My never ending journey to fully, or even marginally, fathom the exact nature of mental health issues leads me through many retrospectives. There is, after all, no shortage of things to ponder: what specific events lead me to this point? Why does it seem that chronic anxiety tends to affect particular demographics more visibly than others? Of the frequent thoughts I have, are they unique to my own mind or do others experience similar?
Sufficed to say, many of these questions are some that I certainly cannot answer just by puzzling it out on my own. Cue sudden idea: I’ll talk to someone else about it. Truly, I am a genius of untold proportions, eh?
But, more-over, I had this particular thought while breezing through my Facebook feed, as one is prone to doing when they’ve nothing better going on (or whatever social media app it is people use these days; I can’t be bothered to keep up with the changes). This is when I scrolled over another of the plentiful photos of cosplayers I follow online. In particular, an otherwise anonymous figure by name of Annie.
Now, for those who don’t know who Anniechie is (to specify, pronounced Annie-ch-ee; you’d not believe how much time I spent figuring that out before I just came out and asked her), she’s an Ontario-based cosplayer who predominantly focuses on video game characters for her creations, even more specifically from the Legend of Zelda universe. I’ve been following her work for some odd two years now, I think, and only have communication with her because she made the mistake of commenting on one of my sister’s old vlogs she made.
For starters, most of us are accustomed to a certain degree of professional distance that online personas don when interacting with their fans. I can’t blame them either: these are people who we don’t know and their motives can be suspect at best of times (for further proof, just search online for stories of web-based harassment for those in the cosplay community from anonymous/near-anonymous fans). But, Annie isn’t quite like that.
No, she possesses a very small-community mindset when talking with her fan base (because I find it impossible to believe that I’m the only one she talks to like this). We’d communicated once or twice, at the very least, to coordinate marking her social media link to the aforementioned vlog to give credit where credit is due. Not only was she very polite, but she seemed uncannily cheerful as well.
Getting back a few paragraphs now, I got wondering about my present conundrum about those who suffer anxiety and what their experiences are like. Sure enough, there’s one of Anniechie’s photos and I thought, “I wonder…”
I reached out and she responded. Indeed, she does suffer from some nasty anxiety issues, and furthermore, was more than happy to share some of her experiences with as many people as possible: “I am really happy it’s a topic that more people are covering since the more it is talked about, the more people will be able to face their anxiety or depression problems since they may not be as scared too.” It also takes a great deal of strength and emotional fortitude to come forward about these issues, especially for those who are in the world of cosplay.
Think on it this way: many people turn to their idols for strength, compassion, or escapism from their issues. It can severely tarnish a fan’s faith in those they look up to if you find out that they, too, suffer from similar issues. However, the converse may be true as well; in an online world where simply smiling and looking perfect is what people flock to the most, opening up yourself to that potential judgement can be daunting.
As you might have guessed with Annie, this isn’t the case. A Master-level cosplayer who not only shares her photos about her various projects, but she’s also earnest and open about her anxiety issues. It’s something that’s been a part of her life for quite a long time now, earliest recollections going back to the “sweet sixteen” part of adolescence. Most curiously, however, Annie (not sure if she’d be okay with my just calling her Ann… or An… or A…), it took her some time to realize what, exactly, it was she was experiencing.
It’s about that time when, for most teenagers in North America, you’re in high school. Certainly, there is a great deal to be anxious about: classes, futures, social life, work life, talking to that cutie you’ve had a crush on since forever, etc. And Annie thought this was very much the case for her: just a normal experience for a high schooler to be going through. And besides, other people have it far worse, so just suck it up, right?
For about a year, this was her mentality: I don’t have it that bad, so I shouldn’t feel this way. In hindsight, she’s thankful that she finally came forward and sought help, where she was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and started to receive proper treatment for it.
Now, every professional who’s worth the degree on their wall will tell you that simply medication alone will not solve the problem. It’s also about lifestyle: finding means to combat those nervous landslides that envelope their unfortunate victim. Surprisingly to me, but perhaps not to others: cosplay itself was a great source of strength for Annie.
I mean, I was (and to a lesser extent, am still) very impressed to hear that not only her personal cosplay page, but the community by large is the source of a great deal of positivity in her life. After all, we’ve all heard the horror stories of cosplayers, especially those of the female variety, who are harassed by people with poor senses of boundaries, or the petty fights over misunderstandings that can result in some very bad publicity for the community on the whole.
Think the Logan/Jack Paul YouTube debacle, but for a community that already gets a bad enough rap as is. Lookin’ at you, Heroes of Cosplay: you were bad and you should feel bad!
“Oh those types of horror stories have occurred to me, just not on the same level as other cosplayers or even some of my friends,” she confessed “I’ve never had a situation where it got dangerous, it’s always just been annoying things online, never a situation in person as far as I can remember. Some online apparently associate female cosplayers with the wrong idea- as you and I both know, cosplayer does not equal “nerdy prostitute” as some may think it does.”
“If anything my cosplaying has a VERY positive impact on my anxiety problems. Sewing, crafting, and usually most things that keep my hands busy help me to calm down, and creating things really helps me keep my mind off of small things that could eventually develop into anxiety. The most positive thing about cosplay though is the confidence it gives me.”
And when you really think about it, it makes a great deal of sense: I’m not a cosplayer myself, but I can certainly imagine how amazing it’d feel to put hours and hours and hours and hours and then a few more hours into a project, assemble it, then just enjoy yourself while in costume. I’ve been to nerd conventions, I know how a well made cosplay can make me excited just as the person looking at it. It shows a sense of community that’s hard to create outside of the cosplay world itself.
Even if the cosplay isn’t Hollywood level, even seeing someone put something together from a game/show/book you love hits a special little place that says “WHAT? YOU LOVE THAT THING?! I ALSO LOVE THAT THING! THAT’S AMAZING!”
Capitals represented appropriately.
When it comes to the specifics of what Annie chooses to cosplay, I made an observation that turned out to be quite accurate. Amongst her repertoire of various characters (all of which you should go check out and appreciate as soon as you’re done here) are characters like Zelda, Merida, Lissa, and Sakura. Those familiar with those characters and where they’re from: congratulations, you may stay. All these characters are powerfully minded, confident in their goals, and much more than just another pretty face. It’s facts like that that draws Annie to her particular creations, “A character’s personality can make or break my decision to cosplay as them, so I won’t usually just cosplay something solely because it’s pretty. I would consider myself a bit of a feminist so a strong female character can really stand out to me. I really just have a strong admiration for strong female characters as when I was younger and felt quite weak mentally they had something I wished I had- confidence.”
“And you’d be surprised how confident one can feel dressed as these characters, it’s actually pretty awesome.”
And isn’t that the point of our idols? To represent that which we aspire to be and want to see more of in ourselves? Speaking as someone who also lack confidence in himself, Annie’s work and her ability to bring these characters to life is astounding and fills me with a sense of awe that’s hard to express in words properly. What I see standing there is someone who is bursting with a degree of confidence that I wish I possessed.
Perhaps that’s the biggest take-away from all this? Annie’s various works all look like they’re of someone who is un-phased in the face of adversary, of one who knows precisely what they want and how to obtain it, and never second-guesses their ideals. Beneath that, however, is someone very human, very real. Annie, not unlike countless others all around the world, battles her own internal war against anxiety. She was fortunate: family and friends who support her during her bad times, the ability to receive help and treatment to make her mental health livable, and an outlet that gives her the support and positivity to keep doing what she loves most.
Based on what she’s said to me in the past, she’ll be finishing her post-secondary program and venturing into the world of design to bring her unique values and views to a larger audience. To reflect this, her Facebook page was renamed Anniechie Designs, and I for one very much look forward to what sort of world she helps to create.
Before we go, though, I’d like to offer one last story she shared with me. It speaks volumes to those who are debating getting into the world of cosplay and have their own self-doubts. I’ve not yet the pleasure to see Annie performing on the Cosplay Contest stage myself, but based on the video clips I’ve encountered, she seems completely comfortable and at home before an audience.
Spoiler alert: this was not always the case: “I entered my first masquerade when I was nearly 17 years old, basically at the peak of my anxiety problems. At this time I would cry and become a mental little mess with just the idea of doing skits in front of my small class of 20; yet I decided to enter a masquerade because I wanted to push myself and I had always dreamed of entering one since I was a kid. And, even though I was a shaky nervous mess backstage during the green room and judging periods, I ended up enjoying myself a LOT! Once I got on stage I just felt so wonderful and enjoyed myself so much. Even today it’s the same. Entering masquerades and performing on stage is almost like a confidence boost or a type of “high” for me, I’m rather addicted to it because I enjoy the atmosphere of performing, hanging out backstage and meeting a bunch of new people and the like.”
“So yes, cosplay has helped me tremendously, and a good part of that is because masquerades push me hard to improve myself in more ways than just improving my costumes”