When you walk through Comic Con, you can be amazed at the fascinating characters to be seen, both on paper and in person. The artistry of people’s creations is enthralling and transforms mere booths with paper or old boxed toys into a wonderland of awesomeness for the fanboy/girl in all of us.
What is rarely discussed is the paralyzing fear many feel prior to entering those doors and finding their true home away from home. A certain level of social anxiety is perfectly normal and can even be a good sign you’re not a sociopath in the making but actually want others to like you. It becomes problematic when it denies you the ability to enjoy social interactions with others like you – either fellow flapjack lovers at the local pancake house or other comic book fans at one of the annual gatherings of the geeks, so to speak. Social anxiety can be utterly debilitating but it doesn’t have to be. Small steps can be taken to counteract the terror you feel before entering a room with other people who can then translate to a convention center with thousands of fellow brethren.
Start with making small successes for yourself. Go to your local watering hole and greet a total stranger before heading to your table. You don’t need to go all out – just say “Hello, wonderful morning for a walk” or in this upcoming Snowmaggedon 2, you could say “Seems like I just put away the snow shovel, only to drag it back out again”. Their response isn’t even important; it’s your attempt at interacting with another human that is the goal. You don’t need to carry on a 20 minute conversation, just acknowledge their presence, which will in turn make them acknowledge you. ** Do this every week, in a different location, for a month. See how you’re feeling walking into a restaurant or the grocery store and you might be surprised at how much calmer you’ll feel when handing your cash over to the cashier or waiting for a table amongst strangers.
Once you’ve accomplished this, take a look at your local newspaper or check online for your local library’s programs and sign up for a one night event. You should be selective and look for something that interests you a little at the least. Joining a group to visit an art museum when you despise Van Gogh is not going to make you feel successful so be kind to yourself. More and more places have anime or book clubs or you could visit a poetry slam (Oh poetry, how you frighten me). You don’t have to interact with everyone, but go to this specifically “social” place that has a specific goal in mind and take it one step at a time. Nothing says you have to stay the whole time if it becomes too much for you. The simple act of signing up and showing up for something that scares you makes you more courageous than the cowardly lion you’ve felt like in the past.
Continue these overt actions of taking control of your life. In time, you will find that you can look forward to these simple moments of humanity with others and can talk to someone else there without clamming up and hiding in the nearest corner. You will likely never become the life of the party but that’s really ok. The point is for you to find a new comfort level for yourself, not somebody else. I have found that a quiet 5 minute conversation with one other person who shares something in common with me is far more satisfying than an hour of trying to make small talk with 20 people.
These successful interactions will become your guides to eventually buying tickets to and attending the nearest convention or tournament. Each step of the way into that goliath of a crowd will be supported by these miniature interactions and will remind you that you can in fact do this. Once you’re inside the wonder that is a convention, you will find your niche and will find kindred spirits surrounding you. At that point, you can celebrate the awesomeness of Comic Con but can also celebrate just how far you’ve come – from that lonely computer chair or couch into a world that may surpass your wildest dreams or at the very least reiterate the fact that you are not abnormal in your love of all things geek.
If this is too much for you at first, look for forums online regarding your favorite comics or video games or whatever interests you and start following them on a daily basis. After a week of this, force yourself to comment on someone else’s post. This should be something positive or inquisitive, no negative Nelly comments. If you’re not sure what someone else means, ask them about it. If they respond and you find you still have a question, then ask it. Continue following this forum and after another week, post something of your own. It only has to be a sentence or two, but make it count. Pretend as if you’re talking in the mirror to yourself from another dimension if necessary, but post from the heart. After a month of commenting and posting, go back and start going out into the world and remember your success interacting with others in the forums. Watching people’s faces are scarier than watching emoticons flit across the screen, but you’re not in a beauty or talent contest – you’re just trying to continue your successes already accomplished. The world is just a bigger forum with more emoticons than we can imagine.
A few brief points to remember through this process:
1. EVERYONE, and I do mean, EVERYONE has been self-conscious in front of others. We’ve all embarrassed ourselves in life. The only difference between you and the successful salesman is that they continued trying until they succeeded again. If you ever meet a person who swears they’ve never been self- conscious, they’re either a. lying or b. a sociopath. In either case, their opinion shouldn’t be taken into consideration.
2. Your life will only change if you change it. If you want to visit Comic Con or a Ren Faire or find a best friend or significant other to share yourself with, you’re going to have to change it. Nobody else can take that one small step but you.
3. Remember and celebrate your successes. Every time you step out of the confines of your anxiety and fear, you have succeeded. You don’t need everyone else to approve or cheer you on to know that you’ve accomplished something and should be proud of yourself for it.