Last year, when Creation Entertainment announced that they would be having a Vampire Diaries Fan Convention in Dallas on the weekend of August 17-18, I knew that this would be my daughter’s birthday present for 2013.
As those who have read my blog are aware, the past two+ years have been difficult for Deanna. I chronicled the past 2+ years of her struggle on my blog – links to those posts are available at the end of this one, for those interested in the details. I wanted to do something special for her birthday after her long struggle with her health.
Long story short, she has chronic hypertension, Dystonia and Narcolepsy w/Cataplexy. The hypertension is invisible and 99.9% controlled. The Dystonia and Cataplexy are only visible when she gets anxious or excited.
Meeting the actors who play roles in one of her favorite TV shows is unquestionably exciting, so I expected Dystonia and Cataplexy to show up at the convention. Since they are rare disorders, most people have no idea what they are looking at when they make an appearance. They were in full view at the TVD Convention.
I am sure that most people witnessing Deanna in the full throes of a Dystonia episode or Cataplexy attack have no idea what they are looking at. Dystonia causes the muscles in her arms and legs (and sometimes her neck and tongue) to flail around wildly. Cataplexy is total, temporary paralysis. Both can last a few seconds to several minutes. The after-effects of a Dystonia episode can leave Deanna “locked up” (unable to use her arms and hands and unable to speak).
But nothing stops Deanna from enjoying her experiences. Nothing.
The week before the convention, we were having lunch at Panda Express, and she got a fortune cookie that read “A THRILLING TIME IS IN YOUR IMMEDIATE FUTURE”.
This turned out to be quite an understatement.
A few days later, Paul Wesley canceled due to filming obligations. We lost Michael Trevino two days after that. The good news is other stars were kind enough to step in and fill the gap. My daughter is a big Paul Wesley fan, but I knew in my heart by the end of the convention, she would have had the best birthday of her life.
The excitement started on Friday. When I arrived at her home to pick her up, her boyfriend answered the door and said “She just had a Cataplexy attack”. Deanna was sprawled out on a chair, completely paralyzed, eyes wide open, unable to speak. We’ve been here before, so I just waited until she regained control of her voice and her body, and we loaded her suitcase into my car and off we went.
We arrived at the hotel and went to stand in line to register, hoping to meet up with some “Twitter Friends” who we would meet for the first time at the convention, one of which actually lives only about 20 miles away. I had happily been anticipating this for months and scanned the crowds as we waited in line.
There are two people I’ve been Twitter friends with practically since The Vampire Diaries began, Mak and Ruthie – better known in the Twitterverse as @mak75231 and @tvdfansonline.
I recognized Mak right away – from her short, spiky blonde hair and t-shirt. Her Twitter handle emblazoned across the back, the front reads “Editor in Chief, Mystic Falls Messenger”. Mak writes the recaps for Ruthie’s site – http://vampirediariesonline.com/ and they are awesome.
About half an hour later, I spotted Ruthie, in Dallas with her Sister-in-Law and niece. Greetings were exchanged, introductions were made, and I was pleased knowing we’d be spending the weekend together, even if we weren’t seated together in the theater.
The lines at fan conventions are long – registration lines, autograph lines, photo ops lines. This, plus the anticipation of seeing the stars and getting photos, caused the first of many Dystonia episodes, and one Cataplexy episode. Waiting on the registration line, episode # 1 kicked off. We had no choice but to ride it out standing up. Fortunately, it didn’t last very long (maybe a minute) and Deanna seemed fine, as she usually does.
One of the perks of arriving the evening before the convention officially starts is getting the registration process over with and having time to explore the vendor room. Due to the cancellations, there were tickets to exchange, and more lines to stand on, but Creation has the process well organized to be as painless as possible.
In the vendor room, the first thing I noticed was “BOB”. For those who don’t know, Bob Somerhalder is Ian’s older brother and BOB stands for “Built of Barnwood”, a Somerhalder family business. Check it out here: http://www.builtofbarnwood.com/
Charm runs deep in the Somerhalder family. I recognized Bob right away and walked up to him to ask about my order for a “Never Never Give Up” bracelet. I had ordered it in May and still hadn’t received it. Not a problem for me really – I understand how the business works. I was happy to wait – but Bob pulled a bracelet from his stock and handed it to me. I told him it wasn’t necessary but he insisted. I happily gave him my name, address and email so they could stop my original order if it hadn’t shipped.
The business of the evening concluded, we ate dinner and bedded down anticipating a full day on Saturday.
Following breakfast, we checked out the vendor room again, where I asked Bob if I could get a picture of him with Deanna, and he graciously obliged. One Somerhalder brother down – one to go! We took a quick check of the other vendors, and Deanna picked up a t-shirt.
Cell phone in hand (two actually), I started checking Twitter for signs of another fan with whom I connected on Thursday evening. On Wednesday, I just happened to mention my plans for the weekend to my hair stylist. She passed it along to another client. On Thursday evening, while watching TVD, I got a Tweet from Rachel (@RachAnne98), who I did not know. I asked her if she were attending the convention, and she said yes!
So when we entered the theater where all the action takes place, I checked my Twitter for Rachel. We connected in person and discovered we live in the same town! Turns out we have so much in common – more on that later. It’s a very small world.
We wound up sitting next to two very lovely young women, @RN_2B2012 (who is, in fact, an RN, which was wonderful because she had an understanding of Deanna’s issues) and @Krystn_RT. You meet the nicest people at the events, and there is instant rapport because of your common interests. It was great sharing the theater and lines with them and Deanna and I were happy to pick up two new Twitter friends.
The entire weekend was emceed by the lovely Hindy sisters of @HillywoodShow – Hilly (@HillyHindi)and Hannah (@HannahHindy), dressed as Caroline Forbes and Katherine Pierce.
The first panel was Todd Williams and Charlie Bewley. While quite gorgeous to look at (TVD is a CW show and I think gorgeous is a casting requisite!) they were both also very entertaining, spending a lot of time on how it is working with Ian Somerhalder and drifting off to Joseph Morgan (which eventually ended up with Todd describing it as “JoMoSmolderholder” or something like that). It was quite amusing.
At the end of their panel, Charlie auctioned off a private dinner with him at his hotel that evening, proceeds going to his project for Veterans suffering from PTSD. The winning price? $3,000. Whee!
To support Charlie and the project, click the link below.
Next up was Arielle Kebbel, a beautiful young actress with an ebullient personality. Her character, Lexi, was an instant hit on TVD and since this is a supernatural show, getting killed off doesn’t mean you can’t reappear! I know I am not the only one who looks forward to seeing her pop up on TVD, hosting the TVD Rehash, and lately hosting Perfect Score.
Since Deanna had a Dystonia episode in her seat in the morning, at the conclusion of Arielle’s panel, we skipped the Trivia Contest, Music Video Mix and Costume Competition to fuel up on lunch and hydrate. Dystonia and Cataplexy tend to appear when Deanna gets off her schedule and doesn’t get enough food and water. It’s boring to eat and drink regularly, but it’s a necessity when you have chronic health issues.
Next up was Dave Alpay. He was introduced by none other than Steven R. McQueen, panel crasher. Dave seemed amused and everyone went with it. Of course, we all had a wonderful time. Dave teased that we perhaps haven’t seen the last of Professor Shane.
The first of our limited photo ops came next, with Arielle. Waiting on line was proving to be quite a challenge, and Deanna had another Dystonia episode. Fortunately, Creation has things so well figured out that the lines move quickly once they get going. But I was already wondering how we would make it through the rest of the afternoon and into the late evening Cocktail Party.
The final afternoon panel was Steven and Zach Roerig, and their party was crashed by Arielle. Hilarity ensued. When Deanna is really enjoying herself, she gets what her boyfriend calls “that big open mouthed smile”. That smile was on her face for this entire panel. She was completely enjoying herself, and so was I.
But I was concerned about the long haul so I decided to go the hotel front desk and ask for a wheelchair. At least this way, if Deanna had a Dystonia or Cataplexy episode, she’d be sitting down. So my 23 year old daughter spent most of the rest of the convention in a wheelchair and was pushed everywhere by her 60 year old mother – the irony!
Turns out, that was one of the best decisions I made all weekend. While waiting on line for a photo op with Steven and Zach, Deanna had a Cataplexy episode. All I could do was hold her head to keep it from falling all the way back. Thankfully, by the time we made it up to the front of the line, she was fine and we got our picture!
And while waiting on line, I could not resist initiating a conversation with Gary Berman, one of the owners of Creation and our Auctioneer for the weekend. I recognized his New York accent and just had to speak to a fellow New Yorker. He is a very nice guy and genuinely cares that all convention attendees have a wonderful time.
Next up were autographs with Zach and Todd on one side of the theater and Steven and Charlie on the other. Once again, Dystonia made an appearance, this time locking up Deanna’s arms and hands, making it impossible for her to hand her pictures to the stars. So I did that for both of us. Zach Roerig noticed her condition and kindly asked what was wrong. I gave him the 15 second Dystonia explanation and he was sweet and gracious.
Once through both lines, we went out to the registration area, and I left Deanna in the middle of the room to go and pick up our pictures. I noticed a group of people congregating near Dave Alpay, who had likely just come from his Photo Op/Autograph session, and I scooted around them to the picture table.
When I turned around, here was Deanna at the front of this crowd and Dave Alpay was kneeling in front of her in the wheelchair! Turns out two women saw her and just pushed her up front to meet him. I walked up and said “Hi. Remember when you tweeted last week who’s going to be in Dallas and I answered me and my daughter and it’s her birthday? Well, here we are.”
I had been told by another Twitter friend (@TriniJax) that Dave Alpay is a very interesting fellow. I would add kind, generous and extremely good looking up close and personal. I would have loved to have more time with him. The same two women took a picture of all three of us. This was definitely a highlight of the weekend. I never did get the names of these kind ladies but I do thank them both.
At dinner, we discussed the evening ahead and decided to err on the side of caution and skip the Cocktail Party/Masquerade Ball. It was scheduled for 10:45 PM and we had “costumes” and masks and I had a centerpiece for the contest, but I knew it would be a very late evening and Deanna and I were both feeling worn out. Attending would be a risk and although it was billed as “the most celebrity filled TVD Founder’s Day Saturday Party EVER!” I felt we needed sleep.
Another good decision!
Sunday morning we didn’t exactly bounce out of bed, then choked down a quick breakfast and went to the theater for the first panel with Ian Somerhalder.
There are celebrities, and then there is Ian Somerhalder. God and nature were very generous to Ian. He is stunningly good looking. But he is also a wonderful human being. I believe he is an “old soul” – one of those special people wise beyond his years. He is a devoted environmental and animal activist, and I have always thought his vision of harnessing and mobilizing youth is brilliant. He spent a good part of this panel speaking about causes dear to his mission. He is inspirational.
After Ian’s first panel, we were treated to the Hillywood Show parody of TVD. If you have not seen it on YouTube – where have you been? Go to You Tube or www.TheHillywood-Show.com right now and check it out.
Next, we got on line for our next photo op. The Creation volunteers put Deanna and another woman, also in a wheelchair, at the head of the line. I was not expecting this kind of red carpet treatment at all. I was so grateful for the wheelchair I would have happily waiting on line for hours.
However, as we waited for the stars, Deanna had yet another Dystonia episode. This one was particularly bad, but thankfully did not result in locking her up. When they called us for the photo (first in line!) she was fine.
This was supposed to be the “Ian and Paul sandwich” but had turned into Ian and Kat Graham. I had worried that Deanna would be very disappointed but she was thrilled to be standing between “Bonnie” and “Damon”. As for me, I was prepared to give it all up for Deanna, but the very gracious Kat Graham (who is absolutely gorgeous, by the way) whispered to me “Why don’t you go and stand with Ian”. You did not need to say that to me twice!
Once we had the shot, I said to Ian “check out the shirt”. Deanna was wearing a shirt with special artwork done for Paws4ACause a few years ago. Ian recognized it right away and gave Deanna a high five!
Leaving the room on a high, we went to have a light lunch. I was delighted to find Rachel sitting there and asked if we could join her. We had a wonderful conversation and found we have many things in common – including tracking our meals on My Fitness Pal and scheduling meals and activities with alarms on our cell phones! We made plans to get a picture together before the end of the day.
Following lunch, Kat Graham shared a Q&A panel with Torrey DeVitto. One thing that surprised me was how much more beautiful all the female actors are in person. As I said, I think this is a casting requirement for CW shows but honestly, these ladies glow!
The highlight of the convention was, of course, the Q&A panel with Ian. I don’t know what else I can say about him. He has a legion of devoted fans and I am happy to be one of them. It’s quite fascinating to me that kids whose age is still in the single digits love Ian as much as I do at age 60. That says quite a lot about his broad appeal.
We had one more Photo Op with Torrey DeVitto. I could not resist telling her how much prettier she is in person than she is on the screen – and I hope it didn’t sound like a left-handed compliment. I was simply bowled over by how lovely she is.
The last event on the agenda was autographs with Ian, Kat and Micah. Once again, Deanna experienced a Dystonia attack while waiting on Ian’s line, and she was locked up and unable to speak when we got to him. He wanted to give her another high five, but I told him that would be impossible.
So he got out of his sear, climbed up over the autograph table, and planted a kiss on Deanna’s cheek!
I nearly cried. The folks waiting on line behind us – who were kind enough to let us cut in front of them due to Deanna’s wheelchair – let out a collective “awwwww”. It was the highlight of the whole convention for both of us.
After collecting autographs from Kat Graham and Micah Parker, it was time to call it a day. I made a special effort to thank Gary Berman and gave him a big hug. He and his team of staff and volunteers certainly know what they are doing and they made things so much easier for Deanna that I will always be a supporter of Creation Entertainment.
We skipped the final panel with Trent ford and Micah Parker as by now my girl was clearly exhausted and running on fumes – and her mama was too!
We never did get our picture with Rachel but I see a coffee at the local Starbucks in our future! A new friendship was born and it all started with a mutual love for The Vampire Diaries and Rachel reaching out to me on Twitter. I am so grateful for that.
To anyone reading this that hasn’t had the opportunity to attend a fan convention, I highly recommend it. Life is about making memories, and this is a great way to do it. We made some new friends, met some old ones, and can look forward to the return of The Vampire Diaries on October 3 with new Followers on Twitter who share our love for the show.
(Previous posts on living with Dystonia and Narcolepsy/Cataplexy):