Learning to cope with a chronic illness is an ongoing process — and never easy.
My entire world was flipped upside down when I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in April 2016. I didn’t know anything about interstitial lung diseases and felt bitter that I had to suddenly consider my lung health in every aspect of my life as a young adult. It felt unfair, frustrating, and exhausting to be forced to adapt my life to navigating the progression of the disease.
I was told that in a few years, I’d likely need to use supplemental oxygen and would struggle to climb stairs.
I wrote a column last year about feeling like two different people with this disease. Sometimes my life feels out of control, while at other times, I feel that I am coping reasonably well. However, the coping strategies that I’ve developed don’t always work, and I have to remain open to trying other things.
Recently, I added humor to my list of coping skills. Life is too short not to appreciate laughter, though sometimes it can be challenging to find the funny side while living with a chronic illness.
When I share my diagnosis with others, their responses vary widely. Sometimes people are curious and don’t hold back with questions. They want to know more about the disease’s progression. Others close off to the discussion. They don’t want to hear about it because it is too hard for them to accept that I have a fatal illness.
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On a few occasions, people have become overwhelmed with emotion. Their tears used to trigger my feelings as well, but I’ve since learned how to avoid getting overemotional.
I’ve found humor to be helpful during those intense moments. Recently, I used humor to calm the emotions of a family friend who had just learned of my diagnosis.
At first, she was curious and wanted to know more about this disease. When I explained the eventual need for a lung transplant, along with the poor prognosis of IPF, she began to cry. She asked me if I was dying. My reply was, “We’re all dying; it just might happen to me a little faster than my peers.” She couldn’t help but laugh at my unexpected candor.
At that moment, I realized how helpful humor could be as a coping strategy when it comes to sharing news of my IPF. Our family friend’s eruption of laughter brought us relief after her expression of sorrow. We continued our conversation, talking about how I’ve been managing my life since my diagnosis, before moving on to other lighter topics. I could tell that we were in a better space to talk openly about my illness after we had a good laugh.
Humor has also been beneficial when dealing with my need to use supplemental oxygen. I tend to talk a lot and am known to be a bit of a socialite. When my colleagues and I are on the way out the door to a meeting or a coffee run, it is common for me to stop to talk to someone else in the office. I am thankful that many of my colleagues carry my oxygen for me without asking, so I merely need to walk alongside them.
When I start to “dawdle,” as one of my colleagues calls it, she gives a gentle tug on my cannula line, indicating that we need to get going. It has become a joke that people use my cannula as a leash when I need to stay on task. It makes us laugh when this happens, alleviating my frustration with having to use supplemental oxygen.
How has humor helped you cope with your diagnosis? Please share a story if you think it will make others laugh.
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.