How to Pursue Your Many Passions When You Struggle with Chronic Illness
Photo courtesy of SteFou!.

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

Written by Emilie

Topics: Health

Note from Emilie: 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.

Your Turn

Are there other spoonie multipods out there – scanners with chronic illnesses, mental health struggles, or other disabilities? How do you cope? How do you balance these seemingly irreconcilable needs?

Want more support? Check out the Facebook group Emmett has started for multipods with chronic illness.

emmett-bioEmmett Wald likes to describe emself as part cat, part plant, and part hobbit (though specific ratios are yet to be determined). Ey is happiest playing with dirt, making music, designing or building things, or doing mathematics. Emmett graduated from college less than a year ago and is still in the “flailing” stage of adulthood, which informed sources tell em may actually be a permanent state. You can find the blog of things ey makes (from meals to blankets to apartment hacks) at emmettmakesstuff.tumblr.com.

69 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    Thank you SO much for writing this Emmett. I’m 25 and I’ve lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since 2010. Thanks to Emilie and contributers to this site, I’ve recently managed to rid myself of years and years of anxiety from going against the grain of how my mind is naturally wired: I feel SO much happier, ironically far more productive and honestly left feeling a little silly this never occured to me before! The more you know the less you know.

    I’ve spent the last 6 years re-learning and accepting my body, analysing my habits and developing mindfulness in all things. It feels great to see that this issue is being recognised on the site. Individuals with any debilitating/fluctuating health condition need to know that they can work smart, not hard. It’s taken me a long time to realise this whilst living with the symptoms; Still, it can feel like individuals with health issues are left by the wayside: especially if you’re a multipotentialite who feels compelled in many directions, perhaps finds their best option is self employment (which is the case for me) and has to assess their priorities and percieved needs on a daily basis.

    It’s really reassuring to see your list because I’ve recently developed a very similar list for my own health management based on my own experiences. The only advice that I would add to this post is the importance of building small habits and smart learning. I’ve personally found if I want to be most effective at anything I want to learn, pursue etc… I need to start with a “microhabit”. For example, I want to learn scales on a piano so I will set a microhabit of “5 minutes of learning a scale of my choice that day”. Or “I will spent 5 minutes writing in my journal today”. This is usually small and manageable enough that I can complete this, regardless of my physical and mental state that day and I feel better because I know that I’ve scratched away at it. If I’m feeling great and inspired that day, then I could dedicate more time to it. However, if that’s not the case, then I’m safe in the knowledge of having a tiny minimum “goal”.

    To complement this I would learn smart. I would recommend googling Kathy Sierra and watching any of the talks she does, namely “Making Badass Developers”, where she introduces the concept of cognitive resources and amazingily simple, measurable ways of developing actionable expertise in a subject. It’s very smart and far less taxing on your mind than approaching a subject at random: which helps a lot when you’re experiencing brain fog.
    These techniques will help anyone and I recommend anyone who cherishes their time and their identity to work smart and not hard, but for people with a debilitating and complex health conditions: these are vital.

    On a side note for Emilie: thanks to you, I’ve found a way to focus on what I love without being crippled by the anxiety of “wasting time”, which is music. Thank you for showing me how to authentically live in the present and I have so much music I’m seriously working on now! P.S. ,really liked your EP!

    • Emmett says:

      Mark,

      Thank you for your response and insight. Your suggestion of “microhabits” really resonates with me ~ I think that I have stumbled upon that trick a couple of times, and your explanation of it makes me think that I should try doing it deliberately! I’m also excited to check out “smart learning,” it seems like an excellent skill for multipods in general and spoonie multipods in particular.

      Your mention of self-employment also really strikes me. I’ve recently had to leave my job because of my health, and though I did apply to a few part-time jobs, I’m feeling more inclined to strike out on my own. The flexibility, self-determination, and relatively good pay of self-employment are all important advantages for someone who is chronically ill.

      Best of luck with your health and work!

      • Mark says:

        Hi Emmett,

        I can completely relate. I was made redundant from my job last year on the grounds of ill health and have been recovering this whole year (I didn’t get the memo full time work doesn’t really gel with CFS!). If I am to work for others, I can only imagine working part time because of my health and because I’d rather dedicate as much time as I can to building my own ventures around my themes. I am starting a part time on job Monday, which makes me nervous but I am positive things will be better under these circumstances; I only see it as a temporary means to re-enter back into independence as I build my own revenue streams.

        I wish you all the best too, I look forward to seeing what you create :)!

  2. Edyta says:

    Hello :)
    So clearly you are overstressed about everything what you do, I had this impression after reading your letter ! As you said, you’re tired of doing everything and stressed when you do not do enough. And this is the POINT, that you have to start to accept some limits and embrace them. And you have to learn how to rest (and we all have to learn it). Because today, so many people try to rest but can’t, because of our everything-doing-all-the-time ! I will say you can start yoga, meditation, respiration exercises, relaxation or what you prefer, there’s a lot of techniques, these all are really practical forms of rest ! You don’t have to put a lot of time to do it, and it help to reconnect to our body and really start to understand it. Also for a chronic disease I will advise you to eat a lot of fruits/vegetables. Vitamins are a life for our bodies and brains ! I’m on this way now for few months and I feel more energetic and happy then before ! :) But for me, because of this “war” in my mind, I was doing nothing, I became too lazy to do the things, while I knew it wasn’t possible to do everything right now ! And now I’m really okay with that, and I know that there is or it will the time to do everything that I want and need to do in my life :) Life has to be an interesting journey and not a competition (even or certainly in our minds) of doing more and more and more.

  3. Kasi S says:

    Thank you Emmett! This really changes my outlook. This applies very much to me as well. :)

  4. Ashley says:

    As a Lupus patient and an extrovert, I find this is me, all the time. Thanks for the advice. I can’t seem to give up/slow down. But maybe i should think more about it.

  5. Ingrid says:

    For many years I am still suffering from CFS (induced by Pfeiffers disease). I have learned to spread my energy and do things a short time and indeed smart learning. Also: you have to be well-rested to be well-rested. Explanation: of you are doing to much you can’t rest well afterwards and then things will go downwards. This means (in my case) to work most in the morning and rest 1 hour (or1,5 hour) in the afternoon.
    Also about food: it’is possible to be intolerant for specific food.
    Emilie’s suggestions to use the creative flow and when you are bored to switch to one of your other projects is working very well for me. Also keep the “scanner” period and other things you have to do , separate.

    • Mark says:

      I completely agree about diet. I didn’t think to mention that in my comment: I would recommend cutting out all grains, dairy, sugars (including natural sugars) and legumes (beans, pulses etc…) for a few weeks and see how this effects your energy/mood. You can introduce things back into your diet and see how they make you feel: however, none of those food groups (beside grass fed organic butter and kefir made from raw milk) will do you any good no matter who you are, especially if your body struggles moreso in the first place. Also, be wary of how certain foods can ferment in your upper gut, which can exacebate symptoms if your body already struggles to process stuff.

      For more information:

      – Google Dr. Sarah Myhill and read through her website, it was eye opening for me (also has good recipes that exclude above food groups that keeps fermentation in the upper gut in mind ),
      – Learn a lot more about the gut and digestion, I recommend the book “the gut reaction” by gudran johnsson
      – Check out the Paleo subreddit page on Reddit and read through their wiki. (Paleo is just a buzzword, I’m not recommending a diet per se, it’s just a good framework for cutting out what the body doesn’t need).
      – learn about probiotics and fermentation: i recommend The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz (amazing book).

      …Also, I don’t have a real solution to this because it’s something I’m trying to tackle myself: but be mindful of how you eat emotionally and recognise when you’re eating ‘for recreation’. Food addiction is a very real and common thing and these impulses and patterns make it difficult to stop eating stuff, even if we know it’s bad for us. It will get in the way of you feeling the best you can be and, by extention, give you less time and space to be working on all your projects.

      None of these things will ‘cure’ you, but they make life a damn lot easier.

      …Also for people with CFS specific (I’m sure this works for others who expereience fatiguing symptoms), look up the food supplements d-ribose, vitamin c, acetyl l-carnitine, coenzyme q-10, vegepa e-epa 70, vitamin d and k2 and magnesium. I would consult with your doctor first and do your own reserach but these work wonders for me for energy managment and wellbeing.

  6. Mark says:

    I promise this wont be a giant comment like my others (lol) but I had one more piece of advice about smart working, which I was reminded to mention by Ingrid’s comments about time managment:

    There’s a technique called the Pomodorro technique: 1 Pomodorro = 20 minutes. After 1 pomodorro of work you then rest for 5 mins. After 4 pomodorros you rest for 10 minutes etc… There’s a website called tomato timer that helps you do this. However, my ‘extention’ of this is to question yourself in every break ‘How is my body feeling? do I continue for 1 more pomodorro or will I start to burn out?’

  7. Linda Ursin says:

    I’ve lived with chronic pain in most joint, my back and neck, and muscles/fascia for the last 20 years. My multiple passions and creativity are what have kept me going.

  8. Jose says:

    Emmett,

    Great article. I think as multipods we all deal with a bit of anxiety. I’m dealing with it right now as I get ready to jump into a new business venture. However, scary can sometimes be good. It’s the feeling that indicates we’re heading in the right direction. If it just felt normal, I know that I would just eventually get bored.

    However, I like what you said, “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”. This is probably one of the hardest things for many of us to do. Too many times I jumped the gun on some opportunity that I didn’t put enough thought into. This happens more often than not and I think the key here is to keep constantly busy so that we don’t get distracted sideways so easily.

    One resource I recently learned about was on this topic of Energy Psychology. I used one of the “tapping” techniques yesterday to help me cope with the anxiety of my finances and then again right before I decided to eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes at 9pm. I have to tell you that once you start performing this technique it will reset your brain and get you back on track. In the beginning it felt a little dorky and illogical but I must say that it works!

    There’s a bunch of videos on Youtube about it and actual clinical research that has been shown to even improve PTSD. Just do a search for: EFT Tapping or Energy Psychology.

    Hope this helps!

    To your success,
    Jose
    JoseSiandre.com

  9. Ryphna says:

    Thank you for writing that article, I think it’s a very important piece in a lot of people puzzle…

    I personally suffer from chronic depression and while there is ups and downs I do know how constant fatigue and brain fog can become not only crippling but debilitating and upsetting. I understand how it feels to hate oneself for not being able to do all we want or even just the minimum we need.

    I think your list of tricks is a good start and what everyone said so far in the comment is also great. Still, I’d like to bring forth something a lot of people (multipod or not) forget when they try to push themselves toward reaching the same high grounds then the history greatest multipotentialite (may they be from the Renaissance or from later periods): those people had HELPERS. They had assistants, disciples, employees, maids…. Name it. They did great things of their own credit because they were able to delegate all the stuff that wasn’t in line with their goals to others (or at least most of it).

    I would advice that all of us follow their example the best we can. If we have people around us we can delegate some stuff to, please do. If not, focus on finding those people ; either collaborators that would be happy to do it or people you can hire to do it. It can be accountants, handy man (to fix or build things for you), cleaners, virtual assistants… Whatever you think would give you more time for self care and so more energy to do the stuff you love.

    If you suffer from chronic illness finding someone to clean your house once a month (or more often) is not only saving you time but a truck load of energy you can use in better ways.

    Note: For the people who have a partner generous enough to do all the cleaning and cooking for you: lucky you, you have one up on everyone else. (Like tons of successful man across history) Personally, I would still consider a cleaner or some other help so that your partner also have more time for self care and more time to reach their own potential.

  10. Thanks Emmett
    You have likely thought of this already but scheduling your leisure activities and rest times into your daytimer first ( before you schedule other projects) related tasks can make a huge difference. It means that they become as important as a meeting or appointment. Colour them your favourite colour and that colour requires 10 days notice to change or delete so that you are choosing to move the time that just doing it without noticing.

  11. Anna says:

    First – I’m very very sorry about your health issues!

    One of the things I struggle with is the fact that it is hard for me to get ahead financially so that I can pay for the treatments that I need to get better. It’s hard because I’m always all over the place and also because a lot of the time I am just not physically able to work.

    I live in Canada so most healthcare is paid for – but not things like Physiotherapy which I very much need. And a single appointment is $100. And even Yoga cost $15/session or $600 for half a year. I could do Yoga at home, but seeing as I get excited by, um, everything I find it hard to focus and JUST do yoga.

  12. Zarayna says:

    Hello Emmett!
    How lovely to read what you have written! Thank you.
    I am a bridge. As I may have written before, I thought, one of my useful contributions was to see the commonalities which we all share. Instead, I am viewed as an enemy alien because I cannot and will not pick ‘sides’ or be territorial over ideas.
    My ideation can be exhausting and I now have to admit that, I, like everyone else who has ever lived, has limitations. I also have limitations on the responsibilities that I shoulder – we can sometimes see too much for our own good!
    Nutrition is vital. Good stuff and regularly taken.
    Trying to get out into nature is vital. It’s biochemical as well as everything else.
    Can I also recommend scheduling? Let’s pretend we are infants. (There’s no law against it). We block off time to do the most vital activities first in sensible time blocks. We therefore have no choice but to feel a little satisfied at the end of the day, which can be sustaining in the present as well as the future.
    Knowing that we are not alone in our eccentricities but valid and gifted members of the human race, helps to allay anxieties. Multi-faceted, Renaissance people are an essential ingredient to our wonderful world.
    Hooray for us!
    Onward and upward or, at least, a little sliding sideways when we exhaust ourselves thinking so much.

  13. Namai says:

    Hey thanks for writing this. I figured it out by myself that I should take it easy on myself but it’s allways good to have reminders. Thanks for reminding me, not to rush in all things at once :D My body is tired most of the times but my mind isn’t.

    I recently last week found a site (in dutch) that said a lot of the symptoms I have, – ADD, mood-swings, chronic fatigue etc – are actually symptoms of female autism. Which differs very much from male autism so that I’ve been denying a lot of my problems. I hope, now I know all this, I can accept and work with this knowledge to accept my weak points more, take time more.

    Have a good day everyone :D

  14. Kim Shrader says:

    I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia iin the early 1990’s while raising two kids and working a full time, taxing job of 40+ hours each week. It was at a time when most had not heard of this condition. I kept pushing myself, even knowing it was harmful. I’d go until I couldn’t anymore and ended up down for awhile. Being retired now helps some, but I now recognize my drive as a multi hasn’t been my friend from a health standpoint. My approach now is to continue to do the multitudes of things I enjoy, but in smaller bits and pieces. As an artist, I might need to chose a sit down and paint for 30 minutes instead of stand and paint at an easel for hours. Knowing my priorities each day and getting better at saying no helps. I strive to find balance each day….doing a little of everything I love and need to stay healthy. If I don’t, the consequence is that I am down and out and not doing anything I love.

  15. Diana says:

    Emmett,
    Thank you for this article! I have struggled with chronic illness too. I think that some of the multipod qualities also lend themselves to perfectionism and stress, which leads to immune depletion.

    I just started reading a book called “Essentialism” and I love it so far. The basic concept is that much of what is expected of us is completely trivial and draining, so if we can reduce some of the trivial noise and get better at saying no, we will have more time and energy for the things that we deem important.

    I recently got into a situation where I had taken on a volunteer role and, in my initial enthusiasm for the role, went above and beyond what was expected of me. Then I got completely burned out by the usual February constant illnesses and all my other commitments. What this experience taught me is to next time consider whether I will be able to sustain a big commitment over time and when things aren’t flowing easily in my life. Every time I am feeling healthy and energetic I over-commit to stuff I can’t sustain!

    I need to constantly remind myself to build in margin.

    Thanks again for sharing about this important topic!

  16. Trina says:

    Thank you for this post. It could not have come at a better time in my life. I just saw the Multipotentialite TED talk and it has ended up bringing me here to this awesome community.

    I’m 36 years old and stuck in a job that has become so stressful that I now suffer from constant anxiety, heart palpitations, tremors…the works. It’s a constant struggle of trying to find the energy to function in a high stress job while trying to find a way out at the same time. The worst part of it is, being a Multipotentialite, is that I can’t find the energy to do anything else other than look for a job and make it through a stressful day at a job I hate. My passions have fallen to the wayside and I’ve hit survival mode.

    Thank you for this blog and the reminder that it’s important to take care of yourself along the way. Reading the comments have also helped. Peace Everyone.

  17. Cathe Frederic says:

    Excellent article and one which I think applies to the majority of multi’s. I struggle with health issues too. Thankfully one of my many areas of interest is alternative therapies and treatments. After over 30 years of research in individual amino acid therapies I have come to the conclusion that chronic illness is the result more often than not of specific amino acid deficiencies and mineral deficiencies. Our world is so toxic now that our bodies are left with deficiencies simply because it has to use up all of it’s amino acid reserves in detox processes. Individual amino acid therapy needs to be tailored to the individual using symptoms. For me and my family, I found we are unable to manufacture enough L Glutamine. Other people with say chronic migraines or seizures are often unable to get enough L Taurine in their diets. I think as multi’s we often burn the candle at both ends for so long that we suffer from chronic deficiencies of one form or another. The body simply can not keep up. Knowing others have the same struggle does help. Keep searching multi’s! It’s what we do best!

  18. Zarayna says:

    May I just add something to my above post?

    And the phrase is – The Obstacle is the Way

    Of course, Ryan Holiday has a book with this theme but I find the phrase itself is helpful as is.

    Naturally, if we are totally exhausted, then the obstacle is simply another burden but, in other circumstances, – The Obstacle is the Way – offers us encouragement, inspiration and motivation.

    Cheers.

  19. Stardust says:

    A mainly Music-inclined Multipod I got Tinnitus at age 21, and now at 31 I still have problems with managing the highs and lows of this mind bending condition on a career level. Sure I have become so much better now, but when I have bad days – like today – is just aweful feeling like your energy level doesn’t match your potential for “doing”. My take on this is that society rejects and/or is in denial about people’s vulnerabilities. We are supposed to live on schedules that are just not applicable to every body. That doesn’t diminish our contribute, but it makes it even more difficult to explain. I like to think that being a Renaissance Multipod person also means reminding ourselves and society that SELF-CARE has to be part of real life, and not seen as a luxury or laziness. Thanks for sharing this.

  20. Amy says:

    I can echo most of what has been said here. To add to it, I recently visited a naturopathic clinic where I have been a patient for a few years. However I saw a new practitioner this time who seemed to really ‘get’ the problems I’m having. I have some real hope for the resolution of my stomach issues. She did muscle testing, which I felt was accurate for WHAT I needed, but maybe a little off on the exact dosage over time. I’m still listening to my body every day on that.

    I prefer it when I can find a DO who is covered by my insurance (which the above is not). After I already went this week, I then found out from a coworker that there is one covered, so I may try to see her next time. I’ve had really good experience going this route while under different insurance and employment. Still, I’m glad I saw the one this week even if she wasn’t covered.

    Finally, I’m using a life coach right now. I think he may be a bit different from other life coaches in the way that he works with me to examine some of the mental and emotional obstacles blocking my way to the life I want. In addition to getting great physical care and support, I feel this work is also helping me on that side of my health issues. I highly recommend it.

    • Emma Heftman says:

      Hi Amy and all other multipotentialites…
      I don’t personally suffer from a disease, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve come to the realization that the way for me to combine my interest in all things to do with health/nutrition/disease and my desire to help people is to be a medical coach. This week I finished my Life Coach studies, and every day my decision is getting clearer.

      I’m so inspired to learn that coaching really helps you. I truly believe that coaching can lift people’s spirit’s immensely and who deserves it more than people who have a daily struggle with disease.
      I hope you all find the way to create the best lifestyle that is both satisfying and energizing.

      I’ll be using all the amazing advice to help others.

      I’d like to personally add that I think this community provides an amazing community to share your struggles and successes, so maybe you can all form a mini multipod chronic disease support group.

      Stay strong and motivated
      Emma

  21. Michelle says:

    I developed disabling psoriasis when I was sixteen. I’m now 43. As a multipod, it is often very difficult to endure. I understand the spoon theory all too well; some days, I open up the proverbial silverware drawer and there simply aren’t any spoons. Your beautiful brain is part of what makes you the multipod you are–always keep that in mind. No matter how few spoons you have (or especially on days when there are none), remember that: your beautiful brain is still right there. Rest in that stillness your body has forced you into and let the gears turn like mad. If you can’t hold a pencil or work a keyboard to write all your ideas down, find someone who loves you who will. Then, on the day when the spoons come back to you, you’ll have gathered a wealth of new ammunition to put out there into the world. That’s how I cope. Hope this helps someone else do likewise. Thank you so much for this beautiful article! I am totally re-sharing on my page at FB (which can be found by searching Iaconagraphy at Facebook).

  22. Sarah Wilkins says:

    Hi Emmett,
    Thanks for your article and thanks to everyone else for their contributions. I have lived with Chronic Fatigue probably since about 1995. I didn’t get a diagnosis until 2013 but had various clues along the way which I studiously ignored! It is fair to say that my world fell apart. I didn’t know I was a multipod at that stage and had just pushed myself to earn (yet) another degree, this time a Masters, with a view to working as a prison psychologist. I finally felt I’d found my calling and then my world collapsed.

    I found a wonderful practitioner with whom I have worked for 3 years now. She is in the UK but was trained by Dr Wilson to deliver his Nutritional Balancing Programme. It works like this: Send off a hair sample and have it analysed. A report comes back describing what your bio-chemistry looks like – mine was shot! Chronic Fatigue is essentially the adrenal system having burnt out which happens to a greater or lesser degree in individuals. Mine was pretty dire since I’d ignored the signs for more than 20 years. Over the last three years I have invested heavily in my recovery. I take a lot of supplements which are tailored to the way my body is responding to treatment. I have two amazing saunas, one is Far infrared and like a sleeping bag which I snnooze in at body temp when I’m feeling weary. The other is Near Infra Red which I sit in, in my knickers only, in my tiny utility room. The sauna looks like something out of Fifty Shades – you can picture the scene I’m sure! I sweat in that one because it is a great way of detoxing the body and those of us with CFS have lots of toxins to dispose of and it’s like detoxing the layers of an onion. And then there is the diet. I still mainly live on vegetables and protein. No grains, wheat, sugar (refined or natural) and very little fruit. I do eat dairy though and that seems to be OK for me. Initially, cutting all the stimulants out of my body was hideous. I have never felt so ill but, you know what, it’s been worth it. So that’s the physical bit. That was hard enough but the psychological element of this illness has been the hardest bit for me. As a rampant over-achiever it has been SO HARD to accept that I cannot keep pushing myself. In fact, it was only last week that I realised that I have been through the whole cycle of grief with this illness and have now come to accept that my life is not going to look the way I envisaged it …and that’s OK. I had to learn to surrender rather than resisting what my body was telling me. I now describe myself as being in recovery from CFS. My life lesson has been to slow down, after all the arrived in the world two weeks early and didn’t stop until I was forced to.

    In terms of multipod working? I have a growing “portfolio” of work. I do a day of research assisting most weeks, I do 3 days/month of relief work in a prison library and am looking to deliver training programmes for an organisation several days/month. I am also resurrecting a coaching business I ran 8 years ago which was always about change we don’t necessarily want to address e.g. being the parent of a teenager! Now I am incorporating my learning from the change I have had go through with CFS. That will be PLENTY and it suits me fine.

    Sarah

  23. Lia says:

    I’m so glad this article has been written. You sound so much like me. I suffer from a condition which has elements of Chronic Fatigue and also Adult ADD. It’s been misdiagnosed several times as mental in origin, but I’m pretty sure I’ve pinpointed a physical cause now.

    I’m also considering writing a book called “The Disabled Entrepreneur” for those of us who want/need to make money while they struggle with health conditions. You’ve reaffirmed my sense that it’s a needed project. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but I thought I’d inform you anyway. :)

    Lia

    • Stardust says:

      Lia, if you write a book called “The Disabled Entrepreneur” I am totally going to buy it. I was thinking that such a niche is needed while I was reading these comments. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Most of “self-development/business” advice that I read on the internet is barely applicable to people with any health condition that needs to be taken care of. More attention on these topics on a public level is needed.

      • Ryphna says:

        I totally agree. In fact most entrepreneur and business books often feel like they were written by superhuman for superhuman. (I know it’s not always the case but it does feel that way)

        When the book solution to starting a business is “ditch sleep and work on your business late at night or wake up earlier” it feels a lot like it’s people who have little need for serious self care…

      • Lia says:

        That’s incredibly encouraging – thank you! The first book I’m actually planning is a personal memoir about my own misdiagnosis and coping strategies. It’s called “But I’m Not Depressed” because that’s the diagnosis they tried to palm off on me. My brain is incredibly scrambled, so structure and planning are difficult; a memoir seemed like a good test-the-waters project. It’s stalled right now while I work on client projects, but the plan is to publish this year.

        If and when that is published – and depending on reaction and my not getting bored – “The Disabled Entrepreneur” should be next. My caveat is that I’m not personally making enough money to justify the title, so it would probably involve a lot of interviews and case studies as well as abstract theorising. Sometimes I wonder if I’m qualified to write the book at all. I’m a misfit in the upbeat, shiny world of business self-help advice, but I’m not at home in the online illness world either – too prone to wallowing and special snowflake syndrome.

        But honestly, I’ve read so much shiny advice based on the premise that all your obstacles are in your own head. It’s patronising and just wrong. If I can put together a coherent worldview/strategy that is rational and practical and helps people in our situation, then it’s worth it. Whether the thing actually sells is something else. :)

  24. Great article Emmett!
    When I was 17-18, I was told that I had to find a “real” job. So I worked full time for the governement (which I hated) and part time at Mr. Lube doing oil changes – had mono and have been living with fatigue ever since.
    For me, I believe it was my overly generous multipotentialite nature (not saying no) that made my body and mind come to a STOP. My last employers took great advantage of my talents, one even took credit for articles I wrote, and completely drained me of all I had. I felt like my soul had been ripped out of me. One past employer actually hired 3 people to replace me!
    I’m now 47 years old and I’ve been having to face my health problems head on for the last 5 years: depression (which I’ve had forever), fatigue, anxiety, which are causing all kinds of other health challenges. I was happiest when I was completely free, like when I was 23 and hitchhiked through Europe for 4.5 months by myself. I worked in youth hostels, picked grape at vinyards, babysat…
    I wish I had discovered much sooner that it was okay to work on so many projects at once, that it was okay not to do the 9 to 5 with a real job, that I could be artsy, creative, free, and have fun appreciating the little things in life. But no, I had to save up for a house, a car, raise a child (skipped the boyfriend and getting married part) because it was “the right thing to do”. I was only punishing myself, but I didn’t know better. Now, I’m obligated to getting my health back on track and committed to trying to finish the projects I start.
    Thank you for this article, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.
    Nathalie

  25. Janine says:

    I have just recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Irritable bowel syndrome and I still am yet to see a cardiac specialist for my Pulmonary Hypertension. And yes I am also a Multipod which I only discovered recently as well when a client of mine told me about Emilies TED talk which I loved. I thought I was strange and alone and wondered why I can’t settle down. Because I am quite new to all of this (the illnesses and Multipod society), I’m struggling a bit with regards to what someone said earlier about I want to run and jump and do everything now and learn everything I possibly can except that’s what got me into this health mess. How am I supposed to deal with both. My health is getting better slowly but now I want to run again and I know I can’t – aghhhh. I have to force myself to slow down, meditate etc. I guess it’s a journey. Someone was talking earlier about starting their own business, I have my own business and am having to sell it as with all my health issues, mentally I can’t handle the ups and downs of business, I just want to go to work and do my work and come home. And yet I know that I will get bored very quickly. I am so glad I’m not the only one going through this. Thanks

    • Paul Goldsby says:

      Hello Everyone,
      I enjoyed the recent article written by Emmett and came away knowing the concerns mentioned have contributed to many other people`s own struggles with something we would rather not talk about.I would like to say my own struggle before and after being diagnosed at 33 with schizoaffective disorder has taken me to places I would have a hard time reassuring many of you that the journey was worth it.I now know who wants to be in my life and those who choose not to be leaving me to having positive relationships.Because of my diagnoses I`m on a disability from work here in Vancouver Canada which frustrates me from time to time. I have always been eager to start something new meaning sometimes I never completed what I started with, but I have found even more since my illness by being different from the normal ways of society it has brought me more real happiness! I`m 55 now, and because of technology I am more able to be part of community of people who challenge life.By riding the roller coaster of life we grow knowing it really dosen`t matter what path you take so long as you go for a ride.I look ahead each day realizing because of the comments made by all of you it has helped me understand with my limitations that my journey, and maybe yours will help someone. Thank you

  26. Hi Emmett!

    I also have chronic fatigue syndrome. I also have Celiac, ADHD, Allergies to dyes, chemicals and preservatives and social anxiety.

    It is so awesome to see others talk about these struggles along with loving so many different things and wanting to have the energy to do them all.

    I used to live a very spontaeneous and creative life before my health forced me to slow down and even fully stop before I was diagnosed with anything.

    Now at 32 I am trying to use my talents while being honest and respectful to my body and the issues that just won’t go away. I have come to terms with the fact that I won’t get back to my old energy levels and now I want others who feel stuck with these issues to know that there are still options for a better life.

    Again, thank you so much for sharing!!!!

  27. Annie says:

    Since it hasn’t been mentioned yet in the comments, I feel obligated to mention that Lyme Disease is a frequently-undiagnosed cause of chronic fatigue. Many of my friends have it (it’s more common in Virginia than some other places) and if you’re experiencing significant fatigue I highly recommend testing for it (if you haven’t already).

  28. Max says:

    Hm. Thanks so much for posting this, Emmett, because this is something that’s been on my mind for the last few days. I have depression as well as disordered eating and trauma/abuse/toxic religion issues to work through. It’s not the lack of energy that bothers me so much as the apathy… in comparison, it’s better to be unable to do something I love than stop loving the thing.

    I’m really proud of my passions and enthusiasm for life and in some ways, I define myself by my multipotentiality… I dive into causes that I love. That’s who I am. So when I have weeks where I can’t get out of bed… and when I lose interest in everything I love? It’s hard.

    I don’t know that I have a solution or an answer. I know my passions are still there, but depression literally saps you of the energy AND interest to care. Still, I feel a little better knowing other people out there understand. :^)

    • Emmett says:

      Oof. I have definitely had periods of time where my depression or fatigue moved me to apathy. I wish I knew some solution for you, but all I can say is keep working through your PTSD etc. and hang in there! Life is full of ups and downs and loop-the-loops, and it’s impossible to predict what direction you’ll go in next. I hope, for your sake, that the apathy doesn’t linger. Stay strong!

  29. Kristina says:

    Thank you so much Emmett for writing this! I’ve felt so alone dealing with the same problems. But now I know that I’m not alone. I also feel like I’m in a constant battle with myself. It’s like my body and mind don’t get along whatsoever. I still don’t know what is wrong me, I haven’t been diagnosed with anything yet other than anxiety and depression (my doctor assumes). I don’t know if I’ll ever know what’s truly wrong with me. I’ve thought for several years that maybe I have some sort of autoimmune disorder, specifically Multiple Sclerosis. I have had most of those symptoms on and off for several years, and the more time that passes they just get worse and stay longer. For the past year it’s been non-stop fatigue, just feeling exhausted and weak all of the time. I’ve also had a lot of tingling/numbness issues which makes me really think something is wrong with my nervous system. My blood tests have always come out normal according to my doctor and a different doctor as well, but something is definitely wrong. I’ve never had Mono, and I have no idea why all of this started. I’ve thought that maybe I have chronic fatigue, but I don’t know for sure. Just like you there are so many things I want to do in my life, and I feel like my body has let me down. I’m never not exhausted anymore. My mind races with all of these ideas, hopes and dreams and a lot of times I feel so weak that I can’t even write them down let alone begin to put them into action. It’s depressing that I can barely get through my daily tasks of taking care of myself and never have any energy to do the things that I actually want to do. I try to take good care of myself, but it’s so much work and takes so much effort. And when you try and try and still don’t get any better, it starts to seem pointless. I try to do the same things to organize my life basically by trying to prepare meals ahead of time and getting things done when I have the energy to so I don’t get stuck not being able to get anything done because the energy is gone. It definitely does show you what is and isn’t important to you though. When you have a limited amount of energy, you don’t want to waste it on things that just don’t matter to you. That is a silver lining about this whole thing, I’ve started to really figure myself out. It is still depressing though, now that I know what I want and I have so much passion and want to go after my dreams and goals and I feel like I’m never going to accomplish anything. I’m still trying and I still have some hope for myself, but my coping methods are a work in progress. I also hate feeling lazy and having everyone tell me I’m lazy because they just don’t understand how I feel at all. I’m so relieved to know that I’m not alone. Thank you so much for starting this conversation! :)

    • Emmett says:

      Kristina, I know how frustrating it can be to know there’s something wrong with you but not be able to get a diagnosis! For some reason being able to name your illness makes it feel that much more manageable. Obviously I’m no medical expert, but have you tried seeing a neurologist? Also, you might be interested in researching fibromyalgia and POTS, both of which often have chronic fatigue as a symptom.

      The high effort and low payoff of self-care is also such an obstacle. The past week or so I’ve been in a cycle of “I’m so sick of taking care of myself, I’m gonna do whatever I want!” and staying up late and such, I know I’m going to crash soon and regret it but sometimes I just want to be able to act “normal.”

      My parents are in some ways really sympathetic about my illness, but they do often call me lazy or imply I’m being lazy, and it’s so hard. Especially because I’m pretty hard on myself without anyone else telling me off. =/

      Take care!

  30. Alma says:

    Anybody with chronic disease, and particularly multipods, should try meditation and mindful living. Not as a tool, a hobby or a therapy but as the basis from which we do all other activities. Meditation is good for reducing anxiety and stress, yes, but that’s only one of its side effects. Meditation implies being aware of our motivation behind our actions, projects and interests. Implies choosing wisely how to invest our time and how to take care of our body and mind while trying to benefit and improve the world. The word meditation in Tibetan means “familiarization” with healthy mental habits. Implies reflection to develop wisdom. Implies attentional stability and focus. Implies training and developing a sharp, vivid mind, that at the same time is completely relaxed and present. Able to concentrate and achieve multiple goals with ease. The foggy, depressed, anxious, distracted minds many of you experience, are out of balance. Meditation is finding balance. As a multipod with a chronic disease myself, I’ve found this to be the best gift and I share it and teach it in my blog PeaceAndMind.org

  31. Deema D says:

    thank you so much for this. this is something I have struggled with greatly and finding the balance and learning to surrender to and accept my limits/boundaries has been very difficult for me but definitely something I am getting better at. So good to hear other peopole experiences with this! thank you!

  32. Yvonne says:

    Hi, I’m Yvonne from Germany. My English is more than bad, so please have mercy. :)
    OMG! I read this artice and it changes my whole understanding of the last 10 years of my life. When I watched your TED-Talk, Emilie, I had my first enlightenment. I thought, okay, this is exactly the story of my life. But I can’t handle even one of my passions because I have mono as well about ten years. At the moment I am starting a new attempt to handle the fatigue and alle the other problems mono caused. And wow, there is a connection between my adhs, multipotentialism and mono? My gosh, this makes so much sense now!! Since years I struggle so hard with the fatigue and espeacially with the people around me who are not able to understand me. Here in Germany chronical mono isn’t very popular. Most doctors doesn’t even know about this illness or tell you, that it does not exists! It’s so hard to have chronical mono in Germany. I am so glad to found this article. It’s a kind of legitimation to be like I am.

    • Emmett says:

      Yvonne, I had almost exactly the same experience. My chronic mono diagnosis was very difficult to come by, most doctors in the US don’t know about it either. I wish you the best of luck in finding balance in your life!

  33. Richard says:

    I can relate to this.
    I to have had to face the problem with my health as well.
    It manifests in me as anxiety, specifically social anxiety. As well as muscle tension in mid back neck and jaw. Also now gone, but a severe problem with mucus and phlegm, psoriasis.
    My coping mechanism for the stress and anxiety was simple, stay at home.
    But I feel I have missed out on life and suffered loneliness.
    There seems to be no middle ground with me.
    I blow either hot or cold. Passion and energy, or cold and anxious.
    It helped when a few years ago when I learned I was likely to be a Highly Sensitive person add described by Elaine Aaron. There a good short film on the trait.
    It seems I’m sensitive to the world itself and my thoughts. I realise I’m far more sensitive than I first thought. My mind races a lot of the time.
    Worse still, I also appear to be a High Sensation Seeker, Those individuals who seem to run on adrenaline. Working at a furious pace, seeking out challenges.
    Finding a balance may not be possible for very long.
    I’ve found solace in creativity, writing and now art.
    It seems a lot of HSPs are artists. Working alone, like writing and art helps you to manage the intensity much more easily. Without it the world is harder to control.
    It makes for a difficult life balance because you constantly are walking a knife edge between to much and to little simulation.
    Over the many years I have come across a lot of ideas on how to live a healthier life.
    For the chronic fatigue, I suggest seeking out a nutrition expert. I studied nutrition myself for my anxiety, and it helps to put yourself on an even keel.
    Avoid sugar!
    Depression and chronic fatigue linked to inflammation.
    Try to find one learned in Functional Medicine.
    Further ideas include herbal medicines, adaptogens to help you cope with stress, herbal sedatives to calm you down.
    Also
    Massage, this works fantastically well. Failing that, warm hugs.
    Rolling around on the floor
    Yoga
    Mild exercise

    (We tend to get so lost in our heads we forget we have a body. Getting back into your body can help a lot )
    Mediation
    Deep breathing
    Avoid stimulants
    Stay warm, wrap up
    ASMR videos
    A good night’s sleep
    Pacing yourself better
    I have so much more I could say. But I’ll stop with this.
    People like us don’t seem to do things in half measures. It’s all or nothing.
    ‘The candle that burns twice a bright burns half a long.’
    And we want to burn brightly.

  34. Rebecca says:

    Crazy! I didn’t know you had Celiac Emilie (referring to the email that brought me here rather than this post). I’m currently navigating getting flown out somewhere for 4 days for a consulting gig and planning out all the food I’ll have to bring with me. The list of things I can eat is very short and I can’t eat out anywhere or use other people’s kitchen equipment. It seems like if I don’t make it a big deal, clients don’t seem to worry about it too much either. Love seeing someone else that’s a polymath and has celiac doing stuff like what you do!

    Emmett, same with you, and I totally agree on the listening to your body thing – I sometimes have to literally stop and ask my body what’s going on and what it needs from me. It feels dumb but it helps when I feel like I’m stuck and can’t figure it out.

    The resting thing can be very hard – when everything you love is something that can quite easily make you money, and you’re regularly asked to do it for money, it’s hard to find something to do in your free time that feels like it hasn’t been claimed as “work” yet. >.<

  35. Tzica Ruiz says:

    Thank you, its all i can say, i’m crying right now, i’ve never knew someone who felt the same way as i do, hope i can share my story in an other moment. Thank you again.

    • Emmett says:

      Tzica, I’m so glad that my story resonated with you and made you feel less alone. Best wishes to you. <3

  36. Kaci says:

    I’m 42 and just discovering now that there’s nothing wrong with me–I’m just a multipotentialite! Two years ago my nervous system went dysfunctional and doctors made it a million times worse. I now can tolerate very little stress and activity without getting physically ill, and it’s hard to accept my limitations. What saved me was art. For the first time since high school I got into drawing and painting, and I can explore all kinds of things and learn and grow while still resting and being at home. I’ve done everything from tie-dying to clay pots to sculptures from plastic jugs to beading. Art is so diverse I don’t often get bored with it. I just wish I could make $$$ at it! ;)

  37. Emmett says:

    Wow.
    Thank you all so much for your thoughtful responses, advice, and stories. It is so heartening to know that I am not alone in this struggle, and that so many of you have found various ways to take care of yourselves and balance your multipotentiality with your health issues. I am so grateful to all of you right now. If anyone would like to talk more about this, I would love to connect ~ emmettmwald@gmail.com.
    So much compassion for you all.
    ~Emmett

  38. Emmett says:

    Another thought ~ the enthusiasm here is making me think that it might be nice to have a place where we can connect/talk/support one another/share stories/give advice/etc. Would anyone be interested in joining a Facebook group for multipod spoonies? If so, I can create one and post the link here.

  39. Layla says:

    Hi!
    I think a Facebook group is a great idea, would prefer a different name than ‘multipod spoonies’ though lol
    ‘Multipotentialites playing with spoons’ maybe? People could recommend better names :)

    Not sure if this has been mentioned above (haven’t read all the comments): being behind the computer for too long can actually cause depression, anxiety, and other health problems. There has been a study in Japan. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-153281/Why-using-cause-depression.html
    I still like to go online to relax a bit (or learn new languages on DuoLingo or such), it needs to be limited though…
    And now I need to go for a walk!=another energy-raising tool, as is exercise and nutrition etc!

  40. Catherine Chisnall says:

    What I struggle with is my own chronic conditions- food intolerances etc. And the fact I have a delicate daughter who is often at home ill and not at school. Its very hard to fit in any type of ‘pursuing my passions’ in between her and my needs. I do a little at a time…

  41. schismarch says:

    Thank you for sharing your story–it’s essentially my own. I had a poor immune system as a child, and lived in the SE, to which I am very allergic. I had every kind of lung-related illness you can imagine; and then at 13 I contracted mono. I re-contracted it at 14. And by 15, CFS was the paradigm for the symptoms I was experiencing, and have experienced ever since.

    I’ve accomplished a great deal in my life, and embraced the “jack of all trades” nature of my mind and capacity, but when you experience chronic illness throughout your life, you have to learn to negotiate life, or you risk making yourself worse off. Which I did, so many times, as I strained against the boundary of my physical self, trying to do just one more thing only to spend six to eight months unable to move, locked primarily inside my own noisy head.

    I have such empathy for folks who confront this–and other chronic conditions–as an adult. There is a grieving process that takes place as you negotiate this, one I put off until I couldn’t move forward without mourning. And that grief will return at points throughout your life. This can be as hard to accept as the illness itself.

    I’ve spent much of the last year accepting that the ambition I crafted (and was expected to achieve) when I as a teenager does not dovetail with the person I am today, and what I want and need. I think, if you are lucky, everyone can experience this; I think it’s part of adulting, and it can be done in joy and sorrow. But packing away the dreams of the younger me who thought illness would disappear with age is rough work.

    And it comes with crafting new ambitions, new desires; finding new paths to tread, at the speed you need to walk them. This is hard work too, of course, but though you cannot know where those paths may lead, perhaps you will enjoy the journey as much or more than the goal. That has been my experience, so far. The goal is not sufficient in and of itself; it is the path, for me, that holds the promise.

    This is a bit more timey-wimey than I intended in response, but it’s so rare to read an experience that so closely mirrors my own that it sparked introspection, pushing me to voice things I’ve been pushing around in my head for the last several months.

    Thank you for sharing. I’m grateful to share my experience with such thoughtful and competent people, though I would never wish for someone to join me in this. It’s a hard, fraught thing, the kind of adversity written of mystics; the battle of the physical, mental, soulful to join together in a single reckoning.

    Take care.

    • Catherine Chisnall says:

      What a sensible comment. Like you I had mono or glandular fever as its called in Britain and was never the same afterwards. I’ve had to carefully measure out my time and energy, even though I’d love to be one of these fireballs of energy, able to do anything. But it is not to be. So I do what I can, when I can.

      • schismarch says:

        So I do what I can, when I can.

        Finding the joy and light in that is often how I find my own purpose. Especially when I can find compassion not only for myself, but for others confronting walls.

    • Emmett says:

      Thank you for this comment. It gives words to something that’s been on the tip of my tongue for a while ~ the grieving process. Your words on that really resonated with me. Perhaps I have been going about it backwards, trying to fit all of my goals and dreams into this new shape my life has; perhaps I should try to start with a clean slate instead.

      You’ve given me a lot to think about.

      • schismarch says:

        I’m pleased it resonated for you. I’ve been walking with this essentially my whole life, and I recognize now how much more difficult the experience can be for folks who come to chronic illness later in life, which I think it more typical. It took me awhile to see the forest from the tree, if you will. I was absorbed in my own experience, being taught over and over again that cleverness and intelligence, and the ability to meet the expectations that come with those traits, is not the right context for my life. It took awhile to learn the lesson! And I will keep learning it.

        But going through that grieving process–which I worked through with a wonderful counselor, who recognized what I was trying to do well before I did–has given me the perspective I needed to gain acceptance. By which, I strongly note, I don’t mean defeatism. There is so much power in acceptance. A lot of freedom. And that clean slate you’re talking about.

        In my experience, the expectations I held for myself were admirably but simply not the right fit. I have come to let go of goals. They’re not fruitful for me, particularly because of this multipotentialite thing–anything could be a goal, because everything is fascinating. So the relevance of goals is minor! This is truer when you experience illness, or disability (which is what I am tangling with now).

        If you live in the present, all dreams are your dreams. All opportunities are new and possible. No one thing is the point, because all things are experienced more slowly, with more consideration, and with clearer eyes. And grasping that, embracing that, has brought me a peace I couldn’t have imagined at 20, frustrated and angry that my body wouldn’t comply with my mind, as if they were independent of one another.

        I’m a little Rumi-er than I expected in this first comment to this website and its community, but I hope that you find the resonance you need, and that your life is richer for it. All things are possible for you, Emmett, and it’s only a bit of a tilt in how the world is viewed to make that ring true. You’ll get there. I believe in you.

  42. Hi Emmett, thanks so much for your vulnerability and sharing your struggle with being a multipotentialite / Scanner / Renaissance Soul and a person with chronic illness. Also, thank you for the link to the “spoon theory”, I had never come across that post before — what a great metaphor! And thank you Emilie for bringing in this extremely valuable guest post!

    I am also a self-identified Renaissance Soul ever since I heard the term, via Margaret Lobenstine’s landmark book of the same title (bit.ly/RenaissanceSoulBook). I’ve struggled with chronic illness most of my life, and have been diagnosed with a variety of maladies throughout the years – most recently, last year I received a fibromyalgia diagnosis (after over a year of undiagnosed pain). So, I applaud you for taking the resolution to take care of yourself, and to start saying no to things – even those that you might want to do, but know that you shouldn’t. Which is devilishly hard for us multipotentialite Renaissance Souls – don’t I know it!

    One of the frameworks that has helped me the most from The Renaissance Soul book has been the idea of the ice cream sampler. Lobenstine introduces this as a solution to the classic multipotentialite dilemma: feeling like you’re in an ice cream store with hundreds of flavors and you simply MUST have them ALL… so you can’t make up your mind, and end up “starving” in front of the counter. But it just so happens, says Lobenstine, that today is your lucky day – the owner is willing to offer you a deal. You can get a 4-flavor sampler with your 4 top choices right now. And next time you come in, you can pick any 4 flavors – some of the same ones you took last time, and maybe swap a couple out. These flavors are your “focal points” – the themes around which to organize your pursuits. And 4 is not a magic number – you can pick anywhere from 3 to 5 – but more than 5 and you are back to paralysis again. The psychological trick here is not just the focus part, but knowing that you have the freedom to change these flavors, these focal points, whenever you choose to. You are not locked in for life (the dreaded nightmare of any multipotentialite who’s been told a million times that they just need to “figure it out” and “settle down”).

    This framework really revolutionized my thinking and helped me cut out a LOT of “yes”es right off the bat. Learning a language, playing an instrument — all things I had wanted to do for years and that I felt constantly guilty over not pursuing — went out the window. They are not the flavors of the day! I’ll take them up another time. My sampler plate was already full with improving my health, taking care of my family (married + young daughter), getting a PhD and writing a book. No big deal (hah! or so I thought). 4 focal points for four flavors, right?

    But I found that even that was too much for me at the point I was at. Effectively, I was trying to fit in 4 full-sized flavors in a 4-sampler sized plate. What ended up happening was that my health, though ostensibly one of my 4 focal points, repeatedly fell by the wayside. My body was definitely paying the price for my passions. I was so burned out, and in so much pain, that I could barely focus on my job… nor had the energy to focus on the writing I loved to do. I was being torn between the PhD and the writing, and though everyone told me to cut myself a break, I was the hardest on myself of everybody. But finally it got to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore.

    And so I found that I had to scale back to 3 focal points. it was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do. I took time off from the PhD – without any guarantees of if or when I would go back. I resolved to take a month-long “yes hiatus” (a beautiful term due to Sarah Shotts, see http://www.sarahshotts.com/yes-hiatus/ ). And I put my health front and center. Whereas earlier I had been paying lip service to taking care of myself, I now rearranged my schedule around exercise, meditation, and therapy. I gave myself free-form time with nothing to do: just walk around, browse around bookstores, enjoy the sun, call up some friends. Or nothing. It was tough to decide, but once I did, it was a huge relief: it was exactly what I needed. I also joined SuperBetter (an incredible game to help you improve your health — I highly recommend it) and threw my heart and soul into the game of healing, bringing all my friends along for the ride to support me.

    Creating that space allowed me to look deeper into my health issues and start getting some resolution for the issues that I’ve been having. (Long story in and of itself!) I still have fibromyalgia, and still struggle with pain. But I’ve been able to resolve a lot of the underlying problems, and in my case, there were plenty. Working myself raw was definitely not helping, and saying no was the beginning of a very important process that I never would have embarked on if I hadn’t had the space to explore it. I’ve been able to reduce my reliance on pain meds, have actually swam an entire mile in one morning (!!), and most recently, I decided to go back to the PhD. But conserving my “spoons” is still a major issue, and overcommitment is my biggest enemy.

    I would be very open to joining a group for multipotentialites dealing with chronic health issues!

    Also, in the spirit of full disclosure: I actually partnered with Margaret Lobenstine before her death in August 2015, and am currently working on revamping her website, renaissancesouls.com – it’s in terrible shape right now, but hopefully it will be a valuable resource for multipotentialites soon!

    • Zarayna says:

      Hi Shiri,

      Hope this finds you energised, if not warm, (I’m in Greater London).
      Just to let you know, I saw that you said that the renaissance souls website is in terrible shape so I thought – so am I! – so have just joined your mailing list.
      Thank you for your valuable information above.
      Warmest wishes.

    • Emmett says:

      Oh, the ice cream sampler is such a wonderful image! It reminds me, a little bit, of Sylvia Plath’s passage about a fig tree (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7511-i-saw-my-life-branching-out-before-me-like-the) ~ but the ice cream sampler metaphor offers a solution. That seems like a really useful framework for prioritizing. I may have to try it myself. Thank you for sharing.

  43. Emmett says:

    Hey all,
    I’m trying to create a FB group but it requires me to add at least one person to create it! Can someone email me so that I can add you by email address? emmettmwald@gmail.com

  44. Emmett, email sent :)

  45. Laura says:

    Great post Emmett! I just requested to join the FB group too.

    Like most people here, I’ve had to balance the crazy, do-all-the-things all the time urge from my multipotentialite brain with the rest requirements of my chronically ill body. I think I’m slowly getting there through pacing and colour-coding activities to help me keep track of the spoons. You give great tips above as well. It’s still always tempting to over-do things during a good spell, but I think I am slowly finding a better pace :)

  46. Fran says:

    For me the chronic illness is depression, and this article was just what I needed Emmett, thank you.

    I also wanted to say that I adore your phrase “enthusiastic interdisciplinarian”. I feel like I want to get it written somewhere small as a backwards tattoo so I can read it in the mirror. :)

  47. ema barber says:

    Wow, there are a lot of us experiencing similar issues.
    Thank you for writing the article and sharing about your experiences. It seems to help when we know we are not the only ones experiencing a set of challenges.
    Like the others I have problems with chronic pain, depression, fatigue and digestive disorders while having a multipotentialite brain.
    What I’ve learned to do is tackle each problem individually and I’ve discovered some are connected.
    Sleeping for 12 hours a day then taking a 2 hour nap is no way to live a life. It wasn’t until 2 years ago that I figured out the problem was gluten. Three days after I stopped eating gluten my body felt as though it were brand new! Suddenly I only needed to sleep 6 hours a night and no more naps or energy drinks. My digestive problems disappeared too. I was no longer anemic,woohoo. Completely proud of myself I shared this news with my doctor, since I was the one who figured all of it out, not a doctor. She was supportive and proud of me for taking such initiative to solve my own problems.
    The depression is easily handled with buproprion, also my own solution. It has the added benefit of helping my brain calm down a bit and think of only 10 things at a time instead of 100. Again, woohoo.
    The back pain has been around since I was a kid. The back specialists in my town weren’t any help,all they want to do is prescribe pills for a chronic problem. No thanks I said. Fortunately I had a hands on boyfriend who had experience with back pain. With his help I learned that sleeping on a moist heating pad every night helps relax the muscles and so does a good massage. Yeah. Sitting down ads to the pain so I try to stand as much as possible. Thank you podium.
    I am never bored searching for answers to problems and feel empowered that I can find solutions instead of waiting for doctors to do it for me, all because I am a multipotentialite.
    Woohoo!

  48. Ane says:

    My work is dedicated to this very thing. There is a genetic trait called sensory-processing sensitivity that I believe most if not all multipotentialites have. It predisposes one to certain tendencies that in my experience must be directed. There is a high correlation with autoimmune disease and weak immune systems, as well as hormonal imbalance and HPA axis issues that alter digestion and create a situation of adrenal fatigue, inflammation, mood disregulation…all of the things above. I find that there are physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, and vocational ways to strengthen one’s sensitivity and that is essential to health. It is important to understand that we have a different biology and how to meet our needs with this biology. We are called “orchid children” because we are highly adaptable as compared with the hardier population of dandelions. We are highly adaptive and so we must know how to use this adaptivity or it will use us. The limits and self-care mentioned are so important, but so is education and understanding that you can strengthen your nervous system just as you can strengthen your muscles. There are many who are doing work related to this, so I wanted to bring more light to the discussion. My work is at http://www.sensitiveleadership.com

    • Catherine Chisnall says:

      Thank you so much Ane. I have felt for decades that my biology is different to the majority of the human race and constantly struggle with fatigue and food sensitivities. So does my 10 year old daughter. If I can prevent her from suffering as I did for so many years that will be a great achievement.