I am well accustomed to the dread in my heart and the tightness in my chest that I feel every time I step foot outside of my front door. That doesn’t make it easy. Social interaction does not come effortlessly to me and it never really has. Everywhere I go in the back of my mind I am cursing myself for every word that comes out of my mouth. I over analyze every single moment I spend in another person’s presence and I never truly feel calm when I’m in a room with more than one person.
I know that I am not the only person in the world that feels this way and I know that there’s never going to be a cure that gets rid of these feelings. Social Anxiety is something I will always have inside of me. It is still sometimes hard to accept and I still have days where it defeats me.
Of all the things in the world I ever thought I would be able to do, LARP was never really one of them. Oh, how I was wrong.
I don’t know what I looked like to the owner of the chapter I first walked into five years ago. What do know is I was terrified, and he couldn’t see it. That’s one of the things about social anxiety, you can’t always tell someone has it or is struggling.
I didn’t even know what Live Action Role Playing was, I only knew that my older brother was a part of it. I can’t remember what convinced me to even try it because I’m sure my older brother wasn’t delighted to have his little sister tagging along like when we young. It was probably the fact that the newly 21 year old me was facing what a lot of people in my generation often face: Reality hitting me in the face.
I had dropped out of college, I was working two jobs, and I didn’t really have many friends. I didn’t really know how to make friends for that matter. The thought of making friends seemed exhausting and the obligation of being in someone’s life was always one I was hesitant to make. Just part of that good old social anxiety I was talking about.
Regardless, I was welcomed so openly by the chapter that I decided to be brave and give it a shot. I was part of the Non Player Characters in the chapter for two years. We helped make the game for the people who paid to play their characters in it.
Much to my terror my very first character I ever walked into town with was a speaking one. I wasn’t some crunchy skeleton for the low level players to fight, I was a belligerent Orc who was important to the story line. I panicked, I didn’t want to do it, I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
My now very close friend, yet stranger at the time, told me I didn’t have to play that character if I didn’t want to. He was in charge of everything and he didn’t want me to feel pressured. He told me there was no way I could mess up because he would roll with whatever I told the players that was incorrect.
I took a deep breath and found enough courage to get me out of monster camp and into the town of adventurers.
Boy did I mess up. I walked into the tavern, forgot my lines, flailed around with some terrible acting, and had no idea what was going on when a player decided to kill me. I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to lay down? I thought I remembered something about a death count but not how to do it.
Once again I was terrified and so many thoughts rushed into my head as I lay there. I was mad at myself for trying in the first place, mad that I messed everything up, I called myself names in my head, and I told myself that LARP wasn’t for me. I was embarrassed that I humiliated myself in front of so many people I didn’t know and I couldn’t bear the idea that they all must already hate me.
It sounds dramatic but that’s what goes on in my mind, and that’s what makes my anxiety swell up in my chest and makes it hard to breathe. I wanted to cry. I didn’t know what to do so I just layed there. People were trying to heal me but I had already forgotten how that worked to. I expected people to laugh at me or kick me out. No one did.
Instead, two players knelt down and instructed me how a death count works and what the healing spells they were using on me were actually doing. They eventually helped me up and I made my way back to monster camp overwhelmed.
I felt a little ashamed I had worked myself up so much, and honestly I’m feeling lingering anxiety about it as I write this. It’s been five years.
You would think after my experience I would have just gone home. But there was something about the fact that all of these people dressed up in these costumes were so ready to accept me and help me that was comforting. It made me feel like I could be a part of something for once; that I could allow myself to try for once.
My sixth season of LARP since I stepped foot into that monster camp is starting soon. I still feel anxious when I think about it. That feeling is never going to go away. But I also feel safe and secure knowing that the people that will surround me there accept me no matter what.
It hasn’t been easy this whole time. I’ve had to leave many a expedition when I got too overwhelmed or claustrophobic, and I know doing so pulled my friends out of immersion in the game. To this day no one has ever said anything about it or given me a hard time, they just always made sure to check I was okay afterwards. It’s been a long journey.
LARP didn’t’ cure my Social Anxiety, nothing ever will. But, despite my fears and my struggles LARP really truly has helped teach me how to open up and allow myself to make friends and be accepted. I have made strides that I never thought would have been possible if you had asked me so many years ago.
I know I’m not the only one who has had their lives changed by LARP. The friendships I see that formed between others who met at LARP, the characters I’ve met, the adventures we’ve gone on, no one can walk away from all of that unchanged.