One of the most powerful items in the Catch Your Breath exhibition can be found on the video reel in our central ‘Breathing Space’. Commissioned especially for the exhibition, ‘Still/Breathing’ by film-maker Matt James Smith features intimate interviews with Jill, Sylvia, Gaynor, Tony, James and Malcolm who all have one thing in common – they all live with conditions that cause breathlessness. The underlying causes are varied – from asthma to anxiety to TB – but they share remarkably similar insights into what it feels like to be breathless, how it impacts on their life and why lung disease can be so invisible and misunderstood.
One of our main aims for this exhibition was to share the stories of people who live with breathlessness in an attempt to challenge the stigma that surrounds it. Much of that stigma is because lung disease is so strongly associated with smoking. But, as our film stars show, lung disease and breathlessness isn’t just smoking-related – it can have all kinds of underlying causes. And, as Jill points out, even if a person’s lung disease is smoking-related, there are plenty of other lifestyle-related conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, which don’t carry the same burden of shame. That shame can stop people from seeking medical help or taking good care of themselves as they feel it’s their own fault. This stigma might also mean that there are people in your life who are struggling with breathlessness, but are working very hard to hide it.
We hope that these stories touch you, and that perhaps they make you think twice before judging the person coughing and wheezing next to you on the bus.
If you or anyone you know can relate to the experiences in the film then support is available. The British Lung Foundation’s ‘Breath Test’ is a good place to start. It’s a simple quiz which provides personalised advice.
Most of the people featured in the video are members of Breathe Easy groups. These friendly groups usually have social events and sometimes exercise classes and other activities to help you manage your breathlessness. We are extremely grateful to Breathe Easy Darlington and Breathe Easy Durham and Derwentsidefor their support in making this film.
You can find ‘Still / Breathing’ and extended versions of all the interviews on the Life of Breath YouTube channel.