I’m typing up this post in my hotel room on the Friday night of the BlogHer 2012 Conference…not sure when I’m going to publish it, but now at least you know my frame of reference here.
My roommate was invited to the Hasbro party, and I was not, so I didn’t have an automatic dinner companion. (Amanda was a pretty awesome roommate, by the way!) I almost connected with a bloggy friend for dinner, but we lapsed in communication without determining where to eat or meet, never mind at what time. I considered going for a slice of pizza – no, a calzone. I make a point of trying calzones at various restaurants to see if I can find any I like as much as the ones I make at home. (Haven’t found one yet.) But I was seized by intense social anxiety before I made it out the hotel room door… so I sat here and ate a butter cookie I’d gotten at the expo hall and two small chocolate chip muffins I’d brought from home. I still feel on the verge of a panic attack. But enough of that…
The mere fact that I am in a hotel room 200 miles away from home has already removed me from my Accepted Routine. I always plan out my conference schedule as soon as an agenda is available. I make sure I know which sessions I’m attending for every time slot, and if there are any parties going on in the evenings, I decide which ones I want to go to. I rarely stay for an entire party because they are so loud and overstimulating, but I try to go to see if I can at least wave at people I wasn’t able to see during the day. I have the hardest time during “downtime.” If I don’t have someplace to be, I start getting anxious about when I have to see people again. Much like trapping myself in the room eating muffins instead of going to find some NYC pizza. In the future, I will be making dinner plans ahead of time…at least so I know who I’ll be dining with, if not where we’ll be dining. Of course, having a set schedule can backfire if something goes awry with your plans. I almost had a meltdown over computer trouble (Blue Screen of Death!) when I was supposed to be liveblogging one of the afternoon sessions. I guess you have to look at your schedule as something that is supposed to make life easier, but not to freak out if things don’t go according to plan.
This year, I’ve ended up at both Type-A and BlogHer without a local blogger buddy at my side. (Well, I did get to hang out with some local blogging friends, but we see each other more at out of town conferences than we do at home!) I’ve been seriously more stressed at these conferences than I have been in previous years. I don’t remember stressing much at all when I went to Type-A 2011 with @LindaCarmical and BlogHer 2012 with @TheAngelForever. With them, I had someone I could count on to make dinner plans and act as my wingman when I’m fumbling to make connections with brands in the expo hall. I did this year’s Type-A without a roommate, and while it may sound good in theory to have all that peace and quiet, I was a disaster. When my husband and I went to Comic Con NY in 2010, he acted as my handler, since I went in costume one day. I need a handler at blog conferences, too. Someone who understands my special needs and has been friends with me long enough to know when I need a time out or when to tell me to suck it up and do stuff. I highly recommend that my fellow Aspies travel with friends who can also act as handlers. Admittedly, they probably would prefer if you didn’t refer to them as handlers.
As much as I need to schedule my time to avoid anxiety of the unknown, I also need to schedule rest periods. Social interaction drains my energy. Putting on my Awesome Blogger Face is exhausting. That’s one reason why it’s so important to me to stay in the hotel where the conference is being held. I try to always book my rooms early (except when I only THOUGHT I booked my room early…) so I’m not forced to stay off-site…because then I can’t run upstairs and hide between sessions if I need to.
Food & Drink
Because I have such a picky palette – by no choice of my own – I tend to have a difficult time with conference food. At this year’s Type-A Parent Conference, the hotel ruined a perfectly good turkey sandwich with a potent Dijon-based sauce that many of my fellow attendees also found inedible. BlogHer did better by me, as none of their sandwiches had offensive sauces, and I could easily pick out the tomatoes I hated. The first day’s salad at lunch was made with iceberg lettuce, too, which was awesome, since I can’t abide eating bitter mixed greens with curly leaves and stems.
Since I have no way of knowing ahead of time what the conference menu will be like, I always pack myself a small variety of snacks. Usually this consists of some sort of granola or breakfast bar; I brought Fiber One bars to Type-A, and then I was introduced to the Zone Perfect bars I ended up bringing to BlogHer. That way, if I have to skip a meal, I have something at least partially nutritious to keep my blood sugar up. Protein bars are definitely a smart choice, since they’ll keep you going longer. I try to bring some kind of fiber with me, too, since I’m supposed to be following a high fiber diet and I’m pretty sure hotels don’t serve us whole grain breads. I’ve brought WhoNu cookies with me for this purpose, making sure to pack them in hard Tupperware containers so they don’t get crushed while traveling in my suitcase. Because I happened upon a good sale the day before the conference this time, I also brought myself a package of chocolate chip muffins from the bakery at Price Chopper. One of my favorite comfort foods.
I also bring my own drinks. Conferences don’t always offer soda as an option, and I happen to be quite addicted to my favorite carbonated beverages. I don’t drink coffee or tea, and I dislike the taste of plain water. So I buy myself a six pack of Pepsi Max – my caffeine of choice – and a six pack of some sort of caffeine-free diet soda to help me take my pills before bed each night. (The carbonation helps me swallow the trickier ones.) If you like soda like I do, make sure you buy the plastic bottles so you can cap them up and toss them in your bag while you travel from session to session. You’re not going to want to carry around an open can. I can buy a six pack of soda for under $4 at the grocery store at home, but if you wait until you get to the conference, you’ll end up paying more than $2 per 20-oz bottle, and that’s just ridiculous. If you’re planning ahead, you can make sure you buy it on a good sale, too.
We all know there’s no pill to treat Asperger’s, but there are plenty of pills for the anxiety and depression that come along with it. I took the train to BlogHer, so I was able to bring my weekly pill organizer to keep things simple at bedtime, but if you’re traveling by plane, you need to bring your medications in their original prescription bottles, in case you get questioned by the TSA. You should always keep your pills in your carry-on bag when flying, because if the airline loses your checked luggage, you don’t want to be without your medication. This would be a full-on emergency for me, because going even 12 hours past my scheduled dose of Effexor XR puts me in such terrible withdrawal that I would be out of commission for at least half a day – more if I couldn’t get an emergency script filled in a reasonable amount of time. I also never travel without bringing along ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, Gas X, triple antibiotic ointment, Band-Aids, and Ben Gay. Okay, so it’s not actually Ben Gay, but it’s a pain relieving cream that smells like Wint-O-Green Lifesavers and makes my obligatory sore feet and wrenched shoulder (from carrying around my laptop bag) slightly more bearable. I’ve also added Salonpas patches to the mix…which reminds me that I need to post my review for them. (Highly recommend checking out Salonpas!)
Know in advance that blog conferences are really a whole bunch of organized chaos. Prepare yourself for the fact that you will feel uncomfortable in crowds, you will get overstimulated, and you just might have a meltdown or two because of all of it. Accept this. Have an escape plan (can you make it to the elevator to get back to your room, or should you find yourself a bathroom stall?) and a coping mechanism ready. Maybe it’s a soothing object from home, or maybe it’s a bottle of soda and your bottle of emergency Ativan. Take some deep breaths. Call your therapist. (I have mine saved in my phone contacts.) Call your husband or your mom. You’ll get through this. If you feel like you’re completely out of control, and you’re not in the relative safety of your hotel room, ask someone nearby to find a member of the hotel staff who can help escort you back to your room or help you find medical attention. Heck, if I’m at the conference, tweet me your location, and I’ll do what I can to help. I’ve done the meltdown walk of shame in front of thousands of people before, sobbing hysterically as we left a concert early, so I know what it’s like.
Above all, try to remember why you decided to go to the conference in the first place. Everyone has different reasons for going. Hold onto yours – whether it’s education, networking, proving to yourself that you can get out there, or something completely different. You will get through this. And if the worst happens, and you have a very public meltdown – at least you’ll have something memorable to blog about, right?