Self Care at BiCon

This originally appeared in BCN issue 113.

Advice for first-timers – and old hands

It’s a fact of life that some of us are better at looking after ourselves than others. However, because attending BiCon can be such an intense and life-changing experience, some of us who are usually good at looking after ourselves day-to-day find that our usual attentiveness to self care goes out of the window at BiCon; those of us who are not so good at self care can find it near impossible to look after ourselves at BiCon.

The aim of this article is to explore some of the ways we can take better care of ourselves at BiCon, to hopefully get the most out of it and avoid burn out. I’m not trying to stop you having fun here (a BiCon without fun wouldn’t be a BiCon at all!), more getting you towards thinking what your needs are and how best you can meet them in the BiCon environment.

So what qualifies me to to write this article? In actual fact, I have no relevant formal qualifications (it would seem that the BA I did in Linguistics hasn’t really qualified me for anything much…). However, I have been attending BiCon since 2003 and have learnt the hard way that self care is important. Way back when, I would burn the candle at both ends at BiCon and then try to light a third wick  – it was all about the drinking and partying for me, and sleep went by the wayside. As a result I would be pretty burnt out by the end of BiCon and would normally have a horrendous comedown after the event. Basically, I want you to learn from me and my mistakes. I think I’ve finally learnt from my mistakes and now appear to be capable of attending BiCon, not overdoing it, getting enough sleep and still enjoying myself. And do you know what? The comedown’s not that bad either these days.

I can’t promise you that by reading this article you’ll have the best BiCon ever and avoid the dreaded BiCon Comedown; however, it might give you some food for thought and inspire you to be a bit more mindful about what your needs are when you’re at BiCon and how you can best meet them.

Before BiCon

I used to be a Girl Guide, and still stick by the motto ‘Be prepared’. Not much at Guides really stuck with me, but that did.

Packing

The first thing I am going to look at is packing – if, like my partner, you can survive with the same pair of jeans for the whole weekend (which you will invariably spill something down on the first night), plus X number of socks, pants and t-shirts hastily stuffed into a bag with your toothbrush, you probably can skip this bit.

First of all, don’t leave things till the last minute. If you leave packing till the last minute you’ll find that that the fabulous outfit you had planned needs washing, you can’t find your mobile phone charger and not everything will fit in your case. A few days to a week before you’re going, plan what you’re going to be taking. Wash clothes that need washing so they have time to dry out; make sure you can find all the chargers that you need for mobile phones, MP3 players etc; if you take any medication make sure you’ll have enough during BiCon; try on things that you’re planning on wearing to make sure that they fit and that outfits will work well together so you don’t have a wardrobe crisis at BiCon itself.

When everything is clean, dry and assembled, at least the day before you’re due to travel, try and fit everything in your case. If it all fits and you can still lift your case then that’s great – you’re ready to go! If not, have a look through what you’ve decided you need. How much of it do you really need? Are you really going to read 10 books whilst you’re at BiCon? Are you sure you need 20 pairs of socks? And are that pair of shoes you’ve still not got the hang of walking in actually going to get worn? Take everything you really don’t need out and try again… Does everything fit in your case this time? If it does, then that’s brilliant. If not, go through your stuff again and be more ruthless about what you actually need to take, and rinse and repeat till everything fits. Et voila, you have your case packed not at the last minute!

Travel plans

Check your travel plans before you go. And then check them again. You don’t want to turn up at the station to find that you don’t have the reference number for the ticket machine, or that you’ve missed your train by an hour and need to pay stupid amounts of money for a new ticket. Nor do you want to still be faffing around when the person giving you a lift comes to collect you.

Time off work

Most of us need to take time off work to attend BiCon – if possible book an extra day or two off either side of BiCon to allow for things like packing, and also decompressing at the other end and catching up on sleep. Also, there’s nothing more depressing than coming away from having had a brilliant time away and going straight back into the humdrum existence that is employment.

During BiCon

The key to taking care of yourself at BiCon is remembering to pay attention to what your mental and physical needs are. Because there’s so much to distract us at BiCon this can prove difficult at times, so we have to work harder at keeping an eye on it.

Don’t overdo it

The golden rule here is gauge what you need mentally and physically in order to keep going and do what works for you, and don’t compare yourself to other people. Just because your friend can cope with attending a session in every timetable slot and partying all night on just two hours sleep doesn’t mean that you can, or that you should be able to. And for all you know, your friend may not be coping well and may be running out physical and mental resources.It’s not compulsory to attend a session in every timetable slot, so only choose to go to sessions you feel are going to be of interest to you. Consider if going to sessions with a heavy subject matter is really appropriate to where you’re at and what you can cope with. And remember, if you attend a session and it doesn’t meet your expectations you are free to leave at any time – sometimes it’s best to cut our losses and run.Again, it’s not compulsory to spend all night in the bar and then head off to party until the small hours. If you feel like having a quiet night in, then do that. Again, if you feel like an early night, go to bed when you feel like it – you’ll thank yourself the next day!

Food

Our bodies needs food to keep going. BiCon is a massive change in routine, and many of us sometimes forget about eating. Personally, if I don’t eat when I need to, I get irritable and tearful and a well-timed sandwich has stopped me from going into complete meltdown before now.If you’re in self-catering accommodation, try and arrange for a supermarket delivery on the first day, or get to a nearby shop as soon as you can to stock up so you always have food available. Think about what you’re actually able to prepare in the facilities that you have, and what you’re actually prepared to put together – it’s no good having all the makings of a roast dinner if you’re not going to have the inclination to make it. Living off pot noodles and other convenient foodstuffs may not be ideal diet-wise, but it’s a damn sight better than not eating at all.

Sleep

Sleep helps our bodies to recharge themselves. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll be too tired to do what you want to do and will probably be emotionally shaky as well. Despite our best intentions, many of us get way less sleep at BiCon than we usually do – the best thing to do, if you aren’t going to get your usual 8 hours, is to work out what the minimum you can get away with and still be functional is and make sure you get at least that. It’s worth missing that early morning session or leaving a party a bit early if it means you’re going to able to function. Likewise, there’s no crime in taking a couple of hours out during the day to have a nap.

Medication

Many BiCon attendees have mental and/or physical health conditions that require medication in order to manage them. If this applies to you, remember to take your medication when you need to take it – setting an alarm to remind you when to take tablets is a good idea if your medication regime is largely routine based.

Drink/drugs

As the bar takings show after BiCon, a good many of us enjoy a drink or two (or three, or four…) at BiCon. Try and drink in moderation – besides hopefully avoiding a hangover, it will also mean that in the morning you actually remember what happened the night before, and don’t spend the rest of BiCon worrying about how you may have managed to embarrass yourself.If you’re someone who prefers to take illicit substances, again practise moderation to avoid feeling like crap the next day and the worry that you may have embarrassed yourself. Also, given that recreational drugs are not controlled in anyway, it’s worth making sure that someone knows what you’ve taken so they can keep an eye out for you in case anything untoward happens with regards to the effect the drug is having on you.

A problem shared…

BiCon can often stir up big and difficult emotions, thoughts and feelings with regards to ourselves, our sexualities, our relationships and our lives in general. They say that a problem shared is a problem halved. This isn’t always the case, but talking can help, be it to get whatever it is that’s in our heads out, or to help us try and work out what’s actually going on in our heads. If you’re having difficulties, it’s good to try and talk to someone about it – if you don’t have a friend at BiCon you feel able to talk to, or someone outside of BiCon that you can ring, BiCon offers a listening service staffed by experienced listeners who will be more than happy to talk to you in confidence. Alternatively, if none of the above are an option for you, there are helplines out there that you can call – details of some of them will be available in your BiCon handbook.

After BiCon

Of course, as much as we don’t want it to, BiCon has to end. And for many of us, that ending can be difficult as it signifies a return to the real world and the difficulties that we face there. Hello BiCon Comedown!Take some time to think about how you’re going to deal with the comedown before it actually hits you so that you’re prepared. And remember, what different people find helpful in dealing with this varies. Suggestions for dealing with BiCon Comedown include, but are not limited to,

  • travelling home with fellow BiConners
  • arranging to meet up with fellow BiConners post-BiCon
  • phoning somebody to talk about how you’re feeling
  • having a ‘duvet day’
  • doing something to keep yourself occupied e.g. spending some time on a favourite hobby.

As I said towards the beginning of this article, I can’t promise you that by reading this that your BiCon will be perfect and comedown will be avoided; however, I do hope it has given you some stuff to think about which will be helpful. Enjoy your BiCon this year!

Related link: BiCon 2014