Learning to play as an adult

  • Cluttered pin board with many notes pinned on it. One distinctive sign reads, "It's all PLAY"

Photograph courtesy of Amy Yuki Vickers

It’s two in the morning and I’m still awake.

Over the years, I’ve improved my insomnia by addressing my anxiety. I’ve approached it with everything (yoga, reiki, meditation, the Wim Hof method, somatic healing, diet, exercise, and of course, conventional therapy), but I still suffer from the occasional panic-filled sleepless night.

Like everyone else, the past year has been rough on me. Besides the pandemic, my cat, Basil, was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer in late 2019. My husband and I are the sort of people who think of our pets as family, and Basil had been with us for 13 years.

The vet said that Basil wouldn’t make it to three months. We opted for palliative care, and he ended up living for ten months. We were grateful to have him longer, but we spent most of 2020 administering pain meds, bandaging his tumor, and ushering him an hour away to an animal hospital once a week.

This routine was punctuated by regular grief-stricken emergency visits where we were sure he’d reached the end, but he always somehow managed to bounce back. We also live in Tokyo, so we ferried Basil on an over-packed train praying that an English speaking vet would be available that day.

In February 2020, I caught Covid-19 and it took me two months to recover. I struggled with a personal quarantine first and then suffered through months of additional social distancing from the few friends I have in Japan. In the spring, it rained for three months straight.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I put consistent time into writing a memoir, and by the time October rolled around, I was proud of what I’d done.

Even more, I was sure that I’d met the standards of a particular publisher that I’d been following for months. I sent them my book, but three months later, they rejected it.

A few weeks after that, my insomnia is back because my mind keeps whirring on the same question: Will I ever be good enough?

Back when I was in 4th grade, my teacher told the rest of the class that I had really strict parents. She hadn’t met my parents, so I don’t know where she got that from. In actuality, my parents were much more laissez-faire than friends’ parents.

Why had she thought my parents were strict? It was probably because I was so eager to please. I was desperate to do everything right.

Now, it’s two in the morning, and I’m middle-aged and creating those same unnecessary stakes for myself. I have no teacher to let me know that I’m doing well enough, so when I can’t do something perfectly, I assume I’m failing at it. I assume I’m failing most of the time.

I don’t know if I’m doing anything right, but I work my hardest. See above how I approached my struggles with insomnia and anxiety.

As for my writing, I’ve studied technique for years. I’ve consistently read, filled notebooks, and blogged for decades. I’ve done everything a person can reasonably be expected to do to improve it. At this point, if it isn’t any good, it’s not my fault.

This night, I conclude that I’m already good enough for some, but not for others. The latter group will probably never approve, so I may as well do what delights me. Maybe while delighting myself, I will accidentally delight someone else.

Life is temporary for us all. I’m not going to say that means there are no consequences to anything because that’s obviously not true. We should pay attention to how our actions affect others, but for certain things, like my writing, the stakes are pretty low.

I’m finally starting to get it. Wanting to preserve that feeling, I jump out of bed and find a blank notecard. I make a little sign that says, “It’s All Just Play,” and pin it to the bulletin board above my desk.

I studied drawing in college. Occasionally, I consider going back to it, but I’m out of practice, and I’m intimidated by the amount of work I’d have to do to draw anything decent. As soon as I get back into bed, I promise myself that I’ll buy some oil pastels the next morning and draw whatever makes me happy.

I still can’t sleep, but this time, it’s because I’m so excited.

Amy Yuki Vickers attended junior high and high school in central Wisconsin. She currently resides in Tokyo. She keeps a personal blog at https://amyyuki.com