Tinkering as a form of Therapy

Today is World Crohns Disease and Colitis Day- though I'm not completely sure how such a day is selected, it's been declared so by CCFA (Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America). It's Crohns that's taken me out of the working world.. it's a tough disease with no cure at the moment. Folks with it fall into a "Managed Disease" category, which means they try to keep the symptoms at bay, with varying success. I'll tell you firsthand it's not something I would wish on anyone. Imagine a stomach flu that never goes away, for starters..

Patients of Crohns (like myself) and other diseases that cause chronic illness can often suffer nearly as badly mentally over time as they do physically. Depression among the chronically ill is understandably a severe issue- and it's primary cause is far too often a mind left to perseverate on the illness. Worse yet, that depression feeds upon itself, negatively impacting health, only making matters worse.

My photography began as a method to pull myself out of this depression cycle; I'm proud to say I'm trying to get a program started with a local hospital to do photo day trips with chronically ill patients as a form of Art Therapy. So many patients don't even realize the level of mental impact their disease has had on them until they can pull themselves up enough to see how far they fell. I was one of those patients, and I consider it a mission to try to help others get out of that hole you can get into far too easily. The biggest impact I see, in terms of people's overall happiness, is when someone jumps into a way to forget about their disease for a while.. be it searching for a great photo subject or tinkering with an Arduino making one silly project or another. If you can't stop being sick, you can at least occupy your mind with something else- and really need to.

One recommendation I give to patients now is Arduino.

It's not for everyone. We have to admit, it does take a certain kind of mind to want to tinker.. but in my case, Arduino has provided me with starting and end points that have led to countless hours of learning about a myriad of subjects. Sick folks sometimes have many "down times", staring at the walls. Doctors, waiting rooms, infusions- all of which now can be filled with curiosity sparked by thinking about how a little Arduino might be fun or useful, thanks to the internet. This post is being composed as I'm riding out a series of bad cramps, waiting for the meds to do their thing.. until those meds kick in, the best thing I can do is think about something else. It's really that simple. If there were a path between Arduino.cc and wikipedia and/or Google, I'd have worn it down to bedrock by myself just blue-sky thinking of oddball projects, most of which will never happen. The point is that I was occupied doing that, rather than lamenting in the moment. Distraction can be more effective than Percocet, sometimes.

The thing is, a challenging hobby like this keeps the mind engaged and not stuck on being sick. I've begun to suggest to some folks that I consider non-technical at this point that they might want to give Arduino a go.. smart enough folks, just not currently inclined to this sort of thing.. but are dealing with chronic illness. "Get a hobby" is real medicine to the chronically ill.

Arduino has provided me a tremendous starting (and end) point to mental explorations that are NOT about being sick. That's therapy in it's own right.

Arduino helping cure the sick- or at least helping the sick not suffer quite as much. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Thanks for making Arduino what it is.

Very inspiring, and kudos to you for using tinkering to make a difference.

If you set up a 501(c)3 of some sort to organize your hospital outreach tinkering activities I bet you would get lots of donations (count us in!)

-- The Gadget Shield: accelerometer, RGB LED, IR transmit/receive, speaker, microphone, light sensor, potentiometer, pushbuttons

Not to post a lifelog or anything, but Arduino for me started out as a therapy. I had a very very rough time (and still have), mentally, and physically I have not been allowed to do any sort of sports or other physical activities that are hard on the knees and back. I was facing a burnout a while back, and needed to get my mind occupied when at home, and do something constructive, instead of sitting on the couch with my laptop, getting more and more 'down' or 'depressed', however you want to call it. My girlfriend actually told me 'why don't you get back in electronics, like you used to, as you have told me.' and she was right. I didn't do it for about 10 years, and wanted to get building stuff again. So, I started researching, ran into Arduino, bought a kit and started tinkering. The satisfaction of seeing simple projects come to life, and seeing simple stuff get more complicated is a huge buff for your self confidence. When you're on the verge of a burnout, you think the only reason you still get out of bed is going to work and be someones 'slave', untill you can't take any more. You really see work as all that there is, because you are too tired for anything else. As soon as you start building something simple and you see it all come to life, it's very cool. The prospect of having a couple of hours at home, playing with small parts and building something amazing with virtually no effort helped me a lot. And still, the burnout is gone now, but the Arduino isn't. Sometimes I don't touch it for a week, because I finished a project, and need to get my mind off of it, thinking of something new helps with keeping your mind occupied.

I think it's a great thing to get people together and learn about electronics, arduino and all you can do with it! Mad prorps to you!

Well, this is "Bar Sport", and the original topic post was a bit of a lifelog anyway... feel free!

Not only is this a great platform for hobbyists and tinkerers, these forums are also a great "place".

It's filled with like-minded folks, ranging in skill level from total neophyte kids to world-class engineers.. all with the common "problem" of not being able to leave things well enough alone. There's something a little bit wrong with every one of us, but only in the best way possible ;)

I find Arduino interesting Socially. Look at the MicroChip forums, or Parallax. There is whole different energy here. You can't buy that, you can't build it, and you certainly can't hire it. A week after most members here get their first LED blinking, you see them at least trying to help others do so. Even the guys that are long in the tooth around here never seem to tire TOO much of answering the same fifteen questions over and over and over- but it's not an ego thing. You just don't see that kind of thing around here, it just doesn't work. Even "Grumpy Mike" rarely gets to more than "Mildly Irked Mike" most of the time :D

I can empathise. Im clinicaly knackered myself, ME/CFS, another managed untreatable condition. Like having the Flu constantly with varying levels of pain, feeling knocked out,limited mobility and brain fog. Had it for about 15 years now but had to give up work as a web developer about 5 years ago. All the help you get is how to handle it and make the best of what youve got and try to stop the de-conditioning of your whole system. http://www.afme.org.uk/allaboutme.asp?table=contenttypetwo&id=1 Apparently there was an ME/CFS awareness week a little while ago unfortunately no one told anyone about it.

Im playing with Arduino, Linux and Android to keep my brain working since Ive had to give up work. I manage a few hours a week when my concentration and memory arnt too bad. Cant do the spannering I used to enjoy on my vehicles as I havnt got the strength or stamina. I manage to work on my motorcycle a bit as I have a bike bench to lift it up to a working height. But the Landrover hobby has been put on hold indefinitely.

But sitting at my bench with all the kit to hand I can get some real pleasure from knocking something up. As long as I dont loose track of the time Ive been working, overdo it and spend the next day or so recovering.

Let the clinically knackered unite, were not completely useless.


No doubt about it - I find it the perfect antidote to the ‘Big Software’ and stress of the day job. Also the solder fumes and scary looking equipment keep my loved ones away, for those times when I just need to chill out and do something for me.

I have just come back from Howduino at Lancaster. It was great! Lots of like minded people.

Without wishing to sound too lyrical about it, I do think its the same pleasure as any craftsman or artist gets when they create something.

Good work for recommending it as a therapy.

Well, on top of that, there's a vain little glimmer of hope anyway, that something actually useful could come from a hobby like this. Even if that "use" is simply coming up with a cute implementation of some type of well-established technology.

I'm fiddling with that wall-plotter thing, which is a good example really. I'm far from the first to have thought of it, and I'll certainly not perfect it any more than maybe mixing a few ideas borrowed from ther things.. but what if I could, in the end, develop say a kid's toy based upon it... a glorified etch-a-sketch.. and successfully either sell the design or take it to market. It is not totally outlandish to think that I might still be able to produce an income, with a bit of luck and a mote of inspiration. Not many hobbies can present that as even an outside possibility. I'm certainly not egotistical, but I also think that I'm capable of "more"... and if I keep trying, it might just happen.

Also, the low-level nature of Arduino has got me thinking again along the lines of adaptive hardware for the handicapped, something I did while working in a group home back in the early late 80's and early 90's. At the time I was making "communication picture boards" of my own crude design which would link via joystick port to a PC running S.A.M. (Software Automatic Mouth) speech synthesizer. With what we made, we had folks able to communicate basic needs that were not able to before.. and I've never forgotten that. Most of my work hours were spent on daily routine and teaching basic life skills.. but a few hours here and there I spent with the OT's and PT's, bouncing around ideas and making things and trying them out. When a resident with severe Down's Syndrome and a functional age of around two finally "gets it" and is able to express "I'm Hungry"... all I can say is that whatever it took to get there, it was worth it. Arduino, with it's low-level design, really may lend itself to the Speech and Occupational Therapy world but I've noticed very few projects of that nature. Arduino seems to me to be an ideal platform for managing the mostly simplistic needs of most adaptive hardware.

One I have on paper is one that would serve my own needs.. a clock-driven medication dispenser, with bins alarmed and dispensed based upon sometimes rather complex dosing timings. In full blowout, it's common for me to be taking over 40 pills in a single day. Some are on 3 hour cycle, some on four, some are PRn but not to exceed "x" doses per "y" hours, etc. Especially when these medications can include those which can cause mental confusion, or when a double-dose can be a serious overdose, a reliable timer would be useful to say the least. However, NEVER in a million years would such a product make it to market, because of the potential liablitily. Sad, isn't it?

I find myself drawn to thinking at times about how Arduino can be applied to the often non-glorious needs of the disabled.. not only because I once did it as part of my work.. but because I myself now am considered "disabled" and unemployable.