As many of you regular readers know I have battled panic attacks and severe anxiety for most of my late teens and my twenties. I decided on the eve of my Thirties I wasn’t letting it run the next ten years as it had the previous ten. Since then I have challenged myself to do all kinds of things that really pushed my boundaries, a trip to New York, quitting my safe job of 12 years, flying on a plane on my own, dealing with my partner working away from home (often overseas) and this year I decided I wanted a new adventure to test my limits again.
I have always loved live music. I attended my first festival in 1997 (V Fest in Leeds in case anyone is wondering!) and have been a regular festival goer ever since. However, since that first festival in 1997 I haven’t camped out. I’ll be honest I’m not good when sleep deprived, I like a flush loo, I like a hot shower, I am not a fan of sleeping bags and I love my own bed, in the words of the Lemonheads ‘I lied about being the Outdoor Type’. But I have always wanted to work at a festival – not sure why, I suppose because most of the people there are having an awesome time, there is always something cool going on, something interesting to see and well, the music, so I decided to be a festival volunteer.
After looking at my availability and scoping out the festivals I applied to volunteer at Standon Calling, a small festival described as an overgrown garden party about 30 minutes north of London.
I borrowed my friends Mazda Bongo campervan to sleep in – I guess a step up from a tent, keeps the worst of the weather and the noise out and I also felt a bit safer having a door between me and other human beings rather than a tent flap or two. I researched as much as I could – research the anxious persons best friend, but ultimately there was a huge unknown about the whole thing. As the dates approached I was abnormally calm about the whole thing.
Now I could give you a blow by blow account of the whole weekend, but honestly no one really needs that, it wasn’t that interesting for anyone but me, but I can say I had an amazing time.
I learned that you are far less lonely if you have a book to read – I read 2 over the weekend, it filled the spaces when other festival goers were chatting to mates. You can people watch to your hearts content. There is generally someone to dance with (My fellow volunteer Dan and I busted some serious moves to DJ Yoda on Saturday night, sweaty doesn’t cover it) and if not after the first few self conscious minutes you actually don’t care! You can have whatever you want to eat, whenever you like and there isn’t one pissed up mate you have to watch out for, just look after yourself. There was a few lonely moments, I had a long Saturday – doing an early shift, finishing at lunch with the rest of the day stretching out in front of me but I got through it.
As usual, my anxious brain tried to pop out and spoil things on Sunday morning – my brain is good at jumping out when the stress and worry has passed and saying “Hahah you thought you could forget me!” but I put in to practise all those techniques I have learned over the last 10 years. I gave myself a bit of love, bit of yoga breathing and then just got on with it, left the brain locked in a portaloo!
I would absolutely do it all over again, in fact a little bit of me wishes I had the freedom to work/volunteer around music festivals all next summer. Better start saving up for my own campervan…
Finally a huge thanks to all my friends and family who told me I could do this (and to my partner who told me it was a bad idea, which made me want to do it more!), to the Penney’s for loaning me their van it was a hero! For all the tweets of support and pride when I actually did it. To all of you out there who are having that fight with your brain, please, please try and push the boundaries of your brain, even if it’s just walking to the corner of your street. Celebrate the accomplishments, there is so much more to life that what that anxious brain tells you.