Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I suspect that I’m not the only person with COPD who suffers from anxiety. My anxiety pre-dates my COPD, but my COPD has definitely exacerbated it. Last summer after Gordon died I saw a psychiatrist and, in addition to talking with me, he prescribed a small amount of medication to help me sleep. Just last week I also started a class on Mindfulness Meditation.

Before COPD the most frequent trigger for my anxiety was a fear of being late. I even had one or two recurring bad dreams about it. The way I coped was always to plan to be early. At work, for example, I always planned to finish my projects at least a day ahead. That way, if the unexpected happened, I still wouldn’t be late.

Fear of not getting somewhere on time, however, was a more frequent trigger, so I always planned to get to my appointments early. Getting to the airport on time was so important to me that, if I could arrange it, I’d plan a meal in the airport before my flight. That way the worst that would happen if I were late was I’d miss my meal.

My initial Alpha-1 COPD diagnosis increased my anxiety levels a little I’m sure. Then, when I went on oxygen to fly, to sleep and to exercise they went up a little again. But the big bump came only when I went on oxygen 24/7. Until then, if I’d run out of oxygen for a short while, I could have adjusted; I would have been OK. That’s no longer true; one of the reasons for the increase in my anxiety.

By way of example, I’ll tell you what happened to me last Tuesday.
I filled up my portable oxygen unit at 1 PM. From past experience, I was sure that it would last me at least until supper. I live in an apartment at Glenmeadow, a not-for-profit that provides apartments and services for seniors. I left my apartment, walked to our gym, and worked with our trainer for about 45 minutes.

Following, I collected my mail and then went to the cafĂ© for a cup of coffee and conversation with friends. About a half hour later I suddenly sensed that I wasn’t getting any oxygen. I quickly checked all the tubes to see that they were properly connected. Thankfully there were staff members close by. I called one over, explained the situation, and asked her to go to my apartment and retrieve another small portable oxygen unit that I keep on hand for emergencies. She agreed.

While she was gone, I sat quietly in my seat. I knew that, without talking or moving, my oxygen levels wouldn’t fall very fast. When she returned, I quickly turned on the portable oxygen unit she’d brought me and, after a minute or so, confirmed that my oxygen levels were fine. Then I finished my coffee and conversation and had a friend walk with me and carry my non-functioning portable oxygen unit back to my apartment. What would I have done if I were in my car all by myself? I guess I would have called 911.

The other reason for the increase in my anxiety is how long it takes me to leave my apartment. Before leaving, I have to switch to a portable oxygen unit from the oxygen concentrator that I use in my apartment. That involves first filling my portable unit with oxygen, turning it on and checking that oxygen is flowing through the tubing attached to it and then putting the cannula on the end of that tubing into my nose. Finally I have to carefully roll up the cannula and 50 feet of tubing that connect me to my concentrator and allow me to move freely around my apartment. Only when that is done can I shut off my concentrator and go.

In addition, every day when I go out of my apartment I have to plan where I am going to go and how much oxygen I will need. If I’m planning to do something active, I will need more oxygen than if I’m planning to be sedentary. And you will probably not be surprised that I usually plan on having more oxygen than I will need, even if it means having to come back to my apartment at some point to refill my portable.

My point here is not to have anyone feel sorry for me. It is what it is and I’m doing my best to live with it. My point is that this is what thousands of people with COPD live with every day. In addition, many, if not most don’t have the resources I do. Even if they weren’t plagued with anxiety before their diagnosis, chances are they’re plenty anxious now.

Unfortunately, from what I’ve read, there is no quick fix for anxiety. Nor is there a fix that works for everyone. There’s a plethora of medications are out there. Others claim that talk therapy, exercise and/or meditation are the answer. I’ve personally found some relief from all of these approaches. In addition, I’ve recently learned that I’m actually one of the lucky ones.

I’ve been reading a recent book, “My Age of Anxiety - Fear, hope, dread, and the search for peace of mind,” by Scott Stossel. In addition to providing a historical context for his subject, Mr. Stossel describes his own life-long battle with anxiety. That description and his description of similar life-long battles fought by past and present luminaries in sports, the arts, science and politics really opened my eyes. I am not alone. In addition, my anxiety pales in comparison to what some of these people deal with on a daily basis. 

If you have COPD and you suffer from anxiety, you are not alone either. There are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousand of us out there. Equally important, if you haven’t already and can afford it, get help. Finally, I recommend Mr. Stossel’s book. Hopefully it will put your anxiety into perspective and provide you with ideas on how to help yourself.