I have a confession to make: I haven’t built with LEGO in over a year. You see, I deal with depression and anxiety on a daily basis. One of the effects of that mental illness is that it can steal your desire to do what you love. If you will allow me, I will describe a little bit what that is like, and how I “used” LEGO to get over my depression.
First though, why write this? This wonderful FireStar blog is filled with LEGO set reviews, interviews, and exciting news, and talking about depression runs the risk of seeming to pull things down. But I think that is exactly why talk about depression in particular, and mental illness in general, is necessary. Depression is difficult, but it is also common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is the most common mental disorder in the United States, where I live, and affects around 264 million people globally, as per the WHO. That means there is a good chance that many readers of this blog also deal with depression.
Dispelling the myth that depression is bad, and makes you bad or a “downer” is very important. I want to normalize that struggle with it. I want to give a voice to what it is like to try to indulge in a great hobby like LEGO while dealing with a mental disorder, depression or another.
Last year, I sold my LEGO collection. A moderately sized collection it was, with many unique bricks and parts. I did that because my depression had made it difficult to sit down and build with LEGO like I wanted to. The collection would stare at me while I stared back and did nothing with it. It seemed someone else should enjoy the wealth of LEGO that I had amassed.
That is what my depression does: It takes my motivation and saps my energy. Somewhere, deep in my heart and head, I want to do something. By the time that feeling reaches my arms and fingers, it feels like I am carrying a weight I can’t put down. Because of this feeling, I can’t pick up two bricks and connect them together. Sadness and regret builds, and then I just walk away from my hobby and stare off into space or sleep.
So I sold my collection. It overwhelmed me to look at my LEGO and not be able to enjoy it. I could no longer build all the wonderful ideas that had become trapped in my mind.
Refocusing: Start small
One thing that helps me in my struggle, is to focus on something, usually something small. LEGO minifigures are very small. I have always gravitated towards LEGO photography since I was young. Once, when I was 11 or 12, my family went on a vacation to the beach. I took with me a LEGO Technic figure, that I still own, and was playing with him on the beach. I then used my little disposable film camera, and snapped a couple of pictures of him in a sand castle. The pictures, once developed, were all blurry and not very good (and sadly, none survived) but they sparked a lifelong pursuit.
Once I graduated from university and had purchased a more professional camera, I started taking a lot more LEGO themed pictures. I have an ongoing series called “The LEGO Portraits”. This comprises several hundred entries of the best LEGO pictures I have taken.
When I sold my LEGO collection, I saved out several hundred of my favorite minifigures. Most of my photography centers around minifigures more than builds. Plus, I just couldn’t bear to part with my mini-friends.
These days, I focus my LEGO hobby on photographic endeavors. It helps to cut through the fog of depression and accomplish something. If I can take just one LEGO picture, then I have engaged with my hobby and done something I enjoy. One picture may not sound like a lot, but some days, that is everything!
Goals: Take one step at a time
Dealing with depression, for me, is about setting goals. LEGO is not my only hobby, but it is my most enjoyable. But I set a goal to do something every day in any of my hobbies. Today that meant writing this blog post. Tomorrow it may be writing a poem, doing a chore, or taking a LEGO picture. I don’t know what it will be until I wake up and see what strikes me. Then I make it my mission to accomplish that one thing. Usually, that turns into writing several poems, or taking five pictures, or doing all the chores. I often find that success breeds success.
Here’s the thing about depression: It is a lie. Depression will tell you that you cannot do what you enjoy. It will tell you it is too hard to get started, to keep going, or to finish. But that is a lie. You still have the same ability you always had to do what you love. It just feels harder. For me, once I begin, I can continue, I can finish. Now, your mileage may vary, but I suspect that if you find it easy to start, continuing may be difficult. Maybe your struggle is at the end. Whatever it is, you can push through. You can keep going. You are able to succeed. Once I pick up my camera, or pencil, or whatever, I can create in ways that surprise me.
If you struggle with depression, I want to encourage you to not give up. Selling my LEGO collection, while right at the time, is not what I would do again. I would keep my collection, and pull it out whenever I could. Saved for those days when the depression let up, when I could push through the fog, and I could then build. I love photography, but ever since I was a kid, building was what I first loved.
If there is something you love, do not give up on it. Do not push it away, and certainly don’t sell it. Depression is a lie. All you need is love. Love for your hobby, LEGO or not. Love for yourself, with all your imperfections and struggles. Your depression, your fights, do not make you less, or unworthy, or incapable. Ultimately you are more the champion when you succeed in building that creation in your head, or taking that picture, or whatever it is that makes you come alive.
Love for my hobbies, my passions, is ultimately what pulls me through. I want to take another LEGO Portrait because I love how they look. They are fun to create, fun to play with in the moment, and fun to edit later. Love makes it possible for me to accomplish my daily goals. Love can do that for you. Maybe it is sharing the end result on Instagram. It could be seeing that MOC on your shelf or desk every time you walk by. Maybe it is in the creation itself, that clicking one brick onto another. Love can help you to cut through the depression and enjoy what you enjoy.
Depression is difficult, that isn’t a lie. But it can be overcome, that is the truth. I struggle everyday, and almost everyday I succeed in breaking through. I think you can, too, if you struggle. All it takes is knowing you aren’t alone and that love wins. It may seem hard to build a large LEGO set, but if you keep building, keep putting one more brick on the top, or side, you can build an awesome creation which can help you get over your depression, even if for the time being.
So tell me, what did you create today, despite the difficulties? I’d love to know!