The Joy Awakens

To kick off this new blog, how about we start with my backstory and why I do what I do? Pour yourself a mug of thala siren milk and pull up a chair, it’s story time.

My infatuation with Star Wars has taken a winding road through my life. Full disclosure: I’m not one of those people who was raised with this franchise in my blood. In fact, I distinctly remember my grandmother trying to get me into the original trilogy, which I turned up my nose at. Labyrinth was LIFE for me from ages 5 through 12. These space movies were boring. They didn’t have any singing or dancing (or David Bowie), so I didn’t have any interest.

What I did have was crippling anxiety and depression, even at a young age. My first panic attacks happened between grade school and middle school, and I soon learned (with help from a great therapist and the support of my parents) that change was what set that anxiety off. Fast forward to the end of middle school, when high school loomed on the horizon, and my anxiety started to creep back into my life like a storm cloud.

And magically, The Phantom Menace arrived on the scene.

The hype for this film was at its peak right when I needed a distraction. I still remember seeing Natalie Portman in that incredible red gown in the trailers and thinking, Oh. Girls can like this?

So I liked it. A LOT. For a few years. I jumped right into the fandom and watched the movies over and over again, read the comics, hung the posters on my wall… and then I got used to high school. I fell into a rhythm and found other outlets. By the time Revenge of the Sith had come out, I had more or less lost interest once again. Even though I’m ashamed of this, I’ll admit: I became “too cool” for Star Wars.

Fast forward once more to December of 2015. I was 32, married to the best guy ever, had a stable job and a successful blog, and everything going for me. But I had fallen into a depression unlike any other I’d experienced in my 32 years. Everything hurt. At my worst, my husband had to drive me to the park and physically pull me from the car to walk by the water, just to get me out of the house.

I’d seen trailers for The Force Awakens and knew that I wanted to see it just for a distraction and an excuse to eat some popcorn. But when we finally sat down in the theater the day before New Year’s Eve, I had no idea that the movie I was about to see would quite literally turn my life around.

I watched it three times in the movies and quickly fell back into the fandom – which was even easier this time thanks to social media and the incredible team at Disney that turned Star Wars from just a bunch of movies and comic books and TV shows into a true way of life. My friends who had loved Star Wars from the start all laughed at me as I tumbled down the rabbit hole and re-watched every movie over and over, connecting the dots and learning the names of all these characters.

It was like I had found a family I never knew I belonged to.

When my closest friend Debie held a Star-Wars-themed 10th wedding anniversary/vow renewal costume party in May 2016, I knew I had to dress up as Rey.

Rey embodied all the qualities I wish I had: bravery, strength, focus, determination… plus it didn’t hurt that she got to use a lightsaber! So I started scavenging costume pieces from anywhere I could find: Kmart curtains I dyed in a pot of tea and hemmed with hot glue became my tabards; Uggs served as good enough desert dweller boots; the staff was just a child’s toy I bought from Amazon and duct taped together when it arrived broken.

But when I put that costume on and pulled my hair into those buns, I physically felt different. Stronger, more capable.

However, dressing as Rey in the office is frowned upon, and people tend to stare when you run errands in cosplay. So I packed my costume away and stuck with enjoying the idea of dressing up in a smaller way at events that featured Star Wars characters, like Star Wars Nights at local baseball games and charity events.

Finally, at the New Jersey Devils’ Star Wars Night in December 2017, I gathered the courage I needed to make conversation with one of the characters and asked all the questions. How do you do this? You make a costume to specific guidelines and submit for approval and sign up online to “troop” with other characters at things like children’s hospitals and sporting events. Can I do this? Absolutely!

It was like a lightbulb had gone off: I could dress up as Rey AND do good? I became obsessed.

Slowly but surely, I started gathering all the info I could from Facebook costuming groups and online forums. Piece by piece I built my costume, with hours of blood, sweat and tears…. OH so many tears. I obsessed over the minute differences between sandstone, beige, eggshell and cream. I went to hardware stores and learned how to use a Dremel tool. I stabbed myself with sewing needs and burnt my fingers on hot glue.

Finally, after being approved in late June of 2018, I went on my first troop at a Lego convention in early July. Within the first hour, a child came running at me with open arms and screamed “REY!”… and I didn’t stop smiling for the next seven hours. My cheeks hurt the next day.

I had found my thing. In all the things I’d done before – running, writing, etc – I mainly took pleasure in them for pretty selfish reasons. Sure, running helped me fund-raise for charitable organizations, and writing allowed me to help other people by sharing my story about anxiety and depression, but cosplay has given me instant gratification – I see the smiles on these kids’ faces and know I’m doing a good thing.

So here I am, starting this blog. I’ll share the ups and downs of creating these costumes, talk about my favorite parts of the fandom, and most importantly, talk with YOU about what you’re working on! The only reason I’ve come this far is by connecting with other folks who do this too, and now I want to Rey it Forward (ah? See what I did there??) and share the knowledge and gain even more of my own!

So thanks for stopping by – and reading this ridiculously long post – and be sure to give me a follow here and on Instagram to stay in the loop!

3 thoughts on “The Joy Awakens

  1. Love the post – and honestly I think it digs into some of the details and backstory in ways, or from angles, that you haven’t before.

    You highlight the importance of dealing with and finding advocates for your depression and anxiety – and that is SO important! It is great that you have such a wonderful partner in your husband! My wife has dealt with depression on and off since college, but it was only more recently that we pinned down her anxiety. Both my kids also deal with depression – one also with anxiety and panic, the other with bipolar. It is a struggle and challenge, and as someone who has never dealt with them it was a learning experience to try to understand just the depth and breadth of what they were experiencing.

    In terms of Star Wars, I have been in there since ’77 – but really things died out to a large extent in the mid-80s in a way people have a hard time understanding. I’d seen all the movies multiple times with a variety of friends, they all stayed in theaters for about a year, it was great. But then … well, video rentals weren’t yet a thing, no internet/streaming, and so on.

    It is also funny looking back – when Star Wars came to TV, it was pay-per-view and then HBO (remember HBO, not PPV) and apparently didn’t even hit HBO’s top 10! When it came to broadcast TV later it was similarly poorly received, and TESB and RotJ also were low-viewership events (as were other ‘blockbusters, evidently). By the mid-late 80s Star Wars ‘fever’ was done, which is why I eye-rolled when Spaceballs *finally* arrived – talk about late-to-the-party! It is why it is much better regarded today than back then.

    But of course I owned the OT on VHS when I could, and then the re-release OT and then the prequels arrived when the kids were very young so it was AotC before we went to theaters (and Chris dressed as Anakin for like 5 years on Halloween!) … and even pulled them early from elementary school to see Revenge of the Sith!

    I love the new movies, and hate to see the ‘toxic fandom’ movement.

    Long and wonderful history of Star Wars … happy for you and this new home – keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • ahhhh thank you, I have found my *thing*, I think! And thank you even more for sharing! I love hearing how people came into the franchise – and then how they bring their families and kids into it 🙂

      Like

  2. Pingback: Dream Cosplays | Rey of Sunshine

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