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How I Turned a Hobby Into a Way to Raise Awareness and Funds for My Illnesses

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The last few weeks have been very exciting for me. They’ve also been exhausting, fun and frustrating. I know that this sounds like a wild combination of emotions and it is. But let me explain from the beginning.

For several years before I got ill I had made jewelry as a hobby. When I became too ill to work I used it as something to pass the time, but secondly and more importantly, it made me feel calmer and more relaxed. It had the added bonus of being physiotherapy for my hands and fingers. But over time I realized there was more to it, that I was producing something that other people liked and even wanted to buy in the case of my friends and family.

It is difficult to stress enough how important this was to me. Work, prior to meeting and marrying my husband, had always been the major driving force in my life. It was where I got my buzz – a feeling of productivity and of being valued. There were also all my friends and colleagues, the social aspect of it all and the basic fact that I love being busy. Because of this I tried to keep working for longer than my consultant and doctor advised. Eventually when matters came to a head, I had no choice. I was too sick and unable to do my job.

Of course I got very bored very quickly, even though I was ill. I made jewelry when I could. I wanted to see if I could sell the pieces I’d made so I had a crack at doing a simple website. But that was incredibly difficult as the combination of fatigue, chronic pain and depression made it difficult for me to do anything sustained, and the “brain fog” from lupus and medication meant I was continually confused, unsure of what I was doing and irritable with my failure. So I left it. I tried again after a year or so and the same thing happened.

Earlier this year, by chance, I became friends with someone who struggled with chronic illness too. She had decided to raise awareness of mental health issues through her baking and blogging. She had accepted the limitations of her conditions but carried on anyway, doing something she loved when she could. I was really affected by what she wrote, to the extent that it made me start wondering if there was something similar I could do. Of course there was – I could try the website again, but also talk openly about the impact of the chronic physical and mental illnesses, raise awareness, help others in the same boat as me and maybe raise some money through sales of jewelry for the charities who had helped me so much.

I knew I had to change my expectations and be easier on myself, or I’d end up more exhausted, angry and depressed than before. If I was going to start selling my jewelry online, I needed a website that was relatively simple and “good enough,” but easy to use and update. And I realized two very important things – I couldn’t do it all by myself and it would take a long time to achieve.

So I did something most unlike me and compromised with life. I asked my husband for help, and he did most of the technical donkey work, and I used friends and family as sounding boards all the way through. I concentrated on keeping it simple. Of course over time the essential me, being a perfectionist, had to keep fiddling and tweaking trying to make things look fabulous! But just over a week ago we launched the site and asked people on Facebook whether they liked it. The answer was a resounding yes. I was delighted, positive and excited I’d finally managed to produce something worthwhile. But you’ve probably guessed what’s coming…

Inevitably my illnesses decided all this excitement wasn’t good for me and I had a flare (a rapid increase in the severity and impact of existing symptoms) just when I wanted most to be busy, to keep the impetus of success going. But after the initial frustration, for the first time in a long time I accepted the situation because I have succeeded. It took lots of help and an incredibly long time, but we got there. I did it!

As the flare settled, I got out of bed again, made a couple pieces of jewelry very slowly, rested a lot and used my dictation software to write this blog in fits and starts. So I guess the website is perhaps not the only successful outcome of the last few months. It seems I have also learned acceptance.

For me, crafting was therapy. For any major change in life, especially when it’s not of your own making, there are several therapeutic options including counseling, which was so valuable to me. But with crafting it’s something you can do for yourself. Of course crafting might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you have a hobby or interest of any kind that you feel passionate about, it could be the route to some unexpected added benefits.

Life is not what I wanted it to be, but it’s what I have. Things can be done only on the not-so-bad days, in small chunks – very small chunks – and through asking for help, which is very tough for a fiercely independent old curmudgeon like me. To everyone else out there whose lives are changed so dramatically through illness, I have one thing to say: if I can do it, you can too.

Follow this journey and see Linda’s jewelry on Sparkly Pretty Things.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 20, 2017
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