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Reflections from the Trek—The Importance of a Positive Attitude

Reflections from the Trek—The Importance of a Positive Attitude

Patient advisor Stephen Berger explains how living life to the full despite serious illness can benefit our state of mind, as well as our body.

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In my last column, I talked about the six “big ticket” items for PF patients:

  1. Medical
  2. Exercise
  3. Nutrition
  4. Stress, anxiety and depression management
  5. Prevention of infection
  6. Living with purpose

Most of these I got from Dr. Noah Greenspan and as I progress through his course, I am gaining deeper insight into these vital factors.

Moving beyond symptoms

As I reflect, it seems to me the fourth area isn’t quite right. Stress, anxiety, and depression are symptoms of imbalanced thinking. But is all we want just to not be imbalanced? There is real benefit from going beyond neutral to living with joy, gratitude, love for others, and love of life itself. Certainly, we want to be careful we don’t get into emotional trouble. Having problems with stress, anxiety or depression is very common among people with chronic illness. Duh! Shake up my world, take away things very precious to me, and take away the strengths that have become part of my self-image. What does anyone expect but emotional reaction to those losses?

Just being symptom-free isn’t enough; we want to be in good health—in this case, good emotional health. There is mounting scientific evidence that our mind and body are powerfully connected. What we think and how we feel affects our body.  We don’t just want to manage anxiety; we want to laugh more!  We don’t want only to avoid clinical depression; we want to live with zest!

Embracing mortality

To achieve that, it is essential we accept our mortality. None of us get out of this thing alive. The chances of dying are 100%. Actually, the Bible recounts two men that God took straight to heaven while alive.  Aside from Enoch and Elijah, however, the only questions for us are when and how we will depart. Part of maturing is getting comfortable with that basic fact. For me, when and how got a little better defined when I was diagnosed with PF.

But none of us know when or how we will die. I might get into a terrible wreck or be shot by a robber later today. On the other hand, I might still be writing this column in 30 years. We don’t really know. To live with enthusiasm, I have to be able to say, “OK, I’m going to die. So what? I’ve known that since I was a kid. What’s changed?” In an important way, our PF diagnosis hasn’t changed anything. Let’s get on with living the best life we can live!

Inspired living

I love the following quote which some attribute to Martin Luther:

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

And Maya Angelou’s statement:

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

Nothing about our diagnosis forbids us from living for higher and nobler purposes. We can still plant an oak tree to give shade to our great grandchildren. (True story: I planted two pecan trees in my backyard today!)

We need our counselors, both professional and non-professional, to believe that and help us live life fully. We do need to get help with stress, anxiety, and depression when they become problematic. For most of us, those will be factors in our journey. But we don’t want to stop there. We want to go on to live life to the full, rich, glorious, uproarious, laugh-out-loud audacious!

Did I mention there is solid research that living this way is very good for our health?

More on that in future columns.

About the Author: Stephen Berger is an engineer who focuses on developing consensus solutions that apply technology to societal problems, such as wireless in healthcare and disability access. He also has a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, and was a volunteer hospital chaplain. Diagnosed with IPF in 2017 and the recipient of a double-lung transplant in early 2020, Stephen thinks a lot about faith, hope, values, and how to navigate the complex challenges we all face with grace, integrity and authenticity.

(This article has not been reviewed by the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.)

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