Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guest Post: Every Breath Counts

Alanna's note: I asked Kerri to write a post for the blog based on her life with chronic illness. She is not living with diabetes, however she is living with asthma. She is an awesome support for the d-community and is a health advocate. You can find Kerri on twitter at: @__kerri.

Chronic disease of any sort comes with a lot of commonalities—regardless, of what disease we may live with on a daily basis, we are all constantly paying attention, even if with only some small segment of our minds, to how we are feeling at a given moment, and what actions we must take to deal with those feelings—whether those are physical or emotional.

Though I have a lot of friends with diabetes, I have a fully functional pancreas. The thing I have to think about, though, is simply breathing. I was diagnosed with asthma in April 2008 after a series of misdiagnoses and rounds of useless antibiotics for an infection I never actually had (that’s fun, right?).  Ultimately, we eventually figured out was going on, and through a series of trials and errors for about three years, we finally came across a combination of medications that keep things in relatively good control.

Like any chronic disease, asthma comes with its own series of misconceptions within society—the “blue puffer” is not a cure-all, anxiety and asthma are not the same thing, and unlike the doctor who told me I might have asthma said . . . “Take your inhaler and you’ll be okay” is not 100% true 100% of the time (I now take up to four inhalers multiple times a day, to give some perspective).  Fortunately we have moved away from a lot of the asthma-related stereotypes of the past, such as that kids/people with asthma can’t participate in physical activity (and thank goodness that misconception has changed!). More than societal perception change about asthma, what matters is how we as people living with any chronic disease perceive our disease.

I’ve long since said that “asthma may be a speed bump, but it is never a roadblock”. I think this holds true for many chronic diseases—an increase in asthma symptoms may affect how long it takes me to do something, just as a low blood sugar might affect how long it takes someone with diabetes to do something. We may have to change how we do things, but our disease does not have to change what we choose to do.

We choose how we see our own disease—whether we see it as a hindrance (which is inevitable, of course) or we can transform that perspective to see it as a stepping-stone . . . or, in some cases, a catapult towards better things: a motivator for making better choices to keep ourselves as healthy as possible; a way to increase our own knowledge about ourselves and about others; a story we can share to help the world see things a little bit differently.

I am not my asthma—“I am not my disease at all” (to quote Tess Dunn). But asthma is a part of me, and it has shaped who I am growing, day by day in this journey, to be. It has lead me through tough times, no doubt about that, but it has also lead me to many, many amazing people and experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It has changed how I think about things, how I feel about things, and how I see things—and part of that change comes down to choice. I didn’t choose to have asthma. I do choose how I think, feel, see and experience things.  And in the words of Bryce Avary . . . “Life will write the words, but you choose your own melody […] I’m just trying to find the right notes.”

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