“Live in the moment.”
This saying is such a cliché in the chronic illness realm, yet I force myself to reply with some version of this daily when I am asked how I’m doing. My response usually is something along the lines of, “Hanging in there. Taking it day to day.” I tell people this because the truth about how I’m feeling and what goes on inside my mind is hard to articulate.
“Living in the moment” looks different for everyone. It’s unrealistic to think that those with pulmonary hypertension and chronic illness can quickly shift their minds from the future or the past to the present moment, then gain some type of peace from it. I don’t necessarily think we have to stay in each moment. That’s not what “being in the moment” is for me. I do think that it’s possible to try to find positivity and happiness amid the chaos, amid the worries about the future and the brutal reminders of the past.
At the beginning of this week, when I got discharged from the hospital, I laid in bed and cried because my mind had led me to think about the future. After a traumatic hospital admission sparked by acute respiratory failure and feeling as if my body was going to give up, I was extremely scared. As I laid awake at night, I thought of the reality for those living with progressive conditions like pulmonary hypertension; those whose life can turn in an instant. Things like a cold, the flu, or an acute flare-up of symptoms can make it too hard for us to fight.
It isn’t helpful to say to someone with this type of illness that they shouldn’t worry about the future. I worry about my future. I worry if I will be alive to get married one day, have children, watch them go to school on their first day, take them to school dances. These worries become even more real when faced with the possibility of early death or after experiencing an acute traumatic event.
I need to think about my future almost constantly. I need to plan. As much as I would love to just “go with the flow” of life, I will never be able to.
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I have created my own version of “living in the moment.” By finding things I am thankful for, even if something negative is happening, I can ground myself in the moment. When I was in the hospital, I was thankful for the iced coffee my boyfriend brought, the card my nephew made, the support and love from friends on social media, and my friends and family who texted or called. The things I am thankful for are all the things that matter most.
When I shift my focus onto something positive that is happening in the moment, my mind shifts from my negative or anxious thoughts, even if just for a little while. The greatest lesson I have learned in trying to find positives in the moment is that the “positive” doesn’t have to be something earth-shattering. The “positive” can simply be an act of kindness, a surprise gift, an uplifting message, or someone bringing me delicious food (my personal favorite). The positive doesn’t have to be something tangible; it can be an emotion. Those are the things I try to hold onto when my mind wanders, and for me, that’s what “staying present” with a chronic illness really is.
“Living in the moment,” for me, doesn’t mean avoiding thinking about the future, planning, reliving past traumas, or having anxiety about what’s to come. It’s impossible for anyone to be completely present, in the here and now. When I “live in the moment,” I remind myself of what I’m grateful for: the people and feelings in my life that make me hope for more time and better days. I’m grounded in the moment because I’ve found gratitude and positives, even in the struggle.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.