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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Spoonie’s Guide to Conferences

Respect your limits, body and mind. There’s no shame in needing to take care of yourself. You’re probably away from home, away from your normal routines and supports. This is a stressor. You may find that you get a boost from all the energy in the air, but if you’re like me, you may instead find all the stimulation exhausting. Either way, here are some ideas to help you make it through.


a.       Be aware of customs and airport restrictions, but generally speaking: bring several sources of protein, fat, carbs, and fruits/vegetables if possible. Put them in a small container, like a Ziploc bag or makeup kit, and keep them in whatever bag you carry around so they’re always available.
b.       Some smaller conferences, like OLAC, schedule meal breaks. Larger conferences like the ALA Annual Conference often don't. This summer was my first time attending a conference in the McCormick Center, and I found myself unintentionally skipping or delaying meals because the food options were so limited. As an anemic diabetic, this was not ideal. This meant I had a harder time maintaining energy during the course of the day and ended up missing out on some opportunities. It’s hard to know about these limitations in advance if you’re unfamiliar with the venue. My plan for the next conference I attend: ask people who’ve been there before how food-friendly it is, so I know how to prepare.


a.       Remember to stay hydrated! Set a reminder on your calendar to drink water every hour. Bring a Nalgene bottle, KleanKanteen, or other container and refill it throughout the day. Make sure to have money to buy bottled water in case you can’t refill a bottle at a faucet. If you have chemical allergies or have other reasons to need your own hydration source, contact the conference organizers and ask them to help you with logistics.


a.       Naps are wonderful. If you can schedule a nap during the day, especially on a day that is likely to start early and run late, do so.
b.       When I was younger, I was able to go-go-go and basically run on fumes. This inevitably led to me spending the next three days sleeping or getting sick, but it seemed worth it. At this point, I’m no longer able to do that, nor am I as willing to sacrifice my health for conference events. Spoonies, we matter more than our jobs. Take care of yourselves.


a.       My memories of McCormick in Chicago feature endless sitting followed by endless walking on hard surfaces. Remember to stretch, if that’s possible. It’s also ok to get up and move around during sessions. If I saw someone doing wall stretches during a session where I was presenting, it would make me smile.
b.       You may find yourself in a really popular session that’s standing or floor-sitting room only. Getting to meeting rooms early is helpful, but not always possible. Session organizers telling people who inevitably sit on the end of the rows to move in is helpful, and is always possible (though rarely done).
c.       Another idea that I’m planning to try at my next conference is to bring my own zazen pillow in my backpack, so if I have to sit on the floor it doesn’t punish my back as much.


This year, The Collective conference and the ALA Annual Conference had meditation rooms. Hopefully that will be made part of all conferences at some point. Even if you don’t meditate, resting for a few minutes in a quiet place is an excellent way to recharge.

Alone time

You don’t have to attend every social event. If anyone tries to force you to socialize when you need introvert time, send them to me and I’ll fight them.

Medical Supplies

a.       If you take medication, make sure you have the phone number of your regular pharmacy and your prescription numbers recorded somewhere you can easily get to, in case you need an emergency refill.
b.       I have had my luggage stolen from my hotel before, so I will sometimes carry all my meds around with me. It satisfies my anxiety, but is not always practical. However, pillboxes are cheap and portable, if you want to keep a partial supply with you.
c.       Many people who use epi pens or insulin carry those supplies at all times. If your conference is held someplace where you may experience extreme temperatures, consider investing in an insulated medical bag.
d.       If you find walking long distances is painful or difficult, there are options that may help. Walgreens and other stores sell cheap, folding canes that you can stick in a backpack. Some large conference centers also provide scooters or wheelchairs if you ask in advance.


I often bring multiple bags with me when I go to conferences. I have a travel backpack in case I have to bring my laptop, a day’s worth of snacks, or other supplies. I also carry a cross-body bag for days when I only have to bring water, my wallet, medical supplies, and a few snacks. If the thought of carrying your laptop on your back makes you want to cry, consider bringing a small rollerbag.


Sometimes your travel schedule interferes with your medication schedule. Other times you’re traveling to a different time zone. This can interfere with medical routines. If you have a cell phone with a calendar function, it can be really helpful to schedule appointments with yourself to take time-specific medication or follow a self-check routine.


Spoonie life isn’t a monolithic experience. Not all chronic health conditions are the same, and not all of us occupy the same societal spaces. For example, being read as female is probably why some guy hugged me without consent, but being white means I didn’t have to experience racism. Those things affect our health and ability to enjoy conference experiences, and this means I’ve undoubtedly missed some major points. So, fellow spoonies – what other advice do you have?

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