I just checked out of my hotel in Orlando. A recap of the last few days:
I'm in my hotel room reviewing my talk I will be giving tomorrow at the DBSA conference. The phone rings. It's my good friend, Angela, who leads a parallel life to mine - same cause, same dedication, same intensity, different issues, different time zone. She's just rolling into town.
We spend the day cruising the Disney empire in buses, boats, monorail, and on foot, constantly ducking into air-conditioned lobbies and shops. We don't stop talking the whole time. We parallel life people are like that.
At the end of the day I'm back where I started, in my hotel room reviewing my talk.
The conference kicks off at noon. I'm floating around the registration area with my "pocket didge," my four-and-a-half foot didgeridoo. "Big boy" is back in California.
For a guy with a didge, I'm keeping a fairly low profile. I run into some old friends and meet new ones. The opening session starts. I'm up in my room, focusing on my talk.
Two-thirty. Showtime. I'm breaking in an entirely new talk. Not a good idea for a national conference. There's something of a disconnect between what's on the printed program and what I'm going to be speaking about. Too late to worry about that. Elizabeth, one of the DBSA staff introduces me. That's my cue. I'm in front of a hundred people with no notes or lectern.
"How many of you think that ‘knowing thyself' is important in dealing with our illness?" I ask. Every hand in the room is up. We have lift-off.
Next thing I know, Elizabeth is giving me the five-minute signal. Wow, forty minutes have gone by, already. I'm having way too much fun. I wrap it up and take questions. I sense that some of the brain science in my talk has confused people. There were some other rough spots. It will take me several more talks - molding and remolding as I go - before it begins to feel just right. But I can chalk this one up as a success.
Time to wind down. While the conference continues below, I'm in my room chilling out. That evening, I'm at a DBSA fund-raising function, where I'm signing books. There's a lot of "high-rollers" in the room, but I wind up spending the bulk of the evening talking to two women in succession who spontaneously burst into tears when they came over to my table.
Pull up a chair, I say. The day I stop talking to real people in order to spend time with the high-rollers is the day I get out of mental health.
I sleep through the opening morning session. I'll be doing my "safe" talk today, one I've given about 15 times. But there is 20 minutes of new content. I give the old part of my talk a quick run-through, and thoroughly rehearse the new stuff. It's as good as it will ever be. Time for breakfast, which is really lunch.
Most of the value in attending conferences comes from meeting old friends and making new ones. Two talks at one conference doesn't leave much time for that. This is one of my few opportunities, as I join a table of ten. Then up to my room for more preparation.
I'm on at 1:30. For this talk, I'm a last-minute substitution. Somehow, my request for a speaker connection to my laptop has been neglected. I need to get my laptop in place. Someone tells me that the laptop where I need mine to be is the hotel laptop. I move it. I'm trying to figure out how to improvise a sound system while tying to focus on three helpful individuals yammering in my ear.
Next thing I know, one of the speakers from the previous session is yelling at me in an aggressive manner. It seems it was his laptop I moved. I apologize, but he won't let up. He's making a public spectacle and otherwise acting like a real jerk. I'm due on in about six or seven minutes, I need to focus and I need sound. We're supposed to be setting examples here, We supposed to be providing a welcoming atmosphere for the people attending the conference. Judge not. He's probably just stressed. Screw that. He's a jerk.
It's a smaller venue than yesterday, but it's filling up. Most of the people there are from yesterday. Peter Ashenden, the new second-in-charge at DBSA introduces me.
"How many of you think that ‘knowing thyself' is important in dealing with our illness?" I ask. It's the same opening as my first talk. This one is smooth sailing. My new material, part of which includes my take on mindfulness, goes down well. I'm gratified when someone later tells me that I looked a lot more relaxed doing this talk than when she heard me give it back in late March.
I wind down from my talk by heading to a session on meditation. Peter Ashenden is leading the session. In his opening, he references the mindfulness part of my talk. This is a casual setting, so I'm free to shoot back that meditation is how I learned mindfulness. Peter has a wonderfully rich bass-baritone voice. As he leads the meditation, I find my tensions of the past few days slipping way.
I get to spend some more parallel lives time with Angela, which is a lot of delightful animated walking and talking and eating, some of it with friends I met at last year's DBSA conference. I arrive back in my room totally exhausted. I expect to drop off to sleep before I hit the mattress, but my racing mind keeps me awake for a good two hours. I'm processing a lot of stuff from the past two days, and can't get my brain to punch out. Finally, around two o'clock, I mercifully drop off.
One half-day of the conference left, and finally I can enjoy myself. The conference wraps up. Angela and I exchange parting hugs. We'll be keeping in touch, as we have since we first met at the very first DBSA conference I attended back in 2000. But it'll be a year before we see each other again, if we're lucky. She has her parallel life to go back to and I have mine.
That afternoon, I'm eating ice cream in Downtown Disney with two new friends I'm looking forward to having as old friends. Then it's back to my hotel room. I have bags to pack.
This is John McManamy, "live" from Orlando.
Published On: August 13, 2007
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