Reducing festival anxiety

Reducing festival anxiety

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This week’s photos are from going to Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank.

You can get prints of the photos in this weeks newsletter on my print store or you can tip me on Ko-Fi so I can buy film for my camera.

Attending a festival after 2 years away from the world

World Heritage Site Jodrell Bank. Home to the Grade I listed Lovell Radio Telescope that helped Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell study pulsars. Oh and there’s a science and music festival there each summer when there isn’t a pandemic. That festival is Bluedot and the main reason why we spent a weekend in a field next to a radio telescope.

We first saw Elbow there back in 2012 and it was that moment where science, music, art, a torrent of torrential rain and feeling actual joy not anxiety inspired me to propose to my then girlfriend. I wanted moments like this to continue for the rest of my life. I knew they would if I was with her and they have. We return every time and we have a lot of fun.

Left photo: Person holding cute toy while waiting for beer. Middle photo: Inflatable astronaut being led by smaller astronauts. Right photo: Metalwork skeleton of a bird on fire.

Trying to avoid anxiety

It’s a challenge to get to the fun part and even then it is so fragile that the slightest distraction can break the entire weekend. 2019 was complex in part due to a sprained foot and my waterproof shoes failing the moment we arrived. That left me with feelings of failure as I should have somehow seen this coming. There was an actual tornado in the area. A very rare event in the UK but I should have seen it coming so it’s all my fault. I felt stressed caused by constant questioning over whether I should leave and go buy new shoes in Manchester instead of trying to enjoy the event. My brain is a troublesome little thing. It was a painful slog to get anywhere that weekend with the mud, rain and foot sprain. I was out of spoons by breakfast and had little energy to enjoy it.

Being aware of the issues of 2019 I tried to plan for them this year. Here’s the problem though. Attempting to plan for “What if” situations is bad for me. Through some wonderful NHS therapy (6 month or longer waiting list so get on it now if you need help) I’ve learned about hypothetical problems and actual problems. If I open myself to the hypothetical problems I will overthink everything causing stress, anxiety and depression. There are actual problems that I could and did solve. The rest I have to accept that they could happen and if they do I’ve done my best. I can’t chase every rabbit down every rabbit hole. … Or can I? I can try but to attempt to do so will/is ruining my life.

I’ll constantly check the weather to see if I need a coat or not or what type of coat or do I need a new coat? If I need a new coat I should start researching them so they can arrive in time. But how do I know which one I need if the weather forecast isn’t clear? I should use a different app. Ok so now 5 different apps all have different ideas and even the apps using the same weather data can’t agree. I’ll get a new coat just incase. But then I might be carrying it around all weekend for no reason which will make me hot and sweaty. Should I get new t-shirts? Maybe a better bag? The zip on mine isn’t perfect but the bag is a great colour and waterproof but the zip… It’ll be fine… or will it?

Left photo: Woman looking bored while wearing light up hat. Middle photo: Man holding inflatable banana by port-a-loos. Right photo. A robot goes on a walking tour.

There’s no way to answer any of these questions in advance yet I relentlessly obsess over them and find new things to worry about. Going to Bluedot this year gave me a chance to be aware of these issues and to try some mindfulness techniques. I acknowledge the thought but I don’t chase the rabbit.

Instead I set aside time to solve problems that needed solving. I put a limit on this time so I didn’t spend 2 weeks researching something simple and forgetting everything else I needed to do. I needed a new sleeping bag. I found a few good ones and bought one. An actual problem solved. Maybe I needed a large backpack too? It’s right there on the menu in the store… No!

I think I managed ok this year in preparing. I could do better but in recognising the difference between actual problems to solve and “What ifs” I was able to mostly get things sorted.

What about next year? During the event I kept a journal of how things went. I attempted to address all my worries I had this year so next year when they resurface I can remind myself that they were hypothetical issues. I photograph how we setup things like our car to tent transporter and what goes in each bag. I can’t keep redoing all this anxiety. I’m trying to do it once and move on to fresh new anxiety. Yay.

Interestingly enough there was a talk by space exploration expert Libby Jackson about the moon landing. She discussed the 1202 alarm as the lunar lander landed on luna. If you don’t know the 1202 alarm was an alarm that kept going off as the astronauts tried to land and no-one really knew what it meant. Did it mean abort or was it safe? In what felt like an eternity they sent the question down to the engineers and back to find out that it was safe to land. The 1202 alarm meant that the computer was out of resources and needed a few seconds to process. The astronauts needed to be ok with this alarm going off in the background while they made history. I felt like that was me. I need to be aware of this alarm going off in my head and to be ok with it while doing great things. Is it an alarm for a real issue or a hypothetical one? If it’s hypothetical then continue and do good.

Left photo: A blue projection on the Lovell Telescope with people watching. Right photo: A black woman and white man dancing.

Autistic tips

I found the following really helpful;

  • Loop ear plugs. Quiet comfort for sleeping in and Experience for standing in front of speakers or noisy crowds. They come with a little travel case and look quite cool.
  • Shades when in bright tents with lots of flashing lights.
  • Bring too many socks covering all options.
  • Pack each outfit into bags before the trip so you aren’t thinking what to wear on the day
  • Make as many decisions as you can before you go so when you’re there its all about enjoying the festival

Be open to change and serendipity. I spent a lot of time listening to the Bluedot playlist before hand so I could build up a good list of musicians to see. There were also lots of fascinating science talks. I was happy to go with the flow knowing that wherever I went I would see something I enjoyed. I never missed anything because I never planned to attend anything. There was no rushing to be somewhere or being annoyed that there were no seats left. I never became stressed over a change in plans because it was all so fluid.

That was at least the plan. I tried my best that weekend to be relaxed and to accept change but it’s hard.

A man dressed as Nemo fish from Finding Nemo

Non-binary thoughts

Over the years I’ve been to Bluedot I’ve seen lots of interesting outfits. I almost bought a pair of galaxy tights at the 2019 festival after seeing some men in leggings but figured they were one size fits all and being 6 foot 5 I would rip through them. One size fits all does not. Hmmm. I’ve also seen a range of people wearing skirts and it piqued my curiosity. I think this is one of those things that nudged me towards identifying as non-binary. Little nudges over time to a big realisation.

This year, after quite a few months of building my confidence wearing skirts and makeup out in public, I felt like Bluedot would be a safe space to be myself. Turns out it was. It also turns out that people, actual random strangers, thought I was amazing. What? I’m just me. A dead inside sarcastic person with a purple beard. So many people said I looked amazing that I lost count. Someone even asked to pose with me for their Instagram. It was… surreal.

I really enjoyed putting together some outfits over the weeks leading up to the festival. I made a punk Starfleet uniform, a low budget Star Trek: Lower Decks cosplay outfit and a sparkly space punk suit thing with led lights. I couldn’t afford to do anything properly so I told myself that the point was to do things improperly. That way I was doing them “right”. I had so much fun. I really enjoy making interesting outfits now and the level of support I got was incredible. I only ever made them to feel good for myself and to be connected to things I love. I just wanted to play as it looked fun.

It wasn’t just the strangers commenting on my look that made me feel like Bluedot was a safe space. I felt like there was a strong feminist vibe running through the program. There was no shying away from anything. People highlighted the work of uncredited women on the space race, made reference to abortion rights, and there were a lot of female acts on. It was great to see people with a platform use it to be an ally to trans and non-binary folk too. So many allies. Wonderful. But did you all have to end with “Ladies and gentlemen you’ve been great” after talking about gender diversity?

On a gender binary note it was odd to see a 4 block toilet cubical have stickers for men’s and women’s. They were all the same. 4 single spaces. I could have saved actual minutes queuing if I didn’t want to cause outrage by going into the cubical with a stick figure that technically matched my appearance but may have freaked some people out. “That’s for women! … No it’s for humans holding triangles over their crotches. The other is for naked people.”

It took a lot of energy to get to Bluedot but once there we had a lot of fun. It was the 10th anniversary of our first visit and of my wife agreeing to marry me. What a 10 years it’s been. Hopefully with some systems in place for 2023 I will be a bit less stressed.

Non-binary person in sparkly dress wearing led lights standing in front of a radio telescope.
My evening wear for Bluedot Festival

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Toxic positivity is bad. Yay for sarcasm.

Fish are my friends; they’re waiting for me to come and play with them! (Apparently this is a real affirmation for catching fish. I… don’t know.)

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