Contributed by Natalie Haglund, consultant to CAIRE Inc.~
Breathe. Just Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. You see these words on inspirational signs, shirts, stickers, social media posts, etc. But why? The human body is designed for the respiratory drive to function without us consciously thinking about it. Those words serve as reminders to pause, be conscious of every breath, and be calm. But what if the opposite were true?
What if all a person did was think about every single breath? What if a person was conscious of every inhalation and exhalation. Was acutely aware of what each breath feels like, and how fast they come and go. This is my truth. How I’ve lived my life for the past nine years. It’s been quite a ride so far.
In the second half of 2014 I found myself becoming short of breath when I exercised. I chalked it up to allergy season. After allergy season had passed, I continued to become increasingly more short of breath, more easily. I finally saw a doctor. That kicked off the next eight months filled with doctor appointments, blood tests, numerous X-rays, antibiotics, steroids, multiple breathing tests, ultrasounds of my heart, CT scans, a bronchoscopy, more blood work, I was prescribed supplemental oxygen (to use all the time), and finally I had a surgical lung biopsy. In April 2015 I received my diagnosis. Idiopathic Non-specific Interstitial Pneumonia (NSIP), a type of interstitial lung disease.
I was a single mom of a teenager, working two jobs (one I had to leave due to my health condition), and my life had come to a halt. Within eight months I went from reminding myself to take a breath and slow down, to being completely still and concentrating on getting adequate oxygen into my lungs. For the past eight years, I’ve been trying to find a balance between these two states of being.
Eight years ago, everything I identified myself as had faded, and I became the person with oxygen, the person with a strange lung disease that no one had heard of. The person who was so exhausted by the end of the work week I literally couldn’t do anything on the weekends except sleep and watch TV. My lung disease had taken over my body and my life. I mourned the active person I had been.
Slowly, over the past eight years, I’ve learned how to live my life again. I can’t physically do everything I used to do, but there are a lot of things I can do. I’ve learned new hobbies. I’ve found ways to simplify or modify activities to my ability. I’ve learned how to push myself, and my body in ways that make me feel in control over this lung disease. I learned that I am more than my disease.
Many things have brought me to this point. I see a pulmonologist who specializes in interstitial lung diseases, the medications I take work to decrease the inflammation in my lungs, and try to keep my lung disease from progressing. I went through pulmonary rehab, which I highly recommend to anyone with lung disease. I have incredible support from my family, friends, and co-workers. My attitude and mental fortitude have also played a part. I’ve continued to work, which is difficult sometimes. However, having a job that is meaningful to me gives me purpose. I do exercise, not always regularly, but when I do it helps me physically and mentally. Fun fact … Since September 2017 I’ve completed a 2 mile race, thirteen 5K races, and one 10K race.
Living with interstitial lung disease is a roller coaster. There are ups and downs. One constant continues to be how acutely aware I am of each breath I take. Which brings me back to that word … “Breathe.” When I see that inscribed on a bracelet, printed on a shirt, posted on a social media feed, I pause because that’s all I think about. My life revolves around my lungs. When I see the phrase “Just Breathe” painted on a wooden sign, those are the words I think about when I’m trying to control my breathing because I’m short of breath and breathing too fast. Inhale … Exhale … every morning I assess how these two actions are working for me. Many factors can play into this. Some days it’s not so great, other days I think, “It’s going to be a good lung day.” Every day is different.
As a new blog contributor for CAIRE, I invite you to join me on this ride as I share experiences I’ve had living with a lung disease, as well as upcoming spring and summer adventures.
Natalie Haglund, 49, diagnosed with Idiopathic NSIP (a type of interstitial lung disease), lives in northern Minnesota where she works as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) in the operating room. She has a 22-year-old daughter, and a 14-year-old cat named Ed. She enjoys photography, hiking, concerts, crafty projects, and time with friends and family.
If you have been prescribed oxygen therapy, learn more about CAIRE by visiting www.caireinc.com/patients or by calling 1-800-482-2473 to talk to an oxygen advisor.
The contents of this blog post are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. When using any oxygen therapy device please consult the applicable product instructions for use for product indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, and detailed safety information.