My conference season is winding up. Thank God. Tomorrow I need to be out the door at 4:00 AM to be at Newark for a 7:00 AM flight to San Francisco. The flight will take six hours and the only good thing about it is I won’t have to catch a connecting flight in Chicago or Pittsburgh or Antarctica or somewhere.
Here’s what flying is like to me: It’s like being stranded for six hours in the tunnel of an amusement park ride that has experienced a mechanical failure. It’s like being stuck in a jail cell with Saddam Hussein. It’s like being made to wear the same pair of smelly two-sizes-too-small briefs for the rest of my life. (Okay, that last analogy was a bit of a stretch.)
As for airports, these represent a cross between The Big House, George Orwell’s worst nightmare, and the day after Thanksgiving at Macy’s. Heightened security and hordes of people are not a good combination for someone with bipolar disorder and a dose of free-floating anxiety, particularly when my brain is telling me I’m supposed to be back in bed tucked under the covers in a fetal position.
If past experience is anything to go by, I will show up at my destination having left behind something vitally important. Last time it was my credit card. A few years ago it was a change of underwear. Another time it was a cable to my laptop.
Then there’s the things that go wrong. One time I turned up for a conference at the wrong Hilton (the other Hilton was only a few blocks way, thank heaven). Another time my recorder clapped out on me. Yet another time I suffered a GI complaint. In Toronto this year I did an Exxon Valdez to my best trousers (it was salad oil and luckily I had backup trousers).
The next ten days will test me to the max. I’m doing two conferences, spaced a few days apart. I’ll be arriving a day early to recover from jet lag, lack of sleep, and to try to reset my biological clock to west coast time. If I fail, I’m in for the worst next nine days of my life.
My first conference is the DBSA west coast conference, conveniently in a hotel by the airport. Day one is the chapter leadership forum, which involves sessions on running a local chapter and support group. I facilitate two support groups at our DBSA in Princeton, and I can use all the help I can get. Day two is the usual bunch of sessions on helping patients live well with their illness.
My next conference is in Stockton, about 40 miles from San Francisco. This is a two-day conference on childhood bipolar, and will have mostly mental health professionals in attendance. In between I will be hooking up with a buddy from California, who will be taking me to mental health function or two. Finally, it’s up at four for another 7:00 AM flight the other way.
So why do I subject myself to this? First, I’m always learning. Experts say things at conferences they don’t write about in journals. They are more candid on the podium than they are in print, and even more so one-on-one. They report on new findings and point out things I have overlooked. Second, conferences are my reality check. Experts, clinicians, patients, and loved ones have a way of opening my eyes real fast. Third, I need to be networking and making myself known.
And finally – get this – I actually ENJOY these conferences. Somehow, I always find myself perking up once I start talking to people. I’m an introvert by nature, but these conferences have a way of doing for me what that mask did for Jim Carrey’s character in “The Mask.” I will make new friends, enjoy meeting old ones, and come away with new insights into my illness, with no shortage of things to think and write about.
Time to start packing. Um, can anyone tell me where I put my cell phone?
Published On: September 07, 2006
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