Nine Worlds Geekfest 2016: Part 1

This is part one of my Nine Worlds Geekfest write up, since my experience of any con or event will be be a two-fold thing: accessibility, and general enjoyment. Naturally, these two can heavily coincide, but since Nine Worlds was pretty amazing, with nothing of the former impacting the latter, I’m going to dedicate one whole post to the accessibility of it, since it deserves the notice. Seriously: the accessibility team and the work they did was out of this world. Big, enthusiastic “thumbs up” to the accessibility peeps. They nailed it.

14256347_926923737412743_526412203_nSo I’ve never been to a geek convention like Nine Worlds before. Sure, I’ve vaguely attended anime cons but honestly, they’re not even comparable. (The UK doesn’t really do great anime cons.)

I would have attended this year even if I’d not been aware of the communication system they have in place. But it certainly helped put my anxious mind at ease, knowing that I would, in theory, be able to go around with my big red badge of NOPE and remain off the radar for any well-meaning conversational types looking for a chat or even just a casual passing word.

If I’d only had the anxiety by itself to deal with then I’d have done far more than I did. As it happens, chronic illness doesn’t just go away because you’re trying to have a good time and step out of your comfort zone for once, so there were times I missed stuff because I wasn’t well enough.

Even before arriving at Nine Worlds, it felt different. I don’t have a lot of experience with things like this, but I could just tell that it was open and accessible and that I’d feel safe there being “different” (in my case, disabled, not NT and also queer). Even if you just take into account the fact that I’m horribly introvert and have massive social anxiety to deal with, Nine Worlds presents such a safe space,  by means of their communication system. Not only is the system of coloured badge overlays very simple, but it is also advertised: people can’t miss the fact that this exists. Yes, there was a single time where someone talked to me and I wasn’t happy about it, but, on the whole, the badge system is amazing and it made me feel safe.

It’s also worth adding that you can have pronouns added to a badge, to help with any awkward/upsetting situations that might arise. I had a standard badge without pronouns, but I assume that pronouns are simply written on the blank badge the same way names are (meaning you can have a different name on your badge to any other details you might have needed to give).

Nine Worlds works as hard as it can to be an accessible con, for both visible and invisible disabilities, as well as anything from deafness to sensory overload issues. It really shouldn’t be the case that I’m (in a good way!) singling out a convention or event to say “yes, they care about accessibility and safety”, but the Nine Worlds team really does give a damn. With closed sessions for both PoC and queer peeps, you really get the impression that they know what’s up with the world and with the geek community. They get that there’s work to be done, and they’re willing to do it. Hell, that in itself is enough to make me want to go again, even without the fact that it was also a really, really great convention.

As I said, I’ve not been to one before, so I can’t judge others (outside of the horror stories I see on social media), but there’s something that seems just so inclusive about Nine Worlds. From the accessible seating set aside at various intervals in panel rooms (that’s right – these spaces aren’t just at the front of the room, but spread out amidst the regular seating, too., just as the spaces reserved for wheelchairs are) to a quiet room and the teeny reminder on their accessible seating signs that not all disabilities are visible, Nine Worlds are seriously on point with getting this stuff right.

There was one lift that could have been too small for some wheelchairs, so they advertised this and set up special arrangements to help those whose chairs were too big get around. It’s difficult to think of just what else they could have done!

It’s hard to stress just how much of a difference that red badge made to me. Whilst it didn’t entirely solve my social anxiety issues (which are fairly complex and multi-layered, and I’ll likely cover them in another post soon), it helped immeasurably. Part of my anxiety is related to being seen and so obviously there’s nothing that anything short of a cloak of invisibility could do to help with that–but! That didn’t mean that the knowledge that nobody would talk to me didn’t help. No chance of chit-chat in the lifts; freedom to browse the Expo with nobody trying to hawk anything or start a conversation; no worry about people I know thinking “hey! That’s Leo!” and coming to say hello if I wasn’t ready. All these fears were immediately eliminated.

I can imagine for other people who struggle with social anxiety or peopling, that the idea of being able to wear a badge that keeps you “off limits” is just ridiculously reassuring. Imagine being able to toddle from your hotel room, down into the lift, wearing your big red badge of NOPE, knowing that you might be ferried down through hotel with nary a word spoken to your person, both as you make your way to the panel you’re attending, as well as during, after and for the rest of the convention, if you so wish. Anyone with a red badge is perfectly welcome to initiate conversations with anyone they feel comfortable, but there is absolutely no obligation and neither will there be the fear of being rude if you’re not able to talk or socialise. The badge does all that for you. It’s genius, really.

I’d say it’s worth expecting someone to accidentally speak to you whilst wearing the badge, but it’s difficult to say whether it will happen or not, since the circumstances were so very specific with me, and, though I’m still trying to decide if the person in question recognised me from social media or not, it wasn’t a conversation as much as a passing remark. It wasn’t great, but it didn’t do any harm overall (likely because the person may have realised and shuffled off after the fact, or, because it was intended as a passing remark in any case). Anyone who wants to put their faith in this badge system, can indeed do so. It worked and it felt safe. There’s not a lot more you can ask for, really.



Being Brave – Being a little bit Dauntless

new-divergent-pic-shows-off-dauntless-symbolAs it happens, it feels as though I’ve been adopting a very “Dauntless” attitude to a few things of late. Mostly this is all about the Social Anxiety side of my life, with a tiny bit of that spilling over into both the HFA and fibro warrior side of things. Because I have a tendency of waffling otherwise, I’ll break down into bullets what I’ve done over the last month or so that makes me a little bit Dauntless.

I met a friend’s wife (did I ever tell you how much I hate the word, wife? And husband for that matter. Hate, hate, hate. Icky words, both!) after being pretty estranged from said friend for some time. As in, no contact. I actually met a perfect stranger, in public, for the mutual consumption of food. As in, actually met them. I don’t do this shit. But I did it.

I’ve invited two people I don’t know (yet) IRL to the New Year party we’re having at our house. I really like these new people, really want to have them in my life, regardless of how hard it is. And if you read this blog, you know how I literally do nothing for myself. SO, to be inviting these people is difficult — but I really like them, so… what else is there to do?! Literally petrified, self-conscious about being ill “around” them, somehow, if that makes any sense at all… (which it doesn’t) and just. Help. But I’m doing it anyway.

I started talking to my mum on the phone again, something I’d been unable to do for about a year. Because I just couldn’t “do” the phone, just couldn’t communicate with her. Idek why.

I’ve also invited my Yamane’s boyfriend to the party, so that’s yet another person to meet. OH GOD. What am I doing to myself? Urk. Still… it’s important and it matters, so I’ll do it. And do my best. Hopefully.

Actually entertaining getting a haircut. I probably won’t, but there you have it. Ugh. I really probably won’t, but… maybe?? No. Perhaps.

These things might seem tiny and small and not really worthy of note, but for someone who is literally dependent on someone else for even the simplest of social and communicative tasks (phone, doorbell, checkouts, my whole life) these steps are enormous. I’m just trying to sit here, being all calm and cool about it — and mainly not thinking about the actual reality of it until it’s happening. Because otherwise I will just freak myself the fuck out. And nobody wants that.

One of the things I’m most worried about is being ill around these new people. It’s hard enough being ill around my Yamane and Lilyflower, and my brother sometimes, let alone people who don’t really know how this illness leaves me. It’s embarrassing somehow and I can’t really figure out why. I don’t want to make a fuss, I guess, but fibro-fog can make that a little difficult sometimes, and I guess fibro can be a little extreme when it comes to me and just… it’s weird, OK?

Either way, I’m definitely being brave. I’m going to be a wreck after all this — but I’m hoping it will be more than worth it. it means I get to invite new people — new awesome people — into my life. And sod it, I deserve new awesome people.

Being Social and Why It’s So Damn Hard

tumblr_lzr83tj1KY1qzdr29o1_250I am nervous and anxious in most social situations; even with my friends I often find myself anxious to the point that it produces physical symptoms. I haven’t purchased my own goods at a checkout of any kind for ~five years  because the social interaction required is too frightening. I have attended conventions and cosplayed, only to remain in my room and only wear the cosplay at home. I certainly don’t have any friends outside my brother, sister and one single other friend besides. This isn’t for lack of opportunity, like I said, I’ve been to cons where the possibly of making friends is presented: hell, it’s practically included in the registration fee! Come to this con: friends included!

And so, the notion of attending anything that holds the chance of meeting people is difficult. I cannot even imagine mentally just how I’ll manage to so much as look at someone I recognise from Twitter or some such. It’s so easy to see an event upcoming and to say, “Hey” That’s perfect—an event: let’s go!” until the fact that the event involves actual interaction with real and human people dawns and panic mode is initiated. It happens every time.

These social and mental irregularities (I say “mental” as well, since my thought processes are apparently not normal in some aspects—some related to social interaction, others not) interfere with absolutely everything, from seeing a doctor (which I cannot do without my elder brother present) to needing to hide in the bathroom when faulty air conditioning needs fixing in a hotel, to needing headphones and music so I can’t hear people talking around me if I’m alone (which happens so very rarely, regardless). I can’t use the front door because the walk to the car at the side of the house runs the risk of people seeing me and the polite but terrifying “hellos” or “mornings” which I ultimately ignore and therefore look rude. Lose-lose.

tumblr_lp8xnclmN71ql86uzOne of the main issues when even thinking about being with people is that I do not know what to do, have no idea how I am supposed to behave. I am an introvert, so the notion of offending people with my indecision on how to act isn’t likely (I hope!) an issue, but what is, is talking to people in the first place. Conversation does not come naturally to me… In my head, everything is perfect and engaging and interesting… and then when I have to translate those thoughts into words, suddenly I doubt. What if I’m not supposed to be talking right then, or what if they don’t want to talk to me at all—how are you supposed to know? Maybe they want to talk about X and there I am, talking about Y. Perhaps they’ve just given me a thousand cues hinting they want to leave, or change the subject or something else besides—I won’t know.

Panic attacks in supermarkets and even sitting in the car because someone knocks on the window. Being unable to attend events and get to know friends online. Missing out on absolutely everything ever. It sucks.

I try. Oh, believe me I do. I even came close last week. BetweenTwoThorns-144dpiIt was Emma Newman’s Forbidden Planet launch and guess what!—I’m in London already (yay birthday), so why not give it a go?? Surely it was a perfect opportunity, meant to be? I mean, hey; I don’t even really need to get the book signed myself, I can get my brother or friends to do it. It might be fun! And so…

…I bailed.

All the details were planned into the little app I used to plan the trip, my friends were ready. We were going. Except that we weren’t, and we didn’t. I couldn’t. The night before I was hit by such panic that I couldn’t conceive going to the event. I was disappointed in myself… but I just couldn’t. 

This isn’t the first time it’s happened… but usually I don’t torture myself so much by agreeing to go. Usually I see the event on the writer’s tour, squee and fanboy a little when Birmingham or Bristol are listed (they’re close and accessible)… and then crash. There’s no point in obsessing over what I would like signing in my book. No point in wondering what it would be like to meet acquaintances (Tweeple, mainly) who might also be there. No point imagining anything. It’s not going to happen anyway.

But I really, really wish it could.

Sometimes, when people love you, you get almost the next best thing.

A couple of weeks ago, when Peter V Brett came to the UK, I was excited as hell… and then devastated. Of course I couldn’t go… The anxiety attack just at my brother’s suggestion that we try it put paid to that. 20110209_seoulbeats_taemin So, instead of letting it go, I naturally tortured myself by thinking about it. I scribbled down personalisations to have written, edited and polished it until it was gleaming in perfection. And then left it alone because I wasn’t going anyway, so meh. Meh. 

But then, on my birthday, my sister handed me a gift that I knew was a book. I could see the back cover through the wrapping… and it was The Daylight War. “Oh”, I thought, a little glumly… I’d intended to buy it anyway, and I’m very particular about receiving books as gifts (another quirk…). I opened it, smiled politely and, as is only right when receiving a book, opened it and leafed through a few pages. All very polite.

IMG_20130313_3Then I went very, very still. And then I probably would have cried if I had been alone (my sister will tell you there was some tearing up, but naturally I had something in my eye… of course…). And then she explained, once the silence of the shock had subsided, that she attended his singing in Nottingham to procure the book as a present. She was the first in the queue and walked away with the first book signed in Nottingham.

The best part was that when signing the personalisation, Peter V Brett remembered my name from my reviews. When I got to a small envelope containing photos of Peat with the book, one of them of him signing my name in the book, I was completely and utterly speechless. Peat was brilliant enough to write a little thank you note for the reviews and support… and that’s just immeasurably fantastic. IMG_20130313_4

It doesn’t make up for the fact that I physically and quite literally could not attend a signing—but it comes so damn close.

It’s almost as though I was there. It’s just magical what she did for me and trust me, she’s been hugged and revered and worshipped as is her due since she gave me the book.

Maybe in future I’ll be able to Do Stuff; but maybe it’s a long road and I’ve barely started. Either way, with that book sitting prettily on my desk (haven’t had the heart to put it on the bookshelves yet…) the whole thing just doesn’t sting as much as it used to.