Pondering the Bigger Picture in Life

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by Charlene Marshall |

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Do you ever wonder what your bigger picture looks like and what life lessons you’re meant to learn?

I am aware that this is a very philosophical question to open a column with, but I can’t help but wonder about it after being diagnosed with a fatal lung disease.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve often thought, “Why me?” As someone who never smoked and was physically active, well-educated, and surrounded by loving friends and family, I couldn’t understand why idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) crept into my life. Now I realize that this chronic lung condition doesn’t discriminate.

Once I opened up to the idea of connecting with other IPF patients, my perspective changed. People call this lung disease rare, but it isn’t in my world. Unfortunately, I now know many young adults living with IPF. Eventually, I found myself asking, “Why not me?

Believe me, getting to that realization wasn’t easy, and I am still angry on some days that this disease has consumed my life. To my surprise, however, IPF also has brought unexpected gifts, or positives, as my late co-columnist Kim Fredrickson once wrote.

On my most difficult days with IPF, I must refrain from thinking about what I’ve lost and focus on what I’m still able to do. I believe that we all have a purpose in this huge world, although it can take us a lifetime to discover what it is. Some may never discover a grander purpose in life, but they might focus on spreading small messages of kindness along the way, which is equally important.

Have you ever stopped to ponder that the journey you’re on now, as hard as it may be, could be a platform for contributing to the bigger picture of life?

Another philosophical question!

To answer it, I suppose we need to identify some commonalities of the more important lessons in life, or what the bigger picture is beyond the struggles associated with IPF. The answer will change depending on whom you ask, but I try to remember four important aspects of life and ponder how IPF has helped me to remember these life lessons.

These include:

  1. Be kind: We are taught to be kind from a young age, but I believe it takes a long time to learn and requires ongoing practice. Being diagnosed with IPF has made me aware of many invisible disabilities and the importance of being kind to one another, as we don’t know what others are dealing with. I had no idea how many rare diseases are invisible or how deeply someone might be struggling.
  2. Embrace your story and share it: I never would have chosen IPF, nor would I wish it upon anyone. But I also won’t let it consume my life with negativity. Publicly sharing your story online, such as at Pulmonary Fibrosis News, isn’t for everyone, and I wasn’t sure it was for me. However, my diagnosis has introduced me to other people who are in this fight. These same people inspire me every day with their courage and kindness, as well as their desire to help others living with IPF. I only met these folks because I embraced the fact that I have a fatal lung condition. I am so thankful for the Pulmonary Fibrosis News Forums.
  3. Help others: None of us will escape this world without needing help from someone. Relationships with others in the chronic illness community are often give-and-take; we offer to support someone in their time of need because we know we will eventually need support. Since my diagnosis of IPF, I have been privileged to help others through their journey, while accepting help as well.
  4. Quality of time over quantity: I still have a hard time thinking about the prognosis of this disease or saying aloud that it is fatal. Learning to focus on the quality of time you spend over the quantity is truly a gift. Suddenly, the constraints of a schedule don’t matter anymore, and staying to listen to your friend tell a funny story from their vacation will make a memory you’ll both have forever. IPF has helped me realize this important lesson and share it with others.

Have you ever thought that IPF may have helped you realize what is really important in life?


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.


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