Festivals - a survival guide
Posted Thursday 8 July 2010
A guest post from Zarathustra
The festival season is in full swing at the moment. We've already had Download and Glastonbury. Still to come are Latitude, WOMAD, Reading, Leeds, Creamfields, V, Bestival and many others. I love festivals, but they’re a physically and mentally demanding affair. Alcohol, sleep deprivation, bad food, sunburn and being on your feet for long periods can all take their toll. I understand that there may also be a toll taken from certain acts of amateur pharmacology, but I’m sure you lot are clean-living and wouldn’t know about that.
There’s also a number of psychological stressors – crowds, queues, noise. Hence, if you have a mental health problem, there’s a few common-sense tips that might come in handy to stay out of trouble while at a festival. Thanks to Into The System and Kankurette for providing some of these tips.
1. Consider your festival options. All festivals can be stressful, but some are more stressful than others. Glastonbury, with its enormous site and vast crowds, can be particularly high-stress. Reading and Leeds, while not as huge, still have very large crowds, including a lot of drunk, obnoxious teenagers, and the traditional end-of-festival riots are hardly calming. But these aren't your only options. In recent years there's been an explosion of smaller festivals. Some of these, such as Bestival and Shambala, have won considerable praise for their fun atmosphere and eclectic lineups. The crowds aren't as massive, and it's a lot easier to get back to your tent if you're starting to feel overwhelmed.
2. Try to avoid getting blatted. My advice if you have a mental health problem would be to only drink sensible quantities of alcohol, and avoid illicit drugs altogether. However, I’ve spent long enough as a CPN to get used to the experience of people not taking my advice. If you must indulge, try to use a dealer you know and trust – that pill some bloke on the festival site sold you could be anything from Vitamin C to elephant laxative. Avoid mixing substances. I had fun a while back trying to calm down a panicking girl who’d had a cocktail of alcohol, weed and pills and was now convinced her teeth were falling out.
3. Maintain your sleep levels. This is easier said than done. It’s no mean feat getting a good night’s kip when you’re in a cold tent in Brown Camp at the Reading Festival, a bunch of numpties are out on the roadway crashing shopping trolleys into each other and another Mexican-wave shout of “BOLLOCKS” has just swept across the festival site (why do they do that? It wasn’t funny in 2003 and it still isn’t funny now.) In between bands, schedule some power-naps for an hour or so mid-afternoon. To prevent your tent becoming too hot for power-napping in the daytime, bring some tin-foil blankets to the festival and tape them over your tent to reflect the heat.
4. Consume plenty of water and calories All that walking and dancing will cause you to sweat a lot of fluid and expend a lot of calories, so you need to replace these. If it's a hot day, carry a water bottle and refill it regularly from the water points. Eat plenty of carbs. If you have an eating disorder and find it difficult to increase calorie input or limit physical activity, watch out for signs of exhaustion.
5. Don't forget your medication Take spare meds and store it at one of the lockups or at the medical centre. There will be medication storage facilities at the medical point or in the disabled camping field. If you have any medication that you take as-and-when required, keep it on you at all times. For some of these, such as diazepam, it may be advisable to keep it in the packet with the prescription label on it, to avoid over-zealous attention from security staff.
6. Know your triggers, and act accordingly. Crowds, noise, having someone behind you – if those are the sort of things that give you a panic attack, maybe being on the barrier with a crowd of 20,000 behind you is not the best place to be. Sometimes there are ways to approach a stage without getting swamped by the crowd – try approaching from the sides rather than going through the middle. Failing that, stand back and watch the show on one of the video screens.
7. Know where your friends are, and keep your mobile phone charged. You need to keep in contact with your mates, so at some point in the festival, you’ll probably need to head to a mobile phone charging point. Queueing for an hour to charge your phone with a silly bike-pedalling machine might not be what you came to the festival for, but it’s a sensible precaution and it’ll give you something to do while N-Dubz are playing. Alternatively, invest in a solar or wind-up mobile phone charger, available from camping shops. As a flip-side to this point...
8. Don’t be afraid to say no to your friends. They might want to head down into the mosh pit during The Prodigy, but if you’re not feeling good and don’t want to, this is not advised. You could get stuck there and have a panic attack pretty quickly. Stay on the edge of the crowd, maybe find yourself a seat or a bench and agree to meet your friends back there at the end. This also goes for peer pressure on the drink/drug front. Know when to say no more.
9. Look for quiet areas that you can escape to for a chill-out and get your head back together. A place of (relative) peace and quiet that you can nip out to if it’s all getting too much is another thing that sounds easier said than done, but they do exist. Try the Green Fields at Glastonbury, the ActionAid tent at Reading, the woods at Bestival.
10. Only fools and horses take Ketamine. Seriously, whoever was it that thought, “Hmmm, this is a veterinary tranquilizer they give to horses. So clearly it’ll be an enjoyable experience if I swallow it”? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who said they found Ketamine pleasurable, and if you can walk through a festival crowd and find people wearing t-shirts declaring what a bollocks drug it is, then it’s definitely one to avoid. Just say neigh.
11. Know what support facilities are onsite. Festival Medical Services, who supply the medics for Glasto and Reading, provide a mental health team of psychiatrists, mental health nurses and substance abuse specialists. In addition, festivals will usually have a welfare point that you can go to for help. Samaritans will be on site at big festivals. They are always next to the Orange Chill and Charge tent at Glastonbury. They have a little tent and they are always happy to listen if you’re struggling. If you receive DLA (probably only mid/high rates, although not necessarily), you may be entitled to register for the disabled facilities, including a PA (carer’s) ticket. You will usually need to apply a long way in advance and will have to explain what things you may have difficulties with and why you need support. You will need to provide your latest DLA letter, which states why you are awarded the level you are on. It can also be possible to get access to the disabled viewing platforms if you have anxiety problems
12. If in trouble, approach a steward. If you can feel yourself going into crisis, and you don’t think you can make it to the medical tent or welfare point, then go to a steward and explain your situation to them. It’s their role to keep punters happy and safe, and they’ll be able to radio some help for you or get you to the medics or welfare. If you're attending the festival as a steward, it might be helpful to tell your employer any mental health issues you may have in case you’re asked to do any work that could be considered potentially triggering, such as having to stand in the middle of a dense crowd. Also, be on the lookout for awkward punters. During the day they’re generally OK, but as the day progresses people get drunker and more and more irritating. It might be helpful to ensure you always have another person with you so you’re not having to cope on your own. Dealing with lots of people and queries can be stressful and exhausting.
13. Don't watch Paramore at Reading/Leeds Because they suck.
Zarathustra, Mental Nurse
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