May 7, 2013

ICED in Montreal

Before I left for ICED in Montreal, my husband gave me a tip: "There's a fantastic patisserie around the corner from your hotel - amazing pastries."

"But honey, I didn't tell you which hotel I'm at."

"Doesn't matter."

Montreal was, indeed, good for the appetite. Even the conference food was lovely.

The Hilton Bonaventure had seen the AED's yearly conference before and I know why they chose it again. Even though we were on the top floor of a tall building there were gardens and nesting ducks and a small thicket of trees. It was May but there was sunning by the pool…

Enjoyed a table for nine at a Portuguese restaurant sourced by Lori L. and her husband. Food was lovely, the wine was sweet, great conversations, and one in our party took up singing with the resident strolling balladeer (You know who you are, Rod). I committed auto adultery by taking a ride in Lori's Mini Cooper - my own little blue racer doesn't know! I ate a fish head happily, dined on shrimp, and managed to run out of Canadian $ in less than 24 hours. (Food is expensive in Montreal. Beer: well you need to drink several to get over the shock)

Oh, yes, and there WAS a conference in there, too.

As a member of the conference planning committee (see my special name tag ribbon) and on THREE panels, plus meetings, plus general networking, I felt far more scattered even than usual. I also serve on the AED Social Media Committee which meant trying to pull my Tweet weight throughout. F.E.A.S.T. was an exhibitor so our new Executive Director and the Canadian Task Force were working the entire time giving out information and meeting people at our table.

It came to me in a rather emotional rush when I was sitting on a panel about FBT that we are "there" suddenly. When I began rabble rousing and awareness work about FBT back in 2004 my sights were on something simple: that there would be acceptance and availability of FBT. It seemed obvious to me that families should have the opportunity to access FBT and that the principles of the approach would be accepted by the field as a whole: parents don't cause eating disorders, food is medicine for all eating disorders, treatment should progress quickly (in 6-12 months) and that recovery didn't require finding an "underlying cause." I'd been running and running for years promoting this awareness and then running and running at the conference and then in that moment of enforced calm as I waited for my turn at the podium it came to me "we're there."

Not that FBT is widely available, or being offered to all families. Not that the principles are well accepted. But at AED -- the organization with the most professional heft and progressiveness -- it is no longer a topic that is unfamiliar, and no longer "controversial." In 2013 it is clear to most people that FBT is a viable opportunity. Best evidence of this is the freedom to innovate and offer alternatives TO fbt. Here's the progress:

"What's FBT?"
"FBT scares me!"
"There must be something wrong with it, because I don't like it."
"FBT is the bestest thing ever!"
"FBT is so yesterday."

In other words, we are no longer "shocked, shocked" about FBT and can even start to criticize and analyze and innovate based on what it has taught us.

The conference had an official theme, worked out with great care by the organizers and supposedly guiding much of the content, but no one ever knows or really cares about it. I identified, myself, the real theme was defining recovery and working out the role of the recovered IN the field. 

AED has a nifty thing called SIGs. No, not smokable. Special Interest Groups. These are groups of AED members that focus on a particular topic or arena. The SIGs each have a chairs, members, meetings, a listserv, an annual meeting at ICED, and if they're approved for it even a special panel discussion at AED. One of the new SIGs this year was a group of clinicians who are themselves recovered from an eating disorder - a topic that has been much debated in private but not much discussed in public in the field. 

I personally have found, in the US at least, being a recovered person was not only acceptable but even an experiential trump card: having lived experience is often taken to mean special insight into the illness and its treatment. In fact I have noted publicly that I have some discomfort for how this influence -- or this assumed insight -- can silence critics and cause others to defer out of respect. I know many clinicians who are former patients and there never seemed to be a stigma attached or issue.

But recently I have seen a different side, and all that came clearer when I attended the first SIG panel on the topic, ever, and really understood how constrained some clinicians feel, and how cathartic it felt to speak plainly. The members of the recovered clinicians SIG have been teaching me, this past year, a great deal about real and perceived prejudices within the field and especially between clinicians and researchers. 

I should say here, for the record, that while I don't think having lived experience of an ED automatically gives insight or authority neither does it make a person less likely to have either. I know many excellent, and awful, clinicians and their personal histories with the disorder is not a meaningful divider.

I was over scheduled and downright confused at times this week (I decided early to stick only to that day's schedule and leave the next for the next). But here's the thing. I didn't need to be everywhere and everything because for the first time F.E.A.S.T. has an Executive Director to represent the organization and coordinate volunteers and arrange meetings and -- I love this -- pay the tab…

The F.E.A.S.T. exhibitor table was nearly ALWAYS busy with visitors, I noticed. Happily placed in the middle of the food area so people had to pass us by a few times a day, Leah Dean and her Canadian Task Force volunteers Lisa and (the other) Laura were there to hand out our new brochures, Puzzling Symptoms booklet, and sign people up for membership. They fielded questions, networked, and walked around to meet other exhibitors and tell them about F.E.A.S.T. as well.

Those of you who have seen us at NEDA or AED or one of our events will recognize the lovely crocheted food (thank you, Stephanie's mom!). This is a real attention-grabber. People cross a room to pick up the colorful, fanciful foods. More conversations start that way than you would imagine. The foods are cleverly crafted and clearly one of a kind.

So, what do you make of the fact that the very cutest of the items, the Pop Tart, was stolen on the second day? I nearly cried when I heard this. The only thing I can guess is that someone simply didn't realize these were for display and not giveaways. I have to say, the Pop Tart was my personal favorite so I'm particularly distressed.

So, if you happen to have mistakenly taken home the Pop Tart, it would be so appreciated if you would return it. No questions asked! Hey, I'll offer a reward of one box of REAL Pop Tarts, any flavor of your choice.

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