Chronic Illness and Enthusiastic Hobbies

I have a lot of hobbies. I read 100+ books a year, I paint, I study multiple languages simultaneously, and I write a lot. I am, in conclusion, a very enthusiastic person; I dive into things and am incapable of doing anything by halves.

Why do I mention this? Because I also struggle with chronic illness that makes all of that more difficult and, for me, more essential.

This isn’t the place where I talk about what those chronic illnesses are since I am feeling self-conscious of it right now, knowing that so many people have it worse and therefore guilting myself into silence. However, I will give an example of the symptoms I’ve struggled with this week: severe stomach pain, continuous headaches, incredibly loud pulsatile tinnitus. On top of this I also have mental health issues, though I’m doing alright with that this week (yay me).

I’ve always been the kind of person to jump into things with aplomb, but I’ve always had to adjust my behaviour to my issues. Sometimes I’ve had to abandon things completely.

For example, for around 5 years I spent every day of my life knitting or crocheting. I built up a community of friends and activities around it and absolutely loved it. I became very good at it and had an excellent collection of fancy yarn. Then, over a two day period, my arms decided that they were absolutely done. It is around 2 years later and I still cannot knit for more than a few minutes at a time, and if I do that then I regret it for days.

At the time this was awful. I had to retreat from my blog that had thousands of followers, and I slowly stopped going to my weekly knitting group even though I was only going there for friends. I’ve had many treatments on my arms and no conclusive decision on what the fuck happened to them since I had no symptoms before those two days. I had to give up a huge part of myself and I struggled with that; I felt real grief for a while.

Despite the lingering fear that this will happen with my other hobbies, I desperately cling to them. Reading at least is reliable outside of mental health downturns; even if my eyes did have permanent damage from one of my illnesses eventually, I can use audiobooks. I can read my kindle when my hands are too weak to hold open physical books. There are so many ways to learn languages I don’t think that one can be taken from me. I have to be careful with painting/art, but watercolours involve very little pressure or weight on my arms so so far it’s fine.

I know I’m lucky that I can still do so much of what I love, even if I have to accommodate my tricky body while I do it. I have a moderate headache right now that’s been lingering for about a week, so that’s making it a little annoying to concentrate, but I’m managing even if my stupid painkillers aren’t working. I can write with my ergonomic keyboard without pain if I take breaks.

Sometimes I get very upset at how much work it takes to do the things I like, but like many, I’m ashamed to talk about it too much because I know I’m very fortunate compared to many. Of course it doesn’t help anyone for me to compare myself to others, but I have yet to figure out how to stop.

Do you have to balance chronic illness with your hobbies? How do you manage?

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