Further Confusion 2017 begins tomorrow! I’ll likely be in downtown San Jose Thursday evening registering at con because I completely spaced on pre-registering like some kind of silly guy — hopefully the wait won’t be too terribly long! If you see me staring at my phone and playing Marvel Puzzle Quest, feel free to pull me out of my addiction and say hi!
As you know, I’ve become increasingly focused on the intersection of mental health and fandom culture. Like so many subcultures — especially in the United States — these issues can often be overlooked and poorly understood. While we’ve taken great strides in illuminating what these issues are really like, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure those of us who are coping with mental illnesses have the tools and support we need to take care of ourselves. I thought it might be a good thing to talk about my own experience, and what I plan to do for self-care at the convention.
I cope with chronic depression that manifests as emotional and physical exhaustion, deep feelings of guilt and shame, and a deep-seated belief that I simply have no redeeming qualities. I can’t communicate in a way that people find interesting or relatable, I’m too aloof and fake warmness that I don’t feel, and I’ll never be able to get myself together enough to fix any of this. When I’m at my worst, a fatalism takes hold; there’s no point to trying anything because I know I won’t be able to sustain the effort or finish anything I start. When depression takes hold, I believe that I am stupid, lazy, boring and annoying.
I also cope with generalized anxiety disorder that manifests as an almost pathological avoidance of things I find difficult. For the longest time, I never finished my writing or tried to do anything I really cared about because I was certain of failure. I would make commitments as a way of forcing myself to do the things I was afraid to do, but when the time came to do them I found myself physically unable to concentrate on them. At work, deadlines crept by with work half-finished or completed with only the most basic objectives. I developed a habit of putting things off until it was simply impossible to put them off any longer. My relationship with work has been atrocious for most of my adult life, and it’s something I’m only now beginning to fix; of course, that means a lot of the goals I set for myself aren’t met.
I also cope with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; this manifests in an extremely distractable nature and an inability to focus on any one thing for too long. If I find my current project too difficult, then I’ll find something else to do by falling into Twitter or Wikipedia for a certain length of time. At conventions, this is especially bad; I’ll often leave conversations in the middle of a sentence to say hello to someone passing by. The visual and auditory stimulation in most meeting spaces can be too much for me to handle because of so many distractions. The more my attention shifts, the more effort it takes to get back to the task at hand. In a convention setting, it often feels like I’m being pulled by a string towards whatever feels the most stimulating. It’s a real problem.
These conditions interact in various ways all the time; my low self-image brought on by my depression makes me extremely anxious in situations where something’s at stake, and my instinctive reaction is to distract myself (or anyone else) with something that can grab our attention long enough to make us forget whatever it was we were doing. Convention days, as fun as they are, can be exhausting. I’m fighting against my own brain to keep focused, ignore the voices that tell me I’m fucking things up, and settle down to have the deep conversations I’d really love to have with the people I meet.
In order to make sure that my problems with focus and anxiety don’t cause huge problems at conventions, there are a few things I need to do every day to give my brain its best shot at coping with its flaws. Here’s my plan for the convention.
Remember my medication. I take Prozac for depression, Adderall for ADHD and ashwagandha (an herbal supplement) for my anxiety. All three help me immensely in keeping an even mood, and I feel tremendously fortunate to have access to them. There is a lot of misinformation about medication for mental health, and while it’s true that finding the right prescription is a bit of a process, when a medication works it helps your brain work better. Period. We don’t demonize medication that regulates our blood pressure, insulin levels, or cholesterol — we shouldn’t demonize medication that regulates our brain chemistry.
Get enough sleep. I’ve been going to enough conventions to know that I will never catch every cool and fun thing there is to do and see, so I’ve shifted my focus to having quality experiences over staying for a long time, hoping that a good time is right around the corner. Sleeping for seven hours — even during a convention weekend — helps me reduce my inclination for stress, keeps my brain sharper and more resilient, and makes it less likely that my mood is going to crash sometime in the evening. I don’t mind being the old man who starts thinking about bed before midnight; the convention will be waiting for me in the morning.
Pay attention to my appearance and grooming. My taste in clothing and personal style has changed a lot over the years, but one thing that remains constant is the connection between how I look and how I feel. If I’ve missed a shower or go out without shaving or brushing my hair, I feel a lot more self-conscious and prone to the negative self-talk that triggers my depression and anxiety. On the other hand, putting on clothes that I like and making sure I’m so fresh and so clean makes me feel better about myself and makes me less likely to spiral through the day. It’s an often overlooked aspect of self-care, especially during conventions, but it makes enough of a difference that I’m going to start planning my outfits for FC right now.
Take social breaks. There are times where my social battery gets awfully low during a convention. I’m overstimulated, and the constant noise and movement makes it impossible for me to calm down. During those times, I might take a walk to a coffee shop or find a relatively quiet corner of the convention to chill for a moment or two. While it’s awesome to hang out with as many people as possible for as long as I can, the fact remains that I’m an introvert; I’m going to need to hide somewhere and recharge at some point. And there’s no shame in that.
So that’s my game plan for the convention — keep current on my medication, make sure I sleep enough, make sure I look and smell great, and take some time for quiet contemplation. This should get me through the weekend with enough focus and energy to have the best time, and I’m genuinely looking forward to the craziness of the next five days.
Now, it’s over to you — what practices, tips and tricks do you recommend for convention survival? What sort of things do you do to keep your mood up? Are there any particular issues that you have to prepare for ahead of time? Let me know!