Being diagnosed and living with COPD can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. Each person’s COPD symptoms and treatment options are different and that is why it is important for you to work with your healthcare team to create a treatment plan that works for you. Vijai had spent years counseling others who had challenging issues occur in their lives, but despite being a clinical psychologist, he experienced the anxiety and concern that many others have when first diagnosed. He shares his experience with overcoming this anxiety and taking an active role in managing his disease.

When were you diagnosed with COPD: 

I was diagnosed 29 years ago at 53 years old. I had grown up in India where we used toxic fuels for cooking and lighting our home, so I was exposed to these chemicals from a young age. Looking back, I think I had undiagnosed asthma since I had to limit the type of physical activity I did from a young age. Years later, my symptoms became more noticeable. I remember being away on a trip and trying to go for a walk one morning and I became short of breath and felt like I just couldn’t walk any more. I returned from this trip and was seen shortly after by a lung specialist. Among other diagnostic tests, I had a pulmonary function test which confirmed I had what they then told me was emphysema. Years later, after further evaluation of my condition, the doctors determined it was actually COPD.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a long-term lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. COPD causes air flow limitation (less air in and out of the airways) and breathing-related symptoms. There is no cure, but there are ways to manage and treat COPD.

How did you feel about being diagnosed with COPD in your early 50s?

When the lung doctor told me I had emphysema, he said, “it is life-long, progressive, irreversible and terminal, but don’t worry.” It took me almost two years to get over the shock and fear of the diagnosis and then I realized hearing the diagnosis was worse than the actual condition. As they say, the news of my death was greatly exaggerated. I decided I needed to do something, not just solely depend on my medication. I started to use Pranayama, which is an Indian term that refers to the practice of focusing on breath or breathwork. I learned how to pace my activity and to practice breath awareness. There is power in regulating your breath and pacing the activity you are doing with your breathing.   

How has your COPD been difficult?

One significant thing that I realized is that to some extent, my breathlessness was related to my fear and anxiety. When I was able to manage this better, it helped me with decreasing my breathlessness and increasing my activity tolerance. I still have shortness of breath or accelerated breathing from time to time, and during these times I focus on eliminating chest breathing. I use deep breathing techniques to help manage it. 

How have you been living your life with COPD?

I continue to mindfully regulate my breathing and pace my activities. I take good care of my health by seeing my doctor regularly and getting my vaccinations. I continue to do gentle easy yoga, meditation, and slow easy stretches. This may be different than what I did when I was younger, but it is what I do today. 

After 20 years of living with COPD, Vijai shares his advice for others diagnosed with this lung disease:  

  • Being diagnosed is just one phase of your disease. It may cause worry and anxiety initially but give yourself time to process and then move forward.
  • Don’t turn away from the support and strength of loved ones, it is powerful medicine.
  • Become more aware of and practice deep breathing. At first it may make you anxious, but you will improve as you practice, and it can help with relaxation.
  • Don’t judge yourself harshly, think to yourself, “Here is what I can do today to relax my body and mind, and this is the activity I can do today.”
  • Take care of yourself, not just what your doctor has recommended, but self-care should also be part of your daily routine.

To learn more about COPD visit Lung.org/copd.

Support for the COPD for Life educational campaign was provided for by Sanofi and Regeneron.

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