Live from the DBSA National Conference

John McManamy Health Guide
  • It’s the morning of the first day of the DBSA national conference, actually a pre-conference prior to the main event. I have landed in San Francisco the day before. I had to be out of my apartment at 4:00 AM, with no sleep that night. Now, I am rested and hopefully adjusted to west coast time. I reach into my bag for my meds.

    Nothing.

    I check again. No meds.

    Strangely enough I do not panic. There will be psychiatrists speaking at the conference. In a pinch, one of them can write me a prescription. I can call my wife and have her overnight me my pills. Or …

    I can just do nothing. I’ll be in California another eight days, with an additional day in transit. I can just not take my pills.
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    I shower and prepare myself for the day, and rummage through my bag one more time. This time, my meds miraculously present themselves. I take my pills like a good patient, amazed that I could have allowed my earlier thought to enter my head. It was just a thought, I tell myself, and I probably wouldn’t have acted on it, but there are many parts of me I have not been introduced to, so who knows?

    The next day, I hear Judy Eron, of all people, speak. Judy is the author of “What Goes Up?” As you may recall from an earlier blog, Judy’s husband and soul mate went off his lithium and a year later took his life. Now I’m sitting in the front row listening to her relate her tragic story to a roomful of strangers.

    And I was thinking of taking a meds vacation? Stupid stupid stupid.

    That night our host, DBSA California, is putting on a talent show. Someone has found out I tap dance, and I get roped in. My tap shoes are in New Jersey, but I improvise by taping six quarters to each sneaker. The AV guy is able to hook up speakers to the dock of my iPod, where I have the perfect tune – Louis Jordan’s “Beans and Cornbread.”

    Bipolars are exceptionally funny people, and most of those who have been on before me have had the crowd rolling in the aisles. Now it’s my turn. I have instructed the emcee to introduce me with my new motto: “Crazy is Good.” The verse starts and I launch into my basic time step. I have to work extra hard to make my jerry-rigged taps heard, but that’s not a big problem. Then comes the chorus, which is my cue for my funny walks. Lots of exaggerated body movement, arm waving, and goofy smiles.

    Pow! The audience erupts with laughter. They are doubled over, rolling in the aisles. In stitches. I have nailed it. Hit it out of the park. Call me butter ‘cuz I’m on a roll. I spontaneously throw my hat into the air, whip off my coat, to loud screams of delight from the audience, then say, “Sorry, ladies, that’s as far as I go.”

    The rush! The high! If I could only put this in a bottle and sell it.

    I hang around for about 40 minutes after the show, basking in the afterglow. My watch tells me it’s nearly one in the morning New Jersey time. I seriously need to get to bed. I go back to my room, but I’m all cranked up with racing thoughts, and it takes me a good three hours to get to sleep.

  • Fortunately, my sleep takes me out of the danger zone, and I wake up groggy in the best sense of the word. It’s going to take two cups of coffee to get me going, which, in the context of my brush with hypomania the night before, is good. Very good.
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    So consider: Here I am in California for more than a week. I perk up around people. I experience a buzz from the conversations and the friendships I strike up. I also have to be on my game, because I am talking up my forthcoming book to total strangers. Then I do crazy things like tap dance. Meanwhile, my biological clock is not fully adjusted. I do not have the luxury of talking a daytime nap when I feel tired, and I have to pace myself through many more days on the road.

    In the best of situations, all this is going to present a major challenge to my sanity. And I actually considered doing this without my meds? What am I? Crazy?

    It’s a scary thought. Really scary.

    This is John McManamy, reporting “live” from outside San Francisco.
Published On: September 11, 2006