Balancing Illness and Art

I’m not necessarily obviously ill. I don’t have a physical disability that you can see. I have an eating disorder however, alongside an autism diagnosis, anxiety, depression and migraines. As much as I try to keep these things at bay, they inevitably end up affecting the way I work. It’s an art in itself, really, balancing illness with your job or hobbies. For me, it’s balancing the illness, my job and my education. It’s tough, but it’s not impossible. Today I just want to discuss this aspect of my life in a little more detail.

I think that when you become ill to the point where it’s affecting your life, you learn a lot of important skills. You learn to be both spontaneous yet use schedules and plans. As someone with high functioning autism, I thrive on schedules and time tables. Yet due to my illness, I’ve had to scrap them. No longer do I have the same times to go into school and leave school every day. Some days I leave early, some days I come in late, some days are completely normal! Some days I have to miss for appointments and some days I need to take off due to my mental health becoming strained. It’s not simple and it does cause a lot of stress, but I’ve learnt to adjust to it and accept it, because it’s what is best for my health.

You also learn to compromise. I used to have the dangerous mindset of ‘If I’m not going to be able to give it my all, I won’t do it at all.’ which caused a few problems. If I wasn’t feeling great, I wouldn’t bother at all. It makes sense, to be fair- why would I half ass something that I know I can do to a greater standard at another time? But it drastically decreased my productivity. I was writing less, drawing less, studying less, despite the fact that I could have done some work. I do take time away from these things to fully relax every now and then, because we all need that (especially if you have health problems) but this wasn’t taking time away. This was not bothering, because it wouldn’t be as good as it could be.

In reality, a lot of skills can only be developed if you keep working on them. You get better at drawing by, you guessed it, drawing every day. This doesn’t mean draw a masterpiece every day. Even if it’s just getting out a pencil and sketching a few people or animals or flowers, you just have to draw something. Anything that’s worth being done 100% is worth being done 20% or 50%. It’s something that people with depression often struggle with too, which is why it’s often suggested to take ‘shortcuts’ like using wipes to clean your face and neck if you can’t take a shower or go into the garden for fresh air instead of a full walk. To this day, I make sure I draw something every day, even if it’s just a doodle in a notebook. I also make sure I write every day, even if it’s just a sentence or two. If you stop working on your skills when you’re not at your best, you likely won’t be working a lot at all.

When you’re ill, you have to become very proactive in your life. Which sounds a little dumb, but you can’t afford to be passive when you’re ill. The media seems to think that anyone who is disabled just lies in bed and accepts whatever happens to them, when that isn’t the case. We have to make a lot of decisions constantly that other people might not have to consider. It’s easy to feel out of control when you’re ill, but being ill makes you proactive and you have to take control of a lot of things in your life.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I just wanted to write my thoughts down briefly. Do you have any sort of illness that affects how you work and live? Let me know in the comments.

Published by Alexandra Killworth

I'm Alexandra Killworth, YA author, freelance artist and photographer and mental health activist.

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