When I was in graduate school, one of my instructors advised us all to pursue a hobby that was right-brain-centered. Something like art, or photography, or the banjo. Anything that got us out of writing mode, she said.
I interpreted this as, “Take a photography course and then maybe you’ll have a backup career if this writing thing stalls.” I didn’t understand the concept of “hobby,” back then. I didn’t bother with her advice, at any rate, because I wasn’t good enough at those things and I thought I should only spend my time on things I’m really good at.
Fast-forward to many years later, when I was in the throes of one of my worst depressions ever. I’ve been in some bad ones, so that’s saying a lot. During one of my sessions with my psychiatrist, most of which were spent with my head deep in the tissue box, he asked me what I did for fun.
“Faaaahn?” I said.
“Fun,” he said.
“What is this ‘faaahrn’?” I said.
Before I left that day, he commanded me to spend the next week doing nothing but activities I enjoyed. Nothing else. This was a last-ditch effort to keep me out of the hospital: along with a boost in meds, I was going to try and have “fun.” I left his office without a clue what that meant. I didn’t have hobbies. I had convinced myself that some of my disciplines were “fun,” but I had ulterior motives for all of them. I read books I thought would help my writing. I went to the gym so I could fit into skinny jeans. I then decided these things were “fun.” I was incorrect.
I was so depressed that the only thing I could think to do was watch movies on Netflix, so I did that for a week. Slowly, as I started to come out of my haze, I remembered all the art supplies I had collected over the years. My dad is a watercolor enthusiast and was always giving me tubes of paint and sketchbooks, encouraging me to join in. I had drawn and painted in high school and then more or less abandoned it because I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be, because I didn’t see the point.
But drawing and painting, I thought, that was fun. Hey — I remembered what fun was! So I took them out. I sketched some things around my house. I looked up and four hours had gone by. I was hooked.
It’s been over six months and I’ve been drawing and painting almost every day, since then. I could tell you this has helped my writing, shifting out of left-brain mode, giving the verbal part of my mind a rest. And I think it has. But that’s sort of beside the point. The point is fun. It’s important to fill the well, so to speak, to take a vacation in your head. It helps me fight off depression and anxiety. It makes me a better parent, a nicer person to be around. It keeps me feeling lighter and happier. I never realized how important it was to have fun. That it could actually save my life.
What’s fun for you? If you don’t know, you have to find out. Now. It’s that important.