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 tutor.com and currently I am pursuing freelance writing work through odesk.com. 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?