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Opinion: How To Balance Mental Illness and Self-Care at a Festival

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Dance Music Northwest or its leadership.

Festival season is upon us—the time to shed your normal skin, throw on some fabulous outfits, and head off to pilgrimages to makeshift towns in the middle of nowhere that last between 2 days and 2 weeks , where we can exist among our chosen families and let our freak flags fly. But how do you balance such massive mental strain, especially for those of us who suffer from mental illness, whatever it may be.

A preface to this. My name is Jamie Gib, and I am a mentally ill individual. My official diagnosis is Borderline Personality Disorder, which tends to vary from person to person, but in me it manifests itself by intense periods of disassociation, and long strings of time where self care doesn’t actually enter my mind. It makes the people I’m with at a festival worry about me, it makes them wonder what’s going on inside my mind, and it makes them wonder if I’m doing this on purpose (I’m not, FYI), and it creates a strain on my rave fam for sure. This makes music festivals especially taxing for me, because in that environment, it’s hard to flesh out when to stop.

Especially when you have a mental illness, the need for self care is even more prevalent, and unfortunately when your brain is fighting you on every turn, it’s hard to remember to take the time to bring yourself back. So, I decided to compile a more personal list of things to remember when festivaling with a mental illness.

1. Make yourself a home base

This is SO IMPORTANT. A group campsite full of your best and brightest party friends can be the funnest part of a music festival. But when you are in a precarious mental state, a home base with a couple close friends who make you feel safe, at a good distance from the party, is almost essential. A place to go and collect your thoughts, decompress, and head down for much needed rest is the best thing you can do for yourself. Make sure to have a schedule of when you’re going to sleep and make sure to stick too it. It may be tough having to trek to all your friends, but you will thank yourself at the end of the festival.

2. SLEEP.

God, this the most important thing I can think of for anyone, but especially for someone in that state. Sleep is essential, it resets your mind, body, and soul, while letting you enjoy the party the best way possible. I personally am someone who has periods of mania where I think that sleep just does not matter. This is a symptom of my illness, not a party trick. If you have friends in this state, the best way to approach this is not to be confrontational or shame them, as it is something that sometimes can not be helped. Plus, for me at least, being cornered into a decision makes me not want to make it at all, which eventually turns into my friends worrying and my body exhausted.

In these situations, it’s essential to be able to know someone is there, but also not to back them into a corner with these decisions. Now, do not take this as a request to just let them do as they do, because that is the worst thing you can do. Keep an eye on them, but be supportive, not accusatory. It’s hard to toe the line between them, but as long as you’re making sure that they’re safe and happy, it’s all that really matters in the moment.

3. Make yourself a schedule

Listen, I know, the scheduling of a festival is pretty much useless. But, one major thing about mental illness is that idle hands are a very real problem. If you have a base schedule, with lists of things to do, I find it makes you be able to stay alert and focused, while still maintaining composure. Before you leave, map out your artists, schedule time for cat naps, it’s not gonna be stayed with 100% of course, but to have that structure in place is invaluable, and it’s something that needs to be explored, especially for those of us who are focusing on mental stability.

4. Know your rave fam

Family is important, and we ravers tend to choose ours, so choose wisely! We all love to have the support around, but navigating festivals as a mentally ill individual alone is one of the most difficult things you can do, in my eyes. Find someone who knows you well, knows your triggers, and personality enough to be able to look over and see your face cloud over, or a disassociation start to manifest. They can take you and get your head back on right. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

5. Leave the heavy stuff for home

Y’all, I know in the moment, especially with mental illness, the need to explore deep issues and get everything out into the open is a real need for some, but I can tell you now, unless it’s an issue that affects your physical health or your immediate mental health, it’s best to leave it. Leave the big relationship talks, the life stories, the deep look into your soul for a place where emotions aren’t running wild already, both chemically and organically, and just enjoy the festival. Those will be there for you when you get home, and it tends to put a damper on your experience.

6. Substance Use

I know, the party line is supposed to be don’t use. That’s all well and good, but prohibition era rhetoric doesn’t help anyone, and if you try and limit anyone’s consumption when they’re not ready, it could turn volatile. Just do your research on your substances. Do they interfere with any medications you’re taking? Is it ruining your tent or sleeping arrangements? Schedule your substance use so you can account for the sun coming up. Know the dosages to take and the time frames to respect. Make sure to always get your product tested, no matter what! Even if you know where it came from, you can’t know for sure, so always do your research and never ever use alone. Always have a buddy, even if they’re not consuming what you are. Making sure to have someone who knows what you took, how much, and when, is invaluable.

Now, this is all just based on my experiences, but every mental illness is different and every person handles things differently, so don’t take this as me touting my experiences as fact. As this is a topic that is not handled often, and after experiences speaking within the Phoenix Rising panel at Bass Coast, I wanted to share my personal tips for navigating festivals, while also navigating your own mind, to hopefully help someone else in the future.

Do you have any tips on handling mental illness at a festival? Leave them in the comments!

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Dance Music Northwest or its leadership.

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