I mean literally that. When it comes to health, the first thing one must do is not to ignore instincts and the feeling of something wrong, even if it seems small. You must see to it.
I did not see to it and that led to 11 hospitalisations over 1.5 years from 2014 and an irreversible disease. I’d collapsed at work. I couldn’t breath and I was taking a million medications per day and nebulizing 5 times a day just to feel okay, but not even alive, like any human should. It took all of those things to happen and to be on death’s door (air pollution is linked to cause 40,000 UK deaths), until I finally realised something major had to change.
Something that could have potentially been prevented. The background story comes later but my point is, whilst I thought I was suffering a severe form of asthma, it ended up being much worst and I delayed its diagnosis and treatment.
In fact, I hadn’t even really heard much about COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) or what it was until I got a second opinion from another doctor. The first consultant I saw when I lived in London, despite being private medical treatment, did not provide much insight or explicit communication of what was happening to me. I had the scans, x-rays, continuous check ups, but was received with a ‘your pathology is complex’ and the scratching of heads, along with the same medications and treatment plan, which never worked. It was only complex because I was a non-smoker (COPD is usually caused by heavy smoking), but I wasn’t getting any reassurance or answers from the so-called top-professionals.
That is until I made the right decision of prioritising my health before my career or anything else. I knew, that if I were to survive and have a fairly happy, normal life, I had to relocate to less a less polluted area (back home to Sunny Scotland!) and start afresh, with less pressure and a better environment which would facilitate my healing.
And this point is important…because as soon as I made that decision, there was a whole host of emotions that followed, regret, guilt, shame, disappointment, sadness. I’d only been in London for a short time, working for a big brand (Financial Times) and as an ambitious, young person, no one else could possibly understand what it is I was going through if I couldn’t even understand it myself. I felt embarrassed that I had a ‘hacking’ cough at work all the time and that I was off sick from work far too frequently. What would others think? What would my boss think and what would my colleagues think?
I felt shame on myself that i couldn’t ‘push’ through and just grin and bear it. I felt sad because I’d only just begun a new path in an exciting new city, but for some reason the universe wasn’t letting me enjoy it and I was angry, bitter, stressed, everything. I was in a ‘why me?’ state of mind. I felt horribly sorry for myself. I couldn’t swallow the pill of having to move back home and give up my career choices and lifestyle.
BUT, that said, it was the best decision I ever made in my entire life. Because I eventually accepted that this was a catalyst for change and the only way, after hitting rock bottom- was up. I was empowered that I put my health, MYSELF first, instead of climbing up a competitive corporate ladder where everyone is vying after some sort of ultimate social status and pursuit of happiness built around your career. Finding happiness within was a turning point and enlightening. Then everything came after, when I removed negative thoughts about myself, you worry less about what others think and realise they didn’t think anything bad in the first place! Less worry about other things = less stress = less physiological ailments and breakdowns as a result of stress.
And best of all, long-term, my health HAS improved (it’s been 8 months since I’ve been hospitalized) and I never have to use my nebulize on a daily basis, it’s more like once every 2 weeks.
And how did that happen? A second opinion from another consultant I saw in my hometown where I moved back to. I instantly took a liking to him upon first meeting and his public service (NHS) was far greater than the private sector. He reviewed all my historic notes, the events that happened, he made things happen in terms of moving forward, explained everything in human language and most reassuringly of all, wanted ‘to put things to bed’ for me. He actually wanted to help me as individual, provide a proper diagnosis and explanation and a thorough, detailed treatment plan. The legacy medication I had been on for 1.5 years with the previous consultant was completely changed- yes, a whole new set and plan.
And that was when I heard about and properly understood COPD and Emphysema (the specific type of COPD). It also transpired that I was maybe steroid resistant (the go to pill for asthma and COPD sufferers), that it was something else, potentially genetic but yet to be discovered (and not heavy smoking). These things were like a lightbulb moment, but it also meant I had an ANSWER. Of all those months I wondered what was wrong with me and why I was ‘weird’, this changed things forever. I had clarity that there was scientifically something wrong, and it wasn’t my lifestyle choice, or what I ate, or anything like that that made me blame myself. Plus it was more common than I thought, that in hindsight, I questioned why I didn’t know about it- COPD and Air Pollution is linked to 40,000 deaths per year! But now I’m more knowledgable.
On the career front, I managed to get some support from the Doctors to help my company understand what was happening to me and agree to let me work from home full time so that I could be in a controlled environment.
With that in mind, I no longer felt alone, like other people were out there suffering from it too (not a good thing but you get my gist).
My point is, and key takeaways are there for any other sufferer:
- See to it (don’t ignore symptoms, even if they’re ‘little’).
- Get a second opinion- if you don’t feel like your current doctor or medication is working out, seek a second opinion from a professional. It may change your life- it did with mine! And don’t immediately discount the NHS with assumptions of a long waiting list. After explaining the severity of things, you will be put as a priority. Not breathing is a life or death thing!
- Be curious- always ask questions. Without a doubt. You want to be informed with the right, trustworthy and credible information. This impacts your ability to accept and tackle it head on. Even if it sounds stupid, doctors are there for a reason, you need to probe and ask as many questions as possible.
- Don’t blame yourself (even if it is caused by heavy smoking), you’re entitled to ‘live a life’ but know the limits and lifestyle changes CAN be made. Smoking, alcohol and bad but good foods (cakes and all) are all a social habit. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Talk to friends, family and a close support network- if your body is failing you, the last thing you want is a mental breakdown. Both impact each other and if you are diagnosed with a chronic disease, it can take it’s emotional toll. You need support and people to talk to that you can rely on.
- Don’t be afraid to make your colleagues or work aware of your condition- you don’t have to give away all the private details, but at least they can accommodate to your needs and support you. If they don’t, they’re not worth fighting for. You have enough to worry about- yourself!
This post is meant to serve as not only an insight to my experience but the beginning of what will hopefully be a community for sufferers.
I aim to provide helpful, useful advice and tips on what we can all do to improve matters. Until there is a cure (COPD is irreversible), we can only do our best to manage it and prevent it from getting worst.
I am here to help. And I hope to provide some inspiration as to how you can accommodate to this debilitating condition, with a positive mindset and hopefully a positive body and physical health to follow.