Being A Buddy - a fresh perspective
"What’s a bear buddy?". A question people have asked me several times since I first asked it. Lay in bed at 23:49, crying, questioning my life and wondering how I managed to get through another day. "Somebody who helps first timers, helps get things ready, helps sell tickets for raffles. You get to mingle, meet new people and have fun at the same time," is my explanation text from Andrew (DJ Moodybear).
Now my first thought was how it sounded like everything I hate in life. Large crowds of people, most of whom I don’t know, having to talk to strangers, having a sense of responsibility, maybe being asked a question I won’t know the answer to and I look stupid. What if people hate me? What if people laugh at me for trying to talk to them. All these questions and thoughts flying through my head. The thing is, I owe Andrew so much and I was still pretty besotted with him at that time (and it wasn’t a secret to him, or anybody else). So I obviously said yes. I mean It may make him like me more, and it could make me more confident. And failing that I plan to be dead by my 30th birthday…
Don’t worry, I’ve since turned 30 and I’m sitting here writing this and therefore not dead (this isn’t sunset boulevard #spoilers). I just want to set the scene, this character of the 29 year old, anxious, depressed, broken boy still trying to find confidence and usually drinking 5 nights a week to fake it. However, I had started to find a sense of belonging. I had friends in REM and around the Village. My weekly attendance at Beareoke on a Sunday had helped me find a bit of social routine. I attended Bear events in Birmingham, joined a ManBears Pub Crawl, and attended the Quiz. In 2018, the Bear Community had taken me in, it got me through my mental breakdown, and now was helping me to build myself back up, find new friends, laugh, smile, sing and find the fun happy guy deep inside. So, when the GBBB22 came around it was my turn to give back.
So what was it like being a buddy? I got to work with one of the nicest bunch of people I’d ever met. I got to talk to people from all around the country, some I’ve known online for a while. I got to dance whilst working, I got to see people having fun and knowing I was a part of keeping it running so people could have this fun.
I turned up on the first day, almost shaking, silently sat in eagle waiting to start the registration. I’d been nervous for the past few days, even texting Mike Jones the night before and on the day, worried about being shy, worried that I couldn’t do it. That first day I met Wesley and Chris, two of the other buddies. Along with the ManBears Richard, Steve and Mike - the shy boy who walked in quickly disappeared and instead was the fun loving Sean, no alcohol in my system and yet I was dancing around waiting for more people to come collect their registration packs. I was talking to people around the bar who I didn’t know, some I’d never have dreamed of talking to usually. Suddenly I was telling people my name, and trying to remember their names. This continued into the Friday evening when again I was working registration, except this night I took more prominent role in handing out registration packs. I was now asking their names, discussing where they were from, asking their plans, and obviously shamelessly flirting.
Hang on, shamelessly flirting whilst sober, chatting to strangers whilst sober, sometimes more than one at a time... whilst sober... WHAT WITCHCRAFT IS THIS?! I mean I flirt but not with strangers face to face. So what changed between Thursday and Friday? Well the main thing for me was, for the first time in my 30 years, I took my top off in a bar.
Thursday night I was dancing topless around the Eagle (after I finished my buddy duties of course). Dancing with other people and making sure people were having a great time. Friday night at the Big Scrum was no different. Me, Wesley and his partner Andrew, all eventually with our tops off. I could dance, be free, and still do buddy duties of making sure people were ok. I helped people navigate through the crowds to the loo. Took an anxious person outside for some air and to calm down, and just helping people to get involved.
The next day I had agreed to work at the Bear Market in Sackville Gardens followed by helping setting up for the club night (after a small nap at home). That night was my first night technically not working, however when you're a buddy you never truly stop working, as you constantly make sure everybody is having a good time. I danced, I drank, I snogged..... oh, and my top came off again. 3 nights in a row, and this time I took it off myself without any encouragement.
By Sunday morning at the brunch at NYNY, I was broken. The weekend had been both physically and mentally exhausting and it still wasn't over, one more club night left for me. However as broken as I was Sunday was the best day for me. I made more new friends, kissed more bears, and that night I did one of the craziest things I've ever done.... got my body painted orange! Yes, you read that right. The buddy t-shirt was a gorgeous orange, however in the downstairs bar of Bar Pop I was getting far too hot. All the hot men covered in neon paint was making me even hotter so off came the t-shirt. However, how would people know I was a working bear buddy? (Apart from most people I'm sure knew who I was by now.) We started off with, "Let's write Bear Buddy on your back" simple enough. But then a suggestion was made, "Why don't we paint your orange shirt on you." Follow this up with the words "I dare you" and I'm stood there being painted orange (let me warn you, what a nightmare it is to get off that much off). I also need to say that DJ Will as DJ that night, oh my god, some of the great bangers he was playing! Some tunes I'd not heard in like forever!!
The neon party came to an end and I had invites to so many different places... however this poor bear was done. Escorted to a car and driven home, tired, weak, broken, and yet still smiling.
The weekend ended after the pizza lunch monday (#pizzaislife) and it was time for me to end my life as a Pawrate, and leave the Caribearian to return to reality.
So, what is a bear buddy? My reply to this is being part of one of the most fun weekends of my life. Since the weekend ended, I've kept in touch with so many friends I've made, been invited for drinks, parties, dinners, dates and ... erm.. well... you know. People now know me not as some depressive or some arrogant alcoholic but as the big fun bear (who got painted orange!). Would I be a buddy again? Well I don’t think I'll have much choice if Andrew and Wes have their way.
I don't want to sit here like one of the people in a twenty minute 3am commercial, preaching about how Bear Bash changed my life, however - it did. Did it fix the problems I face in life? No. Did it get rid of the personal demons that haunt my mind? No. However, it did give me the confidence and strength to believe in myself, the ability to see something mildly attractive when I now look in the mirror, the proof that people like me for me and I don't always have to hide behind a mask (or a pineapple shirt).
I want to sum this up on a serious note by reminding you all that mental health is a killer. Sadly i've known 4 guys under the age of 30 who have killed themselves. Nobody is, or should be alone... There will be days when it doesn't feel like it, when your friends seem too busy to care about you. However, these are the days where you need to make some noise, you need to make it clear "I need help." Sometimes it's hard, but never lose that fire inside. And if you start to lose yourself then think of it like a caterpillar slowly losing itself as it becomes mush - it rebuilds itself and comes back better than ever. If the caterpillar can do it, and if I can do it, then so can you.
So, if i don't see you before, I look forward to dancing with you at Studio Fifty Paw (#GBBB23). Be good, stay safe, and embrace life!