Friday, October 2, 2009
In the first piece to this series, I recalled my shock and dismay over being informed that I was to receive the Mogens Schou Award for Public Service, a major international award. In the second installment, I related how hearing Nobel Laureate John Nash at the 2007 APA in San Diego helped me understand the importance of what a little bit of recognition can do for one's recovery. To pick up where I left off ...
Three weeks following the APA, I was off to Pittsburgh for the Seventh International Conference on Bipolar Disorder to collect my Award. I knew I would be overexcited - hypomanic in a bipolar context - and as a precaution I arranged to have a platonic conference date to act as my frontal lobes.
The conference organizers comped me with a hotel suite (a suite!) that had real towels, plus a view out the windows. To contrast with the first conference I attended in 2001, back then I had a Priceline deal at a hotel a good long walk away from the venue.
I recall back in 2001 registering and helping myself to coffee and Danish, plus a yogurt and a juice, while trying to juggle my conference materials as I sat myself in a cramped space and attempted to make small talk with a very attractive European pharmacy expert. The Joe Cool act didn't fly. My coffee was slopping over the rim of my saucer, and the only way I would be able to negotiate my Danish was if my elbow were to suddenly sprout fingers.
Nevertheless, I managed to get through the day without totally embarrassing myself.
On the evening of Day Two of that conference I made my first minor faux pas (that is to say, the first one that I noticed). I hadn't bothered to take my sport jacket to the second day of the meeting. But now we were being shuttled off to a more formal setting at the Carnegie Museum, and I couldn’t exactly go up the elevator to retrieve my jacket.
I was definitely out of place as I gamely introduced myself to Michael Thase MD, one of the Conference organizers. A roving photographer asked a group of us to pose. Me, Dr Thase, and a darkly-tanned blond Dutch pediatric psychiatrist in open-toed stilettos. I so totally did not belong in this picture.
The occasion was the first-ever presentation of the Mogens Schou Awards and dinner, where I managed not to further embarrass myself. Later, the shuttle dropped us off at the conference venue, and I set off on my own into the night, back to my hotel.
Fast Forward, June 2007: The second evening of the conference was once again reserved for the Mogens Schou Awards and dinner, once more held at the Carnegie Museum. This time, I showed up dressed to kill, in a black business suit and a Thomas Pink shirt that probably threw me back for far more than my suit.
The cocktail hour portion of the evening was coming to a close. It was time for me to move forward toward a small stage platform and hover. On a small table were four Plexiglas Awards, resplendently bathed in discreet overhead lighting.
David Kupfer MD, head of the psych department at UPitt, issued some opening remarks and handed over the first Award of the night - Education and Advocacy - to Adriano Camargo, president of the Brazilian Association for Affective Disorders. Ellen Frank PhD of UPitt and a pioneer in a certain type of talking therapy for bipolar - then presented two Awards to the University of Barcelona powerhouse research team of Francesc Colom PsyD, PhD and Eduard Vieta MD, PhD. There was one Award remaining on the table.
Michael Thase approached the podium, with the Public Service Award in his hand. "I'm pleased tonight," he began, "to show our gratitude for the man who is my favorite person in medical journalism ..."
SuddenIy I was on the podium, shaking hands with Dr Thase. Then I had the Award crooked in my arm. The applause died down. It was my turn to speak.
I could have told these people what it was like for me back in 2001. But no one had to know that. This was my moment, my time. I belonged in this picture.
But life has a way of intervening. The next day, a certain psychic undertow began to kick in. I woke up much later than usual and spent the last day of the conference in a sort of anti-climatic semi-coma. By the time I flew out the next day, I felt a cold coming on. Back on my mountain, my mood dropped like a manhole cover. My batteries were dead. No energy. I needed to hibernate.
None of this Award going to my head business for me. My brain and my immune system have a way of keeping me in my place. Before enlightenment - draw water, chop wood. After enlightenment - draw water, chop wood.
I found it gratifying that I was not exactly the same person drawing water and chopping wood, but the positive strides I was making in moving my life forward had blinded me to the fact that I was pushing myself way too hard. That plus the fact the last two or three years of my life were catching up with me. Too many life-changing events compressed into way too short a period of time with nothing but factory-reject vulnerability genes to handle the load.
Curse you, 5HHT polymorphism!