On the Road in Edinburgh, Part I

John McManamy Health Guide
  • In a recent blog, I described Hell as a heat wave in central New Jersey. Today the thermometer hit the 110 range. Fortunately, I was not there to witness it. I was in my own private Heaven splashing in the rain like Gene Kelley.

    Let me describe Heaven to you. Heaven is stepping out of the airport into brisk cool Gaelic air. Heaven is tea served in a china pot with salmon and cucumber sandwiches sliced into quarters. Heaven is standing out in the drizzle listening to a 12-piece acapella group do Beach Boys. Heaven is having to duck into a shop to purchase a sweater I could have bought for one-third the price in a New Jersey mall.
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    Joy oh joy. I’m not in New Jersey.

    I’m here in Edinburgh for the Second Conference of the International Society of Bipolar Disorder (ISBD). This is two-and-a-half days of psychiatrists talking to other psychiatrists, and I’m the only journalist here.

    On Monday I boarded my flight in Newark feeling like Lawrence of Arabia on a bad day. On Tuesday, I was restored to the land of the living. I got into my cab, expecting the usual airport jaunt through industrial wasteland and strip malls only to be startled by beautiful stone buildings and gardens, which only grew more fantastic and spectacular with every approaching block. Towers, spires, cupolas, turrets, chimneys – I was in some kind of magical Tolkien world. I looked to my right and up in the clouds was a friggin’ castle. Edinburgh Castle, perched on a massive rock. “I think I’ll just skip the conference,” I blurted out to the driver, who by now had pegged me as some kind of crazy Yank.

    Tuesday was my chill-out day, time to reset my biological clock. A few hours of walking around, drinking in the spectacular architecture, then back to my hotel room. Wednesday I also had pretty much to myself. More walking and a tour of Edinburgh castle. Oh, to be able to walk again, not shut up in my apartment, a prisoner of the weather. I called my wife, and she told me the phone’s been ringing off the hook today. Our fellow bipolars are going crazy on account of the weather. Our support group will be over-flowing tonight.

    I arrived at the conference venue at 4 PM. I got into a good conversation with a German psychiatrist who is treating outpatients in Zurich. He is presenting a poster involving a group of patients he surveyed and compared to various groups of healthy patients, orthopedic patients, and patients with unipolar depressions. He found that the bipolars had the lowest self-worth of all, even lower than the unipolars. In a nutshell, we’ve been chronically ill so long that it’s gotten to a lot of us. And our partners aren’t crazy about us, either. Depressions they can more or less handle. Mania really scares them. Not surprisingly, he also found we have a tendency to isolate. It’s a viscious and destructive cycle.

    At 5 PM the conference got underway. Eduard Vieta MD of the University of Barcelona pointed out that about a third of bipolar patients are either noncompliant or only partially compliant with their meds. Denial of their illness, he said, citing a 1997 study, was the main reason, followed by side effects. He said a few things that could be interpreted as downplaying the patient’s legitimate concerns about “a little weight gain.” I know from my support group that a change to just one dress size up can be extremely distressing to women, and I’ve witnessed a little weight gain turn into 60 pounds worth of metabolic catastrophe. I’ll have to have a nice talk to Dr Vieta about this.

  • Over drinky-poos, I talked advocacy talk with the executive director of the International Society of Affective Disorders, had a brief conversation with a psychiatric geneticist on the overlap between bipolar and schizophrenia, and ran into my “colleague,” Jim Phelps MD.
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    Jim Phelps is an Oregon psychiatrist in private practice. It’s fair enough to refer to him as my colleague, as he has an outstanding website devoted to bipolar disorder, PsychEducation. The two of us have been exchanging emails for more than five years. I finally got a chance to meet him last year at a conference in Pittsburgh, and felt like I had met an old friend.

    Tomorrow, the conference begins in earnest, nearly two full days non-stop. Then a day and a bit for me to explore this wonderful city. If my wife tells me it’s still hot in New Jersey I will “lose” my passport. I may be crazy, but I’m not crazy, if you know what I mean.

    This is John McManamy, reporting “live” from Edinburgh.

Published On: August 03, 2006