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I have to smile, even when I feel like I'm falling apart

Brian's COPD developed to stage 3 after moving to an industrial area. Now, he's trying to stay positive for his wife and daughters. 

A photo of Brian with his mum and his daughter Abbie in 2015

I was on holiday in Lanzarote when it started. I kept feeling out of breath but just blamed it on my smoker’s cough, and the dry, dusty climate.

When we came back, however, I got a couple of chest infections in quick succession. My doctor told me that I had pleurisy. Only a few months later, it happened again.

That time, when they checked me, they told me I had stage 2 COPD

COPD didn't mean much to me back then

At first, the diagnosis didn’t mean much to me.

"My COPD crept up on me."

I felt a bit more aware of my health, but apart from that, little else had changed. As long as I took all my medicine, it wasn’t too bad and I felt I was coping with it very well.

I’d been an outdoorsy person my whole life and was a single dad for 12 years for my now-grown-up kids, and I felt strong. 

But slowly, over the years, the disease progressed and I found was able to do less and less. It crept up on me.

We decided to move

I was running a small catering business, but spending time in the hot kitchen was aggravating my symptoms. 

My wife and I came to the decision that we’d move our family from Sussex to Runcorn, so we could be closer to my grown-up daughter. We organised new jobs for ourselves, and made the move. 

But within a few days of arriving, I found I was quite ill.

My health took a real tumble. My ankles swelled up to the point where I thought it might be a blood clot.

"You're living in an industrial area"

Within 3 months of arriving, I was so poorly that my doctor’s re-diagnosed my COPD as stage 3. I couldn’t believe it. It had only been a few months.

I’d never even thought about air pollution or the effect it could have on me before - no one in my family had. Before this, we'd lived on the coast, so we had plenty of fresh sea air. 

Even though we’d only just arrived in our new home, we immediately began to make plans to move again. We moved to North Wales a few months after.

Since the move, I don’t feel much better, but I think my condition is stable. Hopefully, I’ll stave off reaching stage 4 for the time being.

Living with COPD is exhausting

I can’t lie - sometimes I feel like I’m just hanging on. The last time I had an exacerbation, I was in bed for weeks on end. These days I’m at the point where I’ve been signed off work completely. 

"I can’t lie - sometimes I feel like I’m just hanging on."

It’s a terrible strain on my wife, and sometimes my 2 young daughters have to help me with basic tasks like putting my socks on.

And even though I have a loving family, and wonderful friends who care about me, my lung condition makes me feel so lonely. I hate living with the guilt of feeling ill too - I don’t want to have to rely on people.

The worst thing about it is that it's an invisible illness. Most people can’t see it, so they don’t understand what I’m going through.

The depression this has caused me is immense, and I know someday I’ll be at stage 4, and asked to consider oxygen. I miss being an active dad to my 2 young children, and I have anxiety about getting out of breath. 

Up until a few months ago, I’d find myself sitting on the sofa, looking out the window, wondering, what on earth happened to my life?  

But now, I’m trying to stay positive as much as I can.

Brian in 2018 with his daughter Heather

I know how it feels to be lonely, so I wanted to make a space where people like me can meet each other. I set up an online friendship group called Buddies North Wales

I got in touch with a programmer who set up a website for us. It's designed for people who want to meet up or widen their social circles in the local community, including people coming from the same place as me.

I’m hoping we can all organise some events, or go for lunches or on pub nights!

It lifts my spirits to do things for others

Knowing that I can still do things like this has really lifted my spirits. Maybe what I can do is not so physical anymore, but I can still do something, and it’s a boost to use my head to do something nice for people.

It's been great for me, and my wife has seen a bit of the old Brian coming out!

It’s shocking to me how depressed my COPD has made me. And when you have 2 little girls you can’t show that face to them.

You have to smile for them, even when you feel like you’re falling apart. I'll keep on smiling for them. 


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18 November 2018