It may seem counterintuitive for an introvert to be excited about a large, crowded, loud gathering of humans. Perhaps, in some ways, it is but hey, we are, all of us, complicated organisms and sometimes, the desire to engage with the larger world of geekdom overrides inherent shyness and crowd-phobia.
That said, even things one enjoys the hell out of can be challenging and anxiety-provoking. Emerald City ComicCon 2017 is my first big con and while I jumped at the chance to attend, I knew there might be some bumps and tough moments. Once upon a time, considering those would have kept me away; I’ve worked through those anxieties and fears enough to flash my press badge with pride but I won’t lie: there’s still some trepidation. I was prepared to power through it; instead, here I am at the end of the day one, realizing writing and comics and delicious geekiness aren’t the only things I’ll be learning about.
I’ve already learned a lot about myself and how to tailor this incredible opportunity to meet my needs. I’m hoping my lessons will help you do the same.
- Plan to go for more than one day: A full day of con is a lot even for an avowed extrovert and I am not one of those. I deliberately flew in the day before the con started so I could settle and so I’d have time before the con started to run a couple of errands. Going on the first day (in this case Thursday) allowed me to wander only moderately crowded exhibit floors and artist alleys, getting a feel for the layout without being crushed or overwhelmed from go. I also gave myself a two-hour window on the first day (yours can be longer or shorter depending on your comfort level, though I would recommend at least having one in mind) to keep it chill before things really get going.
- Consider spending the first couple of hours at the con by yourself: I was nervous to head into this huge, new space alone, the anxiety augmented by having to drive to an unfamiliar location in a city I know only vaguely to be packed in with thousands of strangers. Once I was parked and inside, however, I realized flying solo was actually a good thing because I could make my own schedule, change it at will, and not have to worry about messing up someone else’s plans if I changed mine. I had, for example, intended to go to two panels but decided, instead, to hit the first one and then go on a bit of a walkabout and say hi to the always gracious Michael Underwood (Genrenauts, Geekomancy, marketing manager extraordinaire) at the Angry Robot booth. Also, I bought books. All-around success.
- Introduce yourself to a total stranger for absolutely no reason but that you’re both trying to find something on the giant map: I mean, you have being lost in common already. It’s terrifying but also awesome and it’s pretty cool when the person tells you they’re planning on coming to the panel you’re moderating the next day. Initiation gets a little easier each time and before you know it, you’ll be saying yes when someone asks you to moderate a panel or be on one. Or interviewing some of your favorite comic book writers and artists. For example.
- Bring an inanimate buddy: I have a small Tsum Tsum dewback I’ve named “Utini” in honor of our GeekDad/Mom Edge of the Empire gaming group’s battle cry (long story). Utini gives me a focus and a mission–capturing moments of “our” adventure which encapsulate the essence of the experience. Keeping it small can both keep a naturally anxious brain from spinning out to begin with or reel it back in if things have gotten a bit overwhelming. Your buddy can be a conversation starter if you want it to be or the thing that helps you stay walled off a little if you need a break from conversation. It is nearly inevitable that hilarity will ensue both for you and for those playing along at home, and hilarity is always a Good Thing.
- Cosplay (thanks to fellow GeekMom Dakster for this one): sometimes new or challenging environments are easier if you can pretend to be someone else for a little while. Doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive so long as it’s something you enjoy and can lose yourself in. Cosplay can also be a point of connection with others, even if it’s just a nod of acknowledgment or a, “hey, awesome cosplay.”
- Have a schedule but don’t overschedule: Having a schedule is absolutely necessary for my mental equilibrium; I’m less anxious overall if I know where I’m supposed to be and when I’m supposed to be there. Also where “there” is. Believe it or not, having said schedule allows me to be more flexible because I’ve achieved baseline comfort. I’d also recommend including breaks in the schedule and not skipping them; move, if need be, but don’t skip entirely. You’re going to need time to breathe. And probably pee. At a big con like ECCC, there’s no way to hit all of the Cool Things; pick your priorities and if other opportunities fall into place, great but don’t beat yourself up if they don’t. Make sure you program in some time to wander each day as well; there’s so very much cool stuff and the people watching is phenomenal.
- Bring snacks: I get hangry and when I do, my anxiety blows up which isn’t such a great thing in an already-anxiety-producing situation. I also like to have control of what I’m eating not because I’m picky but because I do try to be somewhat healthy. If I leave myself at the mercy of the site, I may end up with limited and not-all-that healthy options which, you guessed it, spikes my anxiety. Make sure you bring enough to cover the hours you’ll be at the con.
Remember, fellow introverts: cons are supposed to be fun and if you’re not having fun, it’s okay to take a break or pack it in for the day. As the old cliché goes: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Though you may do some sprinting. In boots that you should not be sprinting in because they’re these crazy wedge heels but your other boots were misdirected…
Tomorrow? Tomorrow I moderate a panel with more than five audience members. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot. See you on the flip.