Staying Busy When You Can’t Do Anything

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This is not my favorite topic. Thinking about staying busy forces me to remember all the things I can’t do. Oh the places my mind goes as I lie on the couch wishing if only… If only I could…and then fill in the blank. Running. Walking. Standing. Cooking. Cleaning. Working. Organizing. Exercising. Jumping up and down, doing a crazy dance, and somersaulting around the house. You know, all the things I used to do in my pre-pain life.

But seriously, if I was miraculously healed, I would for real do a crazy dance. Right after doing jumping jacks around the kitchen and cartwheeling around the block.

So what do I do with this inner energy that is dying to be unleashed? All the pent-up stress, frustration and energy that longs to be released through MOVING, not lying still. I lie on the couch, but my mind is doing laps around the living room, wishing my body could follow.

I have this strong desire to do things, be productive, and work. It has always been there. I have always loved to work. Hard physical work. Mental and academic work. Working with people and groups. I just love to work!

My hobbies have always been active. Running through the woods catching creatures as a child. Playing soccer in highschool. Rockclimbing, backbacking, kayaking, and hiking in college. My jobs were always active as well. Working on ropes courses, leading groups through outdoor adventures.

That is how I used to use up all my pent-up inner energy. That part of me that runs circles in my brain until I can get up and do something. That part of me that gets bored after 10 minutes of a movie, 20 minutes of a book, and a moment of lying still.

If I have learned anything in these past years of pain, it is that if I do not find ways to work and stay busy, I am extremely unhappy. If I don’t find ways to use my gifts, my brain, my work-ethic, I become extremely depressed. If I’m not working towards a goal that is separate from my health goals, no matter how small, life feels listless and purposeless. I absolutely must find things that I can do within my physical limits or I spend my days curled up in a ball wishing life away.

The truth is I feel like I can’t do anything, but what that really means is I can’t do what I used to. I can’t work in the same ways I have in the past, but I am still the same person who loves to work. I simply have to find new avenues, new hobbies, and new jobs. I have to redefine what “work” even means and focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t.

Find your work. Think of your former career goals and downsize. Consider what you are able to do within the bounds of your physical abilities. My ideal current work situation would be working full-time as a counselor. My current abilities are working 5-10 hours a week as a counselor. I still have energy and brain-power after those hours, so I am starting to supplement with online work I can do from home. In the past I have worked as an online tutor at and currently I am pursuing freelance writing work through I have been able to find writing jobs that allow me to use my counseling degree knowledge even if it from the limits of my living room. Much more could be written on this, but if you do enough research you can find online jobs that fit within the bounds of just about any career.

Find your hobby. This probably goes without saying, but it has to be something you like to do. Search until you find something that you really enjoy. I know from personal experience it can be really difficult to find a non-active hobby that is enjoyable. For months I tried to force myself to love knitting, but really absolutely hated it the whole time. I look back and wonder why I ever tried for so long! Look until you find your “thing.” This blog has become my “thing,” but I didn’t know if I would like it or keep up with it at first. Keep looking until you find that activity that keeps you coming back. It is truly worth it.

Find your way to serve. He who refreshes others will be refreshed. Check in with friends even when you are feeling lousy. Write that letter, send that package, give that listening ear. Do what you can do. Oftentimes the increased pain is cancelled out by how much small gestures of service refresh the soul.

Be ok with moving slowly. Slow and steady truly wins the race. Those in chronic pain are like the turtle racing against the hare. We plod through life, but the continuous dedication pays off. Looking back it is amazing what you can accomplish slowly over time. Graduate school took me almost four years instead of two. It kept me busy during the darkest days of my pain, and when I look back I am scarcely able to believe that I made it through, graduated, and actually got my counseling license.

Being able to work, play, and do things does not make us more valuable or worthy, but it sure does make life happier and more enjoyable. We have to give up the need to place our value and identity in what work we are able to do. But, to the best of our ability we must find and do the work we are able to the benefit of ourselves and those around us.

How have you kept busy since entering the world of chronic pain or illness?

Any exciting work opportunities or hobbies to share?


  1. Posts like this are so valuable to those of us who feels stuck, but are ready to be un-stuck! Also, you’re continuous accomplishments in even your worst times are an inspiration to me. Thank you for writing this! It might not be your favorite topic, or a favorite of mine to think about, but I agree that it is absolutely imperative to our happiness to have “a goal that is separate from health goals.”

    Surviving isn’t enough when you’re battling a condition that tries to take everything. In order to feel empowered and less like victims we definitely need direction and distractions. My hobby has also been my blog lately, and organizing/downsizing my house. It’s so messy that I can sit in one place for twenty minutes sorting through the papers on one surface.

    Working on relationships that were damaged in the last few years is a major goal of mine. finding a career still feels hopeless. But I’m working on a business venture with another girl who also has major social anxiety, so I think that will help ease my own nerves and my constant fear of disappointing someone who doesn’t understand. If we can both get ourselves together enough to get started, it might be my way out of this rut and towards feeling useful again in life even if I don’t make any money. I want to be working again!!! I miss it so, so, so much. Even the crappy parts! Even the 4am alarm clock. All worth it to be able to contribute.

    Unfortunately my illnesses and chronic pain don’t contain themselves to outside of normal business hours, so the whole full time job thing or even part time job is just so overwhelming and frustrating. Having a purpose to work towards little by little and a hobby that you keep coming back to make all the difference in the world! Thank you again for the wonderful encouragement to redefine what work means.

    1. Yes love all your thoughts! Agreed that the work thing is so hard. But really, I think all the things you mentioned count as work 🙂 Your business venture sounds exciting!

      For myself, I get so worried sometimes that I won’t be able to keep my job in the long run, because yes pain comes when it is least wanted it seems 🙁 I only work two days a week for about 3 or 4 hours each day, and it feels like every single week is a huge struggle lately. I will never have a real “career” in my current state of health, so I’m just searching for more flexible options that can be done on my own time and online.

  2. I am lucky to be a primary (elementary) school teacher, currently working a 9-day fortnight so I get one recovery day. I love teaching and it’s the kids that motivates me to go back every day. I currently teach Art, Cooking and IT.
    I have lots of hobbies which is an issue because I overload my life and feel terrible when I can’t keep up with anything. One is buying and selling second hand things, another is drawing and art.
    I have heard a few times that those people (like us) who put a lot of pressure on themselves to do everything at a crazy high level commonly develop chronic issues. What do you think?
    x Lisa

    1. Oh, that is an interesting point. And makes sense in terms of high level of work leading to high levels of stress which can trigger certain chronic illnesses. To be completely honest, I wouldn’t say that I bave ever worked at a crazy high level – I have had episodic fatigue and weird symptoms since childhood. So, I always did active things, and I have always loved work, but I was always held back from working more than a regular 40 hour work week even when I was “healthy” for the most part.

  3. What wonderful insight. I especially love your advice about helping others. Advising that the benefits will outweigh some of those used spoons is something I find to be very true in my own life. In fact, i believe giving of yourself in the ways you mentioned are healing. They almost cancel out spoons in a spiritual way.
    This is an excellent post and it also shows how much you and I have in common 😀 Looking forward to reading more and getting to know you better and better.
    Spoonie hugs.

      1. Thank you very much! We have psychology in common among other things… I would love to run a theory by you sometime. Email me if you get a chance and I’d love to ask you what you think.
        I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for writing it. I shared it 🙂

  4. Great post. I am currently struggling with the work thing. I too was a work horse before getting sick. I am at a bit of a loss there but I am trying to focus on other things. I have taken up photography, got a puppy who is growing like a weed, started my blog and I am developing new jewelry making skills. But more than all of those things, I am finding being a “housewife” can actually be rewarding. I am enjoying taking care of my husband and my home in a way I never did before getting sick. I didn’t have time! You have to make the best of whatever situation you are presented with…that’s for sure!

  5. Wonderful post! When I was first diagnosed with RSD I was working full time at a high stress position. Everything came to a halt. The one thing that I then focused on was my daughter who was 4 at the time. I couldn’t do a lot of physical things but we did crafts and such. Once she was in school I began writing and that definitely has helped me feel like I am doing something again. I can so relate to what you said about being busy and having brain power.
    love the suggestion about serving. I do feel that helps as well! Thank you.

  6. As always, great post. I’m the same. I get bored after a short time and have had to really work at adjusting my expectations within the boundaries of my physical energy levels.

  7. Such a great post. Thanks so much for sharing! Rediscovering purpose as one who suffers a chronic illness is such a journey, isn’t it? I loved all of your insight and suggestions and can relate to so many. I left full time work over a year ago and eventually made my hobby of crafting into a small etsy shop and it’s been such a wonderful experience. I can create when I’m able to. I love what you said about finding ways to give to others – one thing I am not lacking in is free time and I feel called to share that in whatever ways I can. It’s so fulfilling and a reminder that we still have value. Illness can’t take that from us! 🙂 love reading your posts. <3

    1. Leaving work is so hard. I moved from almost full-time to extremely part-time about 6 months ago. It was the best decision I could have ever made, but so difficult. I’m sure it was not easy for you either! But, that is so wonderful you have made the best of it and started an Etsy shop!

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