Bipolar Conference

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Flashback, June 2001: After putting out an email Newsletter for two years, I finally summon up the nerve to attend my first psychiatric conference. The occasion is the Fourth International Conference on Bipolar Disorder, held every two years, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh and the Western Psychiatric Institute.

    The gathering is at a hotel on a trendy strip along one of the riverfronts. I have a Priceline deal at a hotel a good long walk away.

    A short while earlier, I had made the major marketing error of charging for my Newsletter to a readership who can't afford to pay. My subscription base plummeted to a few hundred. My little enterprise would probably not last the year. Nevertheless, it is my ticket to a media credential for the Conference.

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    I register and help myself to coffee and Danish, plus a yogurt and a juice, while trying to juggle my conference materials as I seat myself in a cramped space and attempt to make small talk with a very attractive European pharmacy expert. The Joe Cool act doesn't fly. My coffee is slopping over the rim of my saucer, and the only way I would be able to negotiate my Danish was if my elbow were to suddenly sprout fingers.

    The opening session starts and I'm in a new world. These are the top international experts. They mention drugs by their generic names. They keep referring to Emil Kraepelin, whoever he is. They throw around words like glia and etiology without explaining what they mean. Somehow, I manage to get through the day without totally embarrassing myself.

    On the evening of Day Two of the conference I make my first minor faux pas (that is to say, the first one that I notice). I hadn't bothered to take my sport jacket to the second day of the meeting. But now we're being shuttled off to a more formal setting at the Carnegie Museum, and I can't exactly go up the elevator to retrieve my jacket.

    I am definitely out of place as I gamefully introduce myself to Michael Thase MD, one of the Conference organizers. A roving photographer asks a group of us to pose. Me, Dr Thase, and a darkly-tanned blond Dutch pediatric psychiatrist in open-toed stilettos. I so totally do not belong in this picture.

    The occasion is the first-ever presentation of the Mogens Schou Awards and dinner. The Danish lithium pioneer Mogens Schou receives the Founders Award in absentia. Other honorees are the legendary Swiss diagnostician Jules Angst, and philanthropists Vada and Ted Stanley.

    Later, the shuttle drops us off at the conference venue, and I set off on my own into the night, back to my hotel.

    Fast Forward, June 2007, the Seventh International Bipolar Conference. My luxury hotel suite has been comped. The hotel adjoins the David Lawrence Convention Center, where the conference now takes place to a much larger gathering. I meet a good friend who has kindly agreed to be my platonic conference date in the lobby, where a shuttle takes us to a pre-conference function at the home of Conference organizers David Kupfer MD and Ellen Frank PhD. I make casual small talk with people who got much better grades than me in high school.

  • The next day is a breeze. I'm running into people from past conferences, and introducing myself to people whose work I have cited in my Newsletters. Many of these top psychiatrists are subscribers to my Newsletter. Wisely, in 2002, I went back to free subscriptions, with NPR-style fund-drives to keep me afloat. My subscription base is now a healthy 16,000. My Website has 300 articles. I write this blog for HealthCentral. I have a book out. I'm engaged in advocacy and public speaking.

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    The second evening of the conference is once again reserved for the Mogens Schou Awards and dinner, once more held at the Carnegie Museum. This time, I show up dressed to kill, in a black business suit and a Thomas Pink shirt that probably threw me back for far more than my suit.

    This is my night. I am amongst friends. My mom is there, and my platonic date is prolifically snapping photos. The cocktail hour portion of the evening is coming to a close. It is time for me to move forward toward a small stage platform and hover. On a small table are four Plexiglas Awards, resplendently bathed in discreet overhead lighting.

    Dr Kupfer issues some opening remarks and hands over the first Award of the night to Adriano Camargo, president of the Brazilian Association for Affective Disorders. Dr Frank then presents two Awards to the University of Barcelona powerhouse research team of Francesc Colom PsyD, PhD and Eduard Vieta MD, PhD. There is one Award remaining on the table.

    Michael Thase approaches the podium. He has the Award in his hand. "I'm pleased tonight," he begins, "to show our gratitude for the man who is my favorite person in medical journalism..."

    Drum roll:

    "And that man is John McManamy."

    I am now on the podium. I am now shaking hands with Dr Thase. I now have an Award crooked in my arm. The applause dies down. It is my turn to speak.

    I could tell these people what it is like for me back in 2001. But no one has to know that. This is my moment, my time. I am amongst friends and well-wishers. I belong in this picture. The words flow easily...

    If anyone ever asks you what recovery is all about, just show them this blog.

Published On: June 13, 2007