Mechacon is a lot of things. It is an anime convention held annually in New Orleans. It is a festival of Japanese culture and the broader “geek” culture (think comics, cartoons, video/computer games, trading card games, and the occasional book reference). It is a cornucopia of cosplayers (people who dress up as characters that they like). It is a marketplace of arts, foods, clothing, gaming items, trading cards, manga, weapons, plushies, pillows, figurines, and so much more.
It is also absolute chaos on every sensory and cognitive front.
I had a good bit of fun the first time I went to Mechacon back in August 2011, mostly because I was with a group of close friends that I liked and trusted, but I felt suffocated being surrounded by hundreds (thousands?) of people; I was antsy, drained, confused, and wound up on the floor rocking back and forth with my ears in my fingers at a concert held in a convention room. I decided that anime conventions weren’t for me, being that I’m not really into anime anyways (I have one or two that I enjoy, but I’m not nearly enough into anime as a genre to define myself as a person who is “into anime”), and that I would never go to another anime convention ever again.
And for five years, I didn’t.
But things are a little different now. I have a boyfriend who loves anime, manga, and all things “geek” and who I love to see inspired by the things that he loves. I have friends that I haven’t seen in years that will likely be there. Steven Universe is a thing, a thing that I happen to be really fond of, and, although it is not anime, it will be the feature of some merchandise and cosplays, not to mention a Red Carpet Affair, and I could go for some Steven Universe merch. Pokémon Go is also a thing, a thing that seems to be uniting people across all fandoms and communities.
Most importantly, I better understand myself. I better understand my hypersensitivity to sound and (very slight in general and usually doesn’t bother me on a daily basis) hypersensitivity to visual chaos. I better understand what triggers my anxiety and makes me feel overwhelmed and disoriented. And I understand how to work around these things a little better.
So, I’m giving this whole Mechacon thing another try this year. Here are my personal tips for how I, personally, am going to go about it. Maybe some of you may find it useful for your own Mechacon survival purposes, but note that everyone has their own .
Earplugs and Unplugging: Sensory Safety
If your senses are not happy, the rest of you is not happy.
I really, really wish that I had known that small noise-blocking earplugs were a thing that are not only commonly used but acceptable to use in convention settings (and in general!) back in 2011. My personal favorites are Hearos Ultimate Softness–they fit snuggly but comfortably in my tiny ears and they block out a decent amount of sound while still letting me hear people who are talking to me directly (more or less). I’d recommend shopping around and finding out which ones work best for you.
If you happen to see me at Mechacon (my current intention is to cosplay as Tracer’s (from the video game Overwatch) Sporty look, but I’ll update this post if I change my mind), I’ll have some extra earplugs on me that you’re more than welcome to have.
Light sensitivity isn’t something that I personally struggle with too much (unless I am outside on bright concrete, but this isn’t too much the case at anime conventions), but I know that it is an issue for some.
I also know that sunglasses might be an issue for those wishing to cosplay a character that would seem very unusual with sunglasses. Of course, I’m of the opinion that you should be able to adapt your cosplays however you may want to, but I know that accuracy and whatnot matter greatly to some (especially if you’re entering any sort of contest). You could seek out characters that do usually wear sunglasses. You could also try to put a beach/cyber-punk/night-club/[insert fashion trend in which sunglasses are normally a thing] spin on your cosplay–cyberpunk Seto Kaiba (Yu-Gi-Oh!), anyone?
It may also be useful to limit your exposure to brightly-lit electronics if you know that you’ll have to spend a lot of time under bright lights. Considering dimming your cellphone/lap-top/tablet, if you don’t already and if you would still be able to see the screen, at least for the duration of the convention.
On another note about glasses and vision: if you have prescription eyeglasses and you don’t have contacts, wear your glasses. I made that mistake the first day of Mechacon–I had just gotten glasses for the first time a few-weeks ago, and my being near-sighted means that I can generally see pretty well, so long as I am not looking at something far away. I thought that I’d be fine foregoing my glasses for the sake of the accuracy of a Mitsukuni Haninozuka/”Honey” cosplay (Ouran High School). The thing is, though, that your eyes have a lot to look at during Mechacon. There are hundreds of people in vividly-colored cosplay, hundreds more in street clothing, and so many screens and pamphlets and merch and demonstrations to look at. Not wearing your glasses + visual chaos = eye strain = head pain. By the second day of Mechacon, I decided that people were just going to have to accept the fact that Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls would be wearing glasses that day.
And, in fact, everyone was fine with it.
Perhaps the most important sensory accommodation is taking a break when you need one. Having a hotel room on or near the site of the convention can be very useful for this, if you so have the finances and good fortune. If not, there are usually small shops and restaurants in the hotel that, hopefully, won’t be nearly as crowded as the rest of the convention. If all else fails, the restrooms are at least somewhat quieter and calmer than the convention floor.
This may take a bit of advocating if you are with a group of people–“Why are you being such a buzzkill?”, they may ask you. This, of course, is when you remind them that being a slight buzzkill for a few minutes (or however long you need to rest for) will be much better for you and they than being a major buzzkill if you were to get majorly overwhelmed/fatigued. When I reach my limit, I tend to “shutdown“–I don’t process things nearly as well, I almost completely stop interacting altogether, my energy levels tank to just about zero, and I become much more likely to say something in a not-so-kind tone of voice or become irate at something “minor.” Trust me: the break is in everyone’s best interest.
You know better than anyone what it is that you need. Whatever makes you feel comfortable (and isn’t illegal or in violation of any of Mechacon’s rules), go for it.
2. Think Maslow: Basic Needs First
This is really an extension of the first point. Levels of tiredness/restfulness, blood sugar, and level of stimulants/depressants in the body all affect not only sensory and cognitive processing but also mood as well.
I have a weakness for sugary sweets. There will be a lot of sugary sweets at Mechacon, many of them Japanese candies and treats that I don’t get to eat very frequently. And I will have to do my best to limit myself as much as possible. Too much sugar elevates the anxiety and irritability that I’m prone to.
I intend to pack some greens and some fruits–filling, enjoyable foods that give me the sensation of snacking without the major glucose upspike.
Sleep is another big factor. There are events going on at all hours of the night, whether they be one of the events on Mechacon’s schedule or one created by groups of friends (and new acquaintances).
3. Plans (Or At Least Goalposts) Give Order To Chaos
I’m by no means one of these people who have to have every second of their day mapped out into neat little timeslots. Even if I wanted to (and sometimes, the thought does occur to me), shiitake happens–emergencies pop up, visitors drop by unexpectedly, traffic piles up when you don’t expect it to, places that should be open aren’t, and minute-by-minute mood and energy levels can take a toll on motivation levels and cognitive resources left to finish tasks. But knowing what major events I can expect to happen each day and what tasks I need to get done help me to orient myself in time and space.
Mechacon is much the same way. A lot of things are happening at once, and many of those things are happening unexpectedly. Now, if you normally operate under clear-cut schedules, then having one may make you feel at ease (and Mechacon does have a few schedules available), but prepare yourself for the possibility that things might not go according to plan. Panels might start late or, in rare-but-not-unheard-of-cases, be cancelled altogether. Guest speakers might not show up. Items that you plan to buy might be sold out (if sold at all) or more expensive than you anticipated.
But it can help to make some sense of all of the possibilities and simultaneous occurrences by having a few things that you want to do.
What I’ll be doing most of the convention is hanging out wherever my boyfriend happens to drag me (and I’m okay with this, really–he’s so adorable when he’s interested in something! ^.^), but I do have a few checkboxes that I’d like to tick off, checkboxes which give me some comfort in knowing that there is something that I know I have to look forward to in the midst of all of the commotion:
*Get a Steven Universe t-shirt. This isn’t to say that a t-shirt is the only Universesque item that I’ll leave with, but if I do leave with only one item from the Merch shop (she says, holding back laughter), a t-shirt featuring one of my favorite cartoons would satisfy me plenty. Especially if it has Peridot on it.
*Oogle at Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. Maybe expand wolf-themed deck.
*I have to imagine that some Pokémon Go event will be organized.
*Something about a charity auction benefiting St. Jude? Heck yes, I’ll help this amazing organization that saves the lives of children…if I can afford anything they’re auctioning.
*Visit with old friends. Or at least say ‘Hi’ to them. ‘Hi’ might be as most as I get between their business and mine, but it’ll be nice to see them again.
And with this comes one final point:
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Even factoring in the accommodations made for the sensory aspect, sharing a space with a large quantity of people, the majority of them being people that you don’t know and many of them at least scanning you to see if you are cosplaying a liked character, is extremely intimidating. The good news is that for most people, running that 2-second mental check of if you’re someone they know or a character they like is just about all of the attention that they’ll pay to you unless you initiate conversation (and sometimes even then, too). People have panels they want to see, friends they want to visit, stuff they want to buy, and shows they want to attend. They want to have a good time, and, for most people, a good time doesn’t entail being overly judgmental to others.
A very large portion of the people there are just as nervous and self-conscious as you are, if not more-so. But many of them, however nervous, are also really friendly (especially the locals–we Louisianans are known to be extra welcoming) and really cool people to be around. One of the many cool things about geek/nerd culture is that a degree of leniency is given towards slight social awkwardness (so long as it is not in the form of sexual harassment. That’s a big no-no). Chances are that you and your fellow attendees will probably get along just fine.
There’s nothing I can say here that will make Mechacon less chaotic–that’s just the reality of an anime convention. It will drain you, even if you aren’t the slightest bit neurodivergent and especially if you are. But hopefully, there will be happy memories made and much fun to be had.
Here’s to the hopes that my Mechacon 2016 will be much better than the already pretty fun Mechacon 2011, and here’s to the hopes that, should you attend this year as well, your time there will also be very enjoyable.