Robert Obey knows how much chronic pain can put a dampener on pursuing hobbies and interests.
After feeling like he wanted to give up, he decided to channel his energy into outfoxing fibromyalgia’s restrictions and finding new passions.
Today, he’d like to share his top tips for finding fibro-friendly pastimes that nurture the soul.
If you've seen my article 3 Tips for Living and Coping with Fibromyalgia, you'll know that holding down a hobby has been difficult for me.
It's nothing to do with a lack of interests or passions. If anything, my mind and hands would be happy to have something to do all day, every day. It's just that the hobbies I had (and loved) before I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia are no longer suitable.
I have always valued my hobbies because they allow me to escape. They give me some me-time, keep my mind focused, and I can get lost in whatever I'm doing without worrying about my health.
Living with fibromyalgia is draining, and an enjoyable hobby is a perfect distraction.
In today's article, I want to share how I adapted and found new hobbies suitable for fibromyalgia, along with some top tips on how best to enjoy them when you can.
A brief history of my hobbies
Before fibromyalgia, my main hobby was long-distance walking.
I had a goal of walking all of the coastal paths in the UK (not in one go, in small sections!).
I was making good progress when ill health struck. I tried walking through the pain, but my body wasn't up to it.
In the end, I reluctantly hung up my boots.
After a few months of feeling like I wasn't fulfilling what I needed and desperately wanted to do, I came up with an idea. My wife, Bridget, is often in a wheelchair due to rheumatoid arthritis. I knew she'd love it if I took her on accessible walks in the wheelchair around some famous beauty spots.
She eagerly agreed, and I started to feel like my hunger for adventure and activity was being sated. I loved rambling around in nature with Bridget, my feet keeping a steady pace on the track as we pointed out little details around us we may have missed before.
But as time went by and I continued to have fibro flares, pushing the wheelchair started to take a heavy toll on me.
Not to be deterred, I had the genius idea (if I say so myself) to add an electric motor to Bridget's chair. It worked great! Instead of using a good portion of my energy pushing (and then having to cut the walks short), the motor took over that job and pulled me along with it.
It worked so well that I started a blog about bimbling around the UK in a wheelchair.
Eventually, though, fibromyalgia caught up with me again. We had to slow down. We still travel, but not nearly as much as I'd like to.
Likewise, I still enjoy writing the bimbling blog. But, as you know, writing involves using my fingers and brainpower. After a long session at the computer, my fingers hurt and become stiff from typing, and "fibro fog" snatches away my ability to hit a writer's flow much of the time.
When I can think clearly, I enjoy coming up with ways to outfox the restraints fibro puts on me. I solved the typing problem by getting speech-to-text software. Such a simple subsidy has saved me a lot of sore fingers, and I can blurt out ideas as and when I think of them rather than wait for more "writerly" inspiration to hit.
It doesn't solve everything - a nifty bit of tech can't magically make me think straight - but it makes everything a bit easier. That's what really counts.
Finding new, fibro-friendly hobbies
Asking yourself, "What can I do for a new hobby?" is a daunting question. What a way to put yourself on the spot!
Instead of racking your brains coming up with possibilities and pressuring yourself to just start out of desperation, let an idea or interest come to you organically.
My "lucky break" came when a family member told me they'd been tracing our ancestral history. Long ago (back in the 1700s!), my descendants used to live and work in the Liverpool Potteries, famous for manufacturing a gorgeous type of porcelain.
I knew nothing about these ancestors or the Liverpool Potteries. The researcher in me yearned to learn more - and, with that, I'd found a new hobby.
18th Century Liverpool Porcelain and Pottery
I may be going off topic here, but I can’t help myself -
During the 18th century, Liverpool was home to a vibrant and successful pottery industry.
Liverpool was the perfect location to source raw materials from North Wales. It also had easy access to the Staffordshire Potteries in Stoke on Trent and its workforce.
Liverpool was also an established trade route with the Americas.
It's amazing what you can discover if you know where to look!
Fibro ignited a new love of my hometown and local history
Once I'd found out about Liverpool porcelain, I wanted to treasure some of my own. Imagine being able to hold a piece of my heritage in my hands! Sadly, I can't collect early Liverpool porcelain because it's rare and expensive. Most surviving items are in museums around the world.
Fortunately, there are several exhibits in my local museums, so I have the chance to look at them. There are also opportunities to get lucky in a local sale or an online auction. Every now and then, I keep an eye out for a piece, hoping that a bowl or cup may get a loving home with Bridget and me.
However, my true passion lies more in gaining knowledge about the Liverpool potteries than starting a collection.
Research and reading is a wonderfully fibro-friendly hobby. I'm not rushing around going to auctions or boot sales. Instead, I'm quietly absorbing knowledge or pottering around a museum. It's not stressful or physically taxing, but it gives me a great deal of satisfaction. What more could a hobbyist ask for?
Some hobby ideas for people with fibromyalgia
Try some fibro-friendly exercise
When you're stiff, foggy, and in pain, exercise is one of the last things you want to do. However, many doctors, including pain clinics, prescribe exercise for fibromyalgia patients. Exercise can help you:
- Shed excess weight (easing any stress on your joints)
- Maintain bone mass (bone is a living tissue like muscle, so it'll get stronger with exercise)
- Improve balance
- Reduce stress (one of my flare triggers)
- Increase strength (again, taking some pressure off your knees, ankles, and elbows!)
Still, fibro or not, we're all different. Exercise tolerance varies from person to person, and only you know what or how much you're capable of doing.
I tried exercise, but my overall health and caring responsibilities made regular exercise quite difficult. So, instead of having a strict exercise routine, I take advantage of my busy schedule. Walks with Bridget count as exercise, for example. If my legs are in pain, sitting down and doing gentle arm exercises also count. Something is always better than nothing (unless your doctor tells you otherwise).
The other side of the coin is not overdoing it. Listen to your body and use your common sense. I also advise talking to your medical team before taking on anything too strenuous.
Fibromyalgia and gardening
Gardening is a popular hobby. It's not my thing, but I know many people love it. And the great thing is you can do it sitting down.
You can also take gardening indoors, like growing houseplants, maintaining window boxes or creating terrariums.
The point is that gardening doesn't have to be back-breaking work. Plus, who doesn't like the cheerful beauty of plants and flowers?
Reading to nourish the soul and keep the brain active
Like me, reading could be a good choice for you. Or, if reading can be too much of a concentration drain, I find a good audiobook can relax me just as much.
I hated reading but eventually realised it was what I was reading rather than the activity itself. Now free from the shackles of a school reading list, I can choose the books I want to read. I don't have to care what anyone else thinks about the pockets of niche history I want to dive into. I found a new thirst for knowledge, and books fed that thirst.
Meditation to help you relax and potentially reduce pain
I've met fibromyalgia patients that swear by meditation.
I think meditation can serve as both a hobby and a way of dealing with pain.
I tried it.
Concentrating on my breathing was relaxing. So relaxing, in fact, I got some (much needed) sleep!
I can't say it helped with the pain, but that doesn't mean it won't work for you.
3 tips to help you enjoy a hobby with fibromyalgia
Do it when you feel like it
Remember, there is no pressure on you to participate in your hobby. Hobbies are meant to be fun, not cause pain or aggravate your fibromyalgia. And learn to pace yourself, too. Like all things good for us, practice your hobby in moderation.
No matter how enjoyable you find a pastime, don't risk a fibro flare by overdoing it. Believe me - you'll find your passions last much longer if you don't associate them with discomfort and fatigue!
Do it on your terms
There may be a normal way of doing a hobby, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. Half the fun of following my interests is outfoxing the hurdles my fibro tries to put in the way.
You have fibromyalgia. You are used to making changes to the way you do things. You learned to make activities accessible to you.
The same can be said for many of your chosen hobbies. What can you do to make them easier and more accessible to you? Don't give up yet!
Don’t give up
This is an important message, so it bears repeating. If at first you don't succeed, try and try again!
If your hobby is too difficult right now, find one similar that isn't as taxing on your mind and body.
Or take the opportunity to expand your choices and find something brand new!
Do you connect with other fibro sufferers? What are their hobbies? Could their pursuits be suitable for your interests and abilities?
My point is - there will be hobbies you can fall in love with and not aggravate your fibromyalgia. You just need inspiration without piling on any unnecessary pressure.
Our nature shows we're all creatures of discovery - something will be just around the corner!
Fibromyalgia doesn't have to mean the end of anyone's physical and intellectual pursuits. If something really seems impossible, you have the ability and courage to adapt your interests or start afresh.
Participating in a hobby is one way of distracting yourself from the daily grind of living with fibromyalgia. Don't overdo it. Pace yourself, enjoy the journey, and continue to satisfy your spiritual side.
A long time ago, I made a pact to treat fibromyalgia as an opportunity to try new things. It's not always easy, but I've opened doors to passions I never thought I had.
NPS-IE-NP-00450 July 2022