life in the upside con

I can’t imagine not feeling at least a little strange after Dragon Con ends each year. Hell, I can’t even go immediately cold turkey off of Mountain Dew once the Con is over; I’m drinking one while I write this. Far moreso than at New Year’s Eve, Dragon Con puts into perspective for me where I am and how far I’ve come and how I’ve gotten there since the last time I was eating old, overpriced pizza in a corner of the Marriott, adrift in an ocean of Deadpools.

Like so many of the most important places in my life, I’ve cried all over those host hotels. The person I thought deep in my soul to be the love of my life said “good bye” to me in the Hilton before walking away to board a plane for a year-long adventure in China. I walked alone back to the Peachtree Center food court that night, sobbing and broken and on the hunt for a Brownie Sundae at Dairy Queen.

I’ve been so ashamed of myself at Dragon Con. A few years ago, a one night stand led me to an evening at Benihana sitting beside a famous, super nice puppeteer whose work I really admire. It sucks to feel like a total slut when you’re talking to a Muppet.

I’ve been a little too drunk at Dragon Con. One year, I made the mistake of having a Mai Tai on the last night of Con before heading into the bowels of the Hilton to play some board games. My tipsy paranoia led me to a certainty in my heart that my boyfriend liked everyone else in the room more than he liked me, and I flipped out. My bitchiness sucked all the enjoyment to be had out of a 2am game of Letters to Whitechapel. I was the Jack the Ripper of fun.

Of course, I’ve also been deliriously happy at Dragon Con. I’ve danced my heart out at the Avengers’ Ball and the Suits, Sinatra, and Star Wars parties. I’ve jammed out to all my favorite nerd bands: Emerald Rose, the Brobdingnagian Bards, the Doubleclicks. I’ve eaten so many Moe’s burritos with my best friends that I think my blood is now at least 40% queso. I’ve leaned over the railing on one of the higher floors of the Marriott, and gazed down upon four crazy days outside of time and space.

Since I have so many intense emotions and memories associated with Dragon Con, it’s become my annual litmus test for how my depression and bipolar II are doing. And this year… I think everything was great? Good? Okay? I didn’t have to take a single break to go cry in a stairwell. The strongest negative emotion I experienced all weekend was a vengeful fury directed at some asshole cosplaying as Ghastly who dared to cut the line for the Guardians of the Galaxy panel. I’m still pissed about it.

My very first Dragon Con, just one single, wonderful Saturday back in high school, was my first glimpse through an open door that showed me the possibility of being a kind of adult that I didn’t know existed. Dragon Con preceded the Renaissance Festival, college, and eventually working full-time for a Shakespeare company. Dragon Con planted the idea in my heart that I never had to stop playing pretend. I wasn’t alone in maybe feeling more comfortable in the intangible, the metaphysical, the fantastical than I’ve ever felt in the “real world.”

After my first two Cons, though, my primary associations with Dragon Con became ones of heartache and terrible skin-gnawing envy and demons. The gradually ensuing creep of my mental illness sucked the shiny right out of Con. Con was just another place where I acted like a crazy person. Sometimes the craziest person. The lowest levels of the Hyatt transformed into a place where I was afraid to open my eyes, for fear of the monsters I knew so surely were waiting for me in the corners. Spooks that would leap out of the darkness to remind me, “You’re crazy! You’re a bitch! You’re a slut! You ruin everything!”

Dragon Con turned into my Upside Down. Dragon Con looked enough like the wonderful place I remembered; a place that felt like it could be home if I wished hard enough. If I could stop screwing everything up for just a second. But it was all wrong. The colors were wrong, the tastes were wrong, the sounds were wrong. I couldn’t begin to communicate to my loving nerd friends how they could help me. The Demigorgon was the phantom of that person who walked away in from me in the Hilton.

The person that I walked past this year, just outside of Peachtree Center, made eye contact, and shared a “Have a good Con.” Six years later, and I guess I’m fine? I just kept eating my King of Pop and moving forward, and that seems okay. Do we get over things because we’re actually over things, or do we get over things because we’re tired and ashamed of still feeling bad?

Maybe. I don’t know. I’m so excited for season two of Stranger Things next month, but I’m concerned about sweet, perfect Will Byers. In that incredible trailer, we see Will getting back into his geek grove, hanging out at the arcade with the equally perfect Mike, Lucas, and Dustin. Within minutes, he’s all alone again in the Upside Down-arcade, with the skies flashing ominously red to illuminate the monsters in the not so distance. Mike asks Will if he’s okay. We don’t find out.

I hope Will Byers is okay. We know he’s got good people in his corner, so my hopes are pretty high. I think all of the doors to our Upside Downs are old and creaky, though. They’ve been warped by time and heat, and they never firmly close. They can still swing open in the middle of the night and catch you off guard. Whether your Upside Down is literal or not, it can still get you. Even within “okay,” monsters click around the periphery.

Dragon Con this year was great. I hope that it’s great next year and forevermore. I’m proud of the work I’ve done this year to be at the place I was mentally last weekend. There are still rooms around Con that make me a little nervous when I walk past them, and maybe they always will. There are still people around Con that make me a little sad when I meet their eyes, and almost certainly they always will.

But I have good people in my corner, too. And I know how to reach out to them from within my moments of darkness. So, who knows? Maybe I’ll genuinely get over some of this shit one day. Stranger things have happened.

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