I’m in a rut.
Those things I do for fun—my hobbies—they aren’t so fun anymore. They used to be, but not recently. Some of my hobbies, it’s been years: no longer enjoyable, but they’re still my hobbies. I haven’t found replacements yet.
I haven’t ridden a bicycle this year; I’m a cyclist. It’s what I do in my spare time… did. Years ago. Now I ride an exercise bike—a few times each week. If I ever want to get back on a real bike, I’ll be ready.
Last week, Julie Freeman messaged me from Twitter. She’s British. The Brits are crazy about Twitter. I’m not. I log in intermittently just to see if someone shared one of my blog posts. They never do. Fortunately, when Julie messaged me, I got an email alert. Email is my primary social media. If I didn’t get that email, Julie’s message may have sat unread for weeks.
Julie publishes a magazine. It’s called Like the Wind. It’s a running magazine. Not how to run… but why to run. I’ve written for her magazine several times. I’m a good fit as a contributor. I run and I write… or I did.
A couple of years ago, I sent Julie and her husband Simon a copy of my book, Fragments. As a self-published author I can buy my own copies for two dollars apiece. I use these books as promotion and to sell to acquaintances who are too lazy to buy one online. I grabbed a book from my stash and wrote an inscription to the Freemans on the title page. The message: Thanks for welcoming me into the Like the Wind family. For all your generosity, I wanted to give something back. This book is what I’ve got to give.
Like the Wind is published in England. They’re constantly sending me copies of their magazine—the ones that feature my writing and even some that don’t. This seems expensive—the magazine is full-color, bound, and one-hundred pages long, book-quality paper. Plus there’s the postage. It’s a favor to be returned.
At the post office, trying to mail my book, I was told that the postage would be forty dollars! What the…! Something about the width of the package. Instead, I bought a copy of my book on amazon.uk and had it shipped directly to them. That copy I ruined with the inscription? I tore out the title page and gave it to Eli’s drum teacher. He makes a brief appearance in my book.
Memories like this one sometimes depress me. Not because they’re sad, but they illustrate what I’ve lost. Or at least set aside. The running, the cycling, the writing. I still do them, but without much passion. A few years ago, I pursued these hobbies to the point of distraction. As a father, husband, home-owner, employee, like most adults, I have responsibilities—lots of them. Many of these responsibilities were placed on the back-burner, out of my way, giving me space to focus. On my hobbies. On myself.
You’ve heard of OCD—Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You know, the mental state that makes you wash your hands and line up your shoes by color. Hears a secret: those displays of cleanliness and order are just stereotypes. Yes, some people with OCD do these things, but many, most, are just obsessed.
Six or seven years ago, rummaging a garage sale, I found an old bike. A 1976 Sears Free Spirit ten-speed. They wanted five dollars. I got an idea to turn it into a fixed gear bike. A fixie: it’s a bike with one gear that’s “fixed” to the back wheel. If you pedal slowly, you ride slowly. If you pedal fast, you ride fast. If you stop pedaling, you stop. Immediately. There’s no coasting, just pedaling at different speeds.
I brought the bike home and for the next ninety-six hours I created my fixie. I rebuilt the back wheel with a rim that wasn’t bent. I removed every single component, stripped off the old paint with a grinding wheel, and repainted the frame. I took a hacksaw to the handlebars and altered them from the classic ten-speed drop-bars to cool-kid bull horns. I reengineered the drive-train into that single gear. I’m sure I had other plans with my family that weekend, and plenty of adult responsibilities heading into the workweek, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop until the bike was complete. I recall sitting in my office researching gear ratios.
That bike’s a piece of art. Here’s the thing about obsessive tendencies—you get results. I once asked my friend Sheila, a creative writing professor at a local college, to read over some of my stories and give me feedback. Along with her suggestions on how I could make improvements, Sheila commented on how lucky I am to be so driven. She read a story about how I’ve slowly but steadily damaged my body through years of obsessive exercise. Sheila recently joined a gym and was trying to get in shape. Looking past the depressed tone of the story and my endless battles against injury, she simply focused on the outcome: the fitness she was trying to obtain.
I’m not in awesome shape anymore. It’s been two years since I’ve lifted weights. Over that same period, I’ve had more weeks without running than with. And that bike. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to get on it and head out for a ride.
It’s my medication. It’s working too well. Two years ago, I started taking medicine for Tourettes. People who are like me, we tic. Odd sounds and movements compelled by the syndrome. Not only did the medicine suppress my tics, it reduced my OCD as well. It stepped on my obsessions, which, incidentally, were the same ones that fueled my devotion to my hobbies.
I’ve spent the last two years in maintenance mode. Taking a medication that keeps me moving through life, undistracted, but it dampens a spark of my essence. Those things I love to do, run, write, cycle, I’m still doing them, but barely. It’s like I’m keeping my options open while I decide what I’m interested in.
That Twitter message Julie sent me: Jeff, I only just realised at the weekend that we had your book. 2h later, I had read it and loved it and was sad it was all over – what a rollercoaster of a Sunday afternoon. Such great writing, very relatable on so many levels, too. Thanks for sending it over and for publishing it, please do write more!
Six weeks ago, I reduced my medication. It was leaving me a little depressed. I decided I could endure a bit more Tourettes. As the weeks have passed, my tics have increased significantly. As far as tics go, they aren’t very serious, but their definitely present. Disruptive, sure, but only to me.
And the OCD has ramped up as well.
It’s been two years since I’ve felt this level of OCD. I’ve been caught a little off guard by its return. Suddenly those obsessive thoughts are back. When Julie sent me that message about my book, I wrote her back asking if she would send out a Tweet. She said sure, she had already written one, but she wanted to think about it more. I wish Twitter tracked the number of times I log on each day. I’ve probably clicked that app seven hundred times in the past week. I’m looking for that Tweet.
Just as my tics are bearable, the OCD hasn’t been all bad. Four times this week, I’ve sat down to write. And three times, I got outside on my bike.
There’s a balance to achieve somewhere in all this. When I first started taking medications for my anxiety a decade ago, I was worried that the chemicals were going to change who I am. The doctor told me that this was an unnecessary concern. The medicine doesn’t change your personality. I’m not so sure this is true. It seems like Sheila (the college prof) was right. A bit of obsession can be motivating. It might be a pretty big part of who I am.