On Friday a friend and I attended the Bipolar Disorder in Focus conference at the Evergreen Medical Center.
All we knew ahead of time was that the conference was being promoted to some degree by the Eastside chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and was being sponsored by the Pacific Institute of Health and Clinical Research.
I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but it wasn’t what I found.
I am a creature of habit, and though I have worked in the fashion industry I have no real desire to alter my own personal sense of fashion, despite the fact that it can come off in a slightly intimidating or gritty manner.
I wear an old leather jacket, for example, covered in different patches from my past. I find this to be the holy grail of my wardrobe, and once the weather is cold enough it is my go-to jacket. Whether I am on my way to work with millionaires or hanging out in the industrial portion of town, it means no difference to me. This jacket is also the single most complimented article of clothing that I have ever owned, and in that respect it has taken on a life of its own. It doesn’t wear me, per-se, but we do have a kind of mutual understanding and friendship.
So I can only imagine what they must have thought when I walked in on Friday to this conference, neon sneakers, black skinny jeans, and a patch-covered leather jacket beat to hell.
“Hi! Are you… therapists?”
(As if that was the immediate answer to my outwardly liberal exterior!)
As it turns out, this conference was being put on by a team of medical professionals, but it was intended to be for other medical professionals.
We were not deterred. In fact, my curiosity was merely piqued. I have really been struggling lately with trying to figure out where many therapists and medical professionals are coming from, in regards to bipolar disorder in particular. We had just had a conversation the afternoon before at the group about it because I have really been feeling stumped. This conference falling in my lap was the best possible solution to this issue, and I had found it almost entirely unintentionally.
“We’re consumers,” we replied.
I hate that word. Consumers. I understand the idea that those with mental illness are the primary consumers of things like psychiatric medications and services, but to me this title makes what we’re dealing with sound optional. I can decide when I want to be a consumer at Starbucks or over Christmas or on the internet. I suppose there is some choice involved when it comes to partaking in mental health services, but that choice is severely limited by the severity of your symptoms and income level.
Besides, consumers, to me, indicates a level of capitalism associated with this country that I’m not particularly willing to link to myself.
Anyway, we were welcomed inside a lecture hall, it was a bit on the sparse side, but that didn’t make the information any less pertinent.
There were several presentations that I personally could have done without (as they were a little on the disorganized side), but I suppose that even those, like the presentation on diagnosing bipolar disorder in children, were informative and definitely give me a larger understanding of what’s going on.
For me, the crown jewel of this conference was Dr. Syed Jamal Mustafa.
Honestly, I have never heard a health care professional describe any nuances of bipolar disorder with such detail and understanding. Seriously, brilliant, brilliant man. He practices as a psychiatrist, but also works on a lot of research regarding bipolar disorder. He was even on a team that co-discovered which chromosome the bipolar marker can be found on (number 18) before making the further discovery that the marker is in different places on the chromosome, depending on which population you look at. That is one of the reasons there has been such difficulty in pinpointing and treating bipolar disorder.
I spoke with him at the intermission and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with a humble and attentive attitude. He was more than willing to answer our questions in a manner in which we could understand the answer (so he wasn’t stuck using medical terms alone, which can be a real pet peeve of mine) both with patience and a candid manner.
Yeah, so excuse me if I’m drooling over this man’s brain. I’ve just never met anyone like that in the 10 years I’ve been wading through the world of mental health services and professionals. That, and I love science. I’ve always been interested in it, and often longed to go into a scientific field. I love research and facts, and I feel like I’ve got a whole arsenal in the 6 pages of notes I took of current information regarding bipolar research. How could I ask for anything more?
What I respected the most was his attitude toward the disorder itself. He was more than willing to admit, (in his own opinion),
If there wasn’t a genetic purpose, it would have been eradicated [through natural selection] by now.
He also openly praised many of the benefits of hypomania and even mania, in regards to how these states have helped push our technology and society forward through many different kinds of advances.
What? A doctor who doesn’t necessarily wish to eradicate bipolar disorder in its entirety, but rather understands that there are potential benefits?? What a novel concept!
I’m very excited about the information I gleaned from this conference for a number of reasons, I plan on writing about several this week.
I would venture to say that any free, extra information I can get about any health problem that is affecting me is a good idea, and I would definitely recommend this experience to others. Check out your local chapter of NAMI or regional hospitals for potential conferences of this nature!
The Pacific Institute of Health and Clinical Research also gives patients the option to send a DNA sample to one of two genetic labs in the world (one in Florida and one in France) that specialize in research for bipolar disorder in particular. If you are interested in more information on studies in the Pacific Northwest, you can check them out here.