I admire those who can boldly walk up to a random person, introduce themselves, and within ten minutes have a new friend; what is easy for them can take me ten days, if not weeks, to do as an introvert with mild social anxiety. As an introvert, I am naturally quiet, but with social anxiety added into the mix, it can be a completely different story. Crowds, strangers, and new social situations can make me feel constantly on edge. I can get extremely skittish in tightly packed crowds, and an occasional near panic attack is not unheard of in such situations. Yet I – the girl who has actively avoided taking a Speech course throughout her entire college career thus far – absolutely love attending Dragon Con. This year specifically has provided the chance to truly break me out of my shell, and I owe it to a few close friends and 70K+ con attendees.
Surprisingly, this year was not my first time at Dragon Con. That honor goes to 2014. My first ever time at such a large convention actually turned out to be a wonderful one thanks to the Dragon Con veterans who took me under their wing. They were able to prepare me for what to expect (lines, and cosplays, and geeks, oh my!) and acted as my guides over the four day experience. Their presence helped keep me calm in the hustle and bustle, and they acted as social buffers for any interactions I was involved in. My anxiety still played a part in the trip but because of them, I never felt overwhelmed. Upon returning home from the trip, I knew I had to return for 2015.
However, life is funny and not everything goes as planned, so I went into this year’s convention with more than a little hesitation. After all, everything leading up to the convention weekend seemed to go wrong. First, our attempt to book with the Hyatt failed, solidifying Passkey’s infamous reputation. This resulted in a very frantic reservation to the Marriott… a well-known party hub, particularly at night.
Oh dear, my social anxiety squeaked. This won’t be good.
Second, a few close friends had to give their regretful cancellations in the final hours before the trip due to understandable life events. A bummer for sure in any situation, but this left my social and makeshift stranger buffer much smaller than last year. With my safety net greatly reduced, I would be forced to leave my comfort zone. In turn, I was presented with a unique but frightening opportunity.
Instead of concentrating on the negatives, I decided to take this as a challenge to branch out a bit in order to overcome some of my social anxiety. But how would I go about making this an adventure?
During Dragon Con ‘14 I had been surrounded by very lovely cosplays but had been entirely too shy and/or intimidated to ask anyone for a photograph of their hard work. Not only was the simple fact of asking itself terrifying, I was afraid of inconveniencing people or being judged for asking a stranger for a photo, so I missed out on many beautiful photographs I regret not taking.
This year I decided I would make a change. I did not want my anxiety to interfere with my con experience anymore. Friday morning I gave myself one personal goal: I would find a single cosplay I enjoyed, walk up to the individual, and request a photo. Sounds simple enough, right? For most people it is – they can it to do without a second thought. For me, it would be a monumental step forward.
A hilarious early morning Milk fed Criminal Masterminds panel left me feeling pumped up and ready to take on the world.
As luck would have it, on my way to my next scheduled panel I passed by a fantastic version of the Tenth Doctor and Madame de Pompadour from Doctor Who. With a deep breath to gather up the remaining pluckiness inspired by the panel, I marched (read: timidly walked) up to them to request a photograph. Much to my delight, they were happy to oblige. I snapped a quick picture before my nerves vibrated me out of existence, thanked them, and walked away beaming.
This couple did not realize their small but highly positive interaction left a big impact on the rest of my weekend. Our brief encounter had me feeling empowered. I had set out to do something and done it; I had not let my anxiety win. I was proud of myself! Thanks in no tiny part to them, I was able to get over my initial shyness, and as the weekend continued, each time I approached another cosplayer became easier. An unintentional side effect of accomplishing this small feat? It led to me feeling overall more relaxed in the geek hordes. Who knew such a seemingly inconsequential ordeal could lead to something more?
Most importantly, all of this would help when Saturday night rolled around, the night we traditionally set aside to explore the parties.
I had been sharing various Snapchats of events with the people who could not attend this year. One of those friends suggested I use this chance to do a Dragon Con themed scavenger hunt. She would send me subjects that went from assorted “easy” themes (Marvel character, Nintendo character, gender bend), to moderate themes (“fandom you don’t know – bonus for asking what fandom it was from”), to what would be personally hard for me (“walking up to someone and asking them to dance with them”).
Frankly, it sounded like a blast so I was instantly game for it.
The scavenger hunt turned out to be a great way to interact with people at the parties. Every new item I would be given gave me a new reason to weave in and out of the mass of people in my search to mark the item off my checklist, and the hunt itself served as the perfect, fun ice breaker. By the end of the night, I was confidently introducing myself to people, a nearly unheard of thing for me. The very last task – dance with a random person – was even successfully marked off the scavenger list. I danced terribly, but I danced with pride.
Every year brings about a different experience, and for me, Dragon Con ’15 turned into an adventure in self-discovery. Who knew I could happily go out of my way to speak to utter strangers – let alone dance with one? Definitely not the girl from ’14! This year inspired me to test my boundaries, leading me to feel more comfortable in my own skin as I grew a little more confident with each new accomplishment. The pride I had from those little triumphs has spilled over into my real life, too. I find myself a little less edgy in crowds, and although being around new people is still nowhere near pleasant for me, I feel I can manage the situation better.
With ’15 wrapped up, the prep work for Dragon Con ’16 has already started. Tickets have already been purchased, the hotel has been reserved, and the wait for the guest list has begun. The only thing left to do is decide on a new personal goal.
You know, I have never cosplayed before…
Heather is a bookworm with a varied Goodreads, although if you are looking for reviews in the romance genre, your princess is in another castle. She’s a passionate console gamer who is diving headfirst back into comics after a long hiatus. She once met Patrick Stewart and played it cool; she met Babs Tarr and fangirled an embarrassing amount. You can follow her on Twitter @MissHWilliamson, where she has a habit of live tweeting (particularly The Walking Dead).