You've just come from your doctor's appointment where you were told some shocking news — you have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as COPD. It's an incurable, slowly progressive respiratory illness. Though you may have been hearing for years about the dangers of smoking, or noticing that you were getting more and more short of breath, you probably never really believed it would happen to you. But now it has... so what do you do?
This post is the first in a series for people who have recently been diagnosed with COPD. I'll be taking an in-depth look at various issues that will be important to you. I do not have COPD, so I do not write from that perspective. But I am a caregiver for a mother who has it now and my father died from COPD several years ago. I am also a registered nurse who spent many years in home health care taking care of people with COPD. So I understand the issues, believe me.
It's a tough road, and not one any of us would choose to take. But here's the thing... you don't have any choice. If you don't learn how to deal with the diagnosis, then you won't be around for long.
This post will cover dealing with the emotional roller coaster you go through after getting a diagnosis of COPD. In future posts, I'll cover:
- Understanding what is happening in your body & how it will change your life
- Actions you can take to maintain your quality of life & stay as healthy as possible
- Living life to the max with COPD
Understanding the stages of grief
When you get a new medical diagnosis, no matter what kind, there is an adjustment that must be made. When that diagnosis is something as life-altering as COPD, there is a whole process that you will likely go through. Experts call this the stages of grief. There are many ways of describing these grief stages and the number of stages may vary from reference to reference, but the important thing is that you will go through a process of shifting emotions over quite a long period of time.
How long? Well, that can vary greatly from person to person. There is no one right timetable for grief. Think of it as a roller coaster, with tremendous highs and deep lows. Sometimes you'll move backwards and other times you'll keep moving forward. No matter how it happens for you, it's perfectly all right.
Grief is a very individual process, and not one of us will do it exactly the same. The important thing is to recognize that you will grieve over your diagnosis. Identifying where you are in the process and learning how to cope is the critical factor.
One way the stages of grief have been categorized is:
Shock and denial, where you refuse to believe you truly have COPD and that it's not going to go away.
Anger, where you rail against what is happening, how unfair it is, and look to place blame.
Bargaining, where you want to believe that if you just do the right thing, it might somehow change the fact that you have COPD.
Depression, where you are extremely sad, you lose hope and feel as though it's no longer worth even trying.
Acceptance, where you finally accept that what is happening is the way it is, and learn how to cope in a positive way, treasuring what time you do have left with your loved ones and living the best life you can despite COPD.
Tips for coping
Keep reading this series I'm here to help you through this difficult time. But also, recognize where you are the stages of grief and accept that no matter how you are feeling, it's OK. You are not alone and you can get through this.
First off, take care of your health. Learn all you can about COPD and your treatment plan. Follow your doctor's instructions. Realize that your ability to get through your activities of daily living, from getting dressed to making your meals, has changed. You'll need to allow more time and rest often.
Don't be afraid to ask friends and family for help. This includes not only help with managing things in your life, whether it's shopping or cooking, but also help with the emotional upheaval. Share what you are feeling... they're probably feeling it too. Laugh, cry and reminisce your way to recovery and acceptance. There's no need to put on a brave front or protect them from what is really happening.
Make the most of the life you can live and focus on quality over quantity. Yes, having COPD may seem scary, but it is possible to live a happy, high quality life, despite your health challenges. I'll be right here with you, every step of the way!