How Chasing Your Passions Changes When You Have Chronic Illnesses
Passion. It’s defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion. Plenty of public figures have weighed in about finding, chasing, and making sure your passions are at the center of your life. Oprah Winfrey has said that “passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” There are self-help books, podcasts, blogs, and other forms of media that center on discovering what ignites you and incorporating these passions into your everyday life.
Generally, thinking about and pursuing our passions is filled with excitement and good vibes. It can be enthralling to daydream about our dream job, achieving a long-term goal, or simply carving out time to do something that makes us smile. But what happens when your health isn’t in tip-top shape and you’re struggling to keep your head above water?
Speaking from personal experience as a person with chronic illnesses (read: Lyme disease and co-infections, Hashimoto’s, anxiety, depression, among others), having impaired health can create obstacles in pursuing passions. For instance, my illnesses cause the following symptoms: lack of energy, unstable moods, chronic pain, reduced cognitive abilities, and a general sense of not feeling well, to list a few.
All of these symptoms can make it difficult to pursue goals and passions in a timely fashion, as much of my time is spent taking care of myself or maintaining my health. Additionally, having chronic illnesses can be costly, so money that could be spent on sessions with life coaches, workshops, equipment, or anything else spent on my passions goes toward organic food, supplements, doctor’s appointments, etc.
This begs the following question: Is it still possible to have your passions be the driving force of your everyday life when you have chronic illnesses? My answer: Yes, but it may look different.
Adjust your mentality/manage your expectations
I’m the first to admit that being more flexible with expectations of myself hasn’t been easy. I am a 100% Italian from New York. I was raised by go-getters. I am Type A. I am a perfectionist. All things that played a role in my health issues, to be honest. But there is no way that I can progress through life like I did pre-illnesses and have these qualities take the steering wheel.
I can’t pull all-nighters, I can’t juggle three jobs at once, and trying to be perfect at every single facet of my life does nothing but hurt me. As a result, I’ve changed aspects of my life. I am more of a burst worker. When I have a string of good days I throw myself into projects and tasks. Conversely, when I have a string of bad days, I try to be patient and accept that I need to slow down. If I try to force myself past my limits, this prolongs my healing period.
Mentality also plays a huge role here. I have to accept that I am a different person than I once was. I don’t have to love that fact every single day, but if I am constantly working against myself and trying to force myself to be someone I’m not, then I won’t even have time to pursue any of my passions; I’ll just be at war with myself in my head.
Find New Passions and Rediscover Old Ones
My main interests used to be eating and cooking unhealthy food, drinking and staying out late, and high-intensity sports and workouts. After I got sick, most of these passions had to fall by the wayside, but this made room for so many others that were healthier and more productive.
Now, my passions are health and wellness and helping others heal. I care about the environment and humankind. I’ve found my way back to being a true empath and connecting with others on a deeper level. As I continue to heal, I’ve created time to fall back in love with playing music, exploring the outdoors, and consuming information any way I can (read: books, documentaries, podcasts, etc.).
If I never got sick I wouldn’t have a passion for health and wellness as strongly as I do. I wouldn’t have started an Instagram account and blog to use my voice to help others, and I wouldn’t have become such an advocate for patient empowerment and alternative medicine.
In fact, I thank my illnesses for making all of this possible. Do I think this positively about my situation every day? No. But does it help to take the “lemons” I’ve been handed and make the most of my situation? You bet.
Break tasks down into “digestible” tasks
I think this suggestion would help anyone chasing their passions, but it’s especially helpful for those with chronic illnesses. For example, trying to write a book if writing is your passion is a lofty goal, but if you reframe it as write five pages every day or a chapter a week, it won’t seem as overwhelming.
This way, you can still feel a sense of accomplishment while taking smaller steps toward your goal one day at a time. Sure, it might take you longer to say you finally reached the top of the “mountain,” but you’ll probably better maintain your health and sanity this way, so what do you have to lose?
Ask for help when you need it
Last but not least, create a support system that can help you during your times of need. For instance, when I’m feeling overwhelmed my parents will help cook food for me so I can focus my time on finishing up a blog post or going to a volunteer event. It’s okay to lean on others when we not capable of doing something ourselves, especially if it will free up space to do things that make us happy and charged up.
So what do you think? Has having a chronic illness changed how you pursue your passions?
Julie works as a communications assistant for the State University of New York (SUNY) System in the Office of the Chancellor. When she’s not sharing SUNY’s story with the masses, you can find her binge-watching anything featuring Jon Hamm or Al Pacino, assembling the best dance playlists of all time, or going on hiking adventures in New York. Julie is very passionate about health and wellness, from managing her Lyme disease holistically, to nutrition, to mental health, and hopes that by sharing her health journey she can help others with chronic illnesses.