By: Stephen Webb
I started working on this prior to the tragedy in Paris. I truly hope this doesn’t come across as me making my personal things seem bigger than what is going on there. However, getting this out now is somewhat topical and time sensitive for another event that is going on.
I have social anxiety. I’ve made passing comments about it in the past, but I don’t believe I’ve ever taken the time to explain what that means for me personally. Sometimes I diffuse the severity of it with humor, but I felt compelled to discuss this as I just recently had a significant attack that impacted quite a few people I care very much about.
I am also writing this without proof reading or grammar checking because I don't want to overly edit or allow myself to go back and change the information that I spewed out of my fingers on the keyboard that clicks to loudly that I often times worry about annoying my wife with. In other words, this entry is more about honesty than it is perfection - and lets face it..life is better honest than it is "perfect."
It’s a constant battle.
My biggest trigger for anxiety is disrupting people from what they are doing. It’s why I have to sit on the aisle at the movies or at the theatre. I need to feel like if I need to get up and leave or do anything I can do it and impact the least number of people possible.
The first time I specifically remember the feeling of an anxiety attack coming on I was watching “Batman Begins” on an IMAX screen. My seats were in the middle of a row and about half way through I started feeling hot and uncomfortable. It welled up and all I could think about was what if I have to get up and make a spectacle of myself and ruin the movie for everyone else. I ended up getting through the film, but I’m not sure I can say the same for the arm rests of the chairs that were clinched so tightly.
A few months later I remember having what I like to affectionately call a “freak out” after driving up from Los Angeles to San Francisco to see the musical “Wicked”. This was the first full blow, I have to remove myself from this situation type moment. It was disruptive and I think solidified what I now almost view as why I’m constantly freaking out about having a freak out. From there I went to New York a couple of months later and the same situation occurred while sitting front row center for a show. This was November of 2005. I can honestly say that since that moment nearly a decade ago now I haven’t been able to just mindlessly enjoy one of my favorite things – going to the theatre. My mind is constantly churning with “what ifs” and ways I’ve learned I can calm myself down occasionally when these things pop up.
I take a medication called Lexapro, which you’ve probably heard about while refilling your drink or getting a snack during the commercials of your favorite TV show. This type of medication is called a SSRI. And no – that isn’t the thing you need to set up your wireless router, though 10 years in I still say SSID more often than not. SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. In layman’s terms it’s a “calm the hell down” pill. It is prescribed both to people with generalized anxiety disorder and depression – which often times go hand in hand.
I also take Xanax on occasion. Xanax is a benzodiazepine that essentially works very similarly to an SSRI except that it greatly accelerates the process of feeling better. I call this one my “shit just got real” pill.
More often than not – these medications keep the truly horrible freak outs at bay. Most days are more or less fine and I don’t dwell or stress over major things. Some days are fantastic and I don’t have any anxiety and just go through the day without feeling like how I look, what I’m wearing or etc isn’t a major obstacle. Sometimes the medicines don’t block off the things running through my head and I spiral into my state of freak out.
I can’t quite explain what a panic attack feels like. I suspect they are different for everyone. It feels like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. I can’t quite get enough air. Sometimes I break out in a cold sweat. Other times my body tingle and I get so hot I feel like I’m going to burn. Of course the real problem is all of the explanations feel a bit cliché. It’s impossible to truly articulate how small and terrified these feelings make me.
I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for a ton of people hitting like or even for forgiveness from anyone that I may have impacted both this weekend at Long Island Who 3 or over the years with what I know reads as flaky. I just feel like this is an issue that I find more and more have various levels of severity with and that it is widely not talked about or brushed under a rug as “yeah, no one likes that.”
I am writing this on November 14, 2015 at 8:00 am. A morning that as recently as 72 hours ago I anticipated would be very different. I thought I’d wake up in Hauppague, NY at the Long Island Doctor Who convention. Basking in the fact that two major scripts that I had worked on for months with lots of care finally went off. In this version of it in my head people really enjoyed them and my writing didn’t suck – let’s go with this version. I would probably be eating breakfast right about now getting ready to do a panel that I love to do on Barbara Wright. My body however had other plans.
I flew into New York City on Wednesday night. I met up with my best friend and was planning to have fun when the anxiety hit. And it hit hard. Suddenly there was no logical reasoning, there was no huge warning system and there was no solution that presented itself to me other than, “GO HOME.” I had struggled a few days before leaving with some anxiety, but I didn’t see this one coming. I even jokingly texted some friends as the plane was about to take off from Dallas to New York, “So, LI Who is on for sure now barring some sort of incident on this place that gets me incarcerated.”
I agonized over the decision to come back home versus trying to stick it out. I knew that if I continued on to the convention that there was a very good chance that I’d be of no use to anyone and get worse because I’d be even further segregated and “trapped” further away from home.
I started thinking about all of the people that I would be let down who agreed to be in my scripted pieces or do to panels with me. Of course, that wasn’t helpful because my trigger is letting people down…so the more I tried to rationalize that I’d be letting people down the more I was incapable of actually being there for them.
I also let down someone on a very personal and real level which honestly is the hardest thing about all of this. I wanted this person to know they could count on me and I let them down. That is the part that hurts the most for me. The money, the experience etc – I can deal with. The people who I hurt by not being there is the one thing about this condition that I can’t always quantify or “logic away” when I start to feel better.
There were a ton of random reasons that this could have happened this time. I suspect it was a cumulative effect factoring in my wife being out of town for a long stretch right before the con, a major stressful event coming to a head that week and more. Whatever the reason it ended my weekend before it even got started.
I am terrified that the very small place that I’ve carved for myself in the fandom has now been compromised. I worry that people won’t feel that they can count on me anymore and honestly I can’t blame them and I’m not asking them to. I will work hard and try to regain that trust the only way I know how. By showing that despite having this condition that sometimes makes it seem like I am not there for me I am actually fiercely loyal. I’ll do anything I can for my friends. I don’t have a lot of people that I truly call a friend and unfortunately I let a large majority of them down this weekend. I promise to all of you that I will earn back your trust to the best of my ability. I won’t give up.
IAccording to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18% of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. This makes these easily the most common mental illness in the world. Of course, we don’t like to say “I have a mental illness.” It makes people uncomfortable. It still has that stigma and it shouldn’t. The only way that we are going to eliminate the stigma is if we as a people start talking about these types of problems with more candor and sincerity than we have in the past.
I am not writing this to generate likes or shares or even forgiveness. I am just hoping to bring some understanding to my specific situation to the people out there that I've impacted and that I care about. This disorder occasionally impacts the choices I make. It makes my day to day living a bit more challenging than I’d like it to be. However, it does not define me. I simply won’t let it.
Please don't feel like anyone has to treat me differently. I'm not broken - at least no more than I believe we all are on some level. Most days this isn't even a big deal. It's a series of isolated incidents. You can joke about it. Poke fun, mock etc. It is very difficult to offend me and you all know that nothing is off the table for me.
Thanks to everyone who read all of this ramble. I felt I owed it to all of the people I care about as well as myself to bring this to the forefront rather than hide from what happened.
I spent last weekend out in Ronkonkoma, Long Island attending the second convening of what I believe has become the east coast's premier Doctor Who convention: L.I. Who.
The convention concentrates heavily on getting a large and diverse group of special guests and this year they really went all out with an enourmous ensemble that touched on all aspects of the show’s history. Headlining were the two Doctors: Colin Baker and Paul McGann; many companions companions: Nicola Bryant, Frazier Hines, Wendy Padbury, Deborah Watling, Daphne Ashbrooke, and Yee Je Tso; original Davros Terry Malloy as well as the Illustrious author and script editor Terrance Dicks.
Being a relatively small convention the guests and stars were constantly intertwined as we moved through the halls. Yee Je Tso would lead the photo lines in songs he made up on the fly, Paul McGann spent the break between photo sessions playing guitar, and everyone generally hung out and created memories and adventures.
There were near constant panels and events with the special guests and it would have taken extreme effort to attend them all. I did catch several really interesting pieces of panels. Including a great reunion of the cast of Revelation of the Daleks, Colin and Nicola’s retrospective, Nicola’s solo panel and Frazier Hines’s late night home video panel where he made Wendy Padbury so happy she cried.. I wound up getting photos with Colin and Nicola, Nicola alone and Colin and McGann because I was so caught up in everything I abandoned my usual reticence at waiting in lines or spending extra money, and I’m glad I did.
As usual though, for me the convention was more about the whirlwind of my two favorite con activities: cosplay and leading panels.
I had no new costumes to break out this time, so I went with my old favorites the 5th Doctor, Raggedy Doctor, the 7th Doctor and "Angels Take Manhattan" Rory. My car (with Christine, Lauren, and Genesis) got there late on Friday due to terrible traffic so I missed the “Cosplay TimeLine where I was supposed to be in my Roman Rory outfit, but I spent the night as a very well received “Angel attacked” Rory.
Saturday was all 5th Doctor and seemed to be remain well liked. The highlight though was that evening when, after the Masquerade, I was asked to be the 5th Doctor in a full Doctor photoshoot with one of each incarnation. I have some wonderful photos and the whole thing was fantastic.
Sunday was a rush, starting out in Raggedy, switching to 5 for my pictures with Colin and Nicola and then- after having checked out the room- switching to 7 to do a “6-7-8” shot with McGann and Colin. Even though almost everyone else seemed to have the same idea, the picture is too good to have passed up! And then Amy Pond led the Doctor’s out onto the dance floor in a conga line. Fantastic stuff!
The panel situation was a bit of a madhouse. First, the convention needs to make a necessary change- all the panels need a break between them. Without this it becomes nearly impossible to make it from one to another on time and there is no time to breathe if you are panelist on two or three in a row. Here are quick recaps of the panels I was on:
The River Song Panel: I was on this great panel, moderated by Cat Smith, for the second year in a row, and this time had a lively debate with Tara O'Shea, the editor of the brilliant book “Chicks Dig Time Lords,” about the quality of Moffat as a writer and character creator. It was fun time, but we got into some interesting stuff and definitely came out of it with richer sense of the character, her flaws, and her impact.
In Defense Of: This was FANTASTIC- basically a game show where two teams compete to defend indefensible aspects of Doctor Who in order to keep points. The Verity Podcast originated the game, and Deb Stanish was the host and it was hilarious. I had to defend both “I don’t want to go” and “The statue of liberty being an angel” two of my all time most despised moments of the show for a full 90 seconds without stopping or going negative. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to make it the full time to defend Tennant, but I was for everything else, including Peri’s spandex, and my team wound up winning by 1 point.
I was on a few other panels, but the other one I really need to mention was “He Was MY Doctor” moderated by Justin Whitmore and joined by the amazing Brian Terranova and Alice Bryson. This panel was everything I love about the academic side of fandom. Smart, funny, open minded people discussing interesting things and no matter if we agree or disagree coming out of it feeling like we should have these conversations all the time. We touched on some really interesting topics, like the reasons people identify with a particular Doctor, what it means to be “my Doctor”, and sociological and storytelling ramifications of changing the Doctor’s gender or race. It was fun, it was interesting, the audience gave fantastic feedback, and generally I want to do it again right now.
So overall, the convention was fantastic though a few things could have been better:
1. The convention space was already too small last year, this year it was horrid. The hotel does not have enough hallways, rooms, or stairs to do this. LI Who is moving next year and it could not be more necessary.
2. Communication to the attendees was a little lax, things would start late or never happen and no one knew why or what was happening. These types of things are difficult, but a little attention really helps when things go awry. 3. The “Cosplay programming tent” was a disaster. It was cold, it was not easy to find, the tables were the wrong setup, and it was constantly overcrowded. It would definitely be better if an entire segment of the con was not relegated to “second class” status. (In the same way, PANEL ROOM B, never again. Never!)
Despite those issues, many of which I think will be fixed in the move to new digs next year, LI Who was really fun and I wouldn’t trade the experiences, unless you offered me something really cool. Like a Coal Hill tie.
-Clay "GalliClay" Dockery
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