How to Pursue Your Many Passions When You Struggle with Chronic Illness

This is a guest post by Emmett Wald. Enjoy, and please share your suggestions at the end of the post. This is an important topic, and I would love to get a discussion going in the comments.

Mine is a long story, particularly because I don’t know where to start it. Does it start with my childhood curiosity and fascination with basically everything? Does it start with all the adults who encouraged me to achieve academically throughout my early life? Does it start with the insatiable energy for learning that never seemed to fade?

Or does it start with the realization, late in high school, that I had depression? Or the jarring transition to college? It feels like there’s so much vital backstory.

But really, it starts when I was diagnosed with mono in my junior year of college. Stubborn as I was (am), I didn’t take any time off school. And I didn’t get better. It wasn’t until months later, partway into the following summer, that I was declared free of mono.

But the fatigue never went away.

I went from being one of the Hermiones of the world, with a thousand different causes and classes and places to go, and somehow (even without a time turner) keeping up with it all, to being someone I hardly recognized – somebody whose sluggishness, slowness, anxiety, laziness, and other qualities I constantly berated.

I’ve gotten better. I try to be kinder to myself now. I try to respect my limits. But the thing is, I still don’t really know what my limits are.

It’s been over two years since I was diagnosed with mono, and it feels like I’m nowhere near figuring out what this body needs. I get caught up in an endless loop of sleep/nutrition/work/self-care shortages, never knowing what to prioritize, where to allocate my time, and feeling, in a different way than my pre-mono self ever did, that there simply isn’t enough time.

Multipotentiality and Chronic Illness

You’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with multipotentiality. Here it is: when I first discovered the concept via Emilie’s viral TED video, it was like a lightbulb moment, so clear that it almost felt too obvious.

As a kid I always wished the Renaissance Man was still an ideal. In college I joked I was the epitome of a liberal arts student, an enthusiastic interdisciplinarian. I get bored easily. I love to bring together different parts of my life. My brain is always running on at least three different channels. I am a multipod to my core.

It was a few days after watching the TED talk that I made the connection.

You see, the thing about being a multipotentialite with chronic fatigue is that those two things are (or at least, seem to me to be) in constant conflict.

The Dilemma

I can either listen to my multipotentialite tendencies, which tell me to do all the things all the time, or I can try to respect my limits, not work too much, not stay out too late, and not ask too much of myself.

The first option results in me overextending myself and completely running out of spoons ( physical, mental, and emotional energy). The second option leaves me despising all the time I’m wasting and resenting how lazy I’m being and how I’m doing absolutely nothing. So I’m stuck in a catch-22 where I’m either bored or exhausted.

How to Manage Chronic Illness and Multipotentiality

To be honest, folks, I haven’t yet figured out what to do about this. I’d like to think that, somewhere out there, there’s some perfect, magical, and sustainable combination of work/play/rest that will keep me engaged and inspired.

For now, I do my best to listen to my body and to learn what it needs. The things I do to help manage my chronic fatigue are also good life practices in general:

  • Pay attention to what my body is telling me about its needs and abilities, and try to act accordingly
  • Set aside time for rest or restful activities (crocheting, reading, and wandering the internet)
  • Plan and shop for meals a week or so in advance, and try to prep in large batches, so I have what I need to eat when I get busy or tired
  • Figure out my priorities (I’m never going to be able to do everything on my list, so I need to know which things are most important/fulfilling/nourishing)
  • Practice saying “no” to things I don’t want to do, but also to things I want to do but which I can’t (or shouldn’t) do

I hope these practices help you if you’re also balancing multipotentiality with chronic illness, mental health issues, or any other kind of disability. It’s a frustrating position to be in, but perhaps we can help each other to find the tools to manage these parts of ourselves.


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