How “Me Time” Broke My Back and Forced Me to Find Balance

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What do you do with your "me time" when your creative energy is zapped? If you’re a total hobby-head like me, you fill that time with hobbies that don’t require creativity. For me, it was fitness.

But then...what do you do if injury prevents exercise?

So here’s my story. I do creative work for a living, which is awesome, but the long days of using my Maker brain on work projects has a side effect: my creative mojo shuts down after 6 pm. Though I am a knitter , a writer, a home cook, a bread baker, a doodler , a wannabe uke player, and a home DIYer, there are periods when I don’t participate in these hobbies. I just don’t have the juice.

Several years ago, as my career heated up and got more stressful, I found balance by turning all my hobby energy towards fitness. My casual yoga and jogging habits turned into a rigorous training program and elite road races. I kept getting hurt from running, so I decided to pull back and try something new.

When a hobby-nerd uses those words (I’m gonna try something new), you know obsession will shortly follow.

I took up power lifting, and in due course I became obsessed. You should have seen my quads. Work was pushing me past the point of all creativity, sucking my brain dry, and driving me into the fiendish pursuit of a heavier squat. Don’t think, just breathe. PUSH.

And then I woke up one day and couldn’t walk to the bathroom. Every couple feet, the intense pain in my right leg and lower back drove me to my knees on the plush brown carpet.

What followed was months of debilitating pain and a lot of time on the couch. Eventually, a spine specialist pointed out the stress fractures in my L3 and L4 vertebrae on an Xray. He said weight-lifting was a common cause of such fractures. My form must have slipped over time, and now there’d be no more lifting.

I was faced with a new reality: I couldn’t exhaust my mental energy and then exhaust my body yet somehow expect to live a balanced, healthy, fulfilling life. I needed to save some juice for myself and work on creative projects outside work, and I needed to take it easier when it came to exercise.

After grumpy months on the couch, scrolling through my phone aimlessly and hoping for the pain to recede, I made a plan.

  1. Put the phone away. Swiping through stupid Facebook memes is not a hobby.
  2. Buy new yarn and a pattern. Start a knitting project I’m excited about.
  3. Make a list of books I want to read or listen to. Download the books and have them ready for downtime when I’m tempted to Reddit the world away .
  4. Start free-writing on Sunday mornings. Just an hour over coffee.
  5. Make a list of bread recipes I want to try. Try them. Eat all the bread and freaking enjoy it. Be alive.
  6. Take a 30 minute break every day at work and meditate. Find some restorative time in the middle of the busy-ness, so there’s something left for me.
  7. Follow the doctor’s orders. Work on healing.

What was the result? Well, I didn’t have any awful Tinder dates to go on. But instead, I had a feeling of peace and focus. An excitement about projects. A return to the state of flow, which is what I had been getting from training.

I rediscovered that absorbed escape from the everyday, a state in which time and other stresses dissipate and the work at hand is all-consuming, fulfilling, and fascinating. I wasn’t bored or grumpy; I was blissfully busy. And 10 pounds heavier, but hey, FRESH BREAD. Worth it.

Two years later, I am well. My pain is managed. I hike a lot and it is an obsession, but it’s low impact and has the added benefit of being mentally restorative. I am busy and work is a wonderful challenge every day, but I am balanced. I can move, I feel strong, and I’ve diversified my "me time" in a way that serves my body and my mind.

Take care of yourselves. (That means go buy yarn).

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