Conference Season Begins

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Tomorrow is the beginning of my conference season. Conference season for me usually begins in April or May and ends in August or September. This year it stretches into late October. Depending on opportunity and finances, I attend anywhere from four to six conferences a year.

    Tomorrow I hop aboard AMTRAK from central New Jersey for Wilmington, Delaware. New Directions, a chapter of DBSA, is hosting its annual lecture that features Andy Behrman, author of “Electroboy.” This is more of a class reunion for me rather than an actual conference, as I’m looking forward to catching up with both Andy and the organizers.
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    It’s overnight in Wilmington, then I’m back on AMTRAK headed for a one-day conference hosted by Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. This time I will be in journalist mode, with recorder and notebook handy. Kay Jamison will be one of the speakers, along with some A-list mood disorders researchers, together with the wife of Mike Wallace. Naturally, I’ll also keep schmooze mode turned on.

    In the middle of May I’m off to Toronto for six days for the mother of all conferences, the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting. Going from past conferences, we can expect a turn-out of 20,000 psychiatrists, mental health professionals, exhibitors, and media, give or take a couple of thousand. When I first attended back in 2002, I focused on the mood disorders sessions, but quickly found them largely repetitive. This year, I will attend two or three, just to garner one precious nugget, but I intend to get the most out of the conference by venturing further afield, such as into brain science and genetics and various behavior issues. This is the place for bumping into psychiatry’s heavy hitters. In previous blogs, I recalled how Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel graciously supplied me with an autograph (for my nephew), and how I unexpectedly wound up having dinner with Robert Spitzer, the man responsible for the modern DSM.

    I’m debating whether to get on a plane to Edinburgh in August to attend the three-day International Society for Bipolar Disorders conference. This is where the bipolar experts meet to talk with each other, formally and informally, about our illness, so I will probably wind up biting the bullet and start booking my reservations. Last year, I came away with a ton of invaluable insights from attending a similar conference in Pittsburgh. Okay, I’ve made up my mind, bag pipes and fried Mars bars it is.

    Another conference I’m debating is the NAMI convention in Washington DC, spanning the end of June and beginning of July. Their 2001 conference was where I first heard Eric Kandel speak, but my biggest lesson came over sandwiches and Snapple from hearing the moving testimonies of the people we hurt most, namely the ones who love us most. Yes, it’s high time I got back in touch to reinforce that painful lesson.

    My favorite conference is the one hosted by DBSA, this year in Chicago in late October (there is also a west coast one in September). DBSA represents my core constituency, and I enjoy meeting people with my illness in a friendly casual setting that encourages forging lasting bonds. One year DBSA had a talent show, and I actually tap-danced to a swinging piece called Beans and Cornbread (believe it or not, the love of my life didn’t break off our engagement).

  • The conference season won’t wrap up a moment too soon for me. Just about the time I unpack my bags from Chicago, my book, “Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder,” is scheduled to hit the shops. Much of what is in the book is the result of five years of personal contact with experts and patients at these conferences. I’m looking forward to a second edition (not to mention future blogs) and yet more conferences to share. Time to pack my bags …
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Published On: April 26, 2006