I am not someone who has many hobbies, but the few I do have I embrace wholeheartedly. I am a birdwatcher, and I love to color, read, solve puzzles, and watch college basketball. These activities give me benefits I believe would be advantageous to anyone battling a chronic illness. They are relaxing and stress-reducing, keep my mind engaged and distracted from my pain, allow me to socialize with others who share my interests, help me to expand my mind and improve my mental state, alleviate boredom, and remind me that I am a “real” person – and not just a patient. Besides that, they are fun!
One of the greatest benefits of having a hobby is that it helps occupy time in what can seem like a long, lonely day to those of us struggling with the boredom that often accompanies chronic illness. Many of us spend vast amounts of time at home alone because we are physically unable to get out to work or participate in activities we enjoyed prior to our diagnosis. We are now limited in ways that sometimes confine us to our homes for long spells. Hobbies help pass the time. When I am reading a particularly good novel (usually something from the dark mind of Stephen King!), I often get lost in the story, and this makes my day go a little quicker.
Hobbies also keep me mentally sharp. Reading obviously has this effect, but even activities such as bird-watching, puzzles, and viewing basketball games can contribute to one’s mental acuity. When I am studying my backyard birds, I generally must consult a bird guide to identify them. I learn more about them every day. Puzzles require me to examine and analyze just how things fit together, and basketball games keep me contemplating strategies and anticipating next moves. These activities challenge and stimulate me; they “exercise” my brain. This is important in a world where long hours alone is the norm and where one’s mind might otherwise be unoccupied.
Further, engaging in most any kind of hobby distracts me from my pain, nausea, and other symptoms, if only for a brief time. When I am focused on staying within the lines of whatever picture I happen to be coloring, or when I must concentrate intently on my latest word-search puzzle, I cannot think about my symptoms. They always return to the forefront at some point, but for a time at least, I am sidetracked by other activities and focus less on my infirmity. This is a welcome diversion.
Participation in hobbies helps assuage my loneliness as well. One can find online groups for most pastimes nowadays. For instance, I can jump online anytime and socialize with others in birding groups, or I can join book clubs and discuss the latest popular reads with others across the world. Right now, I am part of a group that discusses the works of Saint Augustine (one of my favorite philosophers and theologians). Who could imagine there would be a group for such a thing? Yet there is, and I have enjoyed interacting and mingling with the other members who share my interest. I might not be able to leave my house frequently, but due to the opportunities technology provides, I am still able to engage in meaningful interactions with others. This lessens my feelings of lonesomeness and isolation.
My hobbies also serve to relax me and thereby help me to deal with stress. I am far less tense when I am watching the cheerful little birds eat and bathe in my backyard than when I am thinking about the household chores I have yet to find enough energy to finish or the upcoming social events I might miss due to my illness. I can feel myself unwinding as I watch them flutter about and sing as if they don’t have a care in the world. This type of rest and downtime is important in the highly stress-filled world of chronic illness.
Most importantly, though, I find my hobbies enjoyable. All of the benefits that result from engaging in my hobbies are of great profit, but in the end, if my hobbies were not fun, I likely would not pursue them. I take pleasure in reading the latest fiction novels, spotting a rare bird, cheering on my favorite basketball team (Wisconsin, at the moment), and completing a difficult crossword puzzle. My chronic illness centered life is a difficult one to bear, and these small activities take me away from the hardships for a time and make me feel “normal.” They help me to remember that I am not just my illness. I am a thinking, feeling, whole human being with passions and interests that have little to do with my illness. That is a valuable thing indeed!