I’m the first to admit that I have ‘too many’ interests and hobbies, and certainly never enough time or energy to pursue them.

Curiosity about everything drives me to keep learning, about anything that grabs my attention.

A test result mentions a term I don’t know, so I dive into learning more about anatomy, and the illnesses that can affect that particular section of the body.

Someone mentions an interesting fact from history, Wikipedia to the rescue, and off I am into the rabbit hole of linked historical facts.

Crochet piqued my interest, and 12 months later, I have a big rolling tub full of wool, many projects underway, and a number of large finished projects under my belt.

I hear a word that I feel may not be used quite correctly, or perhaps I’m unsure of the actual meaning, and into a dictionary I dive, researching etymology and slang usages.

It was always this way.

Extra classes in high school (languages and music on top of a science-heavy core), five musical instruments and lessons, plus choir and music teaching, a couple of jobs in libraries, tennis, swimming, sewing, knitting, cross stitching, and more.

Until illnesses took a lot of my energy away.

When illness takes over

In the last couple of years of high school, the costochondritis flared constantly enough that I could breathe properly or raise my arms in front of me for long periods - piano, singing, clarinet and violin had to be stopped. Luckily, I could keep on with percussion or I might have gone mad without any music!

Tennis and swimming also had to go, and even carrying books became difficult. Cross stitch had to be relegated to a stand and done sparingly, sewing and knitting made too much tension, so disappeared for a while. I’m not sure if it was related, but asthma also reared it’s head.

Along with the costochondritis, came aggressive endometriosis / adenomyosis and almost daily migraines - I spent much time in agony in the school’s sick bay.

With so many of my activities taken away, replaced with pain and exhaustion, depression started to take hold. I constantly beat myself up for being sluggish, anxious and lazy.

Although, it’s been decades since then, and I have gotten better in knowing my limits, noting triggers and listening to my body, I still feel imbalanced.

I don’t know what to prioritize, where to spend my time, and the urgent stressful feeling of never having enough time and energy can be overwhelming.

It’s easy to prioritize work, home and social tasks above hobbies, but hobbies are vitally important when dealing with chronic pain. Happiness reduce the sensation of pain, they distract from pain and are therapeutic.

All too often, hobbies and interests are the first to disappear with chronic illness, as happened to me during high school.

Multipotentiality VS chronic illness

My curiosity drives me to keep learning about so many topics - like the ‘renaissance man’. I was fascinated by maths and the sciences, but also by the arts - music, languages, literature. I wanted to learn everything, do all the hobbies and more, be an inter-disciplinarian.

Emily Wapnik’s TED talk about why some people don’t have one true calling resonated with me to the core. I’m less of a scanner type of multipotentialite, instead I like deep diving, but changing what I delve into regularly.

Some aspects of multipotentiality conflict with my needs as a chronic illness battler.

I must not get lost in a task, or I’ll run my energy reserves out and end up physically suffering. No playing piano for six hours straight, as I used to.

I love teaching, especially longer classes for adults and workshops. Evenings are dreadful - what limited energy I had is drained away and pain starts to build quickly by the late afternoon. But classes for adults are mostly in the evenings.

When doing a photography job (often food related), I tend to spend whole days, preparing, shooting, changing lenses, and then editing. All in one big flow of tight focus. It can be exhausting, even for healthy people.

Just resting, doing nothing, is truly boring. Plus it is psychologically exhausting - I end up berating myself for my illnesses (none of which are ‘my fault’), and driving myself into depression. I have to keep my mind busy.

Finding a balance

I’m still not good at this.

Every now and again, I’ll have a marathon writing session and forget about standing up for breaks, or say yes to teaching a three hour evening class, crochet like a madman, become focused on a photography project, or spend too much time standing in the kitchen, or even game the day away. Invariably I end up paying for the deep dive for many days afterwards.

But I’ve found there is no perfect, sustainable balance of work, hobbies, and rest - my energy, pain, and inspiration levels fluctuate every day.

The 20 Minutes A Day project was very helpful in showing me I don’t always need that deep concentration and flow state to make progress on projects, and enjoy my hobbies.

On days where I must be physically active - doctors’ appointments, physio, gym, water aerobics - I try to keep extra physical things to a minimum. No cleaning or cooking, but instead small spurts of writing, crocheting, meditation, light stretching in breaks, reading.

On the other days, I intersperse physical activity with non, and that seems to allow me to work longer into the afternoons. As the day goes on, I try to do more restful things. I’m still not good at sticking to limits and taking breaks though!

I’m still learning to pay attention to my body and give it what it needs. Some things that I’ve found help include:

  • Plan for things in advance (menu planning is hard when you have a strong-willed stomach with a mind of its own), and allow enough time to prepare.
  • Say no to evening commitments, all-day events, things I really don't want to do, or that will over-tax my energy reserves.
  • Take breaks and limit time spent on any one thing - I'm still a beginner at this.
  • Have a good variety of things to fill the total 'resting' times so my mind is active - audiobooks, webinars, podcasts, audio language courses, StarCraft competition videos, anime, etc.
  • Prioritise, not just for importance or urgency, but also for enjoyment - do the things that make me smile and feel good, because this fills a little back into the energy bucket.
  • Leave my phone (and tablet) out of the bedroom so I'm not tempted to peek at it and disappear into the internet, whenever I wake up in the middle of the night (regularly).

How do you do it?

Are you a spoonie multipod? How do you balance your many interests, work, exercise with resting and not getting bored or depressed? How do you remind yourself not to get lost in a task?