How I’m overcoming my fears about traveling and public speaking

A columnist prepares to present about COPD at the upcoming GOLD conference

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by Caroline Gainer |

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I haven’t traveled since the COVID-19 pandemic started. This is partly because I was afraid of contracting the virus, but also because I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to travel due to my chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other health issues. Dealing with acute respiratory distress syndrome last year took a lot out of me. I’ve worked hard to get back to where I was before this exacerbation, but I’m not sure I’m there yet.

Last weekend, however, I booked an Amtrak train ride from my home in West Virginia to Philadelphia, where I will be attending the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) conference on Nov. 13. I’m also scheduled to give a presentation about managing COPD exacerbations.

Although it’s a wonderful opportunity, I have spent three months wondering if I should cancel my engagement.

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My public debut tethered to my portable personal oxygen device

COVID-19 is not out of the picture, but I have protective face masks that I plan to wear throughout my trip. I have yet to contract the virus, which I believe is due to vaccinations, hand sanitation, and masking. I will be surrounded by friends at the conference who can help me if I become tired or sick, whether it’s a result of COPD or another illness.

I was also concerned about how my animals might fare while I’m away. My cat, Snowball, is terrified of most people, and while I was hospitalized last year, she refused to come out from under the couch. Fortunately, a friend that Snowball isn’t afraid of has agreed to housesit the animals while I’m gone.

Thus, I was left with no excuses not to book my trip.

The final hurdle

Now that I’ve confirmed my plans, I arrive at the issue that’s probably been in my way all along: my anxiety about delivering a good presentation.

Many of my mentors on this COPD journey will be at the GOLD conference, and I’m feeling relatively small and insignificant among these giants. One of the people I admire most, Wisia Wedzicha, MD, a professor of respiratory medicine at the Imperial College London’s National Heart and Lung Institute, is even presenting alongside me.

Thankfully, a dear friend is helping me prepare my presentation, which should help with my jitters and give me more confidence.

I’m feeling more alive than I have in a long time. This change in my spirit probably stems from looking forward to traveling and speaking — things I used to do often. Traveling, meeting new people, and reconnecting with old friends will be a pleasant change of pace.

I still have anxiety about the trip, but at least I have taken the first step.

Note: COPD News Today 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 COPD News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.