Having a panic attack is kind of like this: you’re doing some kind of mundane activity, like showering, or driving, or sitting in a meeting, or trying to fall asleep, and you think you see a tiger out of the corner of your eye. You try to look away, or pretend it’s not there, but your body and brain shift into fight-or-flight response. You tense, you spiral into stress, you feel certain you’re going to die if you don’t escape right away. Except — there is no escape, because the tiger isn’t real. It’s a thought, in your brain, and no amount of logic or left-brain coercion can break you out of the feeling that you’re doomed, so you turn white and feel like you might pass out. For me, at least, this is what a panic attack feels like.
Dissociating is kind of like this: you’re reading a book, and you can picture in your mind exactly what the main protagonist looks like. You seem them navigating through the world. You can sometimes sympathize with their emotions, but you are always sort of floating above them, observing them but not fully experiencing what it is they’re going through, not really seeing through their eyes or living in their skin. Except it’s actually you you’re floating above, not a fictional character; it’s your own eyes that seem to not quite belong to you. You keep yourself distant from your own lived experience because the trauma of really feeling what you’re feeling seems like too much to bear, so your brain protects you by keeping you distant. This is my experience.
Having an eating disorder can be like this: you give a presentation at work, and your boss tells you that you did a good job, but to make sure that you keep your bullet points on your slides shorter next time. Despite getting mostly positive feedback, you feel down about yourself, and this manifests itself by you thinking, “Ugh, if only I spoke three more languages, nobody would ever think anything I do is wrong! Why can’t I just get French down, already?!” Except instead of languages, you think you need to lose some magical amount of weight, because this will make you “perfect” in the eyes of other people, and you will no longer have to live in fear of failing someone and being abandoned. Equally as disjointed as thinking you need to learn more languages, but far more damaging depending on the actions you may take following the thoughts. This is just a slice of the life you might have with an eating disorder.
This is a weird way to start a review of a music conference, I know. But here’s the thing — if you live with anxiety, with a panic disorder, with an eating disorder, as I do, this colors much of your life experiences. These things don’t define me, but they are a part of me — a part I’m working very hard to overcome or cope with in various forms and fashions. But they are also the reasons why music is so crucial for me. Around February each year, I get to feeling a bit down. I went to college with the idea that I was going to make it in a creative industry. First, I thought film might be for me; then, radio. I finally settled on music journalism, and this choice really defined my path through college and in the years after I graduated. Hell, it’s still what I try to do in the in-between hours of my life (when I’m not at my day job). But while I continue to hustle to some degree, I’m not nearly as involved in music journalism as I used to be, when I was running a blog solely focused on music and regularly supporting local Austin bands through concert attendance and showcase curation. So by the time it’s been almost a year since the previous SXSW conference, I forget why I even bother. I feel overwhelmed by the massive amounts of artists coming to town, and a part of me wants to curl in a ball in my bathtub and stay in my apartment until the storm passes. But every year, I slowly work my way as far as I can through the artist lineup (yep — literally band by band, alphabetically until time runs out. This year I made it to the mid-J’s!) And every year, either as a birthday gift to myself or through the magic of music mag connections, I end up with a badge so that I can jump around fairly easily and consume more live music over the course of 4-5 days than I do the rest of the year. This year was my 10th year attending the festival, and this year more than ever, it felt like SXSW saved me.
The rest of my review will be split into days. My hope is that, whether you were there or not, you’ll be able to feel like you were, standing right next to me, doing goofy white girl dances right alongside mine. It won’t be a full retrospective, exactly; but rather a sort of quilt of memorable experiences woven together in what I hope will be an engaging and interesting fashion. If nothing else, I hope it turns you on to your new favorite band, and I hope that makes you feel less alone and more understood in this crazy, random, fucked up and beautiful world.