Emotional Cotton Candy or Why I Get Con-Drop

Last night I came down hard from the BECAUSE conference in Minneapolis, MN. BECAUSE is the regional/national conference for bisexuals and their allies. BECAUSE stands for Bisexual Empowerment Conference: A Uniting Supportive Experience. This year it was immediately preceded by the first ever US academic conference on bisexuality: BiReConUSA. It was an amazing weekend filled with incredible people presenting and talking about all different facets of bisexual community, organizing, activism and other topics of interest to attendees like self care for activists, academic research results and recruiting and motivating allies.

I did three workshops on Saturday because I love presenting. I met some great new friends, reconnected with people I haven’t seen recently and had the part of my brain that works on community organizing issues stimulated. OK, maybe over stimulated. By 4PM on Sunday I was feeling a little overwhelmed with everything I’d take in. I was also short on sleep and emotional from seeing the world premier of QUEER by Gadfly Theatre.

My wife Tanya and I went home and chilled out with dinner and a couple episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, our current NetFlix obsession. I hoped the break would help clear my mind and leave me feeling more balanced. Unfortunately, all it did was clear my mind enough to realize that I was really emotionally fragile and still overwhelmed.

This morning I’m still integrating my experiences and I’ll write more about what’s coming out of that soon. But today I want to talk about con-drop, the feeling of depression that many of us who enjoy attending conferences/conventions get when we return to the real world. Most people ascribe the feeling to the difference between the focused enjoyment of a con and the mundane complexity of our day-to-day lives. That certainly plays a part for me, but that’s not the whole explanation.

I identified part of what gives me con-drop a few years ago, but last night while I was trying to explain it to Tanya, I saw a new metaphor: emotional cotton candy. Don’t get me wrong, I love cotton candy. It is one of my favorite carnival treats. But a bag has almost no food value and it leaves my blood sugar out of balance. While I have a great time eating lots of the yummy fluff, I find myself needing food with more substance right afterwards.

This conference gave me lots to think about, a lot of new ideas for presentations and some important strategies for working with my community. I also saw a lot of needs and no easy solutions. I thought a lot about ways that bisexuals are hurt, disenfranchised and made invisible. That put a pretty heavy burden on the “I want to take care of everyone” part of my personality. It also brought to the surface my own frustrations and anger which I usually don’t engage with.

The cotton candy part is this: meeting new people, having passionate discussions and intense learning experiences is exciting. However, after a weekend of that, I end up with low emotional blood sugar that follows the intense emotional high because at a convention I lack the ability to process emotionally difficult material. To process emotionally icky stuff I need to engage with the people who support me in a way that acknowledges all my parts, strong and weak, and who will hold me accountable when I gloss over the hard, emotional things I need to work out. I haven’t cultivated many of those people in my life.

People find me very open because I share my own personal experiences easily. What they miss is that I don’t share things that are still emotionally messy or painful. What I’m sharing is already processed. If I do share something that is still emotionally messy I do so from an intellectual distance so I can focus on the problem solving, not the emotional processing. This leaves me short on the kind of support I offer others. I totally own this problem, it’s not because something is lacking in the people around me. I’m failing to do my emotional processing in the moment and so it builds up. This conference was more intense then most and left me feeling worse then most.

I have to work hard to be vulnerable or ask for emotional support. I’m really good at being “just fine.” So, it was relatively recently that I recognized the root of con-drop for me was more then just the “return to reality” problem that many people experience. I end the conference having had intense emotional experiences, many of them positive. However, I also end the conference feeling disconnected from the people I’ve gone through the experiences with. We all go home and the cotton candy fluff that raised us to such emotional highs has melted away and left me needing something more substantial to finish processing the experience.

After a long talk last night with Tanya, some quality sleep and a return to my regular routine I’m feeling better. I’m also working on a better system for me to deal with the emotional impact of some of the presentations, and especially the play, that I saw. My heart still aches with all the hurts that were shared. I have discovered that I am more personally affected by the sadness and anger then I have ever allowed before. As someone who excels at being “just fine” I think this is healthy for me. It just isn’t easy.