Monday, 14 July 2014

Isolation : There's no need to fly solo!

Victoria Cross Medal
Last weekend (5th/6th July) I was very brave... For the first time in nearly ten years I went to an event on my own where I've never met any of the people involved... 

I've avoided events like this in the past mainly due to problems holding conversations in noisy places (I've not been to the pub in a social sense since 2004/5) and my associated lack of confidence in approaching people I don't know to start a conversation. I'm not too bad when I'm with someone I know but even then I take a considerable time to come out of my shell with new people. Partly this is due to having to 'tune in' to how someone talks but also due to confidence issues.

I'd spent the previous few weeks umming and ahhing about whether to turn up and the other half said that I should. I spent the Friday night in a bit of a state, not quite turmoil, but certainly enough angst to ensure that I only slept for a total iof 3 1/2 hours! I then spent pretty much all the morning plucking up the courage to go. The event started at 10am and was a mere 45 minutes drive away and yet all the dithering meant that I didn't actually arrive until about 2pm.

I had a wander around and watched one of the demos in progress at which point I got into a brief conversation with first one person and then another couple... That, as it turned out, was the limit of my interaction with people... The three I've mentioned were kind enough to open the conversation with me but others didn't sadly. I was further put off approaching people myself as there was a lot of noise, hubbub and commotion from the people attending that made the second conversation particularly difficult to follow; more so when you realise that one of the particpants was from Scandinavia with a pronounced accent. 

At this point I'd spent half an hour in the demo room and decided to give up and slunk back to the car. I spent ages in the car, 50 minutes in total, debating whether to go home or give it another go. I was feeling rather low at this point and wishing I hadn't bothered. The whole experience very much reminded me why I didn't go to events, whether social or not, any more. I couldn't hear anything meaningful over the hubbub and my confidence was through the floor. Finally I decided to give it another go and went inside for a further 10 minutes or so before giving up and then heading home in a bit of a mood and hating everyone. I'd been so looking forward to meeting people and putting names to faces of people that I'd clicked with in the forums and on Skype. The disappointment was a big blow for me.

After getting home I posted on Facebook, in the event's Facebook group and in the Skype channel that a number of the attendees frequented to let people know that I had gone (they had been expecting me) and that I'd returned home. The response was universally supportive and encouraging without exception.

Some of the best comments are quoted below:
"the fact that you summed up the courage to go in there not just once but twice is a victory in itself - proud of you mike"
"I agree with the above, don't let the negative points bring down all the positives that you have achieved today. Put that smile back on your face - you've earned it"

"well done for going in the first place! Not all of us are social bunnies. Like you, I'm fine with people I know, but hate it when I know no-one. No good with the small talk! And your hearing problem must make it even worse for you."

"Well done Mike! You got the courage and went, all by yourself. I think you should give yourself some credit and feel proud. X"

"You went that's a huge positive and you gave it a 2nd go, most never even try"

After a while of getting myself relaxed again (I watched Pointless for heaven's sake!) I thought about having another go; after all it's only 45 minutes away.... So.. Off I went back up the A14 to have another crack at it. I was being particularly bloody-minded as I'd got on so well with everyone in the forums and on Skype and really wanted to meet up properly.

I arrived back at the venue around 8.20pm and mentioned this in Skype... Sadly the mobile reception in the area is particularly dire and the messages were slow in getting through. I spent around 40 minutes hanging around waiting for someone to find me before giving up again and going home. By this time I was very down and my mood worsened with the dreadful diversions in place around Kettering and ASDAs garage being closed despite the signs being lit up. Luckily Tescos was open so I could add some fuel to my depleted tank for the journey back down the A14.

Two of the best replies that I received on the Sunday after the event had finished are below and were from two of the key organisers:
"Hi, really sorry to hear about this, if I had known we could have helped there were quieter rooms that you could have hidden in... but I totally understand that approaching me (as someone you don't know) might have been difficult. Remind me before the event next time and we shall see what we can do to make it easier for you."
The following message made me blub a bit!
"Hey Mike , absolutely mirror <post quoted above> sentiments, I got your messages but hadn't realised the background issues, I wish I had because I would have be thrilled to buy you a drink and sit down for a chat in one of the quieter rooms. I'm trying to get to Fantasticon, if you felt up to it we would ensure you had a better experience. I feel really bad because I couldn't be prouder to be part of what I consider to be the most warm, friendly and accepting community going. Hopefully we will have another chance to meet up. Thanks for making the effort Mike"

So... All this to-ing and fro-ing... Any lessons I hear you ask?

Yes... There are lessons in abundance, here are some that I've learnt during the events of last week and during the writing of this blog post.
  • Firstly, rather than simply hinting at your Deafness/Hearing loss, make it clear that you have problems, and their extent/impact, before you go to the event.
  • Arrange to meet someone beforehand in a quiet room so you're not completely on your own in the main event. Most people would be happy to do this (see the quotes above).
  • If you can, take someone you know with you to be with you until you get into the swing of things. 
  • Wear something distinctive so that you are easily located by people you're trying to meet.
  • Keep going. The more you attend the more confident you'll become and the better you'll get at dealing with these situations.
  • Finally, remember that people really DO want you to be involved and enjoy yourself. This came out to me in abundance in the days that followed from many of my friends on Facebook and from the many people who attended on the day and I had missed.

Before I continue I should mention that I was utterly humbled by the tremendous responses from the event organisers and the attendees in the past week. I already knew them to be a great bunch of people in the forums online and was touched by their concern and their offers to include me more pro-actively next time around. Thanks to their responses there will be a next time as they have given me extra incentive to attend future events and perhaps even some confidence as well. I'd like to publicly thank the members of the Elite : Dangerous community for their kindness and tolerance to me over the past few days!

So what's next?

Well I have committed myself, that may very well be the right word, to attending a similar nerd-fest in August by booking a hotel room for two nights. The event's in Yorkshire so the distance is inconveniently far enough from home to prevent me running away so easily this time around!
Flying Solo? Not next time

Several people have already asked me to remind them that I'll be there and will try to make an effort to catch up with me before the event itself so I'm not flying solo in the big bash.

I shall also need to be brave this coming weekend as we are going to the wedding of some of Michelle's friends. I won't know anyone there apart from Michelle so this could be 'fun' as well! 


1 comment:

  1. Well done for going back!

    I will be there on the Saturday and look forward to seeing you!

    Just remember that they are all a nice bunch and will be happy to help out.

    See you soon.