Surviving Festival Season Part 2: Aftercare

Festival drop is real, and it really and truly sucks.  If you haven’t heard the term before, festival drop refers to the depression and malaise that can set in after spending time in a festival environment.  People experience varying levels of drop, and those levels tend to change from festival to festival.  For example, a single day festival probably won’t send you down the spiral nearly as much as a week away will.  During the best Pagan festivals and gatherings, we experience peak community: a vibrant, multicultural gathering of people where everyone is honored, where you don’t have to mask your interests or beliefs and where you can dress and present yourself as you please without worrying about upsetting the muggles.  For those of us who have been attending the same gathering for many years, we often get to spend time with dear friends who we only see in person at that festival. At their best, festivals demonstrate what a village experience could be like, and that experience can be utterly intoxicating.  Crashing back into hard reality (particularly if you inhabit a reality where you need to stay in the broom closet) can be brutal.  I don’t have the cure for festival drop, sadly.  But I do have some practices and ideas that can mitigate it.

The first part involves preparing for drop before you leave.  If you already know that you’re likely to go through a period of depression after the festival, be ready for it.  I mentioned this in my last blog, but plan for your return.  I tidy my house before I leave so that when I come home, the return to reality isn’t an immediate slap to the face of tasks that need to be handled. If you have the ability to do so, prep some meals ahead of time.  Bonus points for comfort food items.  Subdivide those meals into individual servings and put them into the freezer so that your food choices are healthier and more convenient when you get back.  It’s really tough to find the willpower to cook if you’re battling fatigue AND festival drop, and eating fast food will only make you feel worse.

When you realize that tacos can’t fix everything

Restore order quickly.  I take the day after a festival off whenever possible.  I use this day to wash all the clothes and bedding, put everything away, and do whatever tidying is necessary.  The reasons here are multilayered – cleaning is good for your psyche.  It allows us to control what we can control.  By creating space and order, our thought patterns become more harmonious.  Moving through tasks is also a great way to ground yourself back into your normal, day-to-day patterns.  Many of us return from festivals altered.  It’s good to root those changes soon so that they don’t spill into other areas of our lives in unhealthy ways.

Give yourself some space in conversations.  I have done this one wrong SO. MANY. TIMES.  Please, please, for the love of all that’s holy, learn from me.  Do not choose the week after a festival to send that super-honest email to one of your friends. For whatever reason, I tend to return from festivals unusually clear-eyed when it comes to being able to hit emotional bull’s-eyes.  Thus far, my friends have forgiven me for the sudden deluge of honesty that has occasionally accompanied my return, but I really wish I’d been more considerate in the first place.  Resist the urge.  If the conversation still needs to happen, have it at least a week after you’ve been back.  And maybe send it on to another friend for a sensitivity-check prior to delivering it to its intended recipient.

Post-festival truthsplosions can be ugly

Have some mental comfort food ready.  I have specific fantasy novels, specific movies, that I will reread/rewatch when I need to be psychologically cuddled.  Leave those wonderful worlds on the coffee table so that they’re ready to hand when you return.  When you start to feel the festival drop – the depression – kicking in, snuggle your brain with some comfort content.

Practice savoring.  Let the feelings come – we miss each other when we return to our homes.  The thing is, when that feeling hits, we can choose what memories and emotions we want to sit with.  Savoring is the practice of meditating on/marinating in good thoughts, experiences and memories.  When you begin to miss friends, or feel sad, pull up one of your shining memories from the festival.  Sit with it.  Relive it.  Remember what about it brought you joy, what made you smile, what made your heart sing.  And let those emotions become prominent instead.  Right now, I miss the hell out of the EarthSpirit community.  Right now, I am choosing to remember the beautiful words of my heathen friends when they toasted me, telling me what they love about me.  I am choosing to remember the songs at the closing of the Coming of Age rite.  I am choosing to remember the joyous chaos of the web-weaving ritual.  I am choosing to remember a few soft conversations, off to the side, with people I love.  And now I’m smiling rather than hurting.  Sit with the good stuff.

Write down your ideas.  I’m looking specifically at the other teachers and community organizers here, but this can apply to everyone.  We often come back from festivals full of fresh perspectives, new ways of approaching things, more deeply connected to our spirituality and considering different ways of taking what we’ve learned and using it.  Write. That. Shit. Down.  It’s amazing how quickly memories can fade.  Did someone use a turn of phrase in a ritual that you loved?  Write it down.  Did someone’s workshop make you curious about their practice?  Write down what caught your attention.  Order a book or two, or read a few blogs, to help feed that little tendril of curiosity.  Keep notes.  Did you have some ideas about what you could offer in light of one of your experiences?  You know what I’m going to say.

Writing is an amazing way to process.  A lot of times, until I write something out, I don’t clearly understand the whirlwind of feels.  Frequently, when I write something really useful, insightful or lovely, I’m as surprised as anyone else – I didn’t realize that was in there since it was covered by a cloud of words and emotions all vying for my attention.  Writing about our insights, revelations and ideas also brings us directly into savoring.  It’s healthy, useful and sometimes surprising in all the right ways.

Plan some pampering.  You just spent several nights sleeping on a surface that is not your bed.  How’s your back feel?  Yeah, mine does that too.  If it’s in your budget, go get a massage.  Let a professional help you relax back into your body.  Not in your budget?  No problem.  Indulge in a hot bath or extra-long shower.  Pick up one of those ridiculous face masks from the beauty store and help your skin recover from the onslaught of sunblock, bug spray and sweat you just subjected it to.  Does your gym have a sauna or hot tub?  Go sit in there and sweat out the….interesting food and drink choices you made.  Most yoga studios have free or inexpensive options for people trying out a first class.  Go to a Restorative Yoga class (Restorative Yoga is basically a guided nap on piles of pillows and blankets that will help you stretch out without working.  It’s the bomb-diggity).  Protip: if some of your local friends were also at the festival, they need this too. Set up a hygge recovery night (this is best done before you leave) and get together for movies in pajamas with skin care and snacks.

Be gentle with yourself.  If you can make the week after your return pretty simple, please do so.  Avoid extra work, avoid extra peopleing.  Give yourself a little space.  Be tolerant with your fumbles.  You’re probably exhausted, you’ve been in an idealized environment for a while, and you’re still processing all the things that occurred there.  Be. Gentle.

Like I said, I don’t have the cure.  But hopefully some of these suggestions are helpful to you, and I wish you the lightest, easiest return possible this year.  Do you have some favorite ways of reintegrating, recovering and returning after a festival?  Hit me up in the comments.



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2 Replies to “Surviving Festival Season Part 2: Aftercare”

  1. Thank you for this. This year’s re-entry from rights was bumpier than usual. Came straight from magical Space 2 planning a memorial and supporting a grieving spouse and dealing with my own grief. I knew most of the stuff you talked about, but knowing and remembering to do it are two very different things. Thank you for the reminder. Happycat

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