In 2011, I hit a tremendous low in my life — one out of which I never expected I’d pull myself. I was 23 at the time and had spent the previous six years feeling depressed, stuck, bored, overcritical, sad, anxious, and nervous.
I desperately tried to run from my feelings. I thought I would start to feel better if I moved away from my college town, so I moved to New York. When that didn’t work, I bought a plane ticket to Italy and said arrivederci to America. When drowning my depression in the froth of cappuccinos inevitably failed, I returned to New York full of hope that I could do better than the first time, full of hope that the sadness wouldn’t return.
I was wrong. Despite living in a great apartment, working in the field in which I wanted to work, and enjoying the single life in the biggest city in the world, I still felt a void, a sadness that I could not put into words. I battled self-destructive thoughts and hid my sadness with a seemingly happy-go-lucky attitude; I told people I was doing just fine when in reality I wasn’t.
This was a stark difference from when I was a kid, when I treated each day as an adventure. I tried new things like kayaking, sailing, basketball, ballet, clarinet, baseball, and field hockey. But at 23, I had lost this sense of wonder and curiosity. Each day felt like a wall I had to climb. I stopped searching for opportunities and doing what I loved to do. I struggled to smile and found it hard to laugh. I wasn’t sure how to put this down on paper or how to tell my family and friends at the time, but the truth is, at 23, I didn’t want to live.
But I wanted to feel that joy, that excitement, that desire to know everything again. I was angry that I had lost these things and fought my depression as best I could, but I still slipped back and forth between wanting to see the next day and not being sure that doing so would be worth the struggle.
Then I met someone. A comedian — a hilarious and kind man who took me under his wing and taught me the art of stand-up comedy. He taught me how to laugh again 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. I took up drawing and acting along with comedy. As I stimulated my mind, the negative aspects of my life seemed to fade away.
I felt inspired and less than a year later, in 2012, I began a project titled "The Hobby Hoarder," in which I set out on a quest to try one new hobby each week for a year. I tried everything from hip-hop dance to airplane piloting, archery to trapeze. I wiped out on a skateboard and crashed a downhill mountain bike. I fell down on a trampoline but found strength in rock climbing. I dog-sledded through Montana and hot-air-ballooned over Albuquerque.
I hoped the project would help me escape from my negative thoughts, irrational regrets, fears, worries, and depression, but it didn't just teach me how to escape: It taught me balance. Each new hobby taught me new lessons and I began to immediately feel stronger and more capable. I began to understand the complexities of my depression and discovered that I had to face my problems head-on rather than run from them. Each new hobby taught me safe ways to face issues with which I struggled, like body image, confidence, sexuality, and self-love. I no longer went through the motions of life but lived it instead.
I considered putting the project behind me when the initial hobby year ended, but instead continued it for another year. I recognized that I had found a greater kind of happiness -- one not based on the amount of money in my bank account (there wasn’t much), finding my soul mate (I hadn’t), or getting the job of my dreams (I didn't). Rather, I found happiness that was anchored by balance -- of the good as well as the bad. It was a type of happiness that couldn't be replicated or replaced.
Now, at 27 years old, I no longer actively manage "The Hobby Hoarder," but I still call on it every once in a while. Although I overcame my darkest hours, I’m not immune to feelings of anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and depression. Those feelings weren't magically cured: I just now have a better handle on how to control seemingly uncontrollable feelings and take them (when I can) in stride. We all experience depression and sadness in different ways, and it’s important to take time to recognize how and when we are affected and ask for help when it’s needed. It’s also important to discover healthy habits and methods for coping and to retain those tools for later use.
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. Try something new or perhaps simply write down five things for which you are grateful. Make a list of all the things you can do, all the things you want to do, and just try one.
When you think you can't go on, know that you can. Know that you are capable, and know that you can live.
If you or someone you know is dealing with mental illness, there are ways to get help. Find resources, tips, and immediate help at Half of Us, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
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