It's February and Valentine's Day will soon be here. You know, the day for hearts, flowers, candy. But, if you have COPD you might not be feeling too loveable right now - or even all that loved. Maybe your close relationships and love life are just wonderful! But if they're not, let's take a few minutes to look at what you, a person with COPD or the loved one of somebody with COPD, can do to make life better.
The relationships we have and the interactions with the people closest to us are tied closely to our emotional health. Sometimes relationships can be of help when we have a chronic disease - and sometimes they can make things a lot worse than they already are. Here's some insight about relationships from those who have COPD and those who love and care about them.
First of all, let's clarify two terms. A "well spouse" is the spouse of the person with the illness. A "caregiver" is any person who provides care to another person. He or she may be spouse, a family member, or a friend.
A caregiver or well spouse might say:
Where do I draw the line? What should I do for my spouse and what should I let her do on her own?
Really, how bad is the shortness of breath? Sometimes I wonder if it is just an excuse for getting out of work. He just sits there!
I get so tired. I'm not so young myself anymore. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing everything.
I told him to quit smoking, but he didn't. And look at him. He ruined his lungs and now I've got to do everything for him.
A person with COPD might say:
Unless a person is in this situation they have no idea what it's like to be so short of breath.
Sure, I feel sorry for my spouse having to do so much to take care of me, but she's got to understand that if I only could, I would love to do more.
I know the smoking did it. Don't people understand that I feel bad enough?
I'm still a person. Sometimes people just treat me like an invalid.
You can just hear the frustration in the voices of those with COPD as well as their loved ones. No wonder relationships can be strained! So, what to do? Communication is key. Here the voices of people with COPD.
"Allow us the freedom and the independence to make choices regarding our own health. Having a diagnosis of COPD may be black and white to anyone who doesn't have it, but it can cause us to feel better or worse day to day, or even minute to minute."
"Understand that if we need a nap, don't make us feel bad about it. We might not be able to get up in the morning and be out the door in an hour. We move slowly, especially in the first part of our day."
"I've slowly tried to educate my family about my disease and how it has it has affected me physically. No speeches, just a few words here and there to guide them to the realization that my physical capabilities have changed, and that I sometimes need help. There are many things, which I now do in a different way, and some things I cannot do any more. I have done this not just with words, but with my actions. Walking slower, avoiding the things that make breathing difficult, napping when I feel tired. They see the changes in me. I tell them when I am tired or when I am having trouble breathing, I don't try to hide it as I once did."
"My family seemed to hope that if we didn't talk about it, I would be just fine. I knew that the best thing for me to do was to be honest with them and not to try to protect them. I did not want them to expect me to do things which I could no longer do comfortably, and I did not want to push myself beyond my new limitations in order to spare them."
"Last night, when I told my husband I was discouraged that something was difficult and maybe it was because I was just tired, he said, "Are you tired, or is it just getting too hard for you to do anymore?" This thought has crossed my mind, but I never thought it had crossed his. I was relieved that he came out and said this, relieved that he understood what could happen, relieved that I didn't have to say it myself. I was relieved that he seemed to accept this in stride, and happy that I was free to discuss it more with him if I wished. With love and time came understanding and acceptance."
"This whole COPD thing is scary for children. Give them time, they will eventually see for themselves what they can't face right now. I think they know better but cannot deal with it right now. I think time will bring the realization in a way they can better understand and accept."
"I truly believe attitude is everything, and can make a difference. It's just that the bad days sometimes shake my faith, while the better days give me hope."
Now let's talk about friendships and how you might be a better friend to a person with COPD, or any chronic illness. People with chronic illness tend to become isolated because their friends, although well meaning, tend to stay away because they're afraid they're going to say or do the wrong thing.
If you're the friend of a person with COPD, or other chronic illness, here are some ideas.
1. Just listen. Let your friend talk about what they're going through. They'll feel better because they got their feelings out.
2. Accept that this is a chronic condition that will not go away. Do not talk as if everything will be fine next week.
3. Know that they have good days and bad days and acknowledge that. They might feel great one day and lousy the next. They can't plan ahead the same as everyone.
4. Remember the family of the person who has COPD. Can you visit with the person with COPD while their loved one takes a much-needed break?
5. Understand that even the most positive and spiritual people get depressed.
6. Instead of saying, "Let me know if you need anything," offer to do something specific, such as, "What would you like me to pick up for you at the store? Can I take you out for lunch this week?"
7. If you find something in the news about new medications or cures, mention them briefly and suggest your friend check with his or her doctor. Don't try to convince them that this one thing will fix everything.