“I think I need a hobby,” I told my husband one stressful afternoon. “A hobby? You’ve got six kids. You don’t have time for a hobby, do you?” Hmm, this could get ugly I thought. “Well, we share the same six kids and you have a hobby,” I retorted. I don’t know if it was my answer or the tone in my voice, but that was the day I started seeing more clearly. That year I knew something needed to change and change big. I was sick and tired of living sick and tired. I was physically worn out, spiritually desolate, and mentally wearied from the daily battle I was fighting in my own mind. I needed something that would help me begin to see things more clearly or at that point, to even see things at all.
I had no idea at the time what I was dealing with and eventually how bad it would get. I’d always been told it was “just me,” but this time seemed so much worse from the onset. It was so scary it took my breath away and literally made my mind hurt. And I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t name it, get out from under it or even talk about it. There were no words to describe it and if there were, I was too afraid to voice them.
I thought I needed a hobby as a form of distraction. Chris’ hobby seemed to consume his thoughts to where he could think of little else. I was desperate to think of something, anything, else. Honestly, I don’t know if you would call Chris’ hunting a “hobby” in our family; it’s more a lifestyle and necessity. We use the game to feed our family and donate some to help feed other families. Our entire year culminates in the fall for hunting season. I needed a culmination to look forward to and to relish once past. I needed to be consumed by something other than my obsessive thoughts.
I am not a hunter but have gone “hunting” once. My husband took me to a ground blind a couple of years ago. I really just went along for the Hershey’s Miniatures he stuffed in his pocket. None the less, there I was, sitting in a ground blind, in November, with the love of my life and my new found eyes. “Shhhh, there’s a deer right behind you. Do not move,” he whispered. So I sat still and patient…until I could no longer sit still and patient. “I think you’re lying just to keep me out here,” I whispered after many failed attempts on my part to convince him to let me turn around. “Hand me your camera,” he whispered back. And ever so smoothly and quietly, he took my camera and captured a beautiful, eight-point buck just yards from where we were sitting. That chilly, November day was now captured, even though I didn’t physically see it, forever in digital form. I could see, what I could not see.
And that is one of the reasons I chose photography for my new hobby that exasperating afternoon I mentioned above; I so desperately wanted to see. I read a quote recently that explains the fierce struggle that was consuming me during that dark time period. These words describe what I couldn’t, “It starts out with one little thought, and then slowly that becomes the only thought that you’re able to have,” Green says. “It’s like there’s an invasive weed that just spreads out of control,” novelist John Green in an interview about his new book, Turtles All the Way Down. There’s more, “Obsessiveness is often linked to this genius of observation that just is not my experience at all. I find that my OCD makes me a terrible detective … because I can’t notice the world outside of myself in a way that I want to, because I’m so deeply and irrationally focused on stuff that’s happening within me.” And that’s what I wanted to say but couldn’t because I didn’t have the words or courage to say.
I didn’t struggle with a compulsion–obsessive hand washing being a well known one. I suffered with scary, obsessive thoughts that would consume my every waking moment. I couldn’t see anything else outside of my own mental torment. And I wanted to see so desperately! I wanted to capture the seemingly fleeting minutes of my day because the scary thoughts threatened to take them from me. I needed to see the ordinary to make sure I was still a part of it. There is an old saying, “The days are long but the years are short.” Any mother can give a rousing “Amen” to that.
We mommas live a life of constant demands from little souls whose very lives depend on us. These little souls produce more dishes, laundry, messes, and spills than can be imagined. They also need spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional guidance on a daily basis–sometimes all at the same time. Life blends into a blessed twenty-four hours as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning and before my head hits the pillow at night.
I knew this time of being a momma of little ones was so short and I knew the demands of mothering young adult children was looming in the horizon. I didn’t want to miss any of it. My days easily blurred into one more load of laundry, one more boo-boo to kiss and one more dish to be washed. There was always one more grammar, math or History question. And I just couldn’t focus on any of it. My mind was so entangled by the thoughts, I couldn’t see anything else. But when I looked through the lens of my camera, my mind shifted, even if only for a moment and my ordinary became a beautiful distraction, a breath in the suffocating spiral of obsessive thoughts. And that breath became the visual art in my day to day that I used as a tool to begin to break the obsessive thoughts that were spiraling out of control in my mind. I used this ordinary art to see God in my laundry pile, the sink full of dirty dishes, and the muddy hands of a happy child.
Was it scandalous to “see” God in the muddy hands of a child? No way! When I started playing around with my camera, I began to notice the natural light as it played through the trees, danced through the windows, and fell upon the mountain of laundry. The sudsy sink water became a jewel filled well. What once seemed ordinary became a thing of illuminated beauty. I caught a glimpse into why the first act of God, recorded in Genesis 1:3, was the making of light. So man could see the glory of God. And this beauty caused a temporary break in my thought process. I began to pay attention to the light instead of darkness of these scary, obsessive thoughts.
I started really seeing what was around me rather than just looking past the obvious because I was so caught up and controlled by the obsessive thoughts. I saw drops of dew in tiny spider webs and distinct petals that make the whole of the flower. I noticed the individual eyelashes of my sleeping baby and the tiniest of ants scurrying across the weathered fence rail. The other component was movement; my camera took me outside of myself mentally and outside physically as I searched for things to photograph. I realized the majesty of God was not reserved for magnificent stained glass windows in historic cathedrals. He was there, in the midst of my tumultuous mind that was literally scaring the hell out of me. It became easier to practice the continual presence of God because I could see Him in the routine of my everyday, ordinary, blessed life through my camera lens.
The year I needed a hobby turns out the year I also started learning with the help of a fabulous counselor, what the Bible said about my thoughts. I began to learn I didn’t have to think about whatever popped into my head. Just like I could turn the camera to a more pleasing frame–a better shot, I could also turn my mind. My camera taught me the art of focus, and I’m not just talking photography skills now.
I am in no way suggesting obsessive compulsive thoughts can be treated and overcome by a hobby. Please know, my struggle was real–is real; I still have to carefully guard my heart and mind. I am sharing what helped me break the vicious and scary cycle with the help of intense and serious spiritual direction and counseling. I also began to fill my mind intentionally with good books. Below you’ll find links to four of my favorites. I also began cultivating the habit of daily Bible reading. I used either a reading plan or a topical index for issues bothering me like, my thoughts, words, anger, etc. You can find out more in my ebook, Bible Journaling Tips, Inspiration, and Permission.
If this post blessed you in some way or if you know someone who would benefit from this post, hit the share buttons below. This needs to be shared, talked about and faced head on because these thougths try to convince us to be quiet and bear the struggle alone.
*There are I would imagine many forms, types, modes, etc. of OCD. At one time I could differentiate for you between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. I no longer can. If you are struggling with “something” find a good, Christian counselor and start there. I could not have done this without mine.