Finding activities you can enjoy despite your condition may lead to a richer, fuller life.

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a hobbyist, a “jack of all trades,” and a person with many passions and interests. As someone who goes “all in” with anything that tickles my fancy, I have, at all stages of my life, valued my hobbies.

In fact, a plethora of interests and activities has been my constant companion throughout my life, much like illness has.

As an elementary-aged student when I first began contending with ankle pain, I was really into reading and collecting Baby-Sitters Club books, creating outfits for my Barbie dolls, playing my saxophone, softball, and choreographing dances to Paula Abdul songs with my friends.

When I was in high school, freshly diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), I was into making collages, scrapbooking, writing songs and poems, boating, going to lots and lots of concerts, cheerleading, and sketching fashion designs.

During college, I dealt with not just JIA/rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but also Bell’s palsy and anxiety. I continued writing — blogs, novels, song lyrics — and I got into collecting limited-edition Barbie dolls and buying and selling high-end designer handbags on eBay. I also became more interested in traveling and music business.

In my 20s, newly diagnosed with celiac disease, chronic migraine, and Chiari malformation on top of the rest, I became interested in tattoos, collecting Willow Tree Angels and Funko Pops, shopping for vintage items and antiques, horseback riding, and the world of animal rescue. I dabbled in Italian and French lessons.

My 30s came along, and with them, a diagnosis of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and worsening degenerative osteoarthritis.

You may have guessed that, also new to my 30s were some of my most passionate interests and hobbies. These include birdwatching and birding, hiking, kayaking, hip-hop dance, stargazing and astronomy, diamond painting, true crime podcasts and documentaries, cooking, houseplants, decorating, and playing the piano, ukulele, and guitar. I also collect Rae Dunn items.

Having hobbies, interests, and passions to focus on can enrich our lives — especially if you live with illness or physical ailments or limitations.

Injecting beauty, color, sound, joy, creativity, and comfort into your world can make a big difference in morale when it comes to managing a health issue.

Mental health, emotional health, and even spiritual health are all big parts of any medical journey. Focusing on things that make us happy or keep our mind active can be very positive for our overall well-being.

A 2017 study in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that engaging in hobbies helps people managing chronic conditions cope by giving them an opportunity to feel a sense of control that is so often lost after a diagnosis.

Doing things you’re interested in also offers an opportunity to experience your body in a different way. Instead of viewing yourself as living in a “sick body,” you can experience your body as something capable of making something beautiful or mastering a new skill.

Unfortunately, my medical ailments and health conditions make the pursuit of some of my passions, hobbies, and interests a bit more challenging than they might be for a person living without pain or illness.

Still, on the days where things are a struggle, there are always things I can do. Having resilience and a flexible growth mindset that is adaptive to change is, in my humble option, crucial to finding happiness and contentment.

Course correction is vital.

Maybe my thumb joint or wrist is hurting too badly for my diamond painting. Maybe I can’t work on my writing because it’s too hard to type that day. Maybe I will never ever play my guitar again. But I can still listen to my favorite podcasts or browse the internet to see what the new Rae Dunn or Funko releases are.

Maybe I can list one of my designer handbags for sale secondhand or snuggle with my rescue dogs or my smart and chatty pacific parrotlet. Perhaps I can’t kayak, but I can go out on my family’s boat. Maybe I can’t take hip-hop dance classes for a stretch of time, but water aerobics or water Zumba could work out.

It’s about balance, being mindful, and listening to your body. It’s about focusing on what you can do instead of what you cannot.

If you’re someone like me who becomes a bit obsessive about your hobbies and interests, it can be extremely disappointing when a health condition or disability causes you to be unable to pursue your passions, your “fun.”

For me, it’s altered not only my hobbies and social life, but my career path, too.

I originally had big plans for a career in the music industry. When it became apparent that my body wouldn’t keep up with that fast-paced lifestyle, I thought about satisfying my love for literature and writing by becoming a teacher. It quickly became clear that that, too, was not an option because a school is not a safe place for someone with an immune system like mine.

So, I shifted gears. I turned my pain into something positive and now work as a coach trying to help others find their way to better health. I still write on the side.

Being able to educate, inspire, and tell stories is a blessing and a gift, and it helps me feel like my pain has purpose — even when it sometimes feels like I got the short end of the stick.

Your hobbies may shift a bit as you grow older and interests or abilities change. Limitations may force you to adjust, adapt, modify, or change your path a bit, and that’s OK!

The world is filled with possibilities. Even if your body has limits, there is no limit to your mind and what you can dream.

So, what hobbies can you still enjoy despite your condition? What ignites your passion and sets your soul on fire?


Ashley Boynes-Shuck is an author, advocate, and health coach based in Pittsburgh, PA. Despite living with RA for 25 years, and having other medical conditions too, Ashley has spoken to Congress, published 3 books, and even been tweeted by Oprah! She works for a tech startup, is a pet mom to 3 dogs, and enjoys birdwatching, concerts, playing instruments, and travel. In her free time she writes poetry and goes hiking with her American Ninja Warrior/schoolteacher husband Mike. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.