2014 was the first year I attended the ICHC Conference. I was invited to present a breakout session about my own journey called ‘What Does Recovery Look Like”. What recovery felt like to me was a state of anxiety as I found myself in a bustling, busy conference full of people with purpose and agendas. I was overwhelmed. And I was triggered. I thought to myself “I’m not like these people. I’m doing my presentation and I’m getting out”. A room full of 40 people stared at me expectantly. I began to speak. I asked the audience to take some deep, cleansing breaths, to center themselves – to visualize.
“What you would feel like if your space was clutter-free? Tell me in a word” I asked.
Answers came back:
“I can BREATHE”. We began to connect as the atmosphere in the room shifted. I shared about the trauma I felt as I changed my dreams and relieved myself of that Barbie
Dream House dominating the bedroom; how I kept the eyes on the prize – with a new dream for space and sharing that space with others. I eventually hosted yoga classes and pot-lucks. I could breathe in my home. The talk was well received – I even think there was polite applause. I felt I belonged. And I realized that even though I could not suppress my social anxiety, I could at least negotiate with it – to take what I needed from the conference and be Ok.
It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed at an event especially one as big and impressive as the ICHC conference. There’s a lot of information to be had. There’s a plethora of workshops and breakout sessions. Which one should I go to? Will I miss out if I go to this one instead of that one? You’ll find exhibitors with handouts and brochures. It’s tempting to take at least one of everything! There are a lot of people there, people in different stages of their recovery. People like me with social anxiety.
The good news is that this year we are ‘Thinking outside the boxes’, this year’s theme, and we have re-thought what the conference will look like. There will be fewer breakout sessions and workshops. That Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) we tend to feel should be lessened. We are asking our exhibitors to go green and reduce the amount of paper handed out. The conference will be hosted on the idyllic campus at UC Berkeley inspiring us to take time for ourselves and breathe.
And while we are on the subject of taking time for ourselves I would like to share some self-care strategies that have helped me navigate conferences and stressful situations:
- >Take care of yourself. Get rest. Eat. If you have dietary restrictions, be prepared. Bring a water bottle and stay hydrated - water is your friend.
>You won’t see everything – and that’s OK. Be gentle with yourself
>You’ll find people in different stages of their recovery and you may find yourself triggered. Give yourself permission to walk away – go outside if need be.
>You are not alone. You are among peers. There always a friendly face or staff-member happy to help in the crowd if you feel overwhelmed.
- >Don’t forget to breathe!
Peer Support Coordinator
Mental Health Association of San Francisco