Living With COPD: War or Peace?

  • based on an editorial by Jo-Von Tucker.


    Have you ever noticed that some people seem to cope with COPD much better than others?


    Why is that?
    COPD is a constant presence in our lives. It has a profound impact on our emotional health, physical health, self-image, relationships, aspirations, and overall outlook on life. In this article we’ll take a look at what can put you at war with COPD, and also how you can find peace in spite of it.
    So, how do some folks live at peace with COPD? One reason is because they’ve found a way to stop being angry with themselves, making their way past the rage that often comes as a part of living with COPD. But how is it possible to make peace with a chronic disease that at times seems to spiral out of control, beyond our reach, with as little as a cough or sneeze? And peace with ourselves if some of the choices we may have made recently or in the past have lead in part to having COPD?

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    Anger is there, but it is not the only issue that can put us at war with COPD. Another obstacle we face is learning to avoid – or at least work through – the occasional bouts of depression. Facing depression, and then dealing with it is not easy, but it is possible if you have the right help and support.

    Something else you’ll find in those who are coping successfully with COPD is that they know what helps them feel better, physically, and that they stick with it! They’ve discovered the value of exercise as a vital part of their routine. Most of them follow the treatment plan of their pulmonary doctor and are actively involved in the management of their COPD. They are educated about their disease. They are knowledgeable about their boundaries – when to push them, when to conserve energy and how to make choices to maintain a good quality of life, in spite of physical restrictions.

    What about smoking?

    Those of us who were smokers, or still may be, often have an ongoing struggle with quitting – or staying quit. Avoid fighting mode and make peace with this simply by accepting the fact that if you were a smoker, you always will be – you’re simply someone who takes one day at a time with the goal to not smoke today.

    It’s interesting that the language of disease is a language of combat: We battle cancer, fight infections, overcome paralysis, conquer our fears. Disease is an enemy to be fought, and COPD is an enemy that is ever present, threatening us with chaos at any time. The war imagery obligates us to resist. On the other hand, if we look at ourselves as “victims” of disease this tends to make us passive, when, in fact, COPD demands an active response.
    So, do we choose to fight the illness to the death, accepting it as our own normal state of being, or live in constant fear and at the mercy of the next cough, sneeze or bout with shortness of breath? The answer is this: As COPD patients, we are neither perfectly healthy nor hopelessly ill.

    Here is a list, comparing two extremes, with quite a broad spectrum of responses. Neither of these extremes is healthy and they, each in their own way both put us at war with COPD.

  • Choice is our right – but balance should be our goal. Can you find a middle ground?

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    Where are you?
    •    You can tough it out, ignoring symptoms at the risk of getting worse – or you can check out every little quirk, at the risk of hypochondria.
    •    You can shop for miracle cures at the risk of harming yourself – or you call trust one doctor's judgment at the risk of selecting unwisely.
    •    You can keep your disease secret at the risk of deception – or you can talk often and openly about it at the risk of self-pity.
    •    You can ask friends for help at the risk of becoming a burden – or you can hold fast to your independence at the risk of isolation and pushing yourself too much.
    •    You can insist that your family treat you as normal and healthy at the risk of denying them to be concerned about you – or you can let them protect you at the risk of becoming dependent and child-like.
    •    You can strain your body to its limits at the risk of harming yourself – or you can play it safe at the risk of becoming an invalid.
    •    You can live in terror of degeneration and death at the risk of being immobilized – or you can look upon each good day as a special dispensation at the risk of smugness.
    •    You can insist on controlling every single aspect of your life at the risk of frustration – or you can "go with the flow" at the risk of passivity and victimization.
    •    You can be angry about your fate at the risk of bitterness – or you can focus only on your blessings at the risk of self-delusion.

    War or Peace?

    The choices we make each day determine how we live with COPD. It’s not easy, but we can live in peace with COPD. No doubt there will come days we don’t make the right choices, but we learn from our mistakes. And we keep trying and also learn from others.

    With good choices, you’ll have the peace that comes with doing the best you can under all circumstances. Your own balanced and centered life will get you through the rough times, and will define who you are, with or without COPD.

    Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness.

Published On: August 23, 2010