Further Confusion 2016 will begin tomorrow, and for most of us furries we’re just counting down the hours until we can head to San Jose to immerse ourselves in fandom for four glorious days. I know I’m itching to get there myself. But one of the things that rarely gets talked about at these conventions is how big a disruption they are to our daily lives, and what that disruption can do for those of us coping with mental illness. While the potential is there for a brilliant weekend, the craziness of the convention alone can throw us off-kilter.
For many of us, FC 2016 is one of our only chances to be with people we feel truly understand us; for four days we can put aside the problems of our regular lives and enjoy company and kinship in a way we rarely get to experience. We become so attached to the promise of a non-stop great time that any disappointment or gap in pleasure can send us spiraling into dark places. Unfortunately, downtime and disappointment are both facts of life; we can do ourselves a huge favor by learning to roll with them.
I want folks who are going through rough times at the convention to know that I see them, and I sympathize with what they’re dealing with. I’d like to share a few things that have helped me get through conventions and have made sure I have the best time possible.
Absolutely take care of the basics. 6/2/1 is a mnemonic I’ve seen floating around recently to remind people about the basic things you should do every day during a convention. 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals a day (at least), 1 shower. Making sure you’re well-rested, well-fed and well-groomed can have a profound effect on your mood — this goes doubly so for those of us with mental issues.
If nothing else, making sure you get enough sleep and enough to eat is absolutely essential for managing your mood. Sleep allows the brain to recover from daily stresses, and your body needs nutrients to keep it running properly while you’re awake. And making sure you’re clean and wearing comfortable clothing you feel good about being seen in helps tremendously with self-esteem. Those three things alone are vital, easy things we can do to keep us on a stable footing emotionally.
I know that sleep and showers can go by the wayside pretty easily, especially for those of us stricken by FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out. It can feel like leaving our friends is a guarantee of not getting to see or do something awesome. But it’s important to remember that the convention (and your friends) will be there when you’re awake, cleaned and your hunger is satisfied. It’s a trade-off of quantity of time for quality time. When you feel better, you will have more fun. Trust me on this! I’ve stuck around for things way longer than I should have, when I was hungry or tired, just because I didn’t want to leave. It was miserable.
For those of us who need a little extra self-care, I would recommend sleeping at least 7 hours a day, eating 3 square meals, taking 1 shower and making absolutely sure you take any medications that you’ve been prescribed.
If possible, adapt your routine for travel. One of the ways I manage my mental state is by doing my best to establish a routine. I get up at a certain time, I go to the bathroom, I meditate, take my medication, then get to writing. Doing this every day gives me a nice foundation to center on through the craziness of the day; it’s how I try to put my best foot forward. Obviously, it’s a lot harder to stick to it when traveling, but I give it my best shot and I recommend you do the same.
If you have a small set of activities you do at certain times, find ways to stick to them when you’re traveling — especially if it helps to center and calm you. If that’s just not possible, think of alternate activities that provide you with the tools you need to be mentally resilient through the day. It can really help you through the marathon of interaction that conventions tend to be.
Learn to be OK with being alone or having downtime. This can be difficult, especially if the convention is the one time you get to spend with friends you only know online. But the fact of the matter is sometimes your friends will be doing something else or you’re waiting to join up with someone; you will find yourself alone with nothing to do. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing; there’s an enormous convention happening all around you, with new people to meet and all kinds of interesting things to do.
If you find yourself having downtime — unexpected or otherwise — take advantage of the events being set up by the hard-working convention staff. Take a look at the schedule to see what’s open and where things are; the gaming area tends to be open most of the day and night, and there’s a number of meeting areas that you can camp out in and hang out. If nothing grabs your fancy, pre-planning an “alone time” activity or two to fall back on can help keep you occupied for a while. Take advantage of downtime to center yourself and collect your thoughts. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely.
Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and careful planning, we’ll fall into a bad mental state. That is OK! No one — not even at a world-class furry convention — feels great all the time! Sometimes we’ll be sad, or bored, or angry and frustrated. There’s a huge emphasis on avoiding the negative feelings we have, but that can make things worse. I know for me, I’ll think that I “shouldn’t” feel the way I do and that guilt or frustration (What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy?) just makes things that much worse.
If you’re having a bad time, or you’re feeling low, take a moment to tell yourself that it’s OK you feel this way. It’s a valid emotion to have, and it’s only temporary. It will pass in time, even though it might not feel like it. What’s more, you don’t have to necessarily *do* anything about what you’re feeling. It can be a powerful thing to accept your feelings, even when they hurt. You may not feel better, exactly, but it can ease the pressure that we can feel about our emotions.
Further Confusion is a wonderful con, and I hope that everyone who attends has an amazing time. If you find yourself struggling to deal with emotions, please reach out to someone. You are not alone, even though it may feel like it. But you have to take care of yourself before you can expect others to take care of you.
Make sure you get enough sleep, get enough to eat, and present yourself as best you can. Plan to take care of your needs ahead of time if at all possible. Accept who you are and how you feel. It can be difficult work, I know, but the work is worth it. I’ll see you folks in San Jose in about 24 hours.