Conferencing With/In Pain

Patti Poblete has an awesome how-to conference post that’s practically canonical at this point, and I still refer back to it despite being a seasoned conference-goer at this point. Whatever the guide, though, I usually find myself having to modify it to accommodate chronicity and pain, and since I usually end up telling people in person what my strategies are, why not write it all up in advance this time?

For me, packing always enters into the calculus of conference-going first. For a 5 day conference trip (including travel days) I use a large carry-on suitcase and a backpack, large purse, or large tote, and I bring the following:

To Pack and Wear:

  1. 7 pairs cotton underwear
  2. 1 pair thin cotton pants (if skinny pants, must be cotton)
  3. 1 pair looser, thicker slacks with lining
  4. 1 pair jeans (worn for travel)
  5. 1 long-sleeved blouse (worn for travel)
  6. 2 silk/cotton-silk/cotton/cotton-rayon blouses, short-sleeved
  7. 1 silk/cotton-silk/cotton/cotton-rayon/chenille button-downs or blouses, long-sleeved
  8. 1 cotton pajama pants, loose
  9. 1-2 modal pajama shirts (or 1 modal PJ nightshirt), loose
  10. 1 sweatshirt (if staying in a college dorm)
  11. 1 blazer (cotton if unlined)
  12. 1 thick cardigan or motorcycle jacket that looks professional (worn for travel and layering throughout the conference if necessary)
  13. Flip flops
  14. Swimsuit (for hotel pool or hot tub)
  15. “Good” bra
  16. “Bad” bra (worn for travel and uncomfortable days)
  17. No bra (for days when the pressure of the band serves no strategic purpose)
  18. 1 pair flats or oxfords (if presenting)
  19. 1 pair boots or sneakers suited to walking (worn)
  20. 3 pairs socks, assorted thickness
  21. Jewelry: 1 pair studs (worn), 4 pairs earrings (1 pair worn), necklaces based on shirts. If flying, no jewelry with hidden weapons or hollow chambers (like a brass pill container).
  22. An expandable tote bag
  23. Umbrella
  24. 5 panty liners and pads (you never know)
  25. Aromatherapy-infused shampoo, conditioner, soap (ranging from eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender, basil, lemon)
  26. Deodorant
  27. Electric toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
  28. Chewing gum

I adjust the above based on the predicted weather, what I know about the temperature in the conference center or university, and whether I’m staying at a hotel or dorm. If I plan to be conferencing all day every day, I avoid tights, leggings, super-skinny pants, fitted shirts, and short shirts. In full anticipation of discomfort or bloat from caffeine and junk food on those days, I opt for longer shirts (for concealment if I have to unbutton my pants), lighter earrings, lighter shoes or shoes easily taken off and put back on, and looser pants to avoid constricting blood flow.

To Pack and Use, aka the non-wearables in my suitcase:

  1. 1 portable moist heating pad
  2. 1 support harness
  3. 1 studded massage ball
  4. 1 smooth pressure point ball
  5. 1 cervical head rest (optional)
  6. Any daily medications, supplements, and vitamins
  7. Any usual painkillers rationed for max dose a day: ibuprofen, Tylenol with codeine, and/or Tramadol
  8. CVS brand self-stick athletic tape (for neck binding)
  9. D-Ribose (for a boost of conference energy)
  10. Vitamin C (for a boost of conference energy)
  11. Probiotic/Prebiotic pills (for conference diet/gut problems)
  12. Tea bags: ginger, Throat Coat, burdock root
  13. Phone, iPod, laptop chargers (and portable USB charger)
  14. 2-in-1 laser pointer and clicker
  15. VGA and HDMI converters (for use or sharing)
  16. Ethernet cable (if staying in a dorm)
  17. Thin Muji notebook
  18. 5 ballpoint pens (of which I’ll either give away or lose 4)
  19. 2 highlighters
  20. “Good” Rx glasses and Rx sunglasses
  21. Headphones
  22. Conference tote/purse
  23. Lipstick, lip gloss, chapstick
  24. Travel tissue
  25. Business cards (personal and professional)
  26. Two Old Goats lotion (travel bottle)
  27. Slippery elm lozenges
  28. Collapsible water bottle (takes up less weight and space)
  29. 10 waterproof Bandaids (3 spot size, 3 small size, 3 regular size, 1 large size) Neosporin, Cortisone
  30. Shaving razor
  31. Disposable Scotch tape, safety pins, paper clips, binder clips
  32. Cash (I’m always surprised when I leave the city and can’t just rely on my credit card. Bring a card, but also bring enough cash. If you get reimbursed, get receipts for everything.)
  33. Travel lint roller (I own a Siberian cat. Most days I’m a walking hairball. I try to be respectful of other people’s allergies, though.)

Pain relief items and snacks are always in my daily conference bag(s), and I’m always happy to share pain relief equipment and medication with anyone who needs a quick between-panels pressure-point massage, heat, or analgesic relief.

Other things I consider as I brace and prepare for conferences:

  • Scheduling. Obtain a print copy of the schedule and highlight my own session and sessions I’d like to attend. Simultaneously, block out times where nothing really calls to me as times I can lie down somewhere, relax, return to the hotel or dorm room, go swimming.
  • R&R. Locate spaces where I can retreat to nap, roll on the floor, stretch. Set up times to meet friends for lunch or dinner, figure out who you’re going to the bar with, find people to sit with at panels.
  • Walking. Locate elevators. Figure out how much walking or how many stairs are reasonable on a given day, and add 5-10 minutes to avoid having to run. Make sure your shoes have good treads, arch support, and impact cushioning, and that they don’t weigh a ton or constrict ankle mobility. This is not the time to debut new shoes.
  • Transportation. Save Uber or Lyft in your phone, save the local taxi phone number, figure out any conference-operated shuttle schedules, figure out public transportation schedules. Write down your likely travel options and times for each in your annotated conference schedule.
  • Temperature Control. There’s always a room that’s too hot and a room that’s too cold. Layer accordingly. Bring an umbrella in case of rain.
  • Seats. There should always be chairs. If a panel is too crowded, request a chair be brought in, request that someone give up a chair, or if its standing room only, lie down on the floor or ask someone to live-tweet and go elsewhere.
  • Conserve your spoons. Walking everywhere will drain you. Socializing will drain you. Sitting still in terrible chairs will drain you. Make time for the things that will restore you. For me, it’s pool therapy, quietly resting, massage, food, drink, hydration, sleeping enough.

Presenting Concerns:

  • Print and Read. Brain fog is unpredictable. If I’m too fatigued, I’ll stutter. There’s no shame or stigma in printing and reading your talk, as long as you deliver the presentation well: look up at times, make face contact with your audience (not everyone prefers eye contact, after all), use pauses. I annotate my presentations with bolded symbols for every slide change, and with breath marks to pace myself in case I start racing, and with moments that I feel are best to look up and ground myself.
  • View the Room. I check out the space in advance. What electronics/peripherals are there? How cold is it? What can I stare at at the back of the room when I look up from reading?
  • Support. There’s no shame in sitting, though I like to stand and I project better standing. So I make sure in advance that there’s a podium I can lean sideways on, or a chalk tray I can lean back on, or that I can borrow someone’s cane.
  • Microphones. Use the mic if you’re in a big room. Period.
    Don’t say you can project well enough. Don’t ask people to out themselves as hearing impaired.
  • Assorted tips might include making sure your links aren’t dead, make sure your font is large enough, describe the images you’re including, and time yourself. Don’t solely rely on the panel chair to stop you. Rehearse in advance so you know how long you’ll take.

Etiquette/Netiquette Items to Remember:

  • Ask before Tweeting. I’m a live-tweeter myself, but some panels should not be tweeted, and tweeting may make the presenter an electronic target. If a presenter requests radio silence, respect that.
  • Problematic Comments. That said, if a presenter or keynote says something problematic and you can’t interrupt in the moment or raise it in Q&A, tweeting your concern may be more appropriate.
  • Aromatherapy/Perfumes. I sometimes need aromatherapy, and my joint relief lotion smells like eucalyptus, tea tree, and citrus, but I try to use it sparingly and I never bring cologne, because I never know who in the room might have an olfactory issue or who might be susceptible to smell-triggered migraines.

I’ve likely forgotten things and will have to modify as I remember, but with 4Cs and C&W around the corner it seemed like a good time to make an official list for myself, and to make that list public in case other FMS/CFS/brain-fogged conference-goers need any reminders. If it seems like I’m overpacking for the end of the world, please know that for some of us every day can potentially feel like the end of the world. When everything is a threat, it’s always better to be prepared.

I’m always happy to talk about this, and to add to my list, so feel free to reach out with questions or suggestions!

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