Ep 24: How Do We Deal With the Everyday Effects of Mental Illness?

In order to be diagnosed with any illness, a person must first show symptoms – in other words, something needs to go wrong. Living in recovery from mental illness doesn’t mean we are free from these effects; it just means that we’ve reduced our symptoms to a manageable level and learned to deal.

So, how do we do it? What’s life like on a day-to-day basis living in recovery? Do bipolar and schizophrenia still cause issues for Gabe and Michelle? Listen to this episode of a Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast to find out.





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“Do you feel misunderstood because of mental illness?”
– Gabe Howard


Highlights From ‘Effects of Mental Illness’ Episode

[1:00] Dealing with the effects of mental illness.

[4:00] How Gabe deals with fidgeting at work.

[7:00] Mental illness as an excuse in the media (anger ensues).

[8:30] Gabe and Michelle have the same symptom (excitement ensues).

[11:00] When people tell us to take our medication (unhappiness ensues).

[14:00] Words vs. Context.

[16:00] How do Michelle’s symptoms impact in her life?

[20:00] What works best for Gabe and Michelle?


Meet Your Bipolar and Schizophrenic Hosts

GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit gabehoward.com.


MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit Schizophrenic.NYC.

Psychology Around the Net: August 4, 2018

We’ve entered the last month of summer (well, sort of — I don’t really consider September summer, bring on the pumpkin spice please and thank you!), and I have a question for you: Have you felt stressed this summer? Have you felt anxious and guilty? Have you withdrawn? If so, you’re not alone. There are many reasons why people with mental illness struggle during the summer, as surprising as that sounds to some people.

That’s just one topic we’re covering in this week’s Psychology Around the Net. Keep reading for more on summertime blues, increased sales of books related to stress and anxiety, why we need to stop “merchandising mental illness” (and what that means), and more.

15 Reasons Summer Can be Hard for People With Mental Illnesses: It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could struggle during the summer — when it’s warm and sunny and there’s time to do all sorts of fun things — and yet…those examples are just a few reasons why summer actually is hard on some people with mental illness.

Support From People With Lived Experience Reduces Readmission to Mental Health Crisis Units: A randomized controlled trial of more than 400 people in England shows that when they receive care from peer support workers who have personal experience with mental health conditions, people with mental health problems could be at a lesser risk for readmission to mental health crisis units.

5 Ways to Start the Mental Health Conversation in Creative Industries: Showing some compassion and empathy (and not just caring only about profit), setting an honest example, and sharing resources are just a few of the ways you can help boost mental health awareness and support in the workplace — whether you’re the boss or an employee.

Please Stop Merchandising Mental Illness: “Seeing or experiencing illness makes any glamorization of it entirely ridiculous. Depression is not an effective way of ensnaring a man. Nor is it a love song to bop along with, a fashionable illness, or a fad for bloggers to wear for a few weeks, post about on Instagram, favorite and then disregard.” — Rhiannon Picton-James

‘An Anxious Nation’: Barnes & Noble Sees a Surge in Sales of Books about Stress: In the last year, sales of books related to anxiety increased 26 percent at Barnes & Noble. According to the senior director of merchandising, Liz Harwell, the company has never seen a comparable increase in books on this subject, and she suggest “we may be living in an anxious nation.” However, according to Harwell, there might be some good news. Alongside the idea that we’re “living in an anxious nation,” this increase in anxiety-related book sales could suggest that we’re also living in a nation where people are looking for solutions.

20 Morning Mantras to Start the Day Loving People (Instead of Judging or Ignoring Them): Not only can these mantras help you change the way you see and treat others, but also they can help you change the way you see and treat yourself.

How to Communicate Suicidal Feelings

Unfortunately, I know this subject all too well. When I was 19 years old I my dad died by suicide, and I have had an almost fatal attempt myself in my early 20s, along with very regular ideations of wanting to end my life.

One thing I have learned through the years, is that if you are suicidal is incredibly important to reach out for help in a way that is supportive for all involved. It is not easy for anyone, and there is a very big difference between using suicide as a means to manipulate people in an abusive way, versus a means to ask for support to get the help you need.

As I said, I know this issue well and unfortunately I didn’t learn really how to communicate suicidal feelings in a way that was healthy for both myself and others. And unfortunately I learned this from my dad. As he didn’t know how to do it in a healthy way either, and all around him really didn’t know how to get him help.

At a young age, my dad threatened suicide as a means to punish us for not being happy around him and for his feelings of guilt for being unhappy with his anger. And as a family, we were terrified of losing him and of course we wanted him alive — yet we wanted him healthy. So when he would have uncontrolled anger, and then later regret it, he would feel so bad he would threaten suicide. So instead of setting boundaries and getting him into treatment, there was a long cycle of untreated mental health problems.

I remember him telling me when I was a senior in high school that he would kill himself if he lost anything related to our family. I made him promise, at that moment, that he would never, ever do that and always come to me first. He agreed to that, and he was also finally starting to get treatment for his mental health. Unfortunately, I think it had gone on way too long where he didn’t get treatment, so he decided to drink a significant amount of alcohol and end his life, just as his sister had and some say his father too.

I wish I had learned from that experience, but I was fairly deep in my own addictions, so went through my own cycle with my first serious boyfriend where I would threaten self-harm if I made too many bad choices or mistakes. What I was trying to say was “This feels terrible, help me.” But what I was really saying was “Do this or else…”. This is abusive behavior, not anything I am proud of, and the reality is when we do that to others, we end up just pushing them further away and not getting the help we need. As it is not about “them”, it is about learning how to deal with the curves we are presented in life and maintaining a hopeful mindset through it all.

It took a lot of time and practice, but now when I feel suicidal, I’m able to say to my Hope network, “I feel hopeless, any ideas for how I might get support?” And when I say it that way or ask it that way I generally get the support I need that helps my internal healing, as opposed to just fixing surface problem that at the time feel like life or death. It is easy to fix things short-term, but to create the kind of long-term healing we need to stay healthy and in positive relationships, we need to be able to get to the deeper root of why we don’t think we can remain in a hopeful state.

When I went through a divorce, I remember feeling incredibly hopeless as I had significant challenges that felt completely insurmountable. I really didn’t know how I might recover, and how I was going to get through it. So I called my oldest brother, and instead of saying, “I’m going to kill myself if you don’t help me,” I simply expressed how terrible I was feeling about my situation. So he got a U-haul and moved me to be by his family. I got my medications modified, went into intensive therapy, practiced meditation, exercised regularly, practiced gratitude, focused on giving back, journaled, got closer to my spiritual guidance, and got my life back on track. Ironically enough, when I put my mental health before all of my other emergencies and issues, the other issues slowly resolved themselves.

I was in a recent relationship where someone was threatening suicide, and it was pretty devastating to me as it reminded me of my dad and all I went through with him. Yet it also reminded me that I can’t allow myself to be manipulated by those who are suicidal and refuse to get help. I cannot sacrifice my own mental health to keep others alive. I can’t spend enough money, give enough love, or fix enough problems to help another heal. It is a decision we all have to make for ourselves, and then go about doing the work to make it happen.

Thankfully, these days I’m feeling really good, off medication, have 14 years of sobriety and a close network of people I know I can turn to when I don’t see a way past an obstacle, including my higher power. The reality is statistically I have a very high chance of dying by suicide, so I need to be extra vigilant about sharing with others how I am feeling as I don’t want them to be worried about me taking my life. Yet I also want to be able to share when I am feeling that low, so that they can support me in getting the help that I need.

We all need networks for hope, to know we are not alone, and to be able to share authentically our health status, and that includes our mental health. Yet we need to do it in a way that is respectful not just of ourselves, but others, so we strengthen our relationship instead of tear it apart.

If you, or someone you know, is feeling suicidal please reach out to 1800-273-8255 (TALK) to find resources in your area.

Suicide Is Not an Event: Action and Allyship After the Loss of Spade, Bourdain

“Oh god, he sounds suicidal,” I whimpered, curling into my partner. “I can’t watch.”

It was the Sicily episode of Parts Unknown. After a harrowing day of disappointment, floating amongst frozen octopi, Anthony Bourdain was in a full on existential crisis. His narration always hit home; a surlier, snarkier recording of my own inner monologue. The familiarity of his commentary on rigor mortis sinking seafood as a metaphor for the meaninglessness of life, however, was frankly soul-crushing.

The morning Anthony Bourdain died, I woke up groggy and fuzzy. Eyes itching from allergies and opening slowly, I absentmindedly reached for my phone. The news scrolled across my homescreen.

Breaking: Anthony Bourdain dies at 61.

My stomach turned. I clicked on the link but I already knew what it would say: suicide. I could feel it. The frozen octopus scene replayed in my head.

Predictably, my social feeds erupted in shock, despair, judgement, disbelief and my personal favorite: the tired, hollow calls to action by people who have never lifted a finger for those living with mental illness or struggling with substance use.

“Suicides are up 30% since the 90’s?? Why isn’t this a national emergency!!” they exclaimed.

“We need to do something about this immediately,” they demanded.

It’s true. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, over 40,000 people die from suicide each year. And at least 50% of those people have a known mental health condition.

Suicide is a national emergency and we do need to do something about it. Now.

But for people like me — people living with mental illness — receiving support only during times of crisis is devastating, inappropriate and unhelpful.

Suicide isn’t an event. Suicide doesn’t begin with someone stepping up to a ledge. Suicide is a system of pain and aloneness wrought into us over the course of our lives; a culmination of every hopeless thought, every barrier to adequate care and every culturally-defined failure we experience. No singular action — or call to action — will stem the tide of anguish that builds into suicide.

If we only hear from you when we’re suicidal, you’re not being a friend. If you’re only passionate about mental health following a celebrity death or a mass shooting, you’re not being an ally. In this horrific era of suicides in epidemic proportions, we need our friends and our allies to have our back 100% of the time.

We need you — our friends and allies — to demand a culture shift that accepts and values us. We need you to demand that we have equitable access to resources, care options and support networks. We need you to do more than share the suicide prevention hotline every time we lose a national icon. The tip of the iceberg catching your eye while it’s trending on Facebook does next to nothing for those who have been trapped under the glacial shelf for decades.

Yes, the suicide prevention hotline is an absolutely critical tool that save lives. But it is also one of the most limited tools we can use. By the time someone calls, they are in crisis, suicidal, or possibly already making plans. To actually prevent suicides, we need to do preventative work. We need to address the surrounding circumstances and systemic deficiencies that lead to suicidal ideation in the first place.

While I haven’t made any suicide plans since my last attempt in 2009, I quite often experience suicidal ideation. It can be brought on by any number of things — from perceived abandonment to miscommunication at work. Even with the wide array of coping skills I’ve developed, the lack of available resources, the cost of care and the inconsistency of support make it excruciatingly difficult to maintain any type of preventative plan for myself.

Since February 2017, I have been actively seeking a therapist and have been declined by upwards of 50 providers in my area. Either they did not accept my insurance, their practice was full, or they did not feel comfortable taking me on due to my diagnoses. Most did not offer a referral elsewhere.

During that period of time, I went through two major manic episodes, a major depressive episode, one minor psychotic break, and at least five major periods of dissociation. No medication. No therapist. No hospital. Just me and my 13 personalities.

I’m not saying this because I’m proud of it. I’m saying this because it’s outrageous and unacceptable. I’m saying this so we can skip the suggestions: try x clinic, y therapy or z medication. Folks living with mental illness have been trying. We’re sick of trying. We need you to try. We need our allies to put the kind of effort into our care that we put in. Show up for us. Advocate with us. Fund us.

Look into low-barrier programs in your area and figure out how to get involved — either with your time or your money. Specifically look for programs that are local, low-cost or free, and accessible. Programs that run frequently, such as weekly support groups or courses offered several times per year, are even more ideal because the security of consistent connections is critical to suicide prevention.

Low-barrier programs — specifically NAMI Whatcom’s Peer-to-Peer course and Connections Recovery Support Group — were the only formal support I had access to during one of the most challenging growth periods of my life. Without them, I — like hundreds of thousands of other Americans — would have had no access to care.

If you truly value mental health and those in your life living with mental illness, embrace this national moment — not to share, post, retweet or follow — but to act, give, show up, step up.

If you do “share,” share what you’re doing to support mental health in your community.

How I Met the Woman Behind Schizophrenic.NYC

When I first met Michelle Hammer, she made exactly zero impression. I remember the conference we were both attending, but I don’t remember her. I have some vague recollection of a loud, inappropriate woman talking about meeting men on Tinder, but to this day, she claims it wasn’t her.

My first memory of “meeting” Michelle is was when she emailed about being a guest on The Psych Central Show. The email was pretty short and, frankly, not very inspiring:

I’ve been following your facebook and social media and it looks like you’re doing some awesome stuff. I was wondering if you would like to collab in any way? One way I was thinking was being a guest on your Podcast. Of course it’s your decision.

I had no idea who she was and, awkwardly, I had no idea what a collab was. I ignored the email, as I saw it as a pitch to get on the show. In any given week, I turn at least five people away who write me better pitches, so the decision to ignore her was an easy one.

Then she sent me a video that WebMD made about her life with schizophrenia. I did take a little more interest because they had recently hired me, but her pitch, again, was lacking:

“Hey! Watch my video that WebMD made about me!”

I didn’t watch the video and I didn’t reply to her until — through a series of odd events — I was on a panel to help choose a speaker. Michelle’s name was on the top of the short list and, frankly, the only one I recognized at all. So, I Googled her, looked at her website, and sent her an email.

A Late Night Conversation with a Schizophrenic

Michelle HammerWe began chatting, sharing our experiences, and, after a few weeks, fate intervened again and I was working on a project near her home. Michelle agreed to take a train, a bus, and walk two miles to meet me in New Jersey. We met in the lobby of my hotel where, after an obligatory hug, she started loudly proclaiming that she was wearing a cock ring. It was a weird piece of jewelry in the shape of a penis she wore on her finger for, well, I still don’t know.

My first impression was that she was loud, short, and energetic — and, despite my best efforts at ignoring her, she drew me in. I wanted her to talk softer and louder all at once. I wanted to explain to her how inappropriate she was and do whatever it took to make sure she didn’t stop. She was something I couldn’t put my finger on, but I was certain the world needed more of whatever it was she was doing.

I’m long past the point where I think that every person who lives with mental illness is a hero. Maybe I’m jaded; maybe the fact I’m bipolar makes me evaluate others in similar situations differently. More than anything, I’m tired of people thinking we are all heroes just because we’re not drooling all over ourselves.

Michelle, however, is different. She battles a terrifying illness with a quiet dignity that manifests itself in loud outbursts. She can command a room by sitting slumped over in a corner, exhausted. She doesn’t filter her words, maybe because she’s a schizophrenic or maybe because she’s a New Yorker.

To make life better for people living with mental illness, she designed a clothing line to educate and start conversations about mental illness. While the rest of us sit in the relative safety of our homes and write blogs or make social media memes, she stands on the streets of one of the most aggressive cities in America and explains to anyone who will listen that one in five New Yorkers will have a mental health crisis this year. She looks them in the eyes and doesn’t flinch.

She is one of the bravest advocates I know — and I know many amazing advocates. She pretends to be confident in a way I can’t help but admire. She’s scared of her Mama, but not of yelling “suck my d***” in a crowded room. She comes off as detached from and disinterested in the world and people around her, but has told me the story of a homeless man she saw “who probably has schizophrenia, too” no less than ten times. She’s outwardly confident and inwardly paranoid, a combination that I find uniquely exhilarating.

Collaborating with a Schizophrenic

Eventually, I figure out what a “collab” was and we decided to start a podcast titled “A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast.” It’s a cool show where we talk about the past, present, and future through the lenses of people who live with mental illness. Michelle is reserved when the microphone flips on and censors herself in a way that is endearing, but extremely regrettable. I enjoy working with her because she makes me better at what I do. She is a good person to commiserate with, when she’s not singing Britney Spear’s songs at the top of her lungs.

If Michelle has taught me nothing else — and believe me, she’s taught me a lot — it’s that I need to pay closer attention to the awful pitches I get to be on The Psych Central Show. There might be another Michelle in there. . .

. . . Which is altogether exciting and terrifying.


Ep 10: Schizophrenia & Bipolar Symptoms: 2 Truths and a Lie Edition

Listener favorite Two Truths and One Lie returns, but with a twist. Gabe and Michelle each share three stories about specific symptoms they have of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (respectively). All six of these examples are believed to be factual by many people, but only four of them are accurate. After sharing the examples, Gabe and Michelle challenge each other to guess which two of their symptoms are real and which one is a lie.

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“Just because you’re acting normal doesn’t mean you’re not sick.” ~ Gabe Howard

Highlights From ‘Schizophrenia and Bipolar Symptoms’ Episode

[1:26] Michelle shares how she hears her name being called as a symptom of schizophrenia.

[2:10] Gabe shares a story about chronic masturbation as symptom of bipolar disorder.

“Say My Name” vs. “Bipolar Bop”

[3:05] Michelle shares a story about a simple delusion snowballing into something much bigger.

[5:12] Gabe talks about living with the extremes of bipolar mania and depression with no middle ground.

“Exaggerated Memory” vs. “Heads or Tails”

[7:00] Michelle speaks publicly for the first time about  her other personality, “Hammer.”

[8:50] Gabe talks about bipolar irritability and the little things that make him angry.

“Sybil” vs. “Gabe Gets Annoyed at the Most Basic Things”

[13:00] Michelle guesses which symptom of bipolar disorder Gabe is making up.

[14:50] Gabe guesses which symptom of schizophrenia Michelle is lying about.

A bipolar, A schizophrenic, and a Podcast

Meet The Hosts of #BSPodcast

GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit gabehoward.com.


MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May, 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit schizophrenic.NYC.



The Roller Coaster Ride of Grief

I was talking with someone recently about grief when she said that it felt like being on a roller coaster ride. This person is facing the impending death of a loved one even as there is no definitive timeline per the treatment team. We spoke of the dynamic of anticipatory grief and the ways in which it impacts the process of letting go of this person as she plans her future in the face of his eventual absence.

I have found both in my therapeutic practice and in my personal life, that anticipatory grief genuinely effects mourners, although a 2006 article published in the Counseling, Psychology, and Health Journal questions if it exists as a phenomenon.1 In nearly 40 years in practice, I have sat with widows and widowers, siblings, children and parents who have spoken about preparing themselves for the inevitable passing and the ways in which it was helpful, even as they knew that it was not fully possible.

When my husband was in the end stage of liver disease, I looked in the mirror each morning and asked, “Is this the face of a woman about to lose her husband?” Call it denial, perhaps, but for most of the five and half weeks he was in the MRICU (Medical Respiratory Intensive Care Unit), the answer was “No.” That was until the day that his doctor called me aside and discussed disconnecting life support. Through my sleep deprived fog, I had to change the answer to, “Yes. Today is the day that I say the final goodbye,” although I had been doing so gradually, even as I held out hope that a liver transplant would indeed occur, and he would live.

When both of my parents were receiving hospice care, I was in that limbo state of waiting for the phone to ring with the call that would have me boarding a plane to fly to South Florida for their funerals. I pondered what my life would be like without the daily check-in calls and familiar voices on the other end of the line. Now, 10 years post passing of my father and nearly eight after my mother’s death, I am certain that they had raised me to be able to live without them. I still miss them profoundly, even as I feel their presence powerfully.

A dear friend whose husband died a few years ago, was clear about her feelings, that although she prepared for his death, since he had been ill for many years, she wasn’t prepared to live without him. Even though that is her truth, as she continues to live what appears to be a robust and resilient life, in her private moments, the devastating reality is, that her Beloved is not with her and she still deeply grieves. One thing that is abundantly clear, there is no statute of limitations on grief.

What occurred to me and what I shared was that the roller coaster ride of grief it is not like the typical carnival attraction since that one is time-limited, you know you are going to get off in five minutes and you can predict the twists and turns since you can see the track before you sit down. It is exhilarating and fun.

With grief, there is no way to tell how long the ride will last, the track changes and switches position once you are on board and much of the time, you feel like you are riding upside down. You are also not likely to lift your arms over your head and yell, “Whhhheeee!” Be sure to buckle your seatbelt and keep your hands on the bar for support. It is quite the wild ride.

I watched this Facebook video that shares the story of one family and the ride they were on with their daughter whose life was swept away by cancer. They found themselves lofted by her intermittent recovery and plummeted precipitously by her eventual succumbing to the disease. Sixteen years have passed since she took her final breath and I imagine that there are times that her parents still feel like the breath is being sucked from their own lungs.

I polled friends about their metaphor for grief:

“I began to experience my brain as being swollen. (Trauma) that reframing helped me be gentle with the awareness that my brain did indeed feel swollen. Cloudy. Forgetting things. Uncertainty beyond what is normal for my brain when it wasn’t swollen. It can be scary. Particularly when people move on and forget and say things to you like “you’re too young” indicating dementia -that’s the last thing any grieving person needs. An add on from those who forget what it was like for them or maybe haven’t really experienced — what you are experiencing. If there is one thing I learned in real-time with the recent loss of my father it would be: people really do not have a clue… happy when education and awareness is offered.”

“I speak of the roller coaster ride too and there isn’t a time limit either. It is quick unexpected and at times shocking. The remedy I have is that I express my grief any way I like. I work with grief and can share some of the silly things I do (according to some and those I no longer hang around with) that help others grieve in their own way. I also have noticed that I tend to hang around with people who get it – whatever the injury happens to be. People with whom I can laugh, cry, talk about my precious three or not without thinking I AM GETTING OVER IT. That will never happen — I function well and remain accountable for the way I feel.”

I never gave it an actual metaphor but now that I think about it, it feels like a yo-yo. There are good days and bad and back and forth again. There are days I think of someone and cry, other days I laugh. Up and down.”

This assessment will assist in determining the impact of complicated grief.


  1. Reynolds, L. and Botha, D. (2006). Anticipatory grief: Its nature, impact, and reasons for contradictory findings. Counselling, Psychotherapy, and Health, 2(2), pp.15-26.

Ep 8: Common Questions Asked of a Bipolar and a Schizophrenic

Ep 8: Common Questions Asked of a Bipolar and a Schizophrenic


We answer listener questions in this episode of A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. Gabe and Michelle both have stories of their experiences with mania, and also discuss which they feel is worse, mania or depression.

When does Michelle tell the people she dates that she has schizophrenia? A listener wants to know why Michelle doesn’t act like the stereotypical schizophrenic. Michelle has the most fantastic response, according to Gabe.

Hear them share what it’s like in recovery living with bipolar and schizophrenia. Finally, the age old question is asked: How can I get my loved one to be doing as well as you?


Subscribe to Our Show:
The Psych Central Show Podcast iTunes Google Play The Psych Central Show
And Please Share & Review!

Highlights From ‘Answering Listener’s Questions’ Episode

[1:10] Question #1: What is it like to be manic?

[5:45] Question #2: How does being bipolar and schizophrenic in recovery affect your everyday life?

[9:15] Question #3: How does being mentally ill affect your dating life?

[12:20] Question #4: If it existed, would you take the pill to cure your mental illness?

[15:45]  Question #5: Michelle, people with schizophrenia are often out of their minds, rambling, drooling…why aren’t you?

[19:00]  Question #6: How can I get my loved one to be doing as well as you?


A bipolar, A schizophrenic, and a Podcast

Meet The Hosts of #BSPodcast

GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit gabehoward.com.


MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May, 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit schizophrenic.NYC.


Bipolar Disorder: When You Feel Like You’re Starting Over

Gabe Howard’s biggest fear is that his bipolar disorder will get worse. “I’m more worried about the symptoms of bipolar disorder coming back than I am about anything else. Literally anything else. I’ll walk through the streets after midnight in New York City and not be a bit concerned about being attacked — but I’ll be terrified of losing everything to bipolar disorder.”

Elaina J. Martin also fears getting sicker. “I worry I will get in a depression so dark I will become suicidal because it has happened before.” She, too, worries about the mania returning. “Mania is ‘crazy.’ At first it is fun, but then you get out of control.”

Karla Dougherty, a writer who’s penned over 42 books, fears her bipolar II disorder will crush her creativity, because the health of her creativity is related to the health of her mind. “You’re always afraid you’ll lose that flow, that rhythm, that pushed you in a creative direction in the first place.”

When you have bipolar disorder — or any chronic condition — it’s understandable to have anxiety about the illness’s impact. And this anxiety may come with a parade of what-ifs and worst-case scenarios.

Amy Marlow was recently diagnosed with bipolar II disorder (along with PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder). As she writes in her powerful post, “I feel like every thought begins with what if. What if I have to change my medication? What if it doesn’t work? What if I lose everything I’ve worked so hard for? What if I get sick again?”

When you have bipolar disorder — or any chronic condition — it also can feel like you take one step forward and then 10 steps back. It can feel like you’re constantly starting over. Which is incredibly frustrating and demoralizing.

After a manic or depressive episode, Martin, who pens the Psych Central blog Being Beautifully Bipolar, feels disappointed in herself, sparking sinking thoughts like: “It happened again. I thought I was better.”

And it’s downright exhausting. “Both mania and depression zap a lot of your energy and when you are over an episode, you feel washed up,” Martin said.

After experiencing an episode, Howard has felt a mix of relief and terror. “I’m relieved because it’s over and I was able to weather the storm and use the tools at my disposal to get back to ‘normal.’ But, when it is over, I have time to think about how I ‘slipped’ again. I start thinking, ‘What if I hadn’t gotten better? Was this a close call?’ The worse the episode was, the longer those feelings linger.”

When you’ve just had an episode and you feel like you’re starting over, or when you fear getting sicker, the below tips and insights may help:

Practice acceptance. According to Dougherty, the most important thing you can do is to accept that you have bipolar disorder. “Accept that you have a condition that will sometimes affect your life in negative ways. Accept that you cannot get rid of bipolar disorder the way you can get rid of the flu.” But this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a satisfying, successful and fulfilling life.

Don’t get complacent. You do have some control over whether or not you get sicker, said Howard, who hosts The Psych Central Show podcast and co-hosts A Bipolar, A Schizophrenic, and A Podcast . Which is why he stressed the importance of being constantly vigilant, and not becoming complacent.

This seems obvious. But, as Howard said, think about how many people are prescribed 10 days of medication to treat their illness, and stop taking it as soon as the pain or fever or other symptoms subside. They forget or they assume they don’t need it, because they’re feeling better.

Not being complacent means never skipping your medication or missing doctor appointments, Howard said. It means reporting all your symptoms to your doctors and paying close attention to your mood changes, he said. “In order to stay well, we must keep doing the things that made us well in the first place.”

Dougherty also noted that bipolar disorder requires a lifetime of awareness—from knowing when to get help to knowing when to discuss a medication change with your doctor. In her book Less Than Crazy: Living Fully With Bipolar II, Dougherty uses the analogy of a swimming pool. As she explained:

“Water levels and quality must be checked every day before you can safely swim. Like that swimming pool, people with bipolar disorder must check how they are feeling every day to find the right balance. More anxious than usual? Maybe you need to call your doctor. Insomnia? Maybe you need to write in a journal. Not being comfortable in your own skin? Maybe you need to call a friend. In other words, like that swimming pool, you need the tools to stay balanced—where it’s safe to swim and the weather is fine.”

Have a plan B, C and D. This is essential, according to Howard, also a writer and speaker. For instance, he worries about losing his health insurance. (And, sadly, insurance is especially tricky if you have a pre-existing condition.) Which is why he’s saved up money. In addition, Howard has doctors on call and a great support system (more on that below).

Build a support system. When she’s frustrated and anxious about her illness, Dougherty finds comfort in her strong support system: her husband, friends and dogs. Surround yourself with people who have your well-being and best interest at heart. Surround yourself with people you can talk to. This includes your friends and family, support groups and mental health practitioners.

Savor and celebrate your wellness.
Martin, author of the forthcoming memoir There Comes a Light: A Memoir of Mental Illness (late spring 2018), believes that the best advice she’s gotten when worrying about another episode or hospitalization is: “It’s OK to be OK.” “I didn’t have to wait for the other shoe to drop. I could revel in being well.”

When her mind starts racing and worrying about starting over, Marlow refocuses. “I have to pick myself up. In this present moment I can focus on who I am and how far I have come — not how far I have to go. I can’t control everything but right now I can do my best to acknowledge the fear and then reconnect with some opposite truths. I am not re-living getting sick again — it feels similar but it is not the same. This is just life with mental illness. This is a bump in the road of recovery.”

When you, too, start worrying and the what-ifs pile up, remind yourself that this is a bump in the road of your recovery.

As Dougherty said, “It might feel like your world is falling apart right now but remember that you haven’t always felt this way.” And remember you always won’t. Because you will get through it — whatever the bumps, challenges and fears.

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