Two Weeks in my Bipolar Life

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Sunday, Sept 30: I've just checked out of the Marriott Irvine in Orange County, CA. Allow me to backtrack:


    Two weeks ago: I go to the NAMI CA website. I check out their upcoming conference schedule. I will be one of the break-out speakers. They have the full PDF of the schedule ready for viewing. "Living Well With Depression and Bipolar Disorder." That's me. I'm in the same time slot as seven or eight others. Half of them deal with signature NAMI programs. Plus I'm up against my house-mate Paul. Plus I'm up against a star keynoter. Great. I'll be lucky to draw 10 people.


    I take another look at the schedule. My time slot is listed as 1:45 to 3:15. I do the math. -One and a half hours. Just me. Ninety minutes. Keeping 10 people entertained, groggy from lunch. I'm traveling to Irvine for this?

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    No time to worry. I've got an email backlog dating from the first Gulf War. Plus I need to get my Newsletter production back on track. Plus I need to put my annual fund drive together. Plus a project I'm working on with some psychiatrists from Oxford. Plus a video thing I promised to do for DBSA. Plus I need to get off two blogs this week. Plus my personal life is starting to get very complicated.


    A week ago: My personal life is starting to demand strict time management. This involves cutting off phone conversations after three hours, whether I need to keep talking or not. My involvement with the Oxford project comes up trumps. I manage to collaborate with someone in getting off a video to DBSA. My collaborator happens to be the object of my complicated personal life. I cancel a couple of weekend social engagements. Nose to the grindstone.


    Several days ago: I get a Newsletter out. It's an in-depth feature on what the DSM-V for bipolar disorder is likely to look like. The feature draws from the psychiatric conferences I've attended, conversations with leading researchers and clinicians, plus the professional and popular literature. There is a consensus that the diagnostic criteria for bipolar needs to be changed, but to what? One sloppy sentence can make me look like an idiot. I need another day to sit on my draft, but I'm on the clock. I hit the "Send" button with great trepidation.


    The day after several days ago: Now that my Newsletter production is back on track, it's time for my annual fund drive, which will carry on till about Christmas. I've got four hours to put together a convincing appeal. I get it right on my first draft. I feel it in my bones. I knock it into shape and send it out. The first of the PayPal results start rolling in. I'm gratified. The fund drive is on track.


    The afternoon of the day after several days ago: I write a blog on relationships. I have two failed marriages, which makes me an expert on the topic.


    The evening of the day after several days ago: Gotta get ready for the NAMI CA conference. Let's see, I have 90 minutes to fill up all by myself. No problem. I'll just jam two of my talks together. Cut and paste. Cut and paste. Snip-snip. Snip-snip. Print. Hard copy in my bag. I'll give the thing a run-through when I get to Irvine. More packing and organizing. I always manage to forget something. What will it be this time?


    Wednesday last week: I yank my housemate Paul out of the house. We're a half-hour late my time, but a half-hour early his time. I take it out on the nearest tree. The tree wins. Then we're off. Paul drops me off at a fleabag hotel near LAX, then he swings back to Irvine. I have about an hour to settle down and get organized. I have a scheduled live webcast with another website. It's a phone interview. I read through my print-out of the planned questions and scribble in a few answers. Then I call the producer and immediately hang up on her.


    The object of my complicated personal life has walked in the door. She has just flown in from a different time zone. Time for a very quick happy reunion. Then back to the webcast. I contact the producer and we get rolling, right on schedule. The webcast wraps up an hour later. I can relax.

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    Thursday: Sharon and I head out to Irvine. We have the whole day together, so we check out Laguna Beach. A stranger in a ratty overcoat is sitting on a bench. Sharon sits down with him and engages in conversation. I'm standing in amazement as she works her healing magic. For today, at least, Sharon is the miracle in this guy's life. Later, we sit on the beach, nibbling convenience store sushi.


    Friday: First day of the conference. We get out of the elevator. A lady in the lobby asks where's my didge? Readers may recall that at the NAMI national conference a couple of months earlier I brought my didgeridoo and honked it a lot. I let her know I've worked the didge into my talk.


    I do a bit of networking, and reach into my pocket to hand someone my business card. No business card. They're at home, next to my promotional postcards. I always leave something behind when I go to conferences. Never fails.


    I head back up to my room to rehearse my talk. Later I join Sharon downstairs, then head back up for more rehearsal. Ninety minutes to fill up. I've decided to break the talk into three parts, with a "didgeridoo interlude" bridging parts one and two. Two short question times will end parts two and three. My talk is the next afternoon. I have time to practice.


    Friday evening: You can always tell the patients from the family members at NAMI. We're the ones who look like we're having fun. Let me explain. NAMI family members are mainly parents of individuals with very severe mental illness. Their sons and daughters tend to be the ones cycled through hospitals, the criminal justice system, the streets, various services, and day rooms. Their stories would break your heart.


    Over recent years, NAMI has been enrolling functioning patients. My house mate Paul recently joined the NAMI CA board, and this is part of a trend that is transforming NAMI everywhere. When a bunch of bipolars are at the table, we start sparking off one another. So at dinner time, you can guess which are the loudest tables.


    It's a new alliance that is developing. The family members need the new blood that functioning patients bring to the table. The patients recognize the benefit in having highly dedicated family members who stay well and know how to organize.


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    I make a wisecrack about the dreadful post-meal entertainment. It carries across to a nearby table. A family member hisses, "Shhh!" Sharon, in her southern accent, jokes, "Teacher tellin' us to be quiet."


    We're loud, we're proud. We love the family members. But it's going to take a little while for all of us to get used to each other.


    Next day: I skip out of lunch early to prepare for my talk. I haven't put in anywhere the time I need. Too late to worry. I get into game mode, then head back downstairs. Show time.


    1:45: Five people are in the room, half my expected attendance. The luncheon is running late. We kick off at two. I'm gratified to discover that I've got a crowd of about 25, mostly patients and some family members. Sherman - a NAMI board member - introduces me. I lead with my California joke. "We talk about recovery a lot," I start. "Ten months ago, I did the best thing for my recovery - I moved to California."


    This joke works much better in a live presentation, especially before a California audience.


    I get through the first part of my talk without a hitch, then I call a break and do a didgeridoo interlude, which is perfectly logical once I let my audience know how didgeridoos made perfect sense to me after I moved to California.


    The heads nod. A California thing. Of course.


    Then I launch into a ten-minute segment, and take questions from the audience. Ten minutes goes by, fifteen, twenty. I decide to ditch the last part of my talk. "You own this seminar," I tell them. "Why don't we stay with your questions?"


    Instantly, I sense I made the right choice.


    3:15: Question time has turned into a town hall meeting. Time has expired, but no one is leaving. At 3:35, I wrap it up. Most of the people there wind up buying my book. I'm still talking to people one-on-one when they kick us out of the room sometime after four. Later, it's a burger in the hotel sports bar with Sharon. It's all about enjoying the little things together.


    Sunday morning: I see Sharon off to the airport. She's headed back to her time zone. We will be seeing each other again.


    Sunday afternoon: Paul's NAMI board meeting breaks up. He and I and Sherman and his friend unwind in the sports bar together for about an hour. Then we head out.


    I've got tomorrow to relax. There's a conference I will be speaking at in Iowa in ten days. I have blogs to write, special projects to do, a newsletter to get out, a fund drive to attend to, preparations to make, plus a delightfully complicated personal life. The freeway snakes close to the Pacific. The low afternoon sun ignites the soothing water. Time to savor the moment.

Published On: October 03, 2007