There you are, struggling with health issues. Your body or your mind have betrayed you, and, now, you are a new creature, an injured bird that can no longer soar the skies. What can you do? What do you do?
Finding ways to enjoy life is extremely difficult when there are barriers to your old ways of enjoyment. If we can discover new interests and find new hobbies, we can redefine ourselves. Taking hold of our thoughts and finding the determination to be somebody new is a possible change, not easy but possible. Where do you start?
I have put together some ideas on ways you can start to find a new passion.
- Make a list of what you feel you can no longer do. What were your interests? How did you spend your leisure time in the past? For example, I have a friend who spent his free time creating beautiful art with calligraphy. He was so involved that he belonged to a calligraphy group and went to conventions. When he suffered a stroke and lost the use of the left side of his body and his peripheral vision, he still tried to create the precise pieces he did in the past. It was frustrating for him. His disability had robbed him of his creative expression. All those years of practicing his art and perfecting his craft mocked him.
- Modify yourself. Continuing with my friend’s story; after years of trying to continue to create the exacting lettering that is the core skill of calligraphy, he finally broke free of his mindset that kept telling him he had to follow rigid rules meant for the able-bodied. This eureka moment of realizing that his lettering did not have to be perfect, that there was beauty in the imperfection; that his gift of expression was intact freed him to modify his vision of himself. He is a pioneer.
- What if you can no longer partake in previous leisure activities? Let’s say that you were a motorcycle enthusiast, but now, as a paraplegic, you can no longer ride. Is it possible for you to list what you enjoyed the most about riding? Can you go further and identify the emotions? Is there a way for you to reconnect with those feelings in another way? For example, does your local high school afford you the opportunity to host a public safety announcement on the pleasures and perils of motorcycle riding? Could you start a group on how to maintain or repair motorcycles? Maybe you could write about your experiences (past or present) and submit them to associations or bloggers.
- Recreate yourself. As I slowly changed from an able-bodied person to a mobility-challenged person, I slowly changed the definition of me. Just before I lost the ability to walk any significant distance, walking in the woods was a weekend retreat. When I lived in California, almost every weekend, I would drive from the Bay Area to Yosemite. Hiking the high trails above the treeline are some of my favorite memories of those years. When I lived in Chicago, my husband and I would walk miles from one part of the city to the next. To this day, I miss those walks. What can I do about it? Find a new pleasure. Now, I write. Over the years, many people would tell me that I should write. They thought that I had something worth saying. So, I decided to venture into the unknown and recreate myself. I would not term myself as a writer, but I am someone who writes about my experiences and what matters to me. I am an encourager. Writing is my new avenue of expression.
- Have you found a new interest? As I wrote about in a previous post (So Goes My Nutrition, So Goes My Health), my commitment to taking care of my body and nutrition, led to an interest in food. I thoroughly enjoy researching recipes and modifying them; finding articles on what is happening to my body and how food plays a significant role; and talking to other people about what they have discovered. Even though I cannot do the actual cooking, I take an active role in meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation. My interest in food has helped me to maintain my weight (and, in fact, I am losing a few pounds) in spite of the time that I spend sitting. I don’t spend calories walking and I cannot exercise effectively, but I can feed my body good, nutritious, and healthy food.
- Continue a previous hobby with the help of a friend. About five years before I was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy, I started to take drawing and painting classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. This activity stemmed from a childhood interest that sat in the corner of my mind. One day, my husband asked me if there was anything that I had ever wanted to do but never did. Yes, there was. I had always wanted to draw. As a result, he encouraged me to attend art classes. Without his encouragement, I would never have followed up on my childhood dream. Now, painting has become strenuous, but I am blessed to have the assistance to get me settled in front of a canvas, my paints opened, my palate at my side, and my brushes before me. I can only paint for an hour or two at a time these days, but I can paint.
- I know, I know, we have all heard it before. Volunteer. There must be something about which you feel passionate. Not only does volunteering help those in need, but it help you, too. Interacting with people in different social settings has a positive impact on your psychological wellbeing. You may find that as you turn your focus outward, you will start to feel less stress and more joy. One caution: make sure you volunteer in a position and a place that fits you. There are abundant opportunities in your community. Getting out of the house and away from tension-producing patterns of behavior will give your immune system a boost.
In summary, your disability has redefined you. It is time to take back control of your life. What you think has a direct impact on who you are. Whether your disability is physical or psychological, you can break out of old patterns that no longer benefit you. Give yourself the gift of a new you and find freedom and fun.