Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Conferencing with Anxiety and OCPD

The International Congress of Medieval Studies is this week, where roughly 4000 medievalist scholars from around the world will descend on Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Last year was my first year attending, and I enjoyed it, and I have a GREAT roundtable this year that I'm a part of, so I'm super excited.

All that being said, it will be hard for me, as it will be hard for many others.

I have OCPD, and my triggers are many, but conferences pretty much present the convergence of many of them. There will be new places, places where I don't know the routines, or layout, and this lack of knowledge will produce sometimes crippling anxiety.

I have been attending and presenting at conferences for seven years now, so I have my patterns which will help me deal with the chaos.
  • I travel with the same single bag of luggage, bathroom bag.
  • I travel with my backpack which has pockets where specific things go.
    • I bought a "nice" bag for job market interviews and have spent last week debating whether I can chance taking it to kzoo and upsetting my routine. What if it doesn't work? What if it throws my comfort routines off? But I'll have to use it if/when I get job interviews, so isn't it better to test run it now? It may be my last chance to. 
    • A week this has been going on. Over a bag. And I'm still not sure.
  • I have made my list of what I will pack. I have already pulled those clothes out, and set them aside.
  • I have my black planner that has two envelopes for receipts as I get them. I have a pen bag full of Post-Its, pens, and highlighters. I have duplicates to these things.
  • Even though Albuquerque is a small airport, I will arrive two hours ahead of my flight.
  • When I get into my room, the first thing I will do is layout everything in a pattern, the same pattern it always gets laid out in.
  • I have prepped my conference folder. On the outside is a schedule of everything I am doing every day I am there. On the inside is a map, and my printed out reservation confirmations.
  • At night I will fall asleep watching the same Netflix shows I watch at home to fall asleep.
  • I will get up at the same time.
  • I will run every morning, and delight in feeling like a superhero running at sea level (I live in the high desert, so roughly 5700 feet).
  • I will treat myself to a mocha after my run.
  • I will arrive on campus an hour early so I can orient myself. I plan time to get lost.
  • I will revert back to counting habits. I will only be able to sit in certain places. Eat certain things.
I will find comfort in these routines, and wearing the same thing, and doing the same thing. The more stressed I am, the more rigid my routines get, and the more color-coded my outfits.

I have been teaching for 16 years, so it's not the presenting in front of large groups that bothers me. I can do that all day. But last year I got lost on campus, for an hour.  And had a full blown panic attack. I got lost navigating buildings, and had a panic attack.

While I can happily, and enthusiastically, talk about my work and scholarship all day long, I don't read social cues. I take people literally. I don't do small talk. So I suck, big time, at those large networking gatherings, that are supposed to mean so much. I tend to go, spend 45 minutes, then leave, because in my head, 45 minutes is the perfect amount of time before bailing.

I tend to be overly formal in social interactions if I don't know you because those are "safe" and "accceptable" in social interactions. But I will eventually feel trapped by the hundreds of people smooshed into a small room, make my excuses, head back to the hotel, order room service and hide.

Conferences can be hot messes for accessibility. Last year I was pretty horrified that none of the transportation to and from the conference seemed accessible to disabilities. I feel bad my roundtable presentation is visual based (it's on my tattoos) and I couldn't brainstorm a better way to make it accessible other than- it looks like Gieger designed angel wings. Although, if people wanted, because my tattoos are rotary done, they actually do "feel" different. I do post my presentation in advance so people can access it.
But I have to tell you, yesterday there was a dust up where a senior scholar, when questioned about accessibility, didn't think about, didn't stop to reflect, but immediately made fun of. Stopped short of calling people "bitchy little girls" but not by much. First, seniors scholars shouldn't so this. They have all the power and privilege and therefore they should be ensuring that there's accessibility and equity for all. Second, the topic was specifically about grad students, so I felt condescended to and hated and ostracized, and I'm not even at the conference yet. No one should feel that way.
We need to do better in making our professional interactions accessible and understand that there are lots of ways that places can be inaccessible.

What do you wish conferences did or did more of to make them accessible?


  1. I thought this was very good, as the level of detail really revealed the depths of the struggle. The simple words "and hide" really rang true. Thanks for writing - I "only" have OCD traits, but they are very disabling when contemplating travelling to the extent of needing a "minder"/carer to make just shortish trips possible.

  2. I'm glad you liked it. I always hope sharing helps others! If only to know you're not the only one!

  3. I have severe anxiety and I find networking very difficult too. Unless I enter with a colleague (who I will then cling to) I am not the sort of person who can enter into conversations, particularly with people I do not know. I find it incredibly difficult and always worry that I am being rude/intruding. I will hang around at the wine table, and then generally be out the room as soon as I finish my glass. To be honest most of the time, I won't even go if I am not going with someone else.

    Though I am not going to K'zoo, I am going to Leeds Medieval Congress this year. It's not my first time at Leeds, but it will be my first time attending with my assistance dog. I am hoping having her beside will make me feel more comfortable. It usually does.

    We shall see. At the very least, Leeds have been very accommodating regarding Kaylee (dog). Not only did I have no issues booking their student accommodation with her, but they have through their twitter account, made me feel like she is not just tolerated but welcome.

    I too fall asleep using familiar routines. I check facebook, play a silly word game on my phone, turn on youtube, and fall asleep listening to random youtube videos from my favourite channels. I can't sleep without that familiarity, and the routine helps me in strange places. Having Kaylee also establishes routine - I will need to get up and walk her, feed her, and do all of the normal things I need to do to care for her.

    Good luck at K'Zoo. I hope you find the experience as smooth as is possible for you.

    1. That's great news about Leeds, and I hope it's a good experience for you! I had an excellent Kzoo, so thanks!