By Avery Keatley
Joan Didion famously quipped, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Stories are central to our understanding of ourselves and others. We relate to others through stories be they funny, morbid, or completely ordinary. Stories increase our ability for empathy and fill the craving for human connection. Stories give us confidence to speak up and say that’s happened to me, too. Stories scratch that subconscious tickle that someone else must celebrate and suffer like we do.
Stories can be especially helpful for asthma sufferers says Dr. Debby Gillman, a psychologist at UPMC. Dr. Gillman works with the Asthma Institute to facilitate a monthly asthma support group. She and Dr. Sally Wenzel host the discussion which draws callers nationwide. Asthmatics, most of them severe, call in to share their experiences.
“They’ve been through so much,” says Dr. Gillman. She says that telling stories and relating similar traumas are good vehicles for helping people to connect. Anxiety, she says, is linked to respiration in the brain, and can be easily triggered. The focus of the group is to relieve some of this anxiety through sharing, although Dr. Gillman admits it’s not always so easy.
One of the biggest challenges the group faces is not meeting face to face. Sometimes, says Dr. Gillman, it can be hard to incorporate everyone in the conversation because of this: “Some people are just listening, and others talk more.” Dr. Gillman says that even listening is a strategy for coping with the day to day difficulties of asthma.
“Being heard and listening to stories of similar challenges can help people,” she says. Personalizing the topics make it easier to talk about the struggles asthmatics face, even if it is over the phone. Stories are the key to human connection.
Interested in participating? Visit our website to learn how to join the discussion and be heard: http://www.asthmainstitute.pitt.edu/services.html
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