Asthma UK community forum

Philosophical Debate

This evening, I have been trawling through some back issues of the BMJ (British Medical Journal), summarising the main issues for our study group in preparation for our exams.

The BMJ has the occasional ""Endpieces"" - small snippets at the end of articles, mainly to fill space, also to provoke thought and reflection.

In the July 8th 2006 issue, on of the endpieces contains this Native American saying:

""If you can make a friend of your illness, it will reward you a thousand-fold"".

Comments? Discussion points? :)

18 Replies

i would say ""i dont need a reward or an illness thank-you


What's the writer's justifications for a comment like that?!


There isn't a justification - it's an ancient Native American saying.

FWIW, my original reaction was exactly that of Bowmei's - no thank you! However, as a starting point for discussion, we *have* got the illness, there's no removing that. Most of the time I get incredibly frustrated and cross at the limitations it imposes on me, its unpredictability etc etc, and I am sure this holds true for most people who post on here. How could we go about ""making a friend"" of an illness? What benefits could that bring to us?


I hate asthma with a passion most of all I hate what it is doing to people I love and care about.



Maybe it means if you can see what it is, and put it into perspective, you can learn to use it to make you stronger in other ways.

I know at face value this sounds like claptrap, but those Native Americans may have a point.

I have known many individuals in my time with a number of really debilitating illnesses (not just asthma) and somehow those people are better and more capable than those who do not have to live with a long-term illness. I don't think being a 'friend' is literal - none of us would want to make friends with the monster, but somehow, knowing the monster makes us a little bit stronger, don't you think?


Have to say I was intrigued to read this post:-

""If you can make a friend of your illness, it will reward you a thousand-fold"".

I realise I do tend to see my asthma as occurring as a result of other situations, and I feel that my body protested to the injury done to it, by becoming sick. So I see my asthma as a witness of the inappropriate treatment of me.

How does this make asthma my friend? Having spent most of my life trying to cope with both - the way I was treated and the impact of this treatment, including the misery of asthma. And yet without the asthma, I wouldn't be free of the stress and fear resulting from my childhood, it can feel as though my body's speaking, or screaming.

It's hard to say how I know this, and yet I always knew.

I don't want to imply that asthma is always caused by distress inflicted by others, or that stress itself is the cause of asthma. It's much more complex than that! I do know that tuning into my heart has sometimes captured my grief over the way I was treated, and letting those tears fall, has relieved the asthma.

I also know the people who put me through so much, had neither any idea they were doing so, nor did they have any balm for their own torment.

In a way asthma has led me to a place of internal honesty, in the way only a friend could. For me, asthma became a path to lead me away from a destructive way of living.

I feel weird writing this, I do hope I get some replies.


The way I would look at this is, in theory if you care for your friend which in this case is asthma then it will care back.

Translated look after the lungs give them the medication they need, do you best to avoid triggers then you dont get the pay back.

I appreciate there are for some that this theory does not always work and no matter what we do they still give us a hard time, but If we then on top of that added more like not taking meds going into smokey pub this would be even worse.

So if you look after your friends they look after you.


Hi Zebra, Maybe you feel weird writing that message because your revealing/sharing an inner part of you. I think you are very brave, and I'm real chuffed for you that you feel you have reached a place of inner honesty. I hope that you feel an inner peace and a sense of calmness/well being now or soon having reached that inner honesty.

For me i think that even though i have brittle asthma and it sometimes shrinks my world and often governs what i can or can't do, when i accept all the **** that my illness is instead of resenting it and being infuriated by it i have a greater sense of well being. I guess its making the best of a bad lot or always seeing the best in a situation no matter what somehow enables me to cope and therefore the reward is that despite everything i am whole and happy. Like when i woke up in rescuss gasping etc at least im not in a coffin! No matter how bad things are i always try to see something however tiny to focus on that is good/positive. And that works for me, thanks Cath Bear xx


A friend in need is a friend indeed

Speedy, my philosophical friend...

You said ""...look after the lungs give them the medication they need, do your best to avoid triggers then you dont get the pay back"".

I know what you mean, but perhaps I would alter your wording a wee bit to say ""then you do get the pay back"" i.e. homostatis - restoration of wellbeing.

A good friend is worth their weight in gold.



The first thoughts into my head about this sensible or not about this were keep your friends close but your enemies closer..

I don't hate my asthma it has brought me so many oppertunities to meet amazing people in hospital who i would never normally have met and forced me look for inner strength and drive that a lot of people never have to look for but above all i appreciate every day.


I am normally a very optimistic person,but when it comes to asthma I,m afraid that I dont want it as a friend-I want to ,philosophically,thrash it to within an inch of its life with a big stick (Basil Fawlty style) and send it packing with its tail between its legs!!

I am the raging Ying to your calming Yang.

-just being playful here!!



in which case think i had better try a bit harder. can see the sense in making it a friend just wish it was a better friend at the moment.


A friend in need…..

Payback is an interesting word (noun) and has more than one meaning.

One well known ‘business’ definition is that of a return gained from, or paid on an investment, especially returns equal to the initial investment.

Many sportsmen/women would use this word in the context of putting in a huge amount of effort, and then getting a reward. For example when I used to be able to run up a steep hill without stopping, I would invariably yell –well more likely gasp – ‘payback time’ on the downhill section.

Another definition, less complimentary, is the act of taking revenge,- harming someone in retaliation for something harmful that they have done.

I prefer the ‘putting effort in and getting a reward’ meaning, especially if you make friends with your asthma.

Friendship was Aristotle’s highest goal for all, the ultimate ‘good’ if you like, and is the invisible thread running through communities, past, present and future.

Aristotle divided friendship into three types: friendships for usefulness, friendships for pleasure, and friendships of virtue.

Virtuous friendship is long-term and committed and brings great psychological benefits. There is much research evidence showing that having one close friend is associated with a range of health benefits, from recovery times from cardiac illness to reduced incidence of mental health problems.

Make friends with your asthma, - the invisible thread.



i always try to see something however tiny to focus on that is good/positive.

Cheers Lois, I think it's good to think about what asthma put you through, and to take control as much as poss. about the effect on your world.

Having had my worst asthma as a kid, I learnt to detach, in a way that seemed to go against me in the end, i.e., I was so detached, I didn't do much to help myself, like I hardly felt anything. In other ways I became afraid of everything - even a bar of chocolate - would I regret eating it?

growing up with asthma left me feeling desperately ashamed of myself, and feel their is a thing in our culture, that asthma is somehow seen in a unfair light. In that people don't seem to realise how bad you can feel, and grumble that your making it up somehow!

have got so much from reading posts on this site, it's like I can relate to so much of what people say, and let go of the lone struggle

so much for asthma being a friend!

I like what you say about reflecting on 'i have a greater sense of well being', I think that feeling, after you've struggled through a tough patch, and then your health settles down, life just looks so nice. Maybe people who don't have to fight for that don't appreciate it in the same way?

though, I'd love to know I'd never have to plough my way through a rough time with asthma ever, ever again.


This is an interesting one, my blindness is my friend because I've embraced it. I couldn't imagine being any different and I would be really scared if I could see properly. It makes me who I am, very quirky, the wearer of bright colours and obsessively tidy and bossy amongst other things!

Asthma however seems more like my enemy, its more unpredictable than my old mutant eyes. I still can't get my head round it and I don't know why. In a sense blindness is just as problematic if not more so. I can do less things because of my blindness than I can because of my asthma. I get discriminated against more because of my blindness than I do my asthma. My eyes cause me pain and fatigue and I have to work harder than everyone else to achieve the same things. My asthma seems under control but then suddenly pops up and knocks me down just when I think things are going ok! I find it more frustrating not being able to walk so far, being short of breath, having to go to A and E and take medication etc. than I do not being able to read print for long periods and walking into things!

Maybe ask me when I've had asthma 25 years like my blindiness and I might feel different!



just to say very moved by your post


Ok, so I definitely don't know about asthma or any other illness being my friend. That's a little bit of a stretch. However, if I were to interpret this quote, I might go down two different tracks.

First, and I think someone mentioned this already, is that if you really take care of yourself by listening to your body, being diligent about treatment and learning everything you can about the illness, then hopefully you will be rewarded with better health. This is of course all in theory as we all know it doesn't always pan out.

Secondly, I think this is saying that if we let it, our illness will possibly give us other things that we may not have had otherwise. For example, someone said making friends in the hospital. Also, I think we have all gained special insights from being ill that others may not have. We learn to listen to our bodies, to care for ourselves,to appreciate health when we have it, and we are also left with a fierce desire for independence. And, the evidence is right here on these boards that from being ill, the ability to empathise and support others increases thousand-fold. :)

I must say that I don't feel entirely comfortable jumping in as I certainly haven't seen the worst side of this illness. And certainly, I know that none of those things would ever be worth having any of the breathing difficulties that I have. I just thought I would see what I could make of this saying. Also, I have enjoyed reading everyone's responses.



good to hear from you Brynne, that's true about gaining empathy for others,


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