“The Hobby Hoarder project began as an escape from negative thoughts, from regrets, from fears, from worries, from sadness. But then my project began to teach me something I couldn’t have expected: how to live a balanced life of struggle and success. I’d like to invite you to step a little closer into my hobby year, to know a little more why this project has been so important to me, and to learn the real heartbeat of the project and myself.”
What you need to know before you read this entry is that it’s not just another hobby post. I hope you’ll stick around.
As I prepare to ride along in the racecar, I can hear cars motoring around the track.
There are a number of spectators watching their friends and family members take on car racing for the first time.
I stand off to the side. While they cheer the drivers on to their first black and white checkered flag, I get ready to head out to the track, to have that checkered flag waved for me. This new experience will mark the completion of my 100th hobby, a goal I’ve been working towards for the past 81 weeks.
Helmet – Check.
Yellow sunglasses – Check.
Motion sickness medicine – Check. Pre hobby jitters … Check
Ten minutes later, I am in the racecar buckling up and high fiving my driver Mitch. Before I know it, we are whipping around the track at what feels like 200 mph. The engine roars throughout the car. We speed up and hang tight on the bumper of another car on the track before swiftly swerving to the right and lapping him. I give the camera that’s attached to the deck a thumbs up.
And before I know it, three short laps later, we pull back into where we started.
“That was awesome!” I exclaim to Mitch and then ask him how fast we were going, “175? 180?” He laughs at me, “No ma’am. 75 mph—but it feels much faster on a short track like this.”
My jaw drops. 75 mph!? I’ve reached that speed on the highway—but it doesn’t feel like that! I mean driving 75 on the highway isn’t exhilarating—it doesn’t feel dangerous—and it doesn’t feel thrilling. This ride around the track felt exhilarating–felt dangerous–and was definitely a thrill. Mitch gives me a congratulatory fist-pound and I exit the vehicle, still in awe.
I head over to the spectator area and patiently wait for another race of cars to begin. Ten minutes later, cars begin entering the track.
I listen as the cars accelerate and I raise my yellow sunglasses to the top of my head. I breathe in the fresh air. I decide to stick around the track and watch the other cars as they continue to race around.
I begin to think of the hobby year in laps. During each lap, a racecar driver must deal with significant elements—navigating around the other cars on the track, knowing when to accelerate, when to slow down, when to take the inside corner (or the outside), knowing when to take a break to refuel, when to have maintenance done on the car. During each of my hobby weeks, I had to understand when to slow myself down so I wouldn’t wear myself thin, I had to know when to take a breath and refuel for the next week, and I had to know when I could really press the pedal.
I get distracted from the track and I think about what it took to get me to this place—not only this racetrack—but this place in my life.
I’d like to invite you to step a little closer into my hobby year, to know a little more why this project has been so important to me, to learn the real heartbeat of the project and myself.
Because the truth is—the hobby hoarder project has saved my life.
I found myself wondering the past few weeks if it was me that was keeping the Hobby Hoarder alive – or the Hobby Hoarder that was keeping me alive. And the answer? It’s both. I’ve been keeping the Hobby Hoarder alive to keep me alive.
Only a few months before the hobbying began, I hit a tremendous low in my life…a low that eventually became a turning point.
The truth of the matter is I’ve spent years feeling depressed. Stuck. Bored. Over critical. Sad. Anxious. Nervous. Sometimes, I felt more alone when I was with people than even when I was in the comfort of my own home.
I tried to run from feelings I was having. I thought if I moved away from my college town—it’d get better, so I moved to New York. When that wasn’t working, I bought a plane ticket to Italy and said arrividerci to America. And when that didn’t work I returned to New York City full of hope that I could do better than I did the first time I was here—full of hope that the sadness wouldn’t return.
I was wrong.
Despite living in a great apartment, working in the field I wanted to work in, and enjoying the single-life in the biggest city in the world- I still felt a void. It was a sadness I couldn’t put words to. I had everything I thought I was supposed to and yet, I didn’t have the one thing that I thought all the “supposed to’s” were going to bring me: happiness.
I wish I could say this was a new feeling for me, but it wasn’t. It was a feeling that had simply escalated over time. I was depressed for nearly six years. I refused to talk to anyone about it.
I knew that on the surface, I played things off well and I seemed alright with my friends, but deep down inside, I wasn’t alright. I wasn’t even okay. I was ready to throw in the towel. I was ready to call it quits. I was ready to disappear.
It’s taken me a long time to put this down on paper—to tell my family and friends about it, but the truth is, I didn’t want to live.
I struggled through smiling. I found it hard to laugh. I didn’t wear yellow sunglasses to try and brighten up even cloudy days. I went through the motions of eating breakfast, boarding the train, going to work, leaving work, eating dinner, sleeping. I was stuck. The way I saw it—there was only one way out.
I could remember trying new activities as a child. I drove my parents insane asking them if I could try them all: kayaking, sailing, basketball, ballet, clarinet, baseball, field hockey. Gosh, I can still remember the first time I held a field hockey stick—the way it turned in my hands, the awkwardness of having to roll it from side to side to dribble down the field. I can remember the rattle of my thin wooden stick as I’d go to drive the ball down the field the first time and the excitement I felt the first time I dodged a teammate during practice.
I wanted to feel that joy, that excitement again. I wanted to be passionate about trying new things the way I had as a kid. I needed to feel that curiosity–that desire to know everything, to learn anything. It wasn’t so much that I stopped wanting to, but I stopped getting as excited, I stopped looking for the opportunities, I stopped doing what I loved to do.
And I was angry about it. And the anger drove my depression even deeper. I didn’t want to be like this. I WANTED to be excited about waking up each day. I wanted to feel motivated enough to go out and do things. I wanted to enjoying being alive.
I battled my depression as best I could, slipping back and forth between wanting to see tomorrow and not being sure it was worth the struggle, until I met someone who took me under his wing and who sat with me for endless hours in coffee shops and taught me the craft of stand up comedy. He reminded me how good it felt to laugh and how good it felt to make others laugh as well.
For the first time in years, I had tried something new and given myself up to it, completely and fully. I hit a turning point, and started to find clarity at last.
I took up drawing and acting along with the comedy. As I stimulated my mind, the negative aspects of my life started to seemingly fade away because I had started to focus my energies on much more positives ways of living. I was focusing my attention on the physical world outside, and allowing myself the chance to see past the dark insecurities and thoughts that raced through my mind.
The Hobby Hoarder project began as an escape from the negative thoughts – an escape from regrets – from fears- from worries – from sadness. But then my project began to teach me something I couldn’t have expected–how to live a balanced life.
After a handful of hobbies, I began to see these new experiences as much more than gimmicky adventures. I started to take on a new frame of a mind. As the Hobby Hoarder I began to understand that we don’t have to run from our problems. Instead, we can face them head on. Though the hobbies started as an escape, the project actually gave me safe a way to face the very real issues I would normally feel strangled by each day: body image, confidence, sexuality, self- love.
I was finally able to recognize and admit to myself how I truly felt about my body by spinning around a pole at a pole dancing class and by taking on group fitness classes—something I once ran terrified from. I gained confidence by giving myself permission to take lessons in activities that once seemed impossible. And I began to love myself more each and every day as I conquered—and struggled through–an assortment of activities that ranged from birdhouse making with my mother to piloting a plane around Manhattan at sunset. I learned what it meant to take off, accept the struggles, to re-balance after severe turbulence—and what it meant to let myself land every once in a while and refuel—because we don’t HAVE to be on the go all the time. Life’s a balance between the struggle and the success.
And because I gave myself permission to struggle in controlled environments week after week, because I raised the stakes, because I gave myself opportunities, because I refused to quit, I experienced 81 weeks of life that I never would have, if I had given up when I wanted to—when I had planned to.
And even though for five of the hobby months I was working 60-hour workweeks, I didn’t care. Because I knew at the end of the day—or the week, I’d be rewarding myself with something that felt productive towards living a healthy and balanced life—and because I knew at the end of the day or the week that I was going to have my chance to really live the life I wanted to live after sacrificing hours to pay the bills.
After returning from my cross-country road trip in March, the 52nd hobby on my list, I feared the feelings of restriction and depression might come back after having so much freedom on the open road—after having no obligations for fifty days. And at first they did—not necessarily to the same extreme as two years ago—but I felt bubbles of sadness boiling through me. I lacked energy. I lounged on the couch and questioned how I’d ever get back into the groove of things in New York.
And then, as I’ve written about before, I started finding a respect for what was happening. I started to accept my sadness as part of a cycle—that sometimes our sadness is a result of something that made us incredibly happy. In this case it was a road trip. In someone else’s case it could be getting to see a good friend for the first time in years but also having to say goodbye again.
I thought I’d end the hobby hoarder project after the trip, but instead of ending the project– I continued it. I treated the trip like a landing—and took off again, because I recognized that I found great happiness through new experiences—that the activities I jumped into gave me a chance to learn not only the lessons at hand, but life lessons too. And like a racecar going around a track—I continued on my journey.
BUT that doesn’t mean the hobby year and the hobbies cured me of all feelings of anxiety—or sadness—loneliness—or depression. I’m not immune to these feelings at all. But I now have a better handle, for myself, on how to control them—and take them with stride.
We all experience depression and sadness in different ways—and it’s important that we take time to recognize how and when we are affected—and reach for help when it’s needed.
It’s also important that we discover healthy habits and methods for coping—and that we retain those tools for later.
So the next time you feel like you’ve had enough—when you think there’s no more out there and when you think there’s only one way out, I invite you to take a walk around the block and photograph at least one thing that grabs your attention. I invite you to go to the gym and give yourself 15 minutes to see how your energy and mood has changed. I invite you to turn off the lights and meditate for one, two, or ten minutes. I invite you to write down five things you are grateful for and I invite you to make a list of all the things you can do—all the things you WANT to do. And just try ONE.
And I invite you to share your stories and progress with me. As always, you can find me @ firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter, and Facebook. I’d love the chance to know more about you, what fears you have, and how you’re able to move through them.