I don't remember ever being able to breathe like other people.
A flu virus scarred my lungs dramatically when I was three years old. From then, I trailed longingly behind my sisters. In high school gym class, I would stop and pretend to "tie" my shoe several times. Really, it was just an excuse to catch my breath. In college, I could never walk with my friends to class. Instead, I left the apartment early and walked from bench to bench, in secret, so no-one could tell.
I spent my life both overcoming and hiding my disability. It was when I started using oxygen 24/7 that I finally let myself be seen.
People were amazed at all I could do. They congratulated me when I worked out at the gym using my oxygen. They stared when I danced with my friends (pre-Covid).
They called me brave and marveled that I'm starting a business while using oxygen.
In many ways, my disability made me the opposite of many members of my family. I'm a quiet person, an observer. Introverted. A person who finds her own path. It took visible proof of my disability for me to realize that all the things my disability forced me to become are actually assets.
I'm tough. I'm strong. Stubborn. A winner. I may be slower than most, but I never stop. I adapt.
To my friends who use oxygen, this is true of you, too. Every day we get up and it's never easier but we continue to thrive.
Perhaps there are times in life I should have advocated for myself more. I had no need to hide. I could have spoken up. You can, too. You are your own best advocate.
While you are battling COPD, bronchiestasis, heart failure, please know you never walk alone.
The COPD Foundation has an excellent on-line program called COPD360SOCIAL. It's friendship, support, and information just for oxygen users in a Facebook-like format.
We can all walk together.