Facing the Music
Sometimes, doing the things you enjoy takes a lot of work.
I used to think that hobbies were simple things that required little effort, something you could do without thinking to pass the time. As a kid, the word hobby conjured up images of watching cartoons or collecting boring things like stamps or rocks. (Please note: The opinions of my younger self do not reflect my opinions today. No offense intended if you collect those things!)
But it turns out being an adult is hard. If you’re like me, much of your day is taken up by work and work-related things. I wake up at 6 a.m. everyday, get to work before 9 (if I’m lucky), and then will be home probably by 6:30 p.m. By the time I’ve finished dinner, it’s often close to 8 p.m., and I’m utterly exhausted. That leaves me with maybe three hours of free time if I want to get a reasonable amount of sleep in before work the next day. Three hours.
When I started working full time, adjusting to my new schedule was difficult. Instead of the freedom I’d expected once I was finally “in the real world,” I felt confined. There are so many things I want to do, but I have a partner I want to spend time with and friends I want to see, too. I can never seem to find time for it all, and I probably never will. (This fig tree passage from “The Bell Jar” is something I think about from time to time.) Knowing that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do is often a trigger for my depression.
When I’m depressed, my motivation and productivity die, which means I’m not doing the things I love, which in turn makes me more depressed, and so on. (Therapy has helped me to be more self-aware and identify my harmful patterns.) Making time to do the things I love is something I worked really hard on last year, because, for me, being creative directly benefits my mental health.
So last year, I read more than I had in years. I wrote for pleasure rather than for a school assignment. I created more visual artwork. I took a photo everyday on Instagram as a way to appreciate the present. I even bought a MIDI keyboard and software so I could record my own music.
It took a lot of effort. I hated it when my therapist told me to keep doing things when all I wanted to do was sleep, but I had to force myself to be productive. My mental health depended on it.
Even though it seems like I did a lot last year, I rarely finished a project. I never finished that visual novel, I didn’t read everything I wanted to read, I only wrote 10,000 words for NaNoWriMo, and my MIDI keyboard and guitar gathered dust. As a perfectionist, it’s hard to be conscious of this and not feel like a failure. But—again, as a perfectionist—I tend to abandon or delay things that I don’t feel I can execute exactly the way I mean to. I can be my own worst enemy, and that is also something I’m working on in therapy.
I have come to realize that I need to set very strict deadlines to make time for myself and my hobbies. If I don’t, they won’t get done. If they don’t get done, I feel more depressed.
This is why my goal for this year is to compose a new musical piece every month. Because it’s not an overwhelming challenge, like reading 100 books in a year or creating a whole visual novel, this objective feels manageable. I studied music for 10 years, so making music will be easier for me than doing something like teaching myself how to code and creating a game from scratch. My monthly goal also still gives me some discipline and structure so that I can consciously take time for myself and the things I love.
I know it may sound weird to set such a rigid deadline for something that’s supposed to give you pleasure, but I am prioritizing my health, and since this affects my overall wellbeing, I have decided to treat it as seriously as a job deadline. That said, this deadline also factors in some mindless activities. It leaves enough wiggle room for the days when watching something on Netflix or reading fan fiction is all I can muster.
I haven’t completed my composition for January yet, but I have taken the steps toward my monthly goal. I even cleaned out my closet recently to give myself a place with better sound quality for any recordings I produce throughout the year. I’m excited to get started, and I am driven by the thought of where this journey will take me. I am looking forward to having a completed album at the end of the year and being able to actually finish a big project. I may even post my music somewhere as a way to hold myself accountable every month. I haven’t decided.
If any of you out there want to do something similar but need a little boost, I suggest finding a hobby buddy—someone with a similar goal as yours who can support you and keep you on track. If you can’t find a hobby buddy, well, you’ve just found one! Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@VeeAhKnee), and we can cheer each other on.