Geek Culture, Lifestyle, me, personal

The making of a nerd (or how Dungeons and Dragons changed my life)

In my heart, I’ve always been a nerd. But it’s not been easy, and I’ve not always known it. In fact, there have been times when I wished I wasn’t, when I hid who I was. The world can make it hard to be different, and I wanted to share with you a story of how I learnt to embrace the nerd life, and how my life has become far, far richer for it.

Growing up “weird”

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I don’t think I had a lot of social awareness as a young kid. I’ve been a nerd since I learnt to read, and I spent my spare time writing stories about dragons and princesses and other worlds. When I wasn’t writing, I was reading, day-dreaming, or otherwise wishing I’d wake up in some parallel universe filled with Time Lords, wizards, or at least vampires. As you may be able to tell, I didn’t have a lot of friends, but those I did joined me in spending lunchtimes acting out episodes of Charmed and playing make-believe. It was the life. I dressed the way I wanted to. I wore bright, multicoloured tights, tartan skirts, t-shirts layered on top of one another, and embroidered jeans. But it didn’t want to stick.

Teenagers scare the living sh** out of me

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I think you know what comes next. Teenagers.

Before teenagedom, I was already the weird kid. The other kids thought I was childish for wanting to play make-believe, and I was always pretty shy. But I mostly just shrugged and got on with my life. It was fun.

But as I learnt, being a teenager is a soul crushing experience. To an extent, I still did my own thing: I read lots of books, I wrote about dragons, and my most rebellious action was staying up until 10pm writing fanfiction under the covers. If anything, I became more shy and withdrawn, but I found a new love in the form of “alternative” or “emo” music, started wearing band t-shirts all the time, and was told-off by the teachers for my blue eyeshadow and a fringe that hung into my eyes.

Despite my amazing sense of style, I had a pretty bad time during these years. Being a teenager has a habit of making people overly self-aware, and I was no exception to this rule. I was painfully socially anxious, I knew I didn’t fit in with the other kids, no matter how much I tried to be into all the same things as they were, and somewhere along the line, I lost a lot of confidence. Being shy was bad, not fitting in was bad, being a nerd was bad. In short, I wished I could be anyone else but me.

And this carried on right up until university. I toned down aspects of my personality that didn’t feel as palatable. I still dressed weird – somehow, I managed to dye my hair blue when I was 17, and had at least a couple of fun/crazy outfits. But I stopped writing so much, and when I did, I didn’t talk about it. I was so embarrassed and annoyed by the fact I wasn’t an extrovert, and I always felt like an outsider, so didn’t try to draw attention to it. Eventually, the blue hair faded, I cut out the crazy outfits, and I became the most “normal” I have ever been.

What’s so great about being normal?

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So, as what feels now like my “normal-girl” alter-ego, I went to university. My wardrobe was filled with plain t-shirts and jeans (plus about twenty different checked shirts – still a classic), and even some dresses for nights out, even though these have never really been my thing. I read maybe 5-10 books a year, and in this time, I discovered some of my all-time favourites. For the first couple of years, I only very loosely attended sci-fi or fantasy societies, and while I made a couple of similarly nerdy friends, I didn’t manage to keep this up. I exhausted myself with the pressures of going on nights out, talking about boys (and girls), and while there were some parts of me that never changed (my love of dragons and Dr Martens, my introverted personality, and cosplaying Doctor Who), it was definitely the most “normal” I’ve ever been. The last few years had stuck to me, and they’d dampened some of my nerdiness.

Despite this, anyone who knew me then would probably tell you that I was a total nerd. My walls were covered in Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones posters. But for me, it felt like I was toning it down. It wasn’t enough nerd for me. I was still the biggest nerd I knew, but secretly, even though I didn’t know it yet, I wanted more.

My final two years at university were when the nerdiness started to creep back in. I started my blog, I wrote for science, gaming and TV sections of the uni newspaper. And then it happened. I went to my first convention, and shortly after, I played my first roleplaying game.

The game changer

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Going to my first ever convention (MCM Comic Con London in 2015) changed everything. I had never seen so many people like me in one place. And sure, I was on the outside looking in, which made me feel kinda sad, but the thing that stuck me was just how much I wanted to be a part of this. I didn’t want nights out in clubs or tight dresses and heels (not that I couldn’t want both, of course). I wanted comic books and 20-sided dice. I wanted dragons, and spaceships, and cosplay. I wanted to play board games, and for people not to laugh when I turned up dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, or mentioned Dungeons and Dragons.

So I dipped my toes.

No turning back

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You don’t just dip your toes into these things. I watched hundreds of hours of Critical Role (a show where a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons), and joined my first ever Dungeons and Dragons campaign. I also started going to conventions a couple of times a year and blogging more about my hobbies.

So many doors started to open for me, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen them sooner. The thing that had the biggest impact was Dungeons and Dragons. I’d come full circle to playing make-believe with my friends, and I got to pretend to be a socially awkward gnome druid, or a strong and kind-hearted goliath cleric, and most recently, a gothic history nerd tiefling warlock. If you’d asked me when I was fourteen if I could ever see myself playing a role as part of a game, I would have laughed. And maybe cried. Shy kids like me don’t make themselves the centre of attention, they don’t act, they certainly don’t improvise dialogue on the spot, and they definitely don’t play games that are going to lead to getting your ass kicked by other kids.

But at the age of twenty, I figured the chances of getting my ass kicked were pretty low. And I loved it. And it changed everything.

Three years later

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Three years later, I can look back and kind of see what happened. Somewhere along the line, I found people who liked the same things as me, I found hobbies I genuinely loved, and I decided to stop caring about what other people thought of me. Each of these discoveries built upon the other, giving me confidence I hadn’t felt before. I stopped worrying about going to a party underdressed because I was wearing a nerdy t-shirt. I stopped worrying about being overdressed because I was wearing some crazy checked trousers and a blazer. I stopped worrying people would think I was weird if I started talking about books or video games or anime or Dungeons and Dragons.

It’s been a long time coming, and there have been highs and lows along the way, crises of self-esteem and moments when I hated everything. But these last couple of months, I’ve started to realise that I’m finally coming to a place where I feel like I can wear who I am on my sleeve.

For the first time in what feels like so long, I’m not scared of being the weird one. I love wearing “strange” outfits or dying my hair an unnatural colour, or going to coding, reading, or gaming meetups, and talking about all things nerdy all day long.

Nothing’s perfect

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I’m not living the perfect nerd life. There’s no such thing, and being a nerd isn’t a cure for the lows that life brings. I’m not always happy, and I don’t always like myself. But when I look back at this nerdy journey I’ve taken, things have certainly got better. And my life is certainly richer for having re-found this part of my personality, and a community to help it grow.

So thanks, Dungeons and Dragons, Critical Role, Geek and Sundry, MCM London Comic Con, book clubs, Goodreads, EGX, Codebar, and all the events and communities that have given me a push in the right direction.

You’ve made a nerd. I only hope I can be a good one.

9 thoughts on “The making of a nerd (or how Dungeons and Dragons changed my life)”

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