A Mood Disorders Road Trip: Reporting from DBSA and Johns Hopkins

John McManamy Health Guide
  • In my last blog, I mentioned I was embarking on a two-day trip to Wilmington, Delaware and Baltimore. The lowdown:

    Arrived in Wilmington via AMTRAK about 4:00 PM, checked into my hotel, grabbed a sandwich across the street, then caught a cab to a high school on the fringe of the city. New Directions Delaware, part of DBSA, was hosting a mental health fair and a lecture featuring Andy Behrman, author of “Electroboy.” I entered a room full of people and froze. I’m an introvert by nature. But this was supposed to be my “schmooze time.” Time to jump in. I found Andy signing books and went over and said hi. Andy and I have met twice before and we’ve been exchanging emails for several years, so striking up a conversation wasn’t difficult. Same for the conference organizers.
    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

    Meeting new people was a different story. I was way out of my comfort zone. Hopefully this would change once I got more accustomed to being back out and about.

    Andy spoke very passionately and eloquently about his illness, and I saw a side of him that wasn’t portrayed in the book. In the book, Andy gives the impression of a sex-crazed thrill-seeking con man driven by an inexhaustible manic engine. In his talk, his eyes watered and his voice broke as he described the many years of his life lost to his illness, much of it spent in extremely lonely depressive lows.

    The cab driver taking me back to the hotel was the same one who drove me to the gathering. When I told him what was going on at the high school, he showed a strong interest, accepted my business card, and we had a good conversation. Finally, I was getting my groove back.

    Next day I was in Baltimore for a mood disorders conference put on by the Johns Hopkins department of psychiatry. The Ray and Kay show. Raymond DePaulo MD is head of the department, and does a wonderful job as master of ceremonies for these affairs and Kay Jamison needs no introduction. This time my schmooze mode is operating a lot better. I’ve met and interviewed both Dr DePaulo and Dr Jamison, so I go over and say a quick hello. I also recognize some of my newsletter readers in attendance.

    Three pharmaceutical companies have underwritten the conference, and they all have tables. Forest Labs actually has bottles of Lexapro hand lotion on display, and I snatch one to add to my collection of curios picked up from various conferences, including a rubber brain that sits on my desk, a brain lollipop that resides with my writing implements, and a wall clock with images of Paxil tablets to mark the quarter hours.

    Then I’m in journalistic mode as I listen to a steady succession of speakers, including Kay Jamison, who reads from the memoirs of various lettered and unlettered individuals, including F Scott Fitzgerald.

    After the conference I find myself in a conversation with one of my readers and an NIMH geneticist. My reader informs the geneticist that there are some parts of her illness that she regards as a gift. Then I jump in. If we think of a mood disorder as the product of 10 genes, I say, well we only want seven genes knocked out and to keep the three good ones. It comes across as a joke, but I’m dead serious. We’ve established a rapport. I’ve picked up an excellent contact.

  • I have a car waiting for me at the train station in central New Jersey. We strike up a conversation. It turns out the driver’s wife has bipolar disorder. It’s amazing how people open up when I raise the topic. I may have spent the last two days listening to leading experts and authors and schmoozing with some of them, but the reason I am here, I need to keep reminding myself, is for that car driver and his wife. It’s as simple as that.
    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

Published On: May 01, 2006