dragon con

By Tabitha Grace Smith

Almost every geek hates the stereotype that fans aren’t mentally healthy in general. Fans fight those stereotypes. A lot. Often you’ll hear them sigh and say things like, “Yes, I have a career. Yes, I have a boyfriend. Yes, I am an adult.” Ultimately, fandoms have been amazing hobbies for most involved. Many folks who are of a quiet, introverted nature have found their life-long friends through online fandoms. In general, fandoms can be positive, amazing forces for good. That said, there’s a discussion to be had on the extremes that some people can go into fandoms.

I only started thinking this recently with my friend Jane (not her real name). When I first met Jane it was online. I’ve since been able to meet her several times (once at a convention). I was instantly drawn to her. She was sparkling, bubbly, and very hilarious. She could talk to you about anything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to classical literature, to the current political topic. She is what I’d call a fully rounded fan. She had a job, a passion for writing, and friendships online and in her day to day life. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she got bit by the fandom addiction bug. She toppled headlong into a specific fandom and her life suddenly started revolving exclusively in that fandom. She lost her job (not because of the fandom) and then I found myself wanting to talk to her less because she’d rabbit on and on about this one TV show and nothing else. I also saw less and less of her going out with her local friends.

This incident, and several others that weren’t quite as dramatic, had me thinking a lot about the difference between a fan obsession and an addiction.

I think we can all agree that as self-identified fans, geeks, or nerds that we’re incredibly obsessed with the objects of our fandom. I can spend hours re-watching the same TV show, I quote movies and TV shows in my everyday life, I carry around a T.A.R.D.I.S. backpack and an Emily Strange purse and I plan my vacations around comic cons across the country. Not only do we fans enjoy our books, comics, TV or movies, but we know EVERYTHING about them (or at least a lot). Obsession in geekdom is not dangerous. At it’s most dangerous, all it can do is cause eyerolls from friends and family who don’t understand your passion.

Addiction is an entirely different animal.

Psychology Today defines addiction as such:

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

I had never thought of fandom as an addiction until my friend, Jane. Slowly this one activity was the main focus of her life. Her former activities, such as her love of photography, were swallowed by engaging in Tumblr. I heard from her less, her updates on social media were inside jokes that I didn’t understand, and soon the only thing I heard from her was about the TV show of her affection.

Again, I want to make sure that it’s clear – I do not think participating in fandoms online is wrong. I think it’s a fun way to meet people, discuss your favorite things, and it’s how I’ve made some of my best friends. It’s when your fandom takes over everything else and interferes with your life that I think your fandom has fallen into an addiction. For example, when people would suggest to Jane that she do anything other than the fandom activities she’d get upset or defensive. When she did go out she’d make a big deal on social media of being gone for “so long.” She stopped cooking and began ordering out a lot. Most saddening to me was she seemed unconcerned with finding a job or means of employment.

To this end, I’ve adapted some of Psychology Today’s symptoms of addiction to be a bit more geek/fandom friendly. I am not a doctor or therapist but I think it would be interesting to use this as a litmus test on yourself to see if your fandom is getting in the way of you being amazingly healthy.

1. Are you able to limit the time or effort you spend in your favorite fandom(s)? Can you step away from the computer (or stop buying/participating in/crafting/etc.) for at least a week?
2. Do you feel a craving or need to participate in your fandom? Does it occupy your thoughts when you’re not involved?
3. Do you find yourself spending more and more time in your fandom activity? Take a careful stock of the hours you spend over the course of a couple weeks.
4. If you stop participating (or forget your phone/computer) do you have any withdrawal symptoms (irritability, anxiety, shakes, or nausea)?
5. How much time have you spent with your social circle that’s not fandom related? Your family? Do you put off responsibilities (work or at home)?
6. Do you feel your health is better or worse in the past couple months? Your mood? Your self-respect?

The big notification that of internet or fandom addiction is the inability to stop participating for lengths of time. Close friends and family may even try to talk to you about it. Obviously this isn’t the same as them teasing you about an “obsession.” I have a friend who can’t help but squee over Benedict Cumberbatch every time I talk to her. That is her obsession. That said, she can also carry on a conversation about politics, the weather, and finances without needing to revert back to Benedict Cumberbatch talk. Finding that line is important to having a fully balanced life.

Hopefully this can be a place to start in discussing this topic in the fandom world. If you do have this problem the first step is to reach out for some counseling. Know you’re not alone.