Yesterday night, or more accurately this morning, I returned from a festival exhausted and achey from four days of walking, dancing and camping. It has been a tough couple of days and, until a few hours before leaving I was definitely unsure if I would be able to make it to the site at all. But overall I am incredibly pleased that I made the jump and did it – breaking away from a number of safety behaviours I have adopted over the last couple of weeks.
For someone who struggles with mental health difficulties festivals can be incredibly scary and unpredictable places, with multiple triggers and challenges coming at you from all directions. These issues are heightened by the almost omnipresent view on social media that at a festival all ‘normal’ people are having the time of their lives (If your interested in the ‘expectations’ of festivals Em Clarkson has written an excellent post on this here.)
So moving beyond the glitter make up, the brightly coloured wellies and the instagram photo shoots here are my top 5 tips on visiting a festival when you have a mental health problem.
- Don’t feel pressurised into going – Just because your friends are all going and everyone says that the festival is the most ‘amazing place ever’ don’t feel that you have to visit it if you don’t feel up to going. If you’ve never been to a festival before and are not sure how you will cope with the environment perhaps consider buying a day ticket this year rather than a weekend camping, just to test the waters. It’s better that you have to leave wanting more than you get half way through the weekend and are stuck in a field wanting to go home.
- Know your weaknesses – Different people have different opinions on this one with some saying that this is pessimistic and anticipating problems which may not arise. However I find that identifying potential problems BEFORE I arrive somewhere new can be incredibly helpful allowing me to discuss potentially difficult situations before I encounter them. For example, as someone who has a number of OCD ideas around food I made sure to research what would be available at the festival site and packed accordingly, giving myself plenty of options for over the four days.
- Look after yourself – Ensure that you eat and drink plenty over the festival weekend as well as getting enough sleep. These things may seem boring but they are vital for keeping going and things will be 100% harder if you don’t do these things. Equally, don’t feel pressurised into drinking if you don’t want to. I am not drinking at the moment and this can make you feel isolated amongst everyone else. However, most festivals offer plenty of soft drink options so stick to these if you prefer and remember you don’t have to drink to have a good time!
- Don’t beat yourself up if things go wrong – Even with the best will in the world you are bound to face some difficulties over the weekend. Whether this is reverting to behaviours you have been battling to stop, calling home on the phone to ask for help or having a full blown panic attack don’t let these things write off the entire weekend. It’s going to be a difficult few days and you have to expect some blips along the way. Try and identify some quiet spots around the festival where you can go to if you need a bit of a break and let the people you are with know if you are having a tough time.
- Make sure to rest afterwards – While this is true of everyone attending a festival it is particularly true for those attending with mental health problems. The adrenaline and chemicals racing around your body will completely exhaust you for at least a day or two afterwards, so give yourself time to recover. Maybe book an extra day off work, or make sure you have a few early nights over the days after. As someone who finds resting incredibly difficult I understand how hard this can be but trust me, it is DEFINITELY necessary.
So there are my top 5 festival survival tips. Do you have any other advice for someone visiting a festival with a mental health condition? Or stories of how you have coped? I’d love to hear them.