How I Learned to Stop Faking It and Be Real

How I Learned to Stop Faking It and Be Real

In my opinion, one of the most important things in being a good larper is to have self-awareness. This means knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and being able to provide play for other players – but also knowing what one wants out of a larp and how it aligns with the vision and themes of the larp.

After larping for some years, I thought I had a good perception of my strengths and weaknesses. For example, I knew that I was lousy with directions, so I should not try to play Aragorn. However, I knew that I was really good at organizing things and playing a leader, so I thought I should actually try to play Aragorn.

It all came down to balance and knowing that I could play most of the characters I wanted to as long as I tweaked them, had trusted friends around, and communicated well with the organizers. In addition, I was very good at making sure that my body was strong enough to carry heavy things at a larp if a character demanded it and letting the organizers know if there was something that needed to be adjusted or not played on. For example, I could tell them that I am really bad when it comes to close combat since I am short and lazy.

Over the years, I learned more about what kinds of characters I could give the most for and what characters I could grow into. But while I was great at communicating about my practical skills and all my larp needs related to them, I was not up to par with being transparent about my health. Or rather, my mental health.

As all people, I had ups and downs. But to tell it bluntly, there were some years when I was in a downward spiral. While I had been very outspoken to my friends about my mental health and the importance of self care, I was adamant that it would not impact my larping.

Woman in white in a white room near a painting with a finger over her mouth

The author at the larp House of Cravings (2023). Photo by Martin Østlie Lindelien.

Mental health issues can range from depression and PTSD to anxiety, self harm, and eating disorders (to only mention a few examples). All of these should be taken seriously and treated as reasons to get help. It does not matter what my mental health issues were. What is important is how they impacted my larping. The biggest thing they brought to me was shame over feeling the way I did and having the issues I had.

I wanted to play pretend in my hobby and to be strong without letting my issues bleed over to my co-larpers. And I was hesitant to communicate what I needed to my co-larpers since I did not fully know what I needed. Was it sympathy? Maybe concrete hands-on help if I would not be able to play out a scene? Understanding if I needed to break the game for a time? Underneath these thoughts there was a fear of being rejected. What if people thought I was too broken to play with?

With that, I made a promise to myself to basically take care of myself, to be a great larper and be open in every way – but not when it came to what I needed from my co-larpers and organizers with my trauma and mental health issues.

Of course, in retrospect, that was a horrible idea.

When things got hard or triggered something in me, I had to hide it. I rather pushed it down than caused trouble. I pushed myself to the breaking point when it came to organizing and being available to my co-players – just to prove that I was not broken. I did not cancel a single larp, but in the end, I played for my co-players, not for myself. I tried to make sure that they had fun but ended up having less fun myself.

On the other hand, I was adamant in advising my friends and co-larpers to do the opposite of what I was doing. I always encouraged them to be open with all their needs and health issues. I was the one who took people aside to sit down and have a chat. I was the one who offered a shoulder to cry on during larps.

Then something happened a couple of years ago. It was a standard larp with no hard themes — and played with trusted friends. I was responsible for a small group and all was well. Apart from that it was not. Around this time in life, I was struggling more than ever. I wanted to stay at home all the time and the only thing that pushed me to the larp was the knowledge that I had people relying on me.

There was a scene, some larp fight – and suddenly I blacked out with over ten minutes of which I have no memory of. People told me that I did a great scene with screaming and fighting, and that they were surprised over seeing me get that physical.

I have no memory of this. The next thing I remember is sitting in the darkness by a lake and silently crying my eyes out. I felt so ashamed and broken. Most of all, I did not know how to handle this or how to reach out to friends. So I cried a bit more and then went back into the tent and took care of my group.

The big change came only recently. I had gotten used to hiding how I felt at larps or conferences and just faking it all the way. Always smiling, always acting like I did not care, doing my best to be the steady port for others.

I thought I had a great system for handling myself in the larp community. And then came a larp when it just did not work anymore. I had, again, the responsibility for a small group. I should have been able to keep it together, so I just ignored the feeling of terror. But for the first time, I could not push myself anymore.

I contacted my group. I told them that I had limited energy and told them to make sure to steer their larp away from relying on only me. I told them that I would need breaks but that I could handle it.

Then I contacted the organizers. I told them everything. On how I was at my limit but that I really wanted to give the larp a try. I told them what could be done, both for me and my group. They were wonderful in assuring that things were ok and that I was welcome with limited energy and all my brokenness.

The larp was a bit of a blur. I was really tired and had to rest a lot. I cried off-game in an organizer’s arms. I was sitting and resting on a friend’s lap and had her pat my hair until I could breathe again. But I had the energy to give my everything and to feel into myself. I created magic for my co-larpers and for myself. And for the first time in years I felt I was larping for myself. 

I went home from that larp with a sense of sadness and peace. Sadness over how easy it had been and how many years I had robbed from myself. Peace in knowing that it would be so much easier from now on.

That experience changed larping for me. I no longer take on responsibilities for groups alone. I put myself first when it comes to how I travel to, sleep, and eat during larps. I share my needs before and after a larp, both with organizers and with my friends. I try to be open with my co-players if things are hard. When they ask how they can support me, I answer their questions honestly. 

Woman in Viking gear sitting in the woods

The author in Viking garb (2021).

During any larp, I take the time to rest, and I step off-game when I need to. If I feel I don’t have the energy for something, I cancel it and try to do it in good time. After a larp, I take the time to land. I might not always succeed in it but I do my best. And I give myself that time. 

A while ago, I went to a very challenging larp. Even before the larp, my sleep pattern was non-existent and I had mental health issues that were acting up. I opened up to a co-larper when she asked if I needed anything and that helped a lot. Then after the first part of the larp, I just crashed. There were no triggers or bad things involved. I had just pushed myself too hard and too much.

The main takeaway was that I could accept the help from organizers who just sat together with me in a dark room while I cried. I managed to explain my needs and reached out to a loved one who came and held me. And with those small means of accepting help, speaking about my needs and just being honest, I could breathe and pick myself up for the rest of the larp. Looking back, I have come very far in how I handle myself, and I try to make sure to take care of my needs. Does it make me feel better? Absolutely not. I feel more vulnerable than in years and so broken. But I hope that it will pass in time. I will rather do this than go through another 20 years faking it.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Solmukohta 2024 book. Please cite as:

Erlandsson, Anna. 2024. “How I Learned to Stop Faking It and Be Real.” In Liminal Encounters: Evolving Discourse in Nordic and Nordic Inspired Larp, edited by Kaisa Kangas, Jonne Arjoranta, and Ruska Kevätkoski. Helsinki, Finland: Ropecon ry.

Cover photo: Photo by jaygeorge on Pixabay. Image has been cropped.

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Anna Erlandsson (b.1986) is a Swedish larper and journalist. She has organized many lectures, panel talks, and events on the area on inclusion, feminism, and the importance of gaming culture in the society. Photo by David Lagerlöf.