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Things You Can Do from the Bed

Living well from the bed, the couch, or the recliner.

In 2001, little did I know that my bedroom would soon become my home. On some days, I'm able to go out or visit with people in the front of the house. But, due to illness, most of my day is spent on the bed.

I had a difficult time adjusting to my world becoming smaller and smaller, but I've slowly made peace with this new life, so much so that I think the healthy could benefit from this quieter lifestyle. Here's a list of things you can do from the bed, although the list applies equally to life from the couch or the recliner.

1. Read or listen to audiobooks. Beds and books are perfect companions, whether the book is paper, electronic, or audio. I loved to read in bed before I got sick; it's so intimate and comforting. I find it hard to read now, so I curl up and listen to audiobooks. I've come to treat audiobooks the way I do a favorite piece of music: If I like a book, I listen to it over and over. Alexander McCall Smith's series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, is an example. I love the books and I love the reader (Lisette Lecat), so I've listened multiple times to each book in the series.

Source: Flickr

2. Write. Mark Twain wrote from the bed. So did Marcel Proust and Winston Churchill. I love how writing can take so many forms: poetry, a personal diary, a letter (imagine how exciting it would be to receive a letter from a friend instead of an email), a blog, a Facebook post, a book. I wrote all three of my books from the bed—laptop on my stomach, notes strewn about on the blanket, printer within arm's reach.

3. Hold a film festival. If you subscribe to Netflix or another service, treat yourself to a film festival from the bed (or the couch or recliner). A romantic comedy film festival. A festival of Westerns (this, in honor of my son's mother-in-law). The movies of Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep or Sandra Bullock. You could invite a friend to watch with you in-person, or you could watch from your own places and then share your thumbs-up/thumbs-down critiques via telephone or email.

Jessica Sevrin, used with permission
The girl who wove my sash
Source: Jessica Sevrin, used with permission

4. Travel. I use my laptop to travel. (It's "virtual travel," but I don't have to deal with airport lines or jet lag!). When my goddaughter, Jessica, took a trip to Southeast Asia, she left me her itinerary along with websites for the places she'd be visiting. As she traveled, when she could find an Internet connection, she emailed me travelogues and uploaded photos to a website. I have a vivid sense of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, especially through her photos: people working in rice fields; kids bathing in a river; the colorful array of foods at open markets; the incredibly crowded streets of Saigon and Hanoi. Above is a picture of the young girl from the Bolaven Plateau in Laos who wove the sash that Jessica brought me as a gift.

5. Take up a sport. In the first chapter of my book, How to Be Sick, I share how I learned to love watching tennis from a Parisian bed. Yet when I got back to California, some days I was too sick to watch or even listen to television. I was unable to follow the tennis ball whizzing back and forth over the net; I couldn't handle the excited voices of the commentators. Then one day I discovered a sport that's not only played slowly (there's a lot of walking and standing around...) but is in a park-like setting and has commentators who whisper: golf.

Golf? I'd never had the slightest interest in golf! But necessity became the mother of a new fan (to put a turn on a well-known phrase), and so I took up golf. I slowly figured out the rules and the variety of skills a player must master. I learned their names and what countries they're from. And I learned that, with patience and attentiveness, something I thought was dull and uninteresting could be entertaining after all.

6. Become a student. A few years after becoming bedbound, I discovered The Teaching Company. Many of their DVDs and CDs are available at libraries. Using their DVDs, I undertook a serious study of classical music for the first time in my life. Before I got sick, I couldn't tell Mozart from Beethoven from Schubert. Now, if I hear a piece on my classical music station that's composed by one of these three, more likely than not, I can identify the composer. I also studied opera using Teaching Company DVDs, a topic I wrote about in my piece, Opera is Now for Everyone! Here is a taste of the classes available through the Teaching Company: "Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America"; "Introduction to the Study of Religion"; "World's Greatest Paintings"; "A Brief History of the World." Ask your local library.

Toni Bernhard
Hats I crocheted
Source: Toni Bernhard

7. Take up crafts or artwork. I crochet. The "set-up" is easy (reach over the side of the bed and pick up the piece of work). The "clean-up" is easy (drop the work back over the side of the bed!). From the bed, I buy yarn at one of several online discount stores. You could even sell your original art or crafts on websites such as Etsy. I'm told it's easy to set up an account.

8. Pursue the inner life. Whether you follow a particular religion or spiritual path, or consider yourself a humanist, living in confined quarters provides an opportunity to meditate, to pray, to cultivate compassion for all beings, to reflect on life, with its joys and sorrows, its wonders and its mysteries.

It took several years to make peace with my smaller universe. Sometimes, I still get "cabin fever" and long to be able to do whatever I want (although, in reality, who can do that?). But most days, I'm content with what I'm able to do, even if it's from the bed.

See the follow-up post, "Things You Can Do from the Bed, Revisited: Ideas from Readers."

© 2011 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I'm the author of three books:

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers (Second Edition) 2018

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (2015)

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow (2013)

All of my books are available in audio format from Amazon,, and iTunes.

Visit for more information and buying options.

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