Right-brained hobbies for chronic fatigue?
June 2, 2015 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Two and a half months ago, I came down with what is apparently chronic fatigue syndrome (I know that you need six months before an official diagnosis, but the signs are all there, unfortunately). I am a researcher struggling to work part-time, and even reading for pleasure has become difficult. The fatigue seems to be primarily triggered by sustained and/or intense mental effort or concentration.

My doctor suggested that I find some creative hobbies that would give the analytical side of my brain a rest while improving quality of life. Any ideas for someone with low energy? I can't draw a stick figure to save my life, but if that's all I've got, it's all I've got.
posted by amyshmamy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Puzzles, big 1000 piece puzzles. Progressive puzzle and click games like Dragon Vale (iOs and Android) or repetitive puzzle games like Dots (iOs and Android) . Knitting was useful handy distraction for a long while, scarves and hats can be pretty basic and easy and lead to more.
posted by tilde at 7:14 AM on June 2, 2015

Coloring! It's all the rage with grownups these days, and for good reason! Coloring books are soothing and make you feel accomplished while doing very little.
posted by xingcat at 7:19 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

The lowest fuss hobby I've engaged in is basic collaging. I pretty much only worked with paper, and mostly the hard part was piling up enough images I liked for free (and trying to store them between projects could be a little annoying). It wasn't the most practical (I got some slightly prettier notebooks out of it and decorated some tourist maps with vacation photos), but it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours here and there.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:21 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about cross stitch? You'd be working off a pattern, and it's the kind of thing you can lay aside or pick up as you're feeling it. Pop culture cross stitch was in vogue a couple years back, so you can now find a pattern to fit whatever you're into.
posted by phunniemee at 7:21 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest a Netflix subscription and a devotion to formulaic reality TV that you can watch while lying down. If you like food, Good Eats (although that one can be hard if you're really low energy and can't cook for yourself). If you like warm-hearted family drama, Sister Wives. There are a zillion paranormal "reality" shows and DIY shows and other shows that will give you just enough for your brain to keep ticking over, but will not require that you follow a story line (beyond "Vanilla Ice goes to the Amish to learn craftsmanship" or whatever). Your attention can drop in and out without missing anything.

If you have a little more energy than this, there are also zentangles, which are doodling with a few rules and can be engaging even if you're not an experienced artist.

I would suggest expending as little energy as you can while still staying somewhat occupied. There's a criminal lack of research on CFS, but anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that you may have a better prognosis if you can restrict activities right from the beginning.
posted by pie ninja at 7:40 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you like gardening? It's creative and you can do as little as you like. Plant small plants and grow bigger plants from seed. It's important just to sit outside and watch them grow sometimes, too.
posted by aniola at 8:03 AM on June 2, 2015

Best answer: I'm sorry. I've been there. It's terrible. And as pie ninja said, try not to push yourself. I know how truly difficult (seemingly impossible) that advice is to actually do. But it's important.

It was hard to do much that was creative but I found things that were small, rote and repetitious were possible. So I made a bunch of these flowers and a bunch of crocheted circles (I messed up, they are supposed to be squares, but whatever) for an afghan like this. Why I think these worked is I could break it out into steps and then just do one step over and over again, the next time I 'worked' I could do a different step. This reduced the cognitive load of having to remember and transition between different steps.

For example for the flowers steps might be 1) cut paper into consistent sized squares (I got a mini paper cutter for this), lots of paper 2) Fold (but not glue) the individual 'petal pieces' 3) glue the petal pieces 4) glue the flowers together.

On a given day I might JUST cut the paper or I might JUST glue the pieces I'd already made together.

For the granny squares 1) select colors and cut needed lengths of yarn and bundle up the colors that go together for an individual square 2) crochet the three colored layers but don't tie off or trim yarn 3) add border color 4) tie off, trim, whatever the yarn tails

Other than a little difficulty figuring out how to do these initially, I generally found these to be soothing activities.

I also found easy logic puzzles on my phone (sudoku and that sort) good sometimes. I was TERRIBLE at them when I was sick, but had an app (PuzzleManiak) that had a wide variety of types of puzzle and they almost all had a very very easy level that I could start (and sometimes stay at). I realize this isn't right brained, but to a large degree I played them at a level of "pattern recognition" rather than true logic, so they may kind of work.

And nthing binge watching Netflix, especially genre's or specific shows that you find relaxing. I found myself watching some of the same shows over and over again (all of Eureka at least 5 times, Supernatural a bunch). I think because of the cognitive impairment the repetition was soothing rather than boring. Same thing for books on tape.

A smartphone is a necessity, it can really help you from going crazy when you can barely move...and a little stand can be nice for it if you're watching netflix in bed and can't hold the phone up.

Memail me if you need an understanding ear.
posted by pennypiper at 8:38 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sashiko embroidery!

Or any kind of embroidery, really. I took up embroidery a while back after I started a desk-based editing job which made any further kind of interaction with text or screens (reading, TV) out of the question at the end of a long day. You don't need to spend a lot on supplies to get started in embroidery (although of course you can, and it's fun to). It is beautiful and time- and labor-extravagant, it rewards any ambient perfectionism you might have, and you can build skill quite quickly.

Here is an excellent and in-depth free primer on the basics of embroidery. It includes the charming line "Love each stitch as it is laid" which encapsulates, for me, the Zen of embroidery: it keeps you in the moment, focusing solely on the stitch you're making now, in a way that is very mind-clearing and peaceful.

Embroidering is also a great excuse to put on TV so mindless it doesn't deserve more than half your attention at a time.
posted by stuck on an island at 9:43 AM on June 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

I use knitting and crochet to get through my CFS flare-ups. It makes a day feel less wasted to have something to show for it. Start with something simple like a scarf. Once you are decent at it, commit to making scarves for the homeless. One of the most frustrating parts of having CFS is the feeling of missing out on life. Creating something, anything, for someone else can remind you that you still have value, sitting in your chair, with the t.v. on and the curtains drawn.

On a side note- my CFS stays in remission so long as I avoid stress and follow a strict diet. It turns out that I have food intolerances that aggravate my condition. Just because you have CFS doesn't mean that you can't have other things wrong with you. By treating those other things, you can sometimes find relief for your CFS.
posted by myselfasme at 11:00 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I came here to suggest collages, so now I will second them. I have major issues with sleep and anxiety, and it's really nice to just plop down without any noise or distraction and go through magazines. Plus I get to have a finished product.

I get National Geographics at the thrift store for maybe a dime each.
posted by mermaidcafe at 12:30 PM on June 2, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the great suggestions! It's hard to feel productive when you're so exhausted - so these will go a long way in keeping me sane.

myselfasme, what sorts of food intolerances should I watch out for? I've never had any stomach problems, so that never occurred to me.
posted by amyshmamy at 12:49 PM on June 2, 2015

what sorts of food intolerances should I watch out for?

Whilst not a sufferer myself my uncle has suffered from CFS for 20+ years. A few years in he joined my aunt in a low carb diet to support her efforts to lose weight. He realised that he had significantly more energy and suffered a lot less muscle soreness following the diet. But being skinny to start out with, he lost too much weight and had to reintroduce grains quickly. His energy plummeted again.

Feeling he was onto something he paid more attention and realised that not all grains are equal. He found that he was wheat intolerant. Finding other grains and baking his own wheat free bread allowed him to start to play full rounds of golf again - at his worst he had been unable to walk from the bedroom to the living room in their bungalow, golf was out of the question.

At this point he is able to do most things he wants to do but has to be conscientious about building rest periods into his schedule and pacing himself. He also still suffers with a lot of muscle soreness in particular. So a few months ago he was recommended some different supplements to help specifically with the muscle soreness. Apparently they had a similar effect as cutting out wheat in terms of reducing his soreness. So absolutely, watch your diet. Start a food diary noting your symptoms as well as food intake. It certainly won't hurt and you may identify patterns you can explore further.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:53 PM on June 2, 2015

I tended to do a little better with low carb high protein but despite trying lots of exclusion diets didn't notice anything dramatic with cutting out any specific foods.

One thing I did notice which was significant (not a miracle cure by any means but significant) was that I appear to be sensitive to calcium (and maybe vitamin D). So when I have too much in my diet (or supplements) I would get a pretty serious flare in symptoms, calcium is part of the controls to a surprising number of things in the body.

It's kind of an oddball thing that goes against all the "conventional wisdom" for women and supplements and fatigue. But I have to be pretty conscious of my dietary calcium intake, and cannot take supplements.

YMMV of course, but it's pretty easy thing to do a trial of so it might be worth it.
posted by pennypiper at 3:07 PM on June 2, 2015

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