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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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« All right, winter, SERIOUSLY. Enough already. | Main | We are having a rough time. »

Back from Texas

So I celebrated the latter half of Winter Break: The Breakening (alternate title: The Sky is Gray, the Days Are Cold, and Life is Joyless and Yet Too Brief; in Germany: Tod Kommt Für Uns Alle) by getting the hell out of here and hightailing it to Texas for the Mom 2.0 Summit. Sorry, Scott and Henry. Enjoy the rest of your Winter Break! So long, suckers!

(Very smart to have a conference during the winter doldrums, when everyone is desperate for escape. Take note of this, Other Conference Organizers! Next year: BlogHer 2011 at the end of January, in the Bahamas. All panels will take place on the beach. The lunch buffet will feature giant urns of daiquiris and piña coladas. I am onto something.)

It’s always hard to sum up a conference when my own experience is so colored by my wacky internal landscape that it’s kind of hard to say exactly what went on. (Did I really take my top off during my panel, like everyone says I did? Seems hard to believe. But when everything went black and I woke up wearing only a hotel blanket, who can say what happened in the interim?) (That part is a joke.) (You know that. I know you know that.)

I can say for certain that the panels I attended were illuminating, that I was thrilled to spend quality time with some of my favorite Internet people, and had some amazing conversations with people I hadn’t met before. (Apologies for not calling these people out specifically, but you cannot know how terrified I am of forgetting someone and having that person wonder why I didn’t mention them, do I secretly hate them? Which is what I would do, because I’m like that.) (I am allergic to hurting people’s feelings, did I mention? Literally. I swell up.) (Not literally. Which, also, you know.)

What always gets in the way of me talking objectively about the kick-ass conference and all the amazing people is the fact that—how I do put this—I don’t seem to do well at these things. I mean, I get by. Do not pity me. But I find them emotionally overwhelming, and spend the whole time shaking like a rained-on Chihuahua. After the last BlogHer I attended (which, okay, was a few months after a miscarriage, when I was suffering from some kind of post-miscarriage postpartumness) I determined that I would never again attend a conference. But I was assured that Mom 2.0 was different—smaller, more intimate. And it was. It was lovely.

And yet. I spent most of the time hiding in my hotel room, and when I walked into one of those giant conference rooms I felt the floor spinning. When I spoke to other attendees, all I wanted to say was, “Don’t you want to run away?” And they would say, “I’m having the best time!” and I would be all, “Me, too!” And then I’d sit in my hotel room and shake.

This puzzles me, because I’m typically a sociable person. I like people! Well, mostly. I mean, let’s not get crazy. It’s not like I shy away from attention, you guys. I enjoy the stage. I am comfortable with a microphone. (Anyone who saw my panel will know I had a hard time giving up the mic.) I had nothing but great interactions, and I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything. I don't want to avoid conferences, because then I'd miss out on discovering all those great people. What I could do without is the inability to sleep and the low-grade nausea and the, well, the trembling and sweating. What the hell, me?

I would love to know if any of you have similar experiences. Maybe I’m simply a delicate flower. Maybe I’m reacting to the wall-to-wall carpeting. That’s it: it’s dust mites! Next time I will attend in a plastic bubble.

Reader Comments (63)

I get this. I think it has to do with expectations. Living up to what you think people expect you to be.

I don't have your level of blog fame, but I have my own little level, and when I (rarely) attend blogger functions I always feel nervous that people will be disappointed by the reality of me. I mean - I'm friendly and pretty genuine, but I'm not a stand-up comic, and I'm always pretty sure that is what they are expecting.

On the other hand I LOVE to speak in public, because I've had time to think about what I want to say - working from a script, more or less.

I will probably be a puddle on the floor WRECK at BlogHer. (Although no-one there will know me from Adam, so actually - I'll probably be fine.)

And - LONGEST COMMENT EVER - I'M SORRY - I just feel compelled to say that as much as I'm teasing you on twitter - you know I'm not really STALKING you at BlogHer 2010, right? (Of course you do.) (I think.) So DO NOT FEAR FOR YOUR SAFETY. But I will have to come collect some sort of awkward hug. It is unfortunately unavoidable.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTheOneTrueSue
So I love people too but I hate to talk to them (floor spinning, tunnel vision, can't berate myself for putting my foot in my mouth and still listen and respond appropriately which causes more self flagellation, spiral with me!!). On the other hand, my husband is a great talker but doesn't much care for, you know, people. SO. I drag him places to talk while I stand by and bask in all of the socialness I am enjoying and yet dodging at the same time. We are both the most and the least social people you will ever meet.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEm
Thanks to all the commenters that have posted article links and books (which I ordered *immediately* before even moving on to the next comment, Jen!)on being an introvert. I have a couple of kids that put the painful in "painfully shy" - they clearly get it from my husband who says ten words in a week...if we're lucky. Then the last kid's a wild dog. Go figure.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNamed my kid Calvin
Bah. I know exactly what you mean. I actually HAVE decided not to go to BlogHer anymore because I've been several times now and I'm not getting any better. Granted - I did the post-miscarriage BlogHer too and that was a bad idea. But I've also done the With My Kids Having A Blast BlogHer and still failed miserably at the social situations.

I did go to a VERY small gathering in NYC this year for Huggies, we all had our smallest children, and it was GREAT. I think the small group helped, and somehow all of us having our kids helped ease the anxiety I normally felt because I was more worried about whether my kid hit anyone else's.

My point? I feel ya. I do. If you find the cure? Share it, please?
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZoot
I feel exactly the same way as you and would bet that more people than you think who attend these events feel the same way to some degree. I find it very hard to be an adult and to put myself in a situation where I don't know anyone and have to just start talking to other people...just not a comfortable place to be.

I am so with you.

Sadie at heyMamas
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSadie at heyMamas
Hi, I've been reading your blog for a couple of years and never commented, but ironically, I am from texas and just happened to be in New York this weekend, so I guess we changed places. And now i am back in Texas and you are back in New York. All is right in the universe again, except I wish I was still on vacation in New York.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterandria
I think you've summed up why I spent a good hour on Saturday evening slack-jawed in front of Jersey Shore. Conferences, however lovely (and Mom2Summit ranks at the top for me), are exhausting.

And speaking of lovely, you rank at the top for me in that regard as well.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie @ The Mom Slant
I have always been like that about conferences. I am one of the most extroverted people I know, but at conferences I am a sweaty ball of tongue-tied spaghetti.

I haven't been to one in years, as I choose not to humiliate myself. I have dreamed of going to Blogher or this Mom 2.0, but cannot muster the courage. What's UP with that?
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan
I think I'm an extrovert but the fact that it is 2pm and I'm still lying here in bed exhausted beyond belief may mean something .... I thoroughly enjoyed Mom 2.0, I made some great contacts and got to spend a lot of time with a great bloggy world friend. I like this conference... It wasn't the same people speaking about the same things I already know ... I really really learned A LOT. And now I'm lying in bed trying to figure out where to start digging in and what I want to do.I think that we all have a different goal in attending these things - defining that goal before hand could make for a better experience. It's ok to change your goal in the middle too ;). We have to choose the events that are attended by people with similar goals. From there the socializing and networking is sort of like a buffet - take a bit and try it, if you hate it, spit it into your napkin and go to the spa for a massage (it was heavenly).

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFiona
I have similar experiences anytime I do something new.

A few years ago now, I went to a writer's group (a group! not even a full-blown conference! this thing was in a bookstore, and I had a delicious coffee in my hand). In the moments before, and during, all the way up until I met a kindred soul there after it was all over, I was terrified. Terrified someone would talk to me. Terrified no one would. Terrified that I'd be asked a question and then judged on the answer. Terrified that I'd somehow magically and instantly be exposed for the fraud that I am (a fear that I do not know why, but I carry everywhere and in many aspects of my life despite success). Also, the low-grade nausea.

This has happened for writer meetings, at the beginning of each new season of the same league of badminton and tennis with the same freaking people I knew for years, on the first day of many classes and when I travel with people (close friends particularly) for the first time.

So yeah. Um. I get the sweats and the nausea, and then later on... I think back and edit those parts out, and find that I liked going and enjoyed myself so much that I resolve to do it again despite those awful jitters. So I go again. If the activities are familiar, the intensity of the negative aspects of anticipation decreases.

The kicker? I'm not a particularly shy person, nor am I socially awkward. It's all that internal monologue. No one knows about it, and it serves to... what. Torture me? Who knows. It's like the internal critic that sits on my shoulder when I edit your own work as I write it. It's sometimes difficult to turn that asshole off.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTherese
I went to a little local blogger brunch on Saturday and was terrified. It's the first time I'd been to anything like that, and as soon as I walked in I wanted to turn around and walk out. I am normally pretty shy, but I do like people. For some reason I have to literally talk myself into it. "Ok Rachel, you can do this! Just smile! Say hi! Introduce yourself! You're not an idiot!" You wouldn't think it would be so hard!
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
I confess I don't understand adults who have panic attacks at the mere sight of lots of people who are supposed to be friendly, or at least aren't waving swords and plowshares. (Vertigo, tunnel-vision = panic attack, unless you have low blood pressure and/or low blood sugar.)

Did you eat before you ventured out into the conference room?
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnna
Yep, me too. Theater and "never met a stranger" and everything, but me too! I was at a conference last week and, after promising myself I wouldn't, spent the whole first half hour or so making awkward jokes about being awkward, making my poor conversational partner also feel totally awkward. This is after really talking myself up for it even though I almost couldn't make myself go in. Then once I was there and plugged in, it was great! Sigh.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMargie
Yes! I thought I was the only human missing the happy conference confidence gene. Thank you.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChloe
Perhaps you are a delicate flower, like moi. Apparently, there's a clinical term for it - being a highly sensitive person. No really, google it. It's all about the sensory input.

I happen to also be an extrovert (only 15% of HSPs - I swear I'm not making this up! - are). So I have to protect myself from myself. I'm a jittery, vacuous mess by the end of these things.

But I do think Mom 2.0 was a much better fit for me. BlogHer was... too much.

Wait, this isn't my blog!

It was lovely to meet you and I barely even noticed the puddle you left behind, you cute lil' chihuahua.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUncommon Julia
I am the same as you. I like to believe that everyone else feels the same but they are faking the confidence you see.
February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlison C
I have actually seen a therapist, just for this very thing.

It took 2 years of practice, but I've found what works for me.

First, I had to quit being MAD at myself for being the way I am. It just fed the cycle.

So, after working on accepting who I am, we went on to learn that it's in the DNA, the anxiety gene, not my fault BUT I can do this.

So, I learned to 1. anticipate 2. accept that it'll happen and not fight it 3. pretty soon, after I quit fearing it, it didn't scare me.

It took 2 years, but I now know what's coming, let it wash over me, realize it's in my genetic make up, and ride it out.

OH: the therapist did offer anti anxiety meds. I tried those: paxil, then zoloft. For some reason--who knows--these meds kicked the anxiety into high gear. Something fierce, not good, not good at all.But, they may work for you. Some people swear by them. I've just learned to take a deep breath, and realize it's me. May try the meds again if these coping skills quit helping.

But I SO know what you're talking about. Funny fact: It's gene #32, that carries anxiety.

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra
I can generally get by very well in small groups of people and one-on-one. BUT! Put me in a room with TONS of people - even ones I know - and I clam up and get paralyzed. I'm overwhelmed and I don't know what I have, if anything to contribute to all of these people who all MUST BE SO MUCH MORE COMFORTABLE than me...

Yeah, I know how you feel. Next time we can hide in your room together. With the daiquiris...
February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie
Does being afraid of the phone count? Because I am. Not for work. I talk all day on the phone for work. But when it comes to setting up a playdate, calling to RSVP for a party, or making an appointment to get our taxes done - that's ALL my husband!
February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPetey
I can totally relate. I'm actually pretty extroverted, but I really need a friend -- like, a good friend, someone I Actually Like -- at big events in order to feel comfortable. And I'm not talking a friend who just also happens to be there. I am talking about a friend with whom I plan meals, coordinate which events to go to, etc. Maybe that would help you?

Or maybe I just need counseling.
February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia
Oh I just blogged about that same thing yesterday. Absolutely yes.
February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaria
I love networking events and have no problem heading into a situation where I don't know a single soul. I was a newspaper reporter for a long time (still interview folks for other publications) and I know that has helped. I'm fascinated by people and what makes them tick.

The trick, mostly, is to ask people questions about themselves or their business and you won't have to talk much at all after that! :)

But public speaking? Hate. Shivers. Ugh.
February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon M.
Totally with ya. Walking into that ballroom not knowing anyone was OMGHARD. But decided to man-up and walk into the fear. It mostly worked. Still didn't have the guts to say hi to eveyone I wanted to (um, hi!) -- but still a great conference. Am trying to summon the guts for BlogHer in August -- how do you NOT go to NYC, right?! (breathe...)
February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPammer
I am EXACTLY the same way, so you are not alone...That is, I am very at ease with public speaking/presenting, but then go into "shaking Chihuahua mode" at events such as cocktail parties where I'm expected to "mingle."

*I don't know if this helps at ALL, but - I have discovered my personality is "INFJ" which is the same personality as Jerry Seinfeld.

If you think about it - he is very 'at-ease' as a stand-up comedian/presenter or on TV, but, he is really Not an extroverted person. As he said on the show 'Seinfeld' once (I'm paraphrasing), "Why would anyone have a house party? A bunch of people who don't even know each other, expected to mingle?"
February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterL
I think this type of response is totally normal, but for whatever it's worth, I found you to be utterly lovely and engaging (and I mean beyond the Maybelline lipcolor...I'm not *totally* shallow). I truly felt as if I could chat with you endlessly.

I'm pretty extroverted in conference settings (lots of years of practice as a former academic perhaps) but each day I did need to retreat to the peaceful silence of my room for an hour to recover from the sensory overload. And once I got home, I snuggled my daughter and promptly passed out on the couch for a couple of hours. Totally SPENT.

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBoston Mamas

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