Patient Blogs | COPD
What I Learned From Accepting My COPD Diagnosis
photo of patient sitting on hospital bed

Sometimes a diagnosis can be a frightening and life-altering event. In a mere moment, your whole life can change. The question is how you deal with that change.

I've received a few diagnoses in my life, some major and others not so much. I've had different responses to each of them. When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I felt relieved because I had struggled with negative emotions all my life. I felt hope that medication could leave those days behind me.

When I was diagnosed with HIV, at first I just sat at home waiting to die. I avoided my kids because I feared transmitting the virus to them.  As I became better educated about HIV, I became an advocate to teach others about the disease.

But when I was diagnosed with COPD, I responded with apathy and denial out of fear.

I remember that when they told me I had COPD, I wasn't too surprised. I had been a heavy smoker most of my life. It wasn't nearly as hard to hear as being told that you have AIDS, but when I saw an X-ray of my lungs, it truly scared me.

I dealt with that fear by avoiding my COPD. Oh, I went to my doctor appointments and followed his treatment plan. I took my breathing treatments every day and switched from smoking to vaping. But I didn't want to learn anything about COPD and I never sought out others who were also living with it. I just didn't want to think about it as much as possible.

I tried to keep living my life as always. I still did everything I did before, and when I started to get out of breath, I would try to push through it and keep going. I thought this would exercise my lungs and improve my condition. Though exercise is a good thing to do and has great benefits, there remains no cure for COPD or way to reverse the condition. You can stymie its progression with exercise and by quitting smoking, but the damage already done doesn't heal.

It took me a long time to come to terms with my COPD: 15 years. In fact, I've only just come around early this past year to taking my condition more seriously. I know that's no way to manage your health or uncomfortable issues. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, you need to deal with your health head-on, with honesty and soberness. Burying your head in the sand won't hide you from the realities of your condition. It can only make things worse.

I've learned a great deal about this by becoming an HIV advocate. For the first 15 years I sat at home waiting to die, I lived with severe depression and anxiety, I felt isolated from the world -- and from my family. But I've since learned the benefits of connecting with other people who share my experience, studying my condition and understanding it fully, and having an open and honest relationship with my doctor to better advocate for myself.

These things can be of great benefit for your condition. Though they can't fully heal you, they help in other ways. Emotionally you feel less alone -- there truly is strength in numbers. You learn from each other and support one another, combat ignorance and ward off depression, anxiety, and fear. This has physical advantages as well, because we know depression and anxiety can drag a body down.

COPD isn't something you can ignore for very long. The more you do so, the sooner you'll come to that realization. I understand that it can be frightening, but you're not alone, nor do you have to face it alone. There are lots of online resources and support to take advantage of. A difficult journey is always made easier with friends.



Photo Credit: Portra Images via Getty Images

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Katie Willingham

Katie Willingham

Diagnosed since 2016

Katie Adsila Willingham is an HIV advocate from rural north Alabama who has been living with COPD for 15 years. After years focusing primarily on her HIV diagnosis, Willingham is embarking on a journey to better manage her COPD. She blogs for The Well Project's A Girl Like Me, is the Alabama state lead for the Positive Women's Network USA, and is a U=U ambassador with the Prevention Access Campaign.

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