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Conventional Growth…

Conventions are fun! Right? I just attended my first Comic-Con convention last weekend. I saw more movie stars in a single weekend, than I ever expected to see in my lifetime. I also stood in line for 3-5 hours a couple of days, made a few new friends, and exhausted myself. (Ow, my shoulders – NEVER take a messenger bag to Comic-Con, get a backpack!)

Conventions are gatherings of people with a common interest, and they’re often a way for industries to pass on to interested consumers and/or fans current and relevant information about new products and projects. For me though, conventions are also a tool for personal and social growth. I’ve used them to make great strides in overcoming the social anxiety that once kept me terrified, home, and silent.

Me, at FanimeCon in 2005

FanimeCon 2005 - present but terrified behind that smile...

Flashback to my first convention, a mere 5 years ago, in 2005. I was terrified. No, seriously, I was terrified. I wanted to go, see everything, and meet the friends I previously knew only online. Yet, despite that desire, the anxiety of knowing I was thrusting myself into the midst of thousands of people, only two of whom I ‘kinda knew’ was enough to scare me witless. At the con, I survived by always being within 5-10ft of one of the two people that I ‘knew’.

I’m not sure I can accurately describe the terror and panic that I had to fight every moment that I was there. Can you imagine being agoraphobic, and thrusting yourself suddenly into a wide open courtyard with only two barely-known people for lifelines? It was a bit like that. The saving grace was that I had arranged to be helping out at a dealer’s booth, which provided both a distraction from my anxiety and something acceptable to talk to people about.

Most people would never guess that all of my con experience for the next few years after that was always approached as an obstacle I was determined to overcome. When I joined actual convention staff in 2006, my thought was, “I can enjoy the convention without depending on anyone. I’ll prove it.” That year, I worked the dealer’s booth during the day, and pulled con-staff shifts at night.  It was scary to thrust myself into a completely unknown group of people, and I won’t claim that it was easy. The important part was: I did it. Giving myself a ‘job’ in that terrifying social nightmare that triggered all my anxiety issues made the impossible a possibility. Still difficult, but no longer impossible. I was still socializing, but able to distract the panicking part of my brain with: Calm down, you’re working.

Me, at FanimeCon 2006

FanimeCon 2006. "Look at me! I can do this! I WILL do this! I don't care if it terrifies me!"

Since then, I’ve continued to staff for FanimeCon. I’ve also attended Otakon in Baltimore twice, tried out YaoiCon at least once, and been to a variety of smaller conventions. Sometimes I staff, and sometimes I don’t. Not staffing was definitely something I had to work up to. Every event I was able to attend and enjoy (rather than feel miserable most of the time) was a success, and added to my self-confidence. I was slowly convincing the irrational parts of my brain: No really, you can do this.

Most recently, of course, I was at Comic-Con last weekend. It’s still hard on a personal level. Every single time, it’s hard. Every single time, I’m in tears at least one night before the event starts, and often fighting off anxiety attacks and acute terror right up to the moment I arrive at the event. Sometimes I still break down while I’m at the event and need to retreat for a while to get my bearings again.

While it isn’t easy though, it’s possible. Five years ago, I knew two people, and felt shut-down panic if I lost sight of them. Last weekend, I went to Comic-Con with one person I knew well, two I barely knew at all, and I left them each morning to strike out on my own. It’s a measure of independence that I only dreamed of five years ago. A success and personal growth marker that I’m really quite proud of.

Me, Comic-Con 2010

Comic-Con 2010

In the process of proving to myself that conventions were possible, I found that other social events were becoming much easier as well. I no longer felt the need to retreat after being at a party for half an hour. Sometimes I’d even stay for an entire night and *gasp* talk to people. Well I mean, after facing down hordes of 15,000 people, how scary can a gathering of 30 people be? Small gatherings now fail to produce terror, and merely inspire mild discomfort or annoyance… depending on my mood. These days, I no longer go to conventions to prove I can. Instead, I go because I can, and hey – there’s the meeting people with similar interests and getting to see cool stuff factors, too!

So conventions… really cool places to see things you’re interested in. Good for meeting people who share your geeky interests. For me, and I’m sure at least a few others out there: also an invaluable tool for personal and social growth.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Paul S | August 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    You go, hot geek babe.

  2. Amanda | August 3, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Awwe, I didn’t know FC2005 was your first con! I also didn’t know you had severe social/crowd anxiety… I wouldn’t have known from all the times we’ve met at events. You are very strong for confronting your fears like this! Awesome! I’m sure it will continue to get easier over time. Glad you were able to enjoy ComicCon! :)

  3. Adrienne | August 3, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Congrats on how much growth you’ve had. And for how much you’ve done! I don’t have the same issue exactly but I do absolutely set expectations for events that I’m going to like “This is going to be the best time ever! I’m going to have fun with these people. I’m going to see these things.” And when those things don’t go as I’ve planned in my mind, then my mood can plummet and my anxiety can rise. So I’m still working on having the “Whatever happens happens” mentality.

  4. Josh | August 3, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Keep writing please! I love your writing style

  5. Rena | August 4, 2010 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Adrienne: I found that was something I had to do as well. I would build up expectations for a ‘perfect moment’, envisioning what I would be doing at a certain time, with whom, where, etc… and then if/when that failed to happen, I would feel completely devastated and not enjoy anything at all.

    Finding a way to stop doing that wasn’t easy either. At first I swung too far in the other direction and like, couldn’t get excited about anything… ever. Even when something good did happen, I’d have a delayed reaction to it, and be excited about it… oh, maybe the day after it happened. I’ve been cautiously allowing a little bit of enthusiasm these days, while still being cautious about forming expectations that may not be fulfilled.

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