Hobbies and passions outside of our Monday-Friday, 9-5 jobs and the other demands of life are crucial to our peace of mind, especially when our jobs are demanding or overwhelming.
The benefits are many. Psychology tells us that hobbies specifically, whether they’re a physical or even emotional outlet, can be utilized to mitigate stress, be a healthy form of personal productivity, and jumpstart cognitive functions that may be bogged down by the stress of our day-to-day responsibilities.
I never imagined before starting my current job earlier this year that a passion of mine — true crime — would very quickly take over my life in a real and tangible way. A passion of mine that I once loved and enjoyed has now evolved into my career, and navigating that has introduced its own set of challenges.
My Obsession with True Crime
True crime is a popular pastime for many, and I used to be no exception.
I read Michelle McNamara’s masterpiece I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer in a day. I binge-watched Netflix’s terrifying Don’t F*** with Cats — and subsequently didn’t sleep for an entire week. I was a self-proclaimed Murderino, and had all the notifications on my phone turned on for whenever a new episode of this or that podcast dropped. I pored over internet threads, forums, and message boards, and like any other fan, always had my own theories as to what really happened, or who was responsible for the brutal, often grisly crimes I was exploring.
I pored over internet threads, forums, and message boards, and always had my own theories.
We as a culture have long been obsessed with true crime, and there’s a psychological explanation for that as well. Dr. Meg Arroll observes that “as humans we want to understand the darker side of our nature. True crime stories allow us to explore that in a safe way, from a safe distance.”
Women, in particular, as research has found, are particularly susceptible to this obsession. This is due to a plethora of reasons, but as Kate Tuttle examines in her New York Times piece, maybe it’s due to the fact that men are more likely to be involved in violent crimes, and women are more likely to be victims and survivors. Tuttle explains, “Perhaps our fascination with these stories stems in part from wanting to learn from them. If a woman escaped her attacker in this particular way, we think, perhaps I could too.”
What Happens When a Hobby Becomes Your Life?
I never imagined that I would one day become inextricably linked to victims and survivors of crimes, specifically violent crimes, domestic violence, and sexual assault.
In fact, when I originally applied to and was eventually hired for the victims’ rights advocate position I’m now in, I viewed my penchant for the grislier, more serious side of this pastime as a benefit rather than a hindrance. Initially, I thought it would make me better off for the very real and disturbing environment I was about to enter.
But no amount of obsession could have ever prepared me, and I was admittedly overconfident for what I was soon confronted with.
I used to enjoy it until it was not grainy photos keeping me up at night, but my own clients.
The flesh-and-blood individuals it was my job to connect with were not the idealized, misshapen concepts I usually had in mind when reading a book or listening to a show. They were grandparents, children, husbands, and girlfriends. Some were doctors, teachers, therapists, mechanics, cashiers, and factory workers. They were all survivors of violent, sometimes unspeakable things.
We think of true crime as perhaps more exciting and more profoundly felt because it’s real. But it’s not unwarranted to say that you have no idea how truly real it is until you’re involved in a crime, or perhaps a victim of one yourself. I wasn’t aware that I desperately needed to distance myself from a hobby I used to genuinely enjoy until it was not grainy photos or documentary footage of famous serial killers that was keeping me up at night, but my own clients and their offenders.
Finding a New Outlet
I tried to keep going, at least for a while. I loved this weird, creepy little subset of culture and social media so much I was hesitant to give it up entirely. I watched shows and listened to podcasts in pieces, picked up books and put them back down for months in between. I eventually stopped altogether. By then, the things I had read, seen, and experienced during work were no longer podcasts or Netflix shows.
When a co-worker asked me recently what I did outside of work to enjoy myself, I was at a loss. I had become so entrenched in this world, and I wasn’t looking forward to finding anything else.
I adopted what’s lately become my favorite hobby: finding small, hole-in-the-wall antique stores.
But I forced myself to, for the sake of my own sanity and for the benefit of my clients. I joined a gym. I watched YouTube how-tos on yoga and makeup tutorials. I bought cookbooks full of exciting recipes. And I adopted what’s lately become my favorite hobby: finding small, hole-in-the-wall antique stores. These kinds of pastimes are not super sophisticated or engrossing — they’re trivial and often feel superficial. But that’s just the way I like it.
I love my job more than I can say. Although it’s difficult work, it’s also valuable and intensely rewarding.
I don’t regret giving up true crime entirely. In many ways it was an act of self-preservation. The evolution of our tastes, passions, and interests is a sign of maturity.
Sometimes I think that maybe, one day, I’ll be able to go back to obsessing over true crime and loving it as much as I used to. For now though, those days are far away.