Hobbies Keep Me Sane When Managing Chronic Illness
Hobbies can be a funny thing. It feels like some of us have many and could go broke supplying them, while others have no idea how to relax or do something for the sake of enjoyment. I personally have fallen into both categories at different points in my life.
When I was in the Army, I always talked about the things I wanted to do to destress. Rather than take the classes or make the things, I developed a sordid sense of humor as a coping mechanism. I’ve found that a similar sense of humor is common in the chronic illness communities, including myasthenia gravis (MG). Other than the warped humor, no hobbies took root.
Once I medically retired from the Army in 2011, I had all the time in the world to explore the hobbies I’d always been interested in, but I no longer had the health to do so. I chose to delve into my artistic side and learn graphic design. I tried going back to school but was unable to learn at the required pace. I had some cognitive decline and was no longer able to process new information quickly.
Is playing games considered a hobby? I’m not sure, but I took it up after I flunked three classes during the time doctors were investigating my mental faculties. I once read a study that found that Alzheimer’s patients who played brain games regularly were able to regain some of their memory and processing skills. I had nothing to lose and gave it a go. For a minimum of 30 minutes a day, I played various brain games on my phone.
In 2012, after my epic failure at trying to learn graphic design, I pursued clay work. First, I learned to throw on the pottery wheel and made functional items like plates, cups, and bowls. Then I started sculpting and absolutely loved it. It not only provided mental catharsis, but also functioned as physical therapy for some of my disabilities and gave me purpose during the day. Clay play for the win!
It took a few years, but I eventually realized that the brain games had been helping. I used to be a bookworm, but in addition to being unable to learn new things, I had trouble following along with books and retaining what I read. This happened even with books I was rereading. I missed this hobby. On a whim, I decided to start listening to audiobooks on my phone for background noise while I was sculpting.
Success never happens overnight, even if that appears to be the case with others. My reading journey was no different. One evening in 2014, I was listening to an audiobook. After supper, I told my husband about what I made that day and what happened in the book I’d been listening to. I remember stopping midway through our conversation and crying because I had actually remembered both.
Since then, I’ve also picked up crocheting again (my grandma taught me when I was 8), and I’ve recently decided to improve my drawing skills. My 3D skills are much better than my 2D skills. I may give digital sculpting a try to combine some skills I have and some I’d like to learn.
Hobbies are an important outlet for anyone, not just those with chronic illnesses like MG. They give us a purpose, something to do, and opportunities to meet others with similar interests.
For me, I have found that having a space where I can comfortably practice my hobbies is critical for my emotional and mental health. It’s one reason I spent 10 days getting my studio/office squared away after our recent move to Wisconsin. (It’s currently the only room in the house that’s done!)
What hobbies do you enjoy? What adaptations, if any, have you made so you can continue to do them? Please share in the comments below.
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