this news has changed. IPF has forced many losses upon me. As a result, I am now desensitized to death and bad news.
It feels like these are expected life events that others endure, and because I can’t change it, I have to focus on learning how to work through it. This is why I shift into problem-solving mode right way. This could be perceived as flippant or emotionless, I suppose, but I can’t help it. IPF has changed the way I see the world.
Can you relate to feeling desensitized to certain things since your IPF/PF diagnosis?
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.