One week ago today, I left the #BlogHer16 Conference feeling something I doubted I could: empowered by the experience. As much as I had wanted to go, my anxiety told me I would hate every minute of it and, worse, that I would hate myself by the time it was all said and done. Instead, I loved #BlogHer16 and it reminded me of some anxiety-reducing truths.
1) Other women are anxious, too
On Day 1 of the conference, I got there 20 minutes early for volunteer training. There was one person there. She were sitting up front looking very official (i.e., intimidating). I couldn’t bring myself to (a) talk to her or (b) ignore her so I left before she saw me and walked around the hotel for a few.
When I got back, there were two people in the room. The second person was a woman I’d passed in the hall earlier. We’d already exchanged a smile, so it felt safe enough to go in and have a seat behind her. We said hello, exchanged a few words, and got back to our smartphones as others trickled in.
One by one, we said hello and one of the women started asking around what each of us blog about. That’s when it happened. The thing that clued me in to how much I might really belong there after all.
I said I blog about women and anxiety, and one of them said, “Oh, I’m gonna need your card.”
That’s how it began – the first of many times the women I met over the next three days said they struggle with anxiety, too. Maybe not to the extreme I experience it – or about the same things that trigger my anxiety – but it’s there, it’s challenging, and it’s all of us.
2) You can turn off the news
In the weeks leading up to the conference, the only thing I felt more anxious about was the news, which I haven’t been able to tear myself away from lately.
I’ve never watched the news regularly. I used to think it’s because I didn’t have interest in what was going on in the world, which isn’t something you want to believe about yourself. But after immersing myself in the election coverage these past few months, I’ve come to a different conclusion.
I cannot sustain this level of anxiety.
Even if I only want to follow one story, when you’re tuned in to the news cycle, you’re seeing it all. Between Google news, and social media, and cable television, it’s one thing after another to absorb every day, all day long.
Sheryl Crow echoed this experience in her keynote Q&A on Day 2 of the conference:
“My boys are 9 and 6 and have never seen the news. I make sure CNN is not on when they turn it on to watch Cartoon Network. I think it’s not natural for people to have that kind of stress and worry and be exposed to every bad thing in the world.”
I’m learning to lay my phone down.
3) It doesn’t matter what other people think
Kim Kardashian was also a keynote Q&A speaker on Day 2. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Kim revealed she’s doing exactly what she wanted:
“When I was 13, The Real World had just come out. I told my best friend that’s what I wanted to do.”
No matter what you think about her dream and how she lives it, Kim Kardashian says she doesn’t care.
“I do what makes me feel comfortable,” she said. “I just do what makes me happy… Be you. Be confident in you… Do what you love because you love it, not for validation.”
Now, Kim did acknowledge that she felt differently years before when she would obsessively pour over social media comments about her. (In fact, I saw it myself when it was a storyline on a Kardashians episode.) She cared very much back then. But she seems now to have a thicker skin, and it’s a good thing because she needs it.
It’s no secret there were mixed responses to her presence at the BlogHer Conference. Some people love what she does. Some people hate what she does. Some people love to hate what she does. And she doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass any which way. I love that.
4) It’s okay if other women don’t want to be your friend
I moved around a lot when I was a kid. The worst part of the day at a new school was lunchtime because I often had no one to sit with. That fear and anxiety came rushing back full-force going into the Voices of the Year Awards at the end of Day 2.
For all the other keynotes throughout the conference, I was with other bloggers beforehand, so we naturally sat together. This time, though, I’d been flying solo and I walked into the giant room by myself. I didn’t see anyone I knew so I swallowed my pride, picked the closest table with the best view and available seat, and asked if I could sit down.
I didn’t know anyone there. There was one woman who I’d seen in a session earlier that day so I introduced myself to her and we had a little chat. Also at the table was one of the few men at the conference, there for his wife who’d won an award for her Instagram page.
I cannot tell you a single thing about the rest of the women at the table because none of them would talk to me. They wouldn’t even look at me. The woman to my left was buried in her phone the whole time. At one point I decided to break the ice and remarked how much I liked her phone cover. She smiled and said thank you; conversation over. She left the awards show early, as did most of the women at our table. It was a lonely feeling.
Halfway through the presentation, I noticed a blogger I knew sitting directly behind me. If only I’d seen her before I sat down. On the one hand, it would have felt better if I’d been able to sit with her instead. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to practice feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’ve come a long way since middle school when I would have taken my lunch to the bathroom stall.
5) If it’s only meaningful to one person, what you do matters
On Day 3 of the conference, Mayim Bialik was the Q&A keynote speaker. You probably know her as Blossom, the young Bette Midler character in Beaches, Amy on The Big Bang Theory, and a real-life neuroscientist. But you should also know her as the creator of the website GrokNation.
Grok means to understand something intuitively or by empathy. And by “something” GrokNation means pretty much everything because it sounds like there’s not much they won’t cover.
“When we first started, we were asked what our demographic was,” says Mayim. “I said I think about so many things. I don’t have to pick…
“I don’t want to say I’m a reluctant creator, but honestly, it was scary. I don’t think of myself as a celebrity. I’m a mom and a scientist… I don’t pay attention to stats because that’s not where my brain lives. I did those in grad school! Some people on our team are trying to track what people like. I posted a piece about incest. If this gets one like from one person that needed to read it, then that’s all I need.”
That’s music to my ears, as my own site is so new, with very little traffic, and most of the time it feels like I’m writing into a vacuum. But every few weeks someone will leave a comment, message me on Facebook, or send me a tweet saying how much what I’m doing means to them. And hearing from that one person means the world to me.
6) When you put yourself out there, you can make friends
A few weeks before the conference, I wrote a piece called Odd Woman Out at the BlogHer Conference. As the title suggests, I was worried I wouldn’t fit in. I posted it to the BlogHer Facebook Group and received this reply:
“Be my friend.”
I loved we had odd in common.
If I hadn’t written and shared that post, I would never have met my new friend who already feels like a good one. I also wouldn’t have met the women Joules introduced me to – Jenna Taylor whose fun Instagram page is one of my new faves. Or Meadoe Hora whose post about the excuses she makes to avoid working out made me laugh.
If I hadn’t volunteered, I wouldn’t have met Patty Kraikittikun-Phuong who’s working on a gluten-free bread recipe I can’t wait to try. Or DiSheen Smith who reminded me how important is to make the most of opportunities we have living here in L.A. Or Elizabeth Hill who switched volunteer times with me so she could see Sarah Michelle Gellar and I could see Kim Kardashian.
If I hadn’t talked to someone I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have met Ligeia Polidora whose writing about midlife inspires me. Or Joy Bennett whose reviews have me motivated to see more L.A. film festivals, shows, and concerts. Or Tabitha Black who makes me want to explore the Pacific Northwest.
If I hadn’t reached out to another blogger on the Facebook Group page – a woman who posted about having a tough time with unfriendly folks at the conference – Sandi Schwartz wouldn’t have seen my response and invited me to meet up because she writes about anxiety, too. She focuses on kids, with ideas for stress and anxiety relief backed up by science, like this one on creativity.
7) It’s okay to talk about anxiety
I used to try and hide it, ashamed I couldn’t control my anxiety. Funny thing is, that only made my anxiety worse, as it felt like I was pretending to be someone else. In talking about anxiety with other women at the conference, I felt proud of us. Not proud of the anxiety, but of the courage it often takes to admit. I also felt more like myself – awkward, yes, but honest.