Everyone has issues. The issues may be financial or political, personal or professional. They may involve family, friends, environment, or health. Just to keep life interesting, many people deal with two or more of these issues on a regular basis.

The attitude with which you view your particular conundrums will affect your life in ways that you cannot even imagine! Strong statement? Perhaps, but let’s take a look at it.

Friends come in all varieties. Think about your particular circle of acquaintances. With which ones do you prefer to spend time? Remember, they all have their own issues. Chances are, if you have spent much time with them, you have some idea what those issues might be. If you are among the older set of citizens, I can almost guarantee that you are familiar with the health problems of many of your friends. Somehow, in any gathering of “seniors”, the subject of operations, prescriptions, and general health concerns will not be far from the surface. No one knows why this happens. Perhaps it is some sort of subconscious societal plea for sympathy, perhaps it is nothing more than “can you top this?” Most conversations, after all, are not two people talking. They are individuals talking and then waiting their turn to talk again.

Just as you have a variety of friends, those friends have a variety of attitudes toward their particular situations. As you would expect, many people with serious, debilitating health problems do not have the most positive of attitudes. Chronic pain, limited mobility, or disfiguring ailments can certainly be cause for negative feelings toward one’s lot in life. Totally understandable.

However, we have all run across people who, despite their physical limitations, somehow manage to maintain an attitude that is accepting, upbeat, even cheerful! They are able to overcome, at least outwardly, the depressing fact that there is something seriously wrong with them. It is hard to get inside someone else’s head, but I would be willing to bet that their innermost feelings mirror, for the most part, the attitude that they show to the world. How do they do that?

I am not a psychologist, but I am a keen observer of human nature. It has given me a great deal of enjoyment over the years to watch my fellow human persons muddle their ways through life. As you are aware, some are much better at muddling than others. They say that, as we age (or drink alcohol), we become more like ourselves. In some cases, this is a good thing. In other instances, that prospect is just a bit frightening. You know who you are.

So, these annoyingly cheerful people…how did they get that way? Some people are lucky enough to be born with a naturally cheery outlook. You know them. They are the babies that everyone loves, the type that are so fun to be around that their parents usually decide to have a couple more, this child-rearing thing being so easy and all. Those same parents are usually distressed to learn that naturally easygoing little kids are rare, indeed.

So, must we be born that way? Not at all. People, and attitudes, do change. It is often a difficult process, bordering on inconceivable for some. A combination of stress, nervousness, and apprehension can raise havoc with anyone’s outlook on their life. Outside influences such as jobs, family, and friends can defeat an attempt to rise above the fracas and maintain an optimistic perspective. We are surrounded on a daily basis with people and situations that will drag us down if we allow them to do so. Throw health problems into the mix, and there is little wonder that attitudes can suffer.

So what to do? How is it possible to overcome the feelings of hopelessness? How do we clean that murky glass through which we view the future? Like most things worth acquiring, the journey is far from easy. That said, there is absolutely no reason that you should not attempt it. What, exactly, do you have to lose by trying?

There is, in today’s world, an entire pharmacopoeia of drugs available to help your mood, your attitude. If nothing else works for you, there is no shame in consulting with your physician to see what is available. There are also a plethora of herbal remedies out there that may or may not help you. Again, please talk to your doctor before you embark on any regimen of chemical or herbal assistance. I urge you to work on other methods of altering your point of view before turning to the world of medication, but be aware that it is available if necessary.

Don’t even think about self-medicating with alcohol or any form of illegal substances! Therein lie more troubles than you really want. The temporary attitude change brought on by their use is simply not worth the potential downsides, for they are extreme.

Talk to someone. Giving voice to the things that trouble you can help to take away their sting. If you can verbalize your gremlins, name them, describe them to another person, it gives you power over them. Talk to a spouse or a parent or a sibling or a child or a friend. If you can’t bring yourself to share with someone close to you, consider a professional counselor. They are very good at what they do, and you will be hard-pressed to tell them anything that they haven’t heard before. Many times, vocalizing your issues will allow you to begin to re-frame your experiences in a more positive fashion.

What are you afraid of? Pain? Famine or financial problems or your kids moving back home? Death, either yours or someone else’s? Again, it helps to say it.

Now that we have it out there on the table in front of us, what can you do about it? Can you do anything about it? If you are terrorized by meteorites or young people, probably not much. If you have been visited by a disease for which there is no cure, such as COPD, all of the worrying in the world is not going to change your situation.

I am not trying in this writing to solve all of your concerns. However, I can speak of the fears associated with COPD with a degree of authority. I was diagnosed with severe emphysema nineteen years ago. Since that time, I have spent several nights in hospitals and several weeks in a recliner doing little but gathering dust and sucking on an oxygen hose due to bouts with double pneumonia. Yes, I smoked for a lot of years, and grew up in the home of a heavy smoker, so the sins of my youth caught up with me. I was on my way toward the exit, albeit slowly, when I qualified for, and was gifted with, a double lung transplant.

Being the inquisitive little devil that I am, I spent many, many hours on the Internet researching the disease and the myriad of treatments, some good, some not so good, that are available. Knowledge, as they say, is power. Hiding one’s head in the sand has rarely accomplished much, except getting sand in one’s hair.

Besides being inquisitive, I am remarkably stubborn. Upon reflection, that trait is probably at least partially responsible for the fact that I did smoke for all of those years. Too bad, but there isn’t a whole lot that I can do to about the past. What I did do, however, was use that stubbornness to deal with my lung issues. I mentioned research, the gaining of knowledge in order to better understand my particular demons. I subscribe to various COPD informational websites, and write and submit articles for some of them. Between my own research and that done by other contributors, I have learned a tremendous amount about dealing with COPD.

Another real source of knowledge has been my medical providers. I know enough about COPD to enable me to communicate with doctors, therapists and the like on a semi-intelligent basis. The various professionals seem to appreciate the fact that I have made the effort to learn about the disease, and they tend to respond very favorably.

I try to be very aware of my physical and emotional condition on a daily, even hourly basis. I have traded my various COPC medications for anti-rejection drugs, and I keep a plentiful stock of my various medications on hand.

Lastly, (you knew that I would get here eventually), I exercise. The stubbornness of which I spoke above gets me onto the treadmill or the exercise bike or the stair-stepper six days a week. I honestly feel guilty if I miss a day for some reason. I use exercise bands to do upper body work, and play golf when I can. Since the transplant, I have added hiking in the desert and riding my new mountain bike. The exercise discipline kept me alive, it helped me to qualify for the transplant, and it helped me to recover. Now, it enables me to remain active, to live my life!

The point of all this is that life is filled with issues. You must learn to pick your battles. There is nothing that you or I can do to change the past. Worrying about what has happened or what might happen in the future is nothing more than a gigantic waste of time. All we can do is work to change our attitudes about the things over which we have no control. To paraphrase a good friend who has an extensive counseling background, if total pessimism is a 1, and total optimism is a 10, we should aim for an 8 or a 9. A touch of pessimism keeps us from hurting ourselves!

We can also change our attitudes about the issues that we can affect. That’s where the research and the learning and the exercise come in. Accomplishment brings empowerment. My exercise regimen helps to build my muscles so that they demand less oxygen to move, but it also brings on a delicious sense of self-righteousness. A sense of humor helps, also. If we can learn to laugh at life and its offerings, we can become one of the friends with which others prefer to spend time.

Finally, are you the kind of friend with which you want to spend your time? You really don’t have much of a choice about spending the rest of your life with you, so do whatever you can to gain or maintain a good attitude about your life. You really do deserve it!

Uncle Jim

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