Creativity & Chronic Illness

First of all, I want to say I’m lucky. What I have isn’t going to kill me, nor am I housebound or bedridden. There are lots of people much worse off than me. I’m also fortunate to be able to work part-time which allows me to manage my energy better.

I have hypothyroidism and ME and although it’s treated I quickly run out of energy. A regular (non-busy) day often still leaves me exhausted and a busy day can affect me for days. So that’s me.

I work as a creative writing tutor to supplement our income. I love my work but after a day of teaching I’m usually too exhausted for anything creative for a day or two.

At the moment my energy is low. This always happens in the autumn and winter so it’s no surprise, but it is frustrating to waste whole days. I am getting some writing done, albeit not as much as I’d like. This is how I manage the creativity / chronic illness balance.

1. Find a Routine That Works For You

My day involves an early morning dog walk, after which my body needs to recover but my brain is usually relatively alert so I sit down and write for a while.  Then when the brain fog reappears I’ll go and do something physical around the house. I find that switching between mental and physical stuff works for me, and makes the most of my limited energy.

2. Try to Shut Out the Guilt

Having a chronic illness causes chronic guilt because you can never do enough. Enough paid work, enough housework, walk the dog enough. On top of that, doing your own creative work can feel selfish. It’s hard to talk yourself out of that, but think of it this way: creativity has been proven to be good for your mental health which will help your physical health in turn.

3. Acknowledge the Small Wins

…and I mean small. Wrote a paragraph? The day wasn’t wasted. Wrote two or more…fantastic. If you did that and also managed to get a chore or two done…an amazing day.

4. Find Things To Do on Bad Days

On those days when my energy is lowest, my writing is the first thing to go because it requires more energy than I have. Sometimes I’m unable to do much physically and I’m not one for watching daytime telly so I get very bored. So I try to find other, writing adjacent things to do – some light editing, for example, or writing this blog. Sending my work out to agents or publishers. It allows me to keep my sanity and takes care of the small jobs.

5. Be Your Own Cheerleader

Having a long term illness isn’t fun. There’s no getting around it. So however you’re managing it, you’re doing the best you can. Remind yourself that you’re amazing just for keeping going, day after day, through pain and fatigue. Refuse to acknowledge the people who, for whatever reason of their own, prefer to think you’re lazy instead of ill. Well done for staying alive and for trying to be yourself at a time when it would be easy to forget to do that.

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