Okay. So. This is one of them there heavy posts and I’ll be talking about some personal stuff. It’ll still have irreverent moments and puns but if you’re just here for the silly cat pictures may I direct you over to CatCosplay for the meantime.
However, if you’re up for a discussion about how cosplay can start to take over your life and why fixating on certain competitive aspects can be unhealthy, read on!
As background I’ll introduce myself real quick.
Hello. I am Calamity and I have fibromyalgia.
I’m also a cancer survivor and I’ve been an overachiever up until recently. That’s when I had to take a really hard look at my life and figure out how to balance it better so I had more time to focus on my health.
This fall I had to take time away from everything in order to recover from a particularly bad flare up of fibro. No cosplay, no cons, no writing, no dating, no social life. Nothing but working, sleeping and trying to feel better. It was only in January that I started to recover, and it wasn’t until April that I was in a place mentally and physically where I could start being involved in con life again.
What’s this have to do with cosplay? It’s put a lot of things into perspective for me and when I look around the community and see friends and fellow cosplayers pouring their heart and soul into their costumes, I can see how sooner or later, they may tip out of balance and wind up burning out or developing unhealthy habits.
I was there, I know how hard it is to step back from yourself and see where you are and what’s not working for you.
Let’s talk first about Burnout, because this is something that is more prevalent I think.
Cosplay is easy to fall in love with. It doesn’t matter if you fall in love with the cos-making or the wearing costumes around a con, or photoshoots, there’s an addictive quality to cosplay. Why? Because it’s fun, and then you want to have more fun so you make more costumes, book more cons, etc. But like all other things in life if you focus on cosplay to the exclusion of other aspects of life, sooner or later you’ll hit a point where you stare at the current costume and just feel exhausted. You might cry, you might get angry and you might just want to crawl onto the floor and curl up into a ball on the hand-painted silk georgette you’ve been working on for the last 72 hours.
Welcome to burnout.
It’s a weird kind of hollow feeling, where motivation is gone and so is any interest in your project(s). Everyone experiences it differently, but in general it creeps up on you slowly until you hit a breaking point and you just can’t even anymore.
What’s the cure?
Rest. Time away. It’ll be hard because you feel like you NEED to be working on cosplay, but that just makes it worse.
Watch movies, play games. See friends. Nap.
Take a break from cosplay, chances are it’s not your job, it’s a hobby. And hobbies will be there for you after a week or two when you feel ready to come back.
Mental Health is more important than cosplay.
Sleep is not for the weak
Sleep is a vital part of life, and without sleep, you’re basically as effective at your task(s) as a drunkard. Short term sleep deprivation might seem like a worthwhile trade when you just need to pull “one all-nighter and I’ll have my costume done for the con”.
This gets harder the older you get though; an all-nighter at 19 is manageable with enough caffeine and a short nap. At 29 it hits you like a friggen baseball bat to the kidneys and shouts at you to GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP. If you ever miss hangovers and you’re over the age of 25, pull an all-nighter. Oh wait. No one misses hangovers. Because they suck fuzzy headachey monkey balls.
What’s the cure?
Sleep. Eat well. You’ll have more energy and be more productive in the hours that you work. I pulled my very last all-nighter for cosplay last year. I felt it all weekend and it definitely affected my ability to enjoy the con and survive the week after.
Did I get the costume done? Yes.
The costume in question.
Do I have to redo a lot of the costume because the work is messy? YES.
Invest in sleep and good food. It’s worth it.
Physical Health is more important than cosplay.
By family, I mean the people that are your support network. Significant others, brothers, sisters, friends and parents. Whoever in your life that supports you and you support in return. The people that you love. This is family.
They are more important than cosplay.
On the Sunday afternoon of Ottawa Comic Con I got news that someone very important to my brother and sister in-law had passed away. It was too quick, too young, too everything. The illness had been a shock, and so was the lightning quick decline of someone who was brilliant, kind, and up until a month ago, more energetic than I was.
Also on Sunday, not even a half hour after I got this news, I watched as cosplayers came up to get feedback from the Masquerade. Some were pleased, just wanting to know how they could improve, and others were… less than pleased. More than one took aggressive tones with the judges, hurt and angry that they didn’t win a ribbon. Some calmed down after they talked to the judges, some… didn’t.
Yes, competing in cosplay for ribbons or likes or … whatever… might seem really important at the time. We pour sweat, tears and (sometimes literally) blood into our work and it can be a big blow to us that our effort just wasn’t good enough. That hurts. It’ll always hurt, and it’s OKAY to have it hurt. But do me a favour. Take a deep breath, and take a step back.
Just step back.
It’s a ribbon. It’s a learning experience. We all fail and we all have costumes and projects we aren’t happy with. It’s part of life. We can’t improve if we don’t know what we need to improve ON.
A ribbon or a thousand Facebook likes will not change your life in a meaningful way. It won’t make people that treat you badly treat you better. It won’t improve your quality of life with a raise, or make it easier to deal with difficult life situations.
So much of the Cosplay Drama(tm) is small when you step back and look at life as a whole. It’s easy to get drawn into, but it’s also easy to drown in it. Cosplayer A won’t speak to Cosplayer B because they made the same costume for the same con. Cosplayer C yells at Cosplayer D because C didn’t win an award at the masquerade where D judged them.
Step back, do you want to let these small things impact your life, or do you want to turn them into positive experiences that let you grow and learn and become a better, more balanced person?
I’m not going to pretend it’s easy, it’s not.
I’ve been on stage in a costume I was embarrassed to wear. I’ve been disappointed that I didn’t get into an event I desperately wanted to. I’ve been there, but I don’t want to let it take away from the parts of life that I enjoy.
Life never has been and never will be fair. Good people get sick and die, corrupt people succeed in business and stay healthy. We don’t get participation ribbons for making it through a difficult year (though frankly, we totally should) and we aren’t given the option to fast forward through the shitty parts of life.
My brother and his family won’t be able to have more time with the wonderful person they lost. That’s heartbreaking, but this person enjoyed life and spent time doing what he loved and being with the people he cared about.
I want to be able to say that for my life.
‘I enjoyed it as much as humanly possible while I was here’.
I don’t want to waste my time and emotions by indulging in drama or worrying over missing out on small things like a ribbon. There’s more competitions, more people to meet. There are more chances out there. So when things don’t go right, I take a deep breath. I step back. I don’t need to be around people I don’t get on with. I don’t need a ribbon to know if I did my best on a costume or if I enjoyed wearing it.
My life is more important than cosplay.
Cosplay has given me a way to buoy my mental health through my various health issues and life’s heartbreaks. It’s something small that lets me control what happens as I make a costume. It’s something that lets me set aside difficult and big Life events and focus on creating something beautiful. But it’s not the be-all and end-all of life. I’ve met wonderful friends through cosplay that I wouldn’t have managed to survive this past year as well as I have. I’ve had wonderful experiences, travelling and meeting new people and feeling shocked and proud when I get comments on my blog.
But, when push comes to shove, Life with a capital L comes first.
Health. Family. Friends. Life.
So sleep enough, rest enough. Spend time with the people you love.
There is enough hurt and hardship in life without letting a hobby add to it.