Chronic Illness and Conventions, Part Three: Location, Location, Location

Conventions of all genres (fandom-based or otherwise) are usually held in one of two types of locations: hotels or convention centers. Just like with everything, exceptions exist (I have attended cons on college campuses and heard of others being held on state fairgrounds!), but you will generally encounter them in one of those two locales.

As with the content of Parts 1 (here) and 2 (here), the advice in these posts can be applied to any environment where there will be crowds, or when you are on vacation, or simply away from home for the day.

Let’s start with the more common of the pair: hotels. Most large hotel chains will have convention or conference space with a multitude of purposes, with cons only being one of them. This is a great source of income for hotels, since conferences, weddings, et cetera often come with people who will want the convenience of staying on site. This all accounts to something called attrition that can be a regular thorn in the side of someone renting the space…but that is a whole different topic for a whole different type of blog!

I honestly prefer hotel-based conventions, especially if I am staying in the hosting venue. If I have an attack, I can take a break in my room away from the hustle and bustle of the con (in the case of Omni, where I am usually working, I have a few people who can cover me for a short spell in the event that my attack gets so bad I have to lie down). If I am not staying in the venue, I can usually find a relatively calm corner out of the way to recover.

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The Vendors Room at Omni [Fandom] Expo in 2015, taken early in the day on Saturday. Small cons are great if you prefer to avoid large crowds.

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Chronic Illness and Conventions, Part Two: Have a Plan for the Unexpected

Yay, part two of the Chronic Illness and Conventions series! Remember, this is not only relevant to conventions, and can be applied to any situation when you are not at home and among strangers. Theme parks, concerts, whatever!

Here is the link for part one, in case you missed it.

Part two is all about Planning. Planning for the unexpected, having a plan for anything related to your chronic illness. Here are some examples:

  • A person with diabetes will have insulin/glucose tabs/snacks on hand.
  • Someone with a chronic pain illness (fibromyalgia, lupus…) will have a walker or cane if their pain can reach that point. Maybe they will have pain medications within easy access.
  • Asthmatics keep a rescue inhaler nearby.
  • Someone with extreme allergies will have an epi-pen on them.

Now, I know what you are thinking, Duh, Silly Rabbit! Of course they will have their supplies with them! I know that. The point of this post is not “don’t be irresponsible,” it’s “have a plan.”

The reason that I am having a full post in this series about having a plan and dealing with the unexpected is because it is seriously important. Now, in my experience with working with conventions in both hotels and convention center venues, there will always be resources available. Security teams from the event and the venue, as well as local police, and medical personnel is required by many (not all) venues during large events (like the popular dances at conventions). They are there to help you if you see something (like possible shoplifting or harassment), need something (like you locked your keys in your car or lost something), or in case of an emergency. These resources vary by event and by venue, so if you have any concerns, feel free to email the event staff in advance, and they can tell you which will be at their event.

Now, I cannot stress enough that while they are there to help you and keep everyone at the event safe, they have to keep everyone at the event safe. This could be thousands of people. They are not there to focus on any one individual. That could prove unsafe for the other patrons present. Now, don’t get me wrong, if there is an emergency, that emergent case is paramount and will be the main focus. However, if I have a migraine, I don’t expect them to bend over backwards and allow me to camp out wherever I please until I recover.

That is my responsibility.

This, of course, does not apply to anything that falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you have any concerns about service animals, wheelchair accessible areas, etc, feel free to contact the event staff! They will be more than happy to comply! With this in mind, if you have some sort of necessary accommodations that fall under ADA guidelines, contact the event staff and ask about such specific accommodations in detail. The people who run conventions and other such events are not psychic and cannot predict every individual need for every possible disability that may or may not be present at their event. For example, if you suffer from Epilepsy or seizure disorders, you may want to ask about what lighting is used in the dances, and if they have a policy about strobes. As someone with Chronic Migraine, I struggle with strobe lights, but when I am managing the Main Events room at Omni, part of the schedule includes a rave-style dance. Typically, strobes are a staple. Since this is usually the last event of the night, I can get away with slipping away not long after it starts (a perk of having one of the co-owners of Omni be the DJ and Tech Chief!). I don’t expect him to not use strobes in my presence, or to make the music softer while I am there. I make myself scarce and go to bed.

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Friends dance together during a rave at Omni [Fandom] Expo in 2015. I have seen several occurrences over the years of friends looking out for each other over the course of a con weekend.


❄️Note: Omni is a unique event. DJ Shadowfax hosts a signature event called The Blackout Rave where strobes are a common accent. Since he has many friends who have seizure disorders and since I have Chronic Migraine and photophobia, he starts the event with a “strobe-free” period. This is a special case, and should not be expected at every event! This is his choice!

Just remember that it is your responsibility to know what is in store at an event!

Now, back to the planning! You should be prepared in case of practically any circumstance.

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Chronic Illness and Conventions, Part One: Understanding Your Illness

In my “About Me” post, I briefly mention that I am a cosplayer. I also work at one of my local conventions, Omni Fandom Expo, as their Main Events (or Ballroom) Manager. Basically, I have the job of making sure that anything that happens in Main Events happens when it is supposed to happen as smoothly as possible. I have to think on my feet, and make sure that if it looks like something is going to run late, how can I stop it from starting a chain reaction and delaying the rest of the convention.

It’s a ruddy pain in the fluffy bunny tail, but I love it.

One of the associates at Omni told me that I should write a series of posts directed to people who go to conventions, or want to go to conventions, who struggle with a chronic illness. (❄️Side note: If you are not a convention fan, but you frequent places like Theme Parks, you can definitely apply these posts to that!❄️) So, here is part one!

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Summer is He…Well, a Very Hot Place…

For migraineurs, that is. Migraines are frequently triggered by environmental stimuli, allergies, weather, whatever. In the summer, we are dealing with so many possible triggers including (but not limited to) heat, extremely humid or dry conditions, elevations of pollen levels, and summer storms that lead to fluctuating barometric pressure levels. It’s awful. I live in Central Florida, and we have notoriously aggressive summer weather. It starts before Memorial Day, and continues to almost Halloween.

It’s rough. This year, I am also traveling to Phoenix, Arizona for the first time just after Labor Day, and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about how the dry conditions of the Southwest United States (Re: DESERT) will affect me. I grew up in New England, and the winters there can get pretty dry, and I know cold + dry = not necessarily a happy me, so when the variable of “cold” becomes “hot,” well…..

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At any rate, I got to thinking about migraine and summer conditions, and came to the realization that I should probably post something about how to prevent as many summer-related migraines as possible (at least, something more in-depth than my Fourth of July post, and I will be repeating information in this post). I won’t lie to any of you that it is impossible to prevent all of them if you have Chronic Migraine (because if you could, they would not be chronic, now would they?), but you can at least surrender to the dark room knowing that you did not go down without a fight.

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Happy Fourth of July!

Yay! The fourth has arrived…

…okay, so it’s the third. Technically, it’s not Independence Day yet, but I was hearing the telltale “pop pop pop!” of distant fireworks as early as Saturday night, so there you go.

Besides, I’ll still probably be hearing them well into this weekend, too.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m patriotic. I’m a Boston girl. Nothing compares to Pops Goes the Fourth, and the carnival in Lexington (and their subsequent firework display) was often a highlight of my summer vacations growing up.

However, I also remember getting the worst migraines during the fireworks. To the point that I hate fireworks now.

I was less enthusiastic about BBQs and outdoor activities as I grew older and my migraines grew worse. Now, I know how to enjoy myself during these summer activities (if I’m not too busy working to enjoy them), so cookouts aren’t as much of a dreaded situation as they were. I still get migraines, but if I do, it won’t be for a lack of trying on my part.

I just wanted to pop (…no pun intended…ugh😖) in and say a sincere “Happy 4th!” I also want to highlight some ways to help make these not-migraine-friendly-yet-loads-of-fun Independence Day activities more enjoyable as a migraineur, or how to help your migraine-suffering friends and family have as much fun as possible!

  • Drink Water!! – Yes. I’m starting with the obvious. Here in humid-as-heck Florida, we need to drink 20 oz. of water an hour to stay hydrated! I know. Crazy. Opt for electrolyte-rich Smart Water. And lots of it! Not too cold, though!
  • Stay Away From Soda! – YES. I SAID IT. The caffeine is not only a trigger for some migraineurs, but it will dehydrate you. If you need a jump start, opt for an iced tea (or an Arnold Palmer!). Not as much caffeine as soda, and not as much sugar (usually…stick to Stevia to sweeten it). Black tea (commonly used for the icy stuff) doesn’t have as much caffeine as soda or coffee, so you’ll get a boost with a bit of H2O. Herbal tea is naturally caffeine-free and makes AMAZING iced tea! I hate the stuff you get in restaurants. Love the rest!
  • PUT. THE. BEER. DOWN!!!! – I know many an EMT (my own dad was a paramedic for 30+ years…and a migraineur, too!) who have told me that most heat-related calls they report to concern a patient who had been cooling off with a brew. NO! WATER WATER WATER!!!!!!! Besides, alcohol and gluten are common triggers out there. Don’t know your triggers yet? Don’t test it at the family BBQ shindig. It would be a real downer to be holed up in a dark room while everyone else has fun (trust me, I know from experience!!).
  • Hats Are Your Friend! – They are a great addition to any summer look, and keep the sun from triggering an attack! Pair them with a great pair of shades or migraine glasses, and you are good to go!!
  • Apply Sunscreen Often – Okay…so that’s not really migraine-related…it’s just smart. So, just do it, all right?
  • Avoid Sports Drinks Unless Absolutely Necessary – Sports drinks are loaded with salt and such that you just don’t need if you aren’t engaged in an athletic activity. If you feel an attack approaching, however, the salt can help keep it at bay until you can get to where you can properly take care of it. Just follow this advice I’ve learned years ago: Dilute it. 1 part Sports Drink to 4 parts water will do the trick.
  • Limit Fried/Processsd Foods – Fried foods are a common enemy to migraineurs, but I’d be a hypocrite if I say to avoid it. Just if you opt for the fried dough (or elephant ears to some of you), stay away from the french fries, okay? And by processed foods, I mean do not partake in the hot dog if you don’t know for sure how you react to them.
  • Too Hot? Focus on Your Arms! – If you are doing everything you can and still get too hot, don’t worry. It happens. Just drink more water and find a shaded space to sit and breathe. Get some cold paper towels or towels (or even a cold water bottle) and cover your forearms. Do not apply cold compresses to the head or neck to cool down! This drops the body temperature too fast and can cause more harm than good. The inside of your forearms is the place to go!

As for the inevitable fireworks, if you are out and viewing them, don’t be ashamed to wear headphones or earplugs, or cover your ears. No shame in wearing your sunnies at night, either! If that is what it takes to prevent an attack, do it. I remember once watching fireworks in tears because I was triggered. I was about 12 or so. I was so miserable!

If you’re like me and tend to stay in, leave the tv on or a fan or anything that creates some sort of ambient noise. Sure, the pops, sizzles, and bangs will still be loud, but not as sudden. This is also good for keeping pets/kids calm if they get nervous while the neighbors celebrate!!

I hope you all enjoy the holiday and that it stays migraine-free for everyone!!

💖Hearts and Sparkles!💖
~Bunny~

❄️Oh, and don’t be an idiot and shoot guns in the air. Basic physics: What goes up must come down. Those bullets have to go somewhere, and people are hospitalized every year during New Years and Independence Day celebrations due to bullets falling and striking them, often in the head. People die from this. I don’t care who you are or where you come from, ✨👉🏻JUST👏🏻DON’T👏🏻DO👏🏻IT!!!👈🏻✨❄️

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The Effort to Look Normal

One of the worst things to say to someone who suffers from a chronic illness is, “But, you don’t look sick!” This is usually intended as a compliment, in the sense of that we don’t look gross or sickly, but it’s really backhanded (even if not intentionally).

I get it. I, like many of my comrades with invisible illnesses, have grown rather adept at hiding our misery from the general public. Why? Many reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Not wanting people to feel uncomfortable around us.
  • Needing to keep a certain attitude at work (this is especially true for the service industry).
  • The desire to convince ourselves that things are okay, even if just for that moment.
  • We are tired of being asked if we’re feeling okay.
  • We are tired of the “You’re not feeling well again?” attitude from those around us.

So, we put on a brave face and a smile and try to live as normal an existence as we can.

I’m sharing this collection of photos from 2014 that my friend Ginger took of me at Epcot. I needed headshots for an audition, and she offered to shoot for me. We made a day of it and took tons of photos, and she even went as far as to edit a ton into fun artsy pieces that I love so much.

You would never know that at 2:00 that morning, I was on my knees in the bathroom, trying to stay as quiet as possible as one of the less pleasant symptoms of a horrendous migraine took control. On my personal pain scale of 1 (mild, forgettable discomfort) to 10 (I think I may be dying…), I would have ranked that attack as a 9.99. One major issue with that attack (and, yes, I do remember it this clearly) was that I was suffering from something called Rebound Headache*. I could only use homeopathic treatments. No pain killers. No triptans. No caffeine.

No kidding.

Somehow, I managed to get rid of the migraine and get a couple of hours of sleep (like, 2) before getting up, eating some toast with herbal tea for breakfast, and using the magic of concealer to hide the evidence of my ordeal less than 12 hours before. To add to my discomfort, it was a gray and rainy day.

I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t I reschedule? Because Ginger and I had conflicting days off and I had to give a shift away to be available for the shoot. And the audition was only about 10 days out. It was literally my only opportunity.

So, out into the humid world of Florida I went, praying that I wouldn’t get another migraine (Spoiler alert: I did). We shot for most of the day all over the park.

Here are the results. Can you see my misery? No, and I wasn’t airbrushed that much!

So, please, remember that before you say the dreaded words, “But, you don’t look sick,” just think about what you would say to us if we wore our illness on our faces whenever we experience symptoms, or how you would feel in our shoes.
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