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When Adjusting to Illness Means No More Quick Trips to the Store

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In the not so dim and distant past, “I’m just nipping out to the shops” meant just that. I could walk, reasonably swiftly, from my flat to the local convenience stores, post office, pharmacy and fast food outlets, all in between five and 10 minutes. Now, almost a decade since my diagnosis, I almost always take the car.

Not that this happened overnight. In the intervening years, as if by stealth, I became steadily slower, and, just as significantly, able to carry less and less. This was so subtle that I generally wasn’t aware of it as it was happening. Only in looking back from where I am now can I see.

What this means is that something I would once have done on a whim now involves some degree of planning. For example, if I am going for more than a pint of milk and a loaf of bread, I know I will have to use a shopping trolley. If it is 5:00 p.m. on a Friday or family hour, I am likely to postpone or not bother altogether.

In recent years, in addition to your basic breathlessness there has also been acute anxiety – specifically, in my case, panic disorder. I can never be sure when or where this will kick in. I count myself lucky that I am almost as likely to have a meltdown at home or in a place with which I am familiar as I am somewhere strange and new, as it means I wouldn’t feel any more secure for shutting myself away.

As I learn to live with breathlessness and indeed the anxiety which all too often accompanies it, I am becoming better at living in the now. By that, I mean I am slightly less inclined to ruminate about what might or might not happen whenever I have something to do or somewhere to be. This does not mean that an anxiety or panic attack is any less terrifying and traumatic when it happens; it is just that I don’t waste as much time worrying about what I can’t control.

Instead, I focus on that which I can control, or at the very least, have a degree of control over: making sure, as best possible, that I am never harassed, hurried or stressed. In practice, this means that “nipping out to the shops” takes a lot longer than it used to, which is not a problem as long as I am aware of my limitations and make the necessary adjustments.

Now and again, particularly if I am unwell, I’ll let my flatmate fetch things for me. He can get to the shops and back on foot far quicker than I can, even in the car. Even so, broadly speaking, it is better that I go for myself, for the less those of us with COPD and/or anxiety do something, the harder it becomes to do. It is critically important that we do as much as we can for as long as we can. But be aware: if we stay we are “nipping out to the shops,” we may be quite some time.

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Thinkstock photo via anyaberkut.

Originally published: April 17, 2017
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