On The Road: Live from Washington DC

John McManamy Health Guide
  • I will be flying out of WashingtonDC later today, headed back to San Diego after 11 days on the road. To rewind the tape back a bit:


    I pull into Union Station at one in the afternoon. I will be giving a talk later that evening to a local DBSA group in the auditorium at GeorgeWashingtonUniversityHospital. HealthCentral (which hosts my blogs on BipolarConnect) will be doing a video of the talk. On the spur of the moment I decide that my winter sports jacket is way too wintry and tweedy for the occasion, so I pop into a clothing shop in the station and pick up something more seasonal and a bit hipper.

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    The camera is on, and I’m a bit more self-conscious and stiff than I was the night before in Morristown, NJ. Nevertheless, eighty percent of what I am now beats a million percent of what I used to be, so I call it a win. It’s a small crowd, but practically everyone there buys my book, so I must be doing something right.


    Becky, my producer from BipolarConnect is there. I’ll be seeing her first thing tomorrow over breakfast, with her boss, Bill. Bill wrote a book on brain science some years back, and we engage in some neuroscience shop talk. We both agree that our ideal dinner party would be a gathering of brain scientists and philosophers. Get together, say Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel and the Dalai Lama and some of their buddies, plop a pizza on the table, and let the good times roll.


    Later that afternoon I’m on my way to Chevy Chase for a celebration in honor of Goodwin and Jamison’s much-anticipated second edition to their definitive “Manic-Depressive Illness.”  The 1,200-page volume is a virtual Manhattan Project of mood disorders, involving a number of top collaborators in an immensely ambitious and  carefully-orchestrated effort.


    One of these collaborators is Husseini Manji, a brain scientist at the NMIH whom I refer to as “my secret weapon.” My entry to brain science reporting is through Dr Manji, with whom I’ve been in contact since the first year of putting out my email Newsletter some eight years ago. I manage to sneak in three minutes of “pumping his brains” time, plus more brain-pumping time with a geneticist and a research pharmacist.


    Oh, yes, I get Drs Goodwin and Jamison to sign my copy of their book. Also, I present them with a signed copy of my considerably more modest effort, "Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder.” Dr Goodwin has a glowing blurb on the cover of “Living Well,” plus their book lists mine in their resources section. This is what I live for instead of money.


    I meet up with my good buddy Sekhar, who produces the website MoodGarden, and together with a mutual good friend we pick each other’s brains over dinner at a nearby Thai place. Back to my hotel and midnight bed time.


    I’m up at six the next morning for a pediatric bipolar conference put on by the NIMH. The docs who study and treat kids have been clobbered in the media lately, including by the NY Times and Time magazine. I am the only journalist at the gathering. Even the respectable media feeds on shock horror, which then gets uncritically recycled throughout the blogosphere. It’s drive-by journalism at its worst – an isolated meds tragedy one day, Anna Nicole Smith the next – who knows? – new sprinkles on cappuccino the next.

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    Real journalism means a commitment that spans years. Only by knowing what has gone on over a period of time can one place isolated events in context. This means doing the research, having your thoughts challenged, carefully reading the med journal articles, listening (not just talking) to the experts, listening (not just talking) to the parents. Both groups are well-represented at the conference. I find myself doing a lot of listening.


    There is a post-lunch poster session. One in particular jumps out and hits me in the face. Joan Luby MD of WashingtonUniversity in St Louis has been tracking a fairly large population of kids ages four to six. This is a considerably younger group of kids than in virtually all other pediatric population studies, so any findings are going to be highly significant. Her poster reports that the bipolar kids in her study are way more depressed than the unipolar kids. We swap business cards. I’m definitely going to follow up on this.


    The conference wraps up, and I hop on the Metro for dinner in town with one of my “bipolar mafia” and more picking each other’s brains. It’s past midnight by the time I get back to my hotel.


    One more thing is on my plate for today, but first I need to pack my bags. I have a very long day ahead of me

Published On: April 01, 2007