Kind of a cool name I gave you, huh? I think it’s pretty. I think you’d like it. It’s to protect your identity because I’ll probably really publish this somewhere, and while it’s much more of my own story being told, you’re a part of why I feel I need to tell it.
I’ve been a “fangirl” in the traditional sense of the word for nearly 12 years now. The object of said fannish affection has shifted quite a lot over that time, but I’ve done the things that are typical of someone who considers herself a fan across the board. I’ve made OCs, written fanfiction, rode hard into either glory or ruin (often the latter) for my favorite ships, and speculated future events for days on end.
It’s because of my devotion in fandom that I’ve started to fancy myself an amateur writer. It’s another identity I’ve adopted as part of the rest after my name. Ally: Sagittarius, cat-lover, psychology student, cartoon fan, coaster enthusiast, writer. They’re all little facets of my life that are, in my opinion, what make me interesting.
However, in light of some not-terribly-recent-anymore events, I’ve started to really evaluate my feverish support of all things fandom. I’ll not mince words here when I say the things I found weren’t always the easiest to stomach. There are things I did at least partially in the name of my dependence on fandom to cope that I’m extremely not proud of doing. But the key to learning from the mistakes I’ve made is to firstly own up to them and to secondly think critically about what I could have done instead of what I did do.
Skye, honey. I see so, so much of myself in you. Sometimes, I think that’s why you kind of irk me. I also think that’s why I can’t really be mad at you. Because I get it, I really do. I think the biggest strength, but also the biggest weakness, of fandom is its use as an escape. And I think you’d agree with me, at least on that first part.
Can I start this off by saying I think that’s one of the biggest benefits? It’s a fantastic way to meet new friends, like-minded folk who enjoy similar things as you. Isn’t that a wonderful feeling, to connect with someone over things you enjoy? Finally, you feel a little less weird and a lot less alone. It’s a great, great feeling to find your people. It’s like jumping into a fresh pool or curling up under covers that have just been washed. It’s new and exciting, and it never really loses that sensation entirely.
Another benefit? It’s just plain fun. After you meet those friends, you draw closer to them. Some of my fondest memories include my high school notebook circle, where we would write until our fingers cramped up, desperate to share our stories with each other. I miss that the most about my days in those halls. Another friend group’s Skype chat during one of my worst times of life kept me going, with jokes about a certain Canadian thrill ride. Sometimes you need that fun. There’s not a single thing wrong with that. Everyone needs something that they unabashedly can enjoy.
And you know what? I’d argue escapism is healthy to a certain amount. It’s nice to sometimes shut off your brain. The world can feel like too much too fast, and sometimes, it’s nice to slip into a place where you can control it just enough to slow it down and make it make sense. Maybe it’s a high school AU with the experience you wish you had among the lockers and pencils. Maybe it’s a werewolf AU and you’re running your frustration out under the light of the moon with thudding paws on the forest floor.
You can explore so many facets of your life through fictional characters, can’t you? You can put them in situations you wish you had been in, or you can put them in things you’ve gone through. You can put them in things you’d love to do, but perhaps are too fearful to try out in the real world. You can become someone else and feel all these new things. You can remember all those past emotions, recreate them if you want, try to make them make sense.
It’s escapism. It’s a world we can control. We can hurt, oh God, can we hurt ourselves in these other lives, but there’s a big difference from real life. Yes, we hurt inside these other selves, but we can stop the pain. We can make it stop. Isn’t that so powerful? We can overcome what has broken us in a triumphant way, or find certain people to help us limp to a brighter future. In the real world, we don’t know when that will happen or who they may be. But in our brain-space, oh no, we control it all, from that cathartic pleasurable pain of pressing on the sore spot to the happy ending the real world may not be so merciful to give to us.
I know that personally, I write to cope with a lot of the things in my life that have been extremely hard to deal with. To a degree, it has helped. It let me verbalize all the tumultuous things that I felt in a way that made more sense. It was easy to say how I was hurting through a story. When things with my family’s religious beliefs were scary, I wrote. When I began to feel less pleased with the body I lived in, I wrote. When I lost friends and lost love, I wrote. When all I felt was so much that I knew I’d explode if I didn’t release the anger and hurt otherwise, I wrote until my hands cramped.
It wasn’t just to sort out the negative emotions either. When I had a moment that I just knew I’d want to keep forever, I wrote. When someone meant so much to me that I don’t think they’d ever know how much I loved them, I wrote. As much bad and suffering as I’ve immortalized, I’ve made sure to preserve the things that were the complete opposite of that. I want to remember it all, beautiful and ugly, because life can be both of those extremes so easily.
But God, Skye, that’s such a double edge sword. I wrote, and it made things make sense. But sometimes, you’re not always going to have that outlet.
And that’s the first drawback, I think. Fandom and the real world don’t always play nice with each other. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice some of your fun and coping for things you can’t ignore in reality. It hurts. I know I would much rather chip away and get a coherent plotline for my novels instead of writing my 15-page seminar. But Skye, you need to realize which one has to be done and which one can afford to wait on you a bit. Which one takes precedence?
And what if you, Skye dear, are like me and heavily rely on others to get what you need to make that pain stop? It’s hard enough when it’s you who has to make those cuts, but it’s even harder when you have all the time in the world and enough hurt for three worlds, but your friend is the one having to let more things go.
Skye, fandom friends gave me so much joy. But oh God, they can give you so much pain too. I couldn’t handle being alone with my own thoughts. I’d begun to rely on others for my writing and relying too much on writing to get my thoughts out. Writing it helps. Waiting for it hurts. Please know that when you’re placing all your coping mechanisms into one basket. That in itself is dangerous enough. When that one basket relies upon two people to carry it, you’re very much playing with fire. You will, someday, be burned. Whether it’s that friend finding interest in another different thing you’re not a fan of, or that friend getting a job and not having any time left for you anymore, or schoolwork chomping your own time like it’s a tasty apple, you’re going to eventually get snatched. And more than that, you’ve got to decide how you react to that bomb when it does detonate. Because Skye, it will detonate.
It’s kind of like an addiction, isn’t it? If we go with that, you’re a newbie. You’ve just taken those first couple of hits, tried it a couple times here and there with your friends. But you like it, don’t you? Take it from someone who is grizzled and old and hurt too many people (herself very much included) looking for her own next fix. Baby, don’t. Please don’t. Learn your healthy limits.
Addicts let the drug become their identity. I let it all take too much of a hold over who I was and how I dealt with way too many things. Please don’t do that either. In my personal case, it happened because I based so much of my coping on the fictional worlds in my skull and then made the even-more-fatal mistake of relying on other people to get me what I needed. You can’t wait for your dealer constantly. You’re going to have to deal with withdrawal if you let it get that bad. And you really, really don’t want to wait and fight through withdrawal when a silly story is the only thing keeping you from completely and utterly unraveling.
I know you were sad when you thought that story you loved may be put on that awful, premature, permanent hiatus. I know you get sad when there’s no one there to talk to and you feel abandoned and unwanted and unloved. But you have to learn that it’s okay to have a life outside a book or show or comic. It’s okay to be alone, and just because you are alone for a time doesn’t always mean those friends don’t love you or don’t want you anymore. It’s a hard lesson to learn, it truly is, but you must learn it to survive in the world, Skye.
And speaking of fandom friends, and a huge drawback… Skye, I know you’re friends with someone I’ve had a lot of trouble with for a long time. I’m not here to tell you who you can and cannot be friends with. That isn’t my judgement to pass, and sometimes, you’ve got to take those rough roads to know more about who you are. Sometimes, you have to step on those snakes in the grass and get bit to learn what you’ll tolerate from others’ treatment of you and how strong you really are. It’s happened to me many times, and I can’t save you from every bite.
But please, please watch out for that one. I promise you, as much as you think she’s one of us, she doesn’t see it that way. You’re little more than a means to an end, and then an obstacle to her. She doesn’t care, frankly, about what you feel. Be careful, little Skye. The world ain’t nice.
And honey, I don’t wanna be mean. For all intents and purposes, I like you, Skye. But you’ve got to learn to be okay with being alone sometimes. You got to have some balls when you face the real world and not rely on this and this alone to be your safety blanket. You’ve got to not let fandom be the only facet to your identity.
I know it’s scary and I know it’s very, very trying. I know it’s so much easier to run away into a fantasy world or someone else’s imagination. It feels great in the short-term, doesn’t it? But I promise you, it does more harm than good to use escapism too much. It may not bite you until years later, but it will get its teeth into your flesh eventually. I didn’t learn that until I was 21, wasn’t really bitten hard until I lost my main writing partner. I’m more than a fair bit ashamed to say that’s why I was mad at her even before the other details floated to the surface. I wish I’d learned healthy escapism and isolation so much sooner.
Take it from the old addict in the corner, and don’t end up like me.