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The Great Escape

“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.

——————-

racecar

As I prepare to ride along in the racecar, I can hear cars motoring around the track.

Vroom.

Vroom.

Vroom.

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.

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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.

ehms

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.

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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 @ thehobbyhoarder@gmail.com, 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.

___

Please remember:

When you think you’ve had enough, when you think you can’t go on,  you can. Know that you are capable, and above all, know that you can live. 

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Rugged Maniac

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“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”
-Thomas A. Edison

“I didn’t train enough.” “I won’t be able to complete the obstacles.” “What the hell was I thinking?”

It’s a week before my first obstacle course 5k, and I am silently talking myself down.

Just a few months earlier, I excitedly signed up for a race called the “Rugged Maniac” which is “a 3.1-mile course filled with 20+ obstacles designed to push you to your limits!” The obstacles range from crawling underneath wire to jumping barricades, and from dodging swinging tires to swimming through mud pools. When I signed up, I figured it would be much more doable for me than say a 10 mile tough mudder. But suddenly, as I sneak a peek through the full obstacle list, I can feel my optimism sink to pessimism. I turn to a co-worker and tell her, “CRAP. Look at this obstacle. How will I EVER be able to do that?!”

I think about texting my friend Neil and canceling on him. I think about telling him I’d love to still come watch our crew compete, but that I’ll have to sit this one out. At the time, I’m not sure what I’m more concerned about–thinking I haven’t trained enough to tackle a 5k with 20 obstacles–or the thought of possibly holding back my teammates by being unable to complete the course.

Somehow I talk myself out of texting Neil.

“You’ll be okay, Libs. You got this.”

What I’ve learned this past year is that we can often be really good at talking ourselves out of things, but that it takes discipline and strength to remind ourselves that the things we fear doing are often times the most rewarding to tackle.

When the Rugged Maniac rolled around last Saturday, I threw on my race day clothes: black shorts, black tank, yellow glasses and a black bandana. Safe to say, I looked like a bumble bee warrior.

I then laced up my sneakers–an old pair of nikes that I didn’t mind ruining in the mud obstacles–and headed out the door to meet my teammates who had driven up from Pennsylvania. Our team consisted of my good friends and brothers: Neil, Nick, & Ross; and Ross’s girlfriend Martina.

As I climbed in the car, my nerves continued to rumble. I’ve competed in a lot of races–but never have I done one that would test me in such a way as this. Normally, for me, races are a good test of stamina, endurance, and leg power. This race would require more–it would require upper body strength, something I’ve lacked for most of my life. But again, I didn’t want to disappoint my teammates. Each of the brothers and Martina had done a series of tough mudders and longer obstacle courses in the past, so I knew that they were much more prepared for this than me. “I hope I don’t die,” I exaggerated in the car.

Less than an hour later I was standing in line to check our bag for the race. While I patiently awaited my turn to check the bag, I turned to the couple behind me and struck up a conversation. I asked if they had ever done one of these races before. The man looked at me and smiled, “Yep. They are a good challenge. I broke my ankle on the last one I did.”

And that was the end of our conversation.

After I checked our bag, our team of five headed to the start line where we were greeted with our first obstacle–a five foot barricade that needed to be hopped before you could even cross the start line. With the help of Ross, I made it over. “Oh boy. For each of those, I hope you know I’ll need your help.” Ross smiled. “No problem.”

And then it was go-time.

Within moments, we were faced with rolling hills of dirt. Without thinking, I raced up and down the hills. As I reached the last one, I heard a scream and watched as a woman face planted into the concrete below. “Shit. Okay, forget about it and move on,” I sighed to myself.

The five of us continued on through the next series of obstacles which included a military style sprint through tires that were set on the ground. “I can do this,” my confidence grew as I successfully completed the tire challenge without clumsily stumbling. Next up was the flying tires, crawling underneath wire, and more barricades. Ross got down on a knee and helped me climb each of the barricades.

I could feel myself starting to breathe heavier, and I told the team that if they needed to get ahead–they could, and not to feel bad, that I would catch up.

Neil looked at me and laughed. “Libs. Our team name is Libsters > Hipsters. If we leave you behind, the hipsters win. That’s not going to happen.”

I laughed. I was grateful to be with a team for a race like this. I knew that their support would get me through the series of obstacles that we still had yet to complete including a rope climb over a slanted barricade, 100 yards of hurdles, endless ladder like barricades, a balance beam and several mud pools.

In an hour’s time we closed in on one of our final obstacles: crawling tunnels–which required us to slide through a downhill tunnel, crawl through a pool of mud, and then pull ourselves up via rope through an uphill tunnel.

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As I went to climb through the uphill part, I could feel my feet losing their grip in the tunnel. A woman had already started her ascent through the tunnel, and put her hand up out in front of her. “Here, push off of my hand, you got this,” she shouted.

With a little push, I got myself through the tunnel and out into the open. My teammates were patiently awaiting. “You good Libs?” I looked at the woman who had just helped me complete the last obstacle, “Better than good. Let’s do this.”

Within fifteen more minutes, we made it to our final obstacle: “A sui-slide” which was a giant inflated slide into a pool of mud. But before getting to take the plunge, we’d have to climb to the top which included an inclined barricade that would need be to climbed with the help of a rope; an inclined net, and another laddered barricade. My teammates asked me if I would be good. Confidentially, I said yes. As I looked up, I remembered something that my good friend David told me during our road trip. “Do one thing every day that scares you. And then do one thing every day that terrifies you.” I was definitely living out this mantra.

I grabbed a hold of the rope and started my climb. However, unlike the last roped incline I tackled, my feet were now covered in slick  mud. Several steps from the top of the incline, I could feel my feet begin to slip out from underneath me. Holding the rope tight, my body banged against the wall. I managed to pull myself back up to my feet and give it another attempt–again slipping. Nick was waiting at the top. He reached out his hands grabbed me. Ross met him, and grabbed my other hand. “Don’t worry Libs, we aren’t gonna let you fall.” As they started to pull I kicked my legs. And with one more tug, I was over the first part of the uphill obstacle.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I regained my composure.

I really did have the best teammates a girl could ask for.

But before the guys could let me get too sentimental for them helping me, we all climbed the final two parts of the uphill battle before having the chance to  hit the sui-slide.

As we crossed the finish line, I felt a giant burst of pride.  “That was awesome,” I cheered. Neil laughed at me.

It was just another reminder that sometimes the biggest obstacle we will face is “just doing it” in the first place.

Special Thanks, Neil, Nick, Ross & Martina

PRE RACE
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POST RACE
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The Hobby Hoarder – Guest Edition: Rena Unger

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DISCLAIMER: As someone who is on a quest to become the professional amateur, by completing 52 hobbies in 52 weeks, I believe that it is absolutely beautiful to watch and support other people try new things and or complete their own challenges. Every now and then I will post videos and or stories from other amazing individuals who are taking advantage of all that life has to offer (cue cheesy music, and my big proud grin). Please contact me with your stories/ and or your hobbies @ thehobbyhoarder@gmail.com or tweet me @LibbySegal.

Rena Unger Completes 100 Bikram Yoga Classes in Less than 100 Days: That’s kind of a big deal!

“Stretch more, Libby.” I can hear the echos of my field hockey trainers lecturing me on my lack of flexibility. Generally, when I am asked to stretch, I whine like a little girl. To use a throwback cliche–my muscles are tighter than spandex! This might explain why I have always been so intimidated by yoga classes. I’ve always felt like Gumby’s horse–rather than Gumby! But when I headed to Bikram Yoga East Harlem to support my good friend Rena Unger, as she completed her 100th Bikram class in less than 100 days, I was completely in awe of the workout–In fact, within moments, I sweated myself into a puddle  Hot yoga is clearly no easy task, and I admire anyone who has had the courage to flex themselves into a pretzel in that type of heat–let alone 100 times in less than 100 days. What a challenge–what an accomplishment.

And the truth is life should be about challenging yourself, aspiring to do BIG things, and inspiring others. On June 3, Rena did all 3. And I feel very fortunate to have been included on her journey. Here’s to 100 more.

Cheers

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Bikram Yoga East Harlem
4 East 116th Street

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