I’m back in my splendid isolation 3,500 feet up in the mountains 40 miles outside of San Diego. I am very glad to be back. The previous four days I was hard at work connecting with people “down the hill” at the NAMI national convention. I was very glad to be there, too.I have been to three major conferences in the space of six weeks, all of them very different. What they all had in common was they were simultaneously energizing and draining.The American Psychiatric Association annual meeting held in San Diego was basically six long days of non-stop sitting in dark rooms viewing PowerPoints and listening to very smart people talk about glutamate real fast and other cool stuff. Stimulating, but at the same time cumulatively grinding. Since I could basically lose myself in the herd of some 20,000 other attendees, I had the advantage of remaining fairly anonymous, without the extra burden of having to keep up appearances.Two weeks later it was three days of the Seventh International Conference on Bipolar Disorder, held in Pittsburgh, plus two half-days of wrap-around socializing. Again, there was the hard work of keeping up with people who got much better SAT scores than me in high school. Plus there was a lot of socializing built into the conferences. Since I was receiving a major award, together the fact that many of the people there subscribed to my email Newsletter, I was literally on display the whole time.The award, plus three days of praise from the top experts in the world, was the high point of my life (outside the birth of my daughter). But I also had to be very mindful of being over-stimulated. It was an exhilarating experience, but also highly stressful. I returned to my mountain retreat extremely gratified and fatigued and with a nagging head cold.I had not yet fully recovered when it was once more back down the hill to the national NAMI convention. This was a conference attended by family members and patients. My frontal lobes were filled to capacity from attending sessions at the previous two conferences, so NAMI was all about socializing for me. Just hanging out, making new friends and renewing old friendships.A quick explanatory interlude: I consistently come out INFP on the Myers-Briggs. This means that I can happily sit in a cave in Tibet for 10 years with just the yaks and goats and snow leopards to keep me company. It also means I am capable of destructively isolating, which is risky business for a person with a mood disorder. My default setting is essentially low-grade chronic depression, introverted and introspective, with a generous heaping of social anxiety.Fortunately, I perk up around people. My (good) hypomania kicks in and I become animated and engaged. Both sides of me are equally real. There is a tension between the two aspects of my personality, but in the past few years I have learned to reconcile them into a synergistic paradoxical coherency.So at NAMI I was relaxed and in my element, but at the same time I was swimming hard against the undertow of my introverted self. Moreover, I was representing my Newsletter and my Website and this Blog, together with my book, which added extra pressure.There were a number of times at NAMI where I found myself hanging out with fellow bipolars, usually in twos and threes, sometimes more. There are few experiences better in life that being among fellow bipolars when we are on our game. We spark off each other and give the rest of the world cause to envy us. Our personal horrors will always remain with us, but they have also bequeathed upon us a profound appreciation for those splendid joyous dispensations life occasionally throws our way.At NAMI, I shared in life-affirming communion. We talked. We laughed. We danced. We hugged. We celebrated life. For me, life does not get any better than this.But I was also happy to return to my splendid isolation up here in the mountains. Yesterday, post-conference, I was hanging out with a dear friend and some new friends, listening to surfer music at a café overlooking one of San Diego’s gorgeous white beaches. But I was also beginning to feel “Default John” demanding to take over. My illness can’t keep me in “Extrovert John” forever. Thankfully, my dear friend understands this. She had a plane to catch, and I needed to get back up the hill.I have experienced a remarkable healing since moving to the San Diego area seven months ago. Life right now for me has never been better. But I know my limits. I need to return to the type of healing and enriched inner life I can only enjoy in my introverted state of mind. “Extrovert John” will be back, in good time“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”Me at NAMI with my didgeridoo.
Published On: June 25, 2007
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