In my former life, I was an academic, an English professor. I chose a life of research and curiosity. I lost my career at the end of 2014 because of my disease, and I really miss teaching and learning in that rigorous environment. Yet, I have discovered many new intellectual interests since then.
Surprisingly, this is something my illness has given me. I have leaned into my intellectual curiosity as my disease has become more severe over the years; it keeps me engaged with the world and mentally active despite the limitations of my disease.
My degrees are in literature and my myasthenia gravis (MG) symptoms actually started while I was working on my PhD. When you’re an academic, all of your intellectual energy goes into researching your area of expertise. After having to leave my career, I discovered I had so many interests outside of my field of study. I had no idea I was interested in these topics. They were never on my radar.
When I was an academic, whenever I read something outside of my expertise, I thought “How can I use this?” I think most academic researchers constantly have that thought in their heads as they study. Since I can read and study for pleasure now, I no longer have to think about that. I can learn for the sake of learning. It inspires me and also helps distract me from my symptoms and manage my care.
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I love reading and watching documentaries about many different topics, especially science, earth sciences, history and prehistory, space exploration, archaeology, music, etc. I’m not embarrassed about having nerdy, boring interests. They really give me so much joy. Reading takes a lot of mental energy, but I can usually read in short increments. I can’t survive a day without my Kindle, but sometimes I use audiobooks too. My husband and I also subscribe to different streaming platforms that have documentaries since that’s one of my favorite things to watch.
My infusion treatments take up a considerable amount of my time, but I am able to get them at home. I usually try to plan documentaries or other things to watch to help me get through them. They can be challenging and exhausting to get through. Having so many different interests gives me something to stay focused on, especially during those long hours of treatment.
One of the topics I have become really interested in is British prehistory. I have watched a lot of shows and documentaries and read a lot of books in the last 8 years on that topic. It gives me something to look forward to as new books and shows come out or finding ones I haven’t seen. It keeps my brain engaged. Even my infusion nurses know all the archaeology shows I watch, which I find humorous.
Having many intellectual interests is part of how I create things to look forward to. It’s an important strategy I have learned along the way that helps me keep going, especially when I am worn down by my illness and the endless medical tasks required to manage it. I think it’s important for patients to fully embrace anything they find mentally engaging and soul-fulfilling that enriches their life, giving them joy and purpose.