Saturday, June 11, 2011

Awards Night at the Bipolar Conference

I’m 38,000 feet over the American heartland, maybe only 37,000 feet. In another 30 minutes or so, we’ll begin our approach into Phoenix. If I don’t have to run to catch my connecting flight to San Diego, I’ll upload this from the airport. Assuming I haven’t spilled cranberry juice over my keyboard, of course.

Last night was the 9th International Conference on Bipolar Disorder’s Mogens Schou Awards and Dinner at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The Awards have special significance to me. Four years ago, at the 7th International Conference, I was one of the three honorees, for Public Service. My email signature proudly discloses this fact. I have no intention of undisclosing it.

The Award is named in honor of the late Mogens Schou, who established the benefit of lithium in the treatment of bipolar, thereby improving the lives of millions.

I find myself standing in the same alcove as four years ago. David Kupfer, one of the conference organizers (and Chair of the DSM-5 Task Force) opens the proceedings, then introduces Ellen Frank (pioneer of interpersonal and social rhythm therapy), who hands out the first award of the night - to Mark Frye of the Mayo Clinic for Education and Advocacy.

Dr Kupfer presents the second Award - Research - to Marion LeBoyer of the University of Paris.

There is one plexiglass statuette on the table. David Miklowicz (author of the Bipolar Survival Guide) approaches the platform to present the Public Service Award to Muffy Walker. Here I am with Muffy’s camera and the battery has gone dead. Someone with a PhD or MD or maybe both standing next to me confirms it. She holds Muffy’s camera. I whip out my iPhone. This means no shooting through a telephoto lens from a discreet distance.

Muffy is called to the stage. Four years ago, Muffy founded the California Bipolar Foundation, later to become the International Bipolar Foundation, already making an impact. Muffy also lives in San Diego, and I had long worn out my joke that there is not enough San Diego representation in the Public Service category.

Muffy gathers her Award. I swoop in to get an iPhone close-up, then flit back into the shadows. Muffy tells us she worked in mental health as a nurse and is married to a doctor, but when their young child was diagnosed with bipolar both of them were at a loss. This got her started in advocacy. This connected her with families everywhere. She lets everyone know her kid is doing well now. She expresses her gratitude to everyone in the room.

You feel it. This is why we are all here. This is what it is all about. Then I remember my immediate mission. I swoop in with my iPhone before either Muffy or Dr Miklowltcz can clear the platform. I get them to pose as I click away. Hold up the Award, I instruct Muffy. She is beaming from ear-to-ear. It is a special moment.

I know what it’s like.

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