Hospice helps those with chronic lung conditions battle anxiety

More than two years on from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, people with life-limiting illnesses are finally feeling more confident returning to the outside world.

The Hospice Charity Partnership has restarted one of its most rewarding and inspiring services, helping people living with anxiety and breathlessness, caused by chronic lung conditions, to cope with day to day life.

The charity’s Fatigue, Anxiety and Breathlessness Self-Management Programme – also known as the FAB programme – recently restarted its weekly sessions at John Taylor Hospice in Erdington.

The nine week course, along with follow up sessions, allows people living with respiratory conditions the chance to take back control of their breathing, improve confidence, maintain independence and manage anxiety.

Barrie Barker, a patient who lives near our Erdington site, said he never thought he would enjoy attending FAB sessions, but since joining the programme, he hasn’t looked back.

Barrie lives with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is a long term restrictive lung illness. Since attending the FAB sessions, he has been able to meet people living with similar conditions and has even overcome severe panic attacks by applying things he learnt at FAB.

“I didn’t want to go on this course to be perfectly honest,” Barrie said. “But my wife, Rachel, said to me, just give it a go – so I went and I haven’t looked back.”

Going to the FAB meetings each week has enabled Barrie to come out of his shell.

“I get excited about going, like a young kid going to nursery,” he said. “It has really brought me out of my shell.

“With two years of the pandemic and lockdowns, I never went out at all. Now, after attending FAB again, I haven’t got a fear complex about going out anymore.

“It is incredible to meet people on the same level as me. People can look at us and think, there isn’t anything wrong with you, because it’s not necessarily a visible issue.

“But as soon as they look deeper, they start to see us losing our breath doing simple tasks and they realise.”

Panic attacks can severely affect people living with breathlessness. For those who attend FAB, panic attacks are a frequent discussion point.

Barrie explained: “Meeting the guys and girls at FAB has been brilliant. Even just last week we were talking about the ways panic attacks affect us all.

“You think you’re the only one who has the panic attacks – believe you me, we all get them. And we get them bad.

“Thanks to these guys helping us with even the tiniest things, it has helped me incredibly so, even to the point where I can virtually control panic attacks from coming on.”

He added: “When I feel a panic attack coming on, I sit and think about my arms position – to allow me to get more breath in my lungs – and I imagine a window and adapt my breathing as I follow each edge with my imagination – this was a coping mechanism we learnt at FAB.

“Then all of a sudden, I can feel myself coming down from a panic attack. It has been about two or three months since my last proper one.

“They are not nice, and they still happen for me. Sometimes you think, this is the last breath I will take.”

By learning more about himself, his limits and how to manage the condition, Barrie said FAB has helped him enormously, and encourages others to attend if they are struggling or want somewhere to socialise with similar people.

“If you get the chance to go to FAB, take the opportunity,” Barrie said.

“I feel so proud of a lot of things I have done while being on the course.”

Visit www.johntaylorhospice.org.uk/care-and-support/ and get in touch to find out more about FAB.

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