Building a support system to help you manage bipolar disorder is easier said than done. In this episode, Gabe and Dr. Nicole share that a support system is helpful and give hints and tips on how to build your team.
They discuss who you should have on your support team and how to recruit them as well as who to avoid and why. They also share the five most important people they feel can offer the best support.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
He is also the host of Healthline Media’s Inside Mental Health podcast available on your favorite podcast player. To learn more about Gabe, or book him for your next event, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Dr. Nicole Washington is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she attended Southern University and A&M College. After receiving her BS degree, she moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to enroll in the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed a residency in psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa. Since completing her residency training, Washington has spent most of her career caring for and being an advocate for those who are not typically consumers of mental health services, namely underserved communities, those with severe mental health conditions, and high performing professionals. Through her private practice, podcast, speaking, and writing, she seeks to provide education to decrease the stigma associated with psychiatric conditions.
Find out more at DrNicolePsych.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Bipolar, a Healthline Media Podcast, where we tackle bipolar disorder using real-world examples and the latest research.
Gabe: Welcome, everyone. My name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder.
Dr. Nicole: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist.
Gabe: I want to talk about building a support team. It has been brought to my attention that I’ve been pretty fortunate in my life, Dr. Nicole, and that I had I had family. I had my parents, my grandparents, extended family cousins. And even though I lost a lot of friends during, you know, my, my, my, my sick times before I was diagnosed and before I reached recovery, I always still had a couple of people who sort of stuck around. Not everyone has that. Some people, they’re kind of starting fresh. But as you’ve pointed out before, you really cannot overstate the importance of having supportive people in your life.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah. No man is an island. Isn’t that what they say? And that’s.
Gabe: That’s what they say.
Dr. Nicole: That’s what they say. And that’s pretty accurate when it comes to dealing with serious medical issues, whether it be a chronic physical health condition or whether it’s bipolar disorder. People need people.
Gabe: I love that you said people need people and maybe more specifically, people need the right people. I would love to tell you that all you have to do is go out and grab like five people, right? Just like, hey, go find five people, Put them on the payroll. Right? Just have a pizza party. Invite your five neighbors over. Boom. You got a support team, but you need the right support team members. Some support team members are easier to get than others. And every support team member has a caveat. Now, for my money, I think you need you need a, you need a Dr. Nicole, right? You need a psychiatrist or a nurse practitioner, somebody to look into your meds, if that’s the direction that you’re going. And then I think you need a therapist, somebody to process. Right? So that’s, that’s the second one. And then we get into the three. The three. Here’s where it gets a little murky. I think that people need family, people that knew you when you were little. Right? People that say, I used to change your diapers. I think those people are important. And depending on where you come from, that can be harder to get. And I also think that you need a friend, like a good friend, the person that you tell all your deep, dark secrets to and who doesn’t judge you and is just willing to listen. And then I think you need somebody who lives with bipolar disorder, who maybe you meet in a support group, a peer group, just somebody that understands the shorthand of living with bipolar disorder. So those are the those are the five, right? You can have as many people in your group as you want, but those are the five that we’re going to focus on for today’s episode.
Dr. Nicole: Okay. I like it. I like it. I already have questions like I’m already curious about it.
Dr. Nicole: I’m already curious about a couple of things.
Gabe: I have questions for you.
Dr. Nicole: Okay.
Gabe: It seems to me and you be honest with me, Dr. Nicole, it seems to me that in that list, the two easiest people to find should be the psychiatrist, the prescriber, right? Nurse practitioner, whomever is going to prescribe your meds and the therapist like that just seems like it should be an appointment, right? Like you just make an appointment that should be like getting carpet or ordering a pizza, right? You just dial a phone number. Boop, boop, boop, boop, boop, boop, boop. Yeah. What do you got available? Yeah, I can be there at 5:00 to see Dr. Nicole hang up, but it turns out that’s very, very hard.
Dr. Nicole: I was good.
Gabe: It’s very hard. Do you see that in your practice?
Dr. Nicole: I was going to say, I don’t know where you live or what life you live in, but it is not that easy. Finding a therapist, I tell patients all the time is like trying to find a hairdresser or a new church. When you move to a new town like you might know the first time, it’s a great fit. You might have to go a couple of times before you realize, oh, I don’t think this is working. You might from day one know this is my person. Like, I feel good about this whole plan. But that’s not everybody’s story. I can’t tell you how many times people say, well, I tried therapy and it doesn’t work or I tried therapy for a while and it just wasn’t for me. And when they explained it to me, it just sounds like they weren’t a good fit with the therapist. So, I would say that relationship is pretty tricky to establish now. Now I do. I think the psychiatrist relationship is important, but I’ll be completely honest with you and tell you I think the relationship with the therapist is even more important than the relationship with the psychiatrist. I think it helps to have a great relationship with your psychiatrist, but I think that relationship can be maneuvered a little bit easier when you don’t necessarily feel them all the way. But it’s a lot harder when you’re talking about therapy.
Gabe: I always feel like the bad guy when I’m talking to family members and they say things like, well, why doesn’t my loved one just go to a doctor and get help? Why won’t my loved one go to a therapist and just get better? And I have to say, well, maybe they’ve tried. You say, that they’re not seeing a doctor or they’re not seeing a therapist. Have you asked why? And they say, well, because they don’t want to. Okay, now, now, hang on. I want to be very clear. Is that you saying that or do you know for a fact that they had the opportunity to walk into a psychiatrist’s office, a prescriber’s office, a doctor’s office, a therapist office and refused. And then they start to think, right. You see their eyes move to the left and they’re like, well, well, hang on. And then they say stuff like, well, well, they called the insurance company and wouldn’t follow up. Okay, well, now, now, now we’re getting somewhere. Now, now your issue is they won’t follow up. Okay. That’s a big difference. There’s a big difference between refuses to see a doctor and won’t follow up because won’t follow up means they’re hitting barriers. They’re hitting barriers to care. And you’re assuming the reason that they’re not pushing through those barriers is because of laziness or maliciousness or some sort of desire to stay sick when it’s more likely than not they’re not pushing through those barriers because they simply just don’t have the strength or because it’s actually validating their worldview. Right? People with bipolar disorder, especially when sick, they say, hey, nobody cares about me. And then they call their insurance company, they call their local counseling center, they call their doctors, they call whomever and say, hey, I need an appointment. They don’t get a call back. And they’re like, boom, there you go. If that is not proof positive, I don’t know what is completely different vibe.
Dr. Nicole: There’s a different vibe. And, you know, sometimes people, well, I won’t even say sometimes people you know, sometimes doctors don’t always explain things very well. So, one of the biggest things I hear when a person comes to me after they’ve seen someone else and they say, oh, I saw Doctor so-and-so, but I hated him and I don’t live in that big of a city. So, I know most of the psychiatrists in the area. There are some names when they say, oh, I didn’t like them, I could go, Oh, maybe they’re a little bedside manner. Okay, we’ll see. But sometimes it’s somebody who I think, oh, wow, I think that’s a pretty great doctor. Like I’d go to that person and I try to dig a little bit as to why. And it boils down to communication. Because we do sometimes make the assumption that people just understand everything we’ve said in a visit.
Gabe: And that’s the final part that I want to hit on when it comes to building your support team from the medical side, from the doctor, the psychiatrist, the therapist. Right. There’s a ton of onus that’s on us, on the person living with bipolar disorder. So often I think we get it wrong. We’re like, well, what are you doing for me? How are you fixing me? How are you making me better? We’re not a car. We’re they’re not mechanics. It doesn’t work that way. We have to be integral to the process. And often, especially in the beginning, when we’re still scared, when we’re still learning the ropes, when we don’t have a support team, which is why we’re building it in the first place. We misunderstand the role of doctors, prescribers, therapists, nurse practitioners, just and even case managers and the other people who circle in and out of our lives. And we think that they’re supposed to make us better. No, they are supposed to help us learn how to make ourselves better. And that’s a real big key when building your support team because you want to make sure that you’re putting people on your team who are coachable and you’re the coach and that’s just going to go through the rest of the show. And, you know, let’s talk about let’s segue slightly into what is considered a paraprofessional. And depending on where you go, peer support specialists and certified peer support specialists, it’s a real, real growing trend in the United States.
Gabe: Now, the first thing that I want to say is peer supporters do not have to be certified. So, if you want a certified peer supporter, you need to make sure that they have that name in their title. And then, of course, you want to ask them what is the certifying body? Do they have a national certification, a state certification, a local certification? Did they take a class online? There are all different types of certifications and you have to decide which one is okay for you. I’m not saying that any one is good and any one is bad. Just know what you’re getting into. For example, if you go to a support group, the facilitator is usually taken a class to be trained, to be a facilitator. Now that’s a type of certification, but it’s obviously much different than a certified peer supporter who’s taken a three-week class to work in an emergency room who is employed by the hospital. Yet we sort of have that catchall name, peer supporter or certified peer supporter that catches them all. But for the purposes of this podcast, a peer is somebody who’s been where you are. It is somebody who also lives with bipolar disorder. And I believe that an integral part of a support team is that peer.
Dr. Nicole: Do you feel like the peer has to have bipolar disorder? could a person living with schizophrenia and who’s in recovery? Could they be a peer support for somebody who has bipolar disorder? Does it have to be the same illness?
Gabe: No, I don’t think they have to have the same diagnosis. I will say it’s very personal to you and you have to have that commonality. Right. I think that’s where a good peer support relationship goes. Now, you mentioned bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. I think that that could be a good peer relationship because schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, they have some commonalities, whether it’s bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. They both could have been suicidal or even had a suicide attempt. Bipolar and schizophrenia. Psychosis is a is a is a potential commonality that they could share. They both could have been committed to a psychiatric hospital. They both could have experienced depression. And then, of course, there’s other factors that come on board as well. Do you see the world the same way? Are you from the same town? Do you have maybe the same home relationship? Where are you building that connection, for example? I think that me living with bipolar disorder, it’s not one bipolar fits all. All right? I’m a white 46-year-old white man from Columbus, Ohio. I don’t think that a good peer supporter for me would be a 17-year-old African-American woman who was just diagnosed. I don’t know that we would have a lot in common. I don’t know that we would connect. I would say things like, well, she’s a kid and she would say, no, I’m your peer supporter. And we wouldn’t see the world the same way because of age, gender experience. And of course, I’ve been managing bipolar disorder for 20 years and she’s been diagnosed for. Let’s just bleed as much as we can get out of this analogy and say that she was diagnosed a year ago. So, when you see it that way, that what you want to find are those strong
Dr. Nicole: Hmm.
Gabe: Connections where you can learn from each other. And of course, and this is my favorite part, you can have the shorthand,
Dr. Nicole: Right.
Gabe: Right? You’re a doctor, Dr. Nicole. Don’t you talk to other doctors differently than you talk to even your friends, family or patients?
Dr. Nicole: Sometimes it depends in clinical settings. Absolutely. The language is different. The lingo is different.
Gabe: The real bottom line is, I think that cultures and groups, they have a shorthand, they have a language. They just want to talk to each other in the way that’s most comfortable to them. And they don’t want to worry about having to frankly define any words. They don’t want to have to worry about people saying, oh, that’s not the way you say that, or what’s that? Or I’ve never experienced that. I Dr. Nicole, I want to tell you, I love my wife. I do. But it is sometimes a burden that she has never experienced any sort of mental health issue or mental illness. I wouldn’t wish it on her, but sometimes I’m like, I can’t get out of bed. I’m depressed, and, you know, she’s being good. She’s rubbing my back. She’s
Dr. Nicole: Hmm.
Gabe: She’s bringing me pretzels. Right. And she’s doing everything. She’s like, all right, maybe we can try. And I’m like, Yeah, yeah, that’s the wrong answer.
Dr. Nicole: Hmm.
Gabe: That’s the wrong answer. And somebody who has experienced this would know
Dr. Nicole: Yeah.
Gabe: That’s the wrong answer. So, that’s why it’s nice and that’s why it’s super important in the five to have that person around because sometimes you just want to pick up the phone and call that person and be like, Yeah, all these horrible things happen and have them know what to say.
Dr. Nicole: I agree with that. And I’ve loved really a lot of the peer support specialists that I’ve worked with over the years and have found them immensely valuable. I will say I will encourage you, if you’re assigned a peer support person, give them a chance. You may think, oh, that person has nothing in common with me. We are nothing alike. Just give them a chance. Give them a chance. And if it doesn’t work out, see if there’s another option. But give them a chance. And I won’t say that I have not encountered some peer support specialists that I am fully aware were very superficially peer support specialists. Right. We know agencies sometimes have a hard time filling positions and they need a peer support specialist and they may be tempted to say, uh, you know, going to random people like, hey, you had anxiety once. You want to be a peer support specialist. Hey, didn’t you tell me one time you grieved after your grandma died? You had depression. You want to be a peer support specialist? Sometimes they put people in positions that don’t belong there. So, I won’t tell you that sometimes you won’t get paired with somebody and you think, What in the heck? This person hadn’t experienced anything. But I do think it is possible. Just give them a chance. And they don’t necessarily have to have your diagnosis, which is why I was asking the question.
Gabe: Once again, we’re on the theme. Keep communication open. Don’t jump to conclusions. Keep an open mind. And remember, this takes some time. Give it some time. It takes time to build connections. Well, peer supports can often build it faster and you can cut through a lot of the what I like to call the red tape. It’s still not instant. And I think if we’re being honest, I would be a little scared if it was. I mean, I don’t know that I would trust it. As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, I get attached real quick. Mania makes me attached real quick thinking everything is beautiful, falling in love. This is all part of a of living with bipolar disorder. So, if a peer supporter walked in the room and talked to me for ten minutes and I decided they were my peer support soulmate, I would I would start to be really concerned about that. I would trust it much more if over the course of several meetings, over the course of a couple of weeks or even a couple of months, we built this solid foundation. We learned about each other. We started sharing experiences, getting some tips that I saw success with. That, to me, seems a lot better than, oh, I met a peer supporter on Monday and he’s my everything.
Dr. Nicole: Amen.
Gabe: He’s going to guide me out of this and that that I just I just want to say that. I think it’s worth mentioning.
Dr. Nicole: It’s absolutely worth mentioning. We can’t be going to all in too soon, right? We got we got to be a little discerning. I expect every last one of you to be discerning about who you share some of the most, most difficult times in your life with. And just be discerning, but be open.
Dr. Nicole: And we’re back discussing building a support team when you have bipolar disorder.
Gabe: Now, we’ve talked about peer support on sort of a high level. Let’s lower it to just the very, very lowest level of the people who you meet in support groups.
Dr. Nicole: Uh-huh.
Gabe: Right? I don’t want to call it peer support light, but it’s not the person that you’re meeting at like a drop-in center or a clubhouse or assigned at an agency or who is part of case management. It’s just like, hey, I pulled open my local newspaper is that thing. Are local newspapers still a thing?
Dr. Nicole: [Laughter]
Gabe: I got online and googled.
Dr. Nicole: They still. They exist, they exist.
Gabe: Local support groups. I found a bipolar group and I want to go now. All of those people are peers as well, and they can be part of your team. But I want to give some caveats. That is a great place to go. A support group is absolutely a place to find that peer person or peer people who can be part of your team. But remember what I said about if you go and you make that instant connection and everything is beautiful and they’re the ones that are going to lead you to the Promised Land after a one-hour support group, that’s problematic. You’re going to want to slow your roll real quickly, because I have personally seen I I’ve seen romantic relationships and they go they 99% of the time, they just go so, so poorly. I’ve seen friendships go poorly. It’s not a good scene and it’s not the kind of support that you want for your support team.
Dr. Nicole: No, I mean, the peer support specialist, the certified person there is the requirement that they be in recovery. For a reason. Because you need to be in a good place to be able to help someone because as a peer support person, that person has to deal with their own mental health and the sensitivity of dealing with people who have similar symptoms. So, we want to make sure they’re good and they’re supported and they feel good. If you’re in a support group with somebody or on an inpatient unit group with someone or any other kind of setting drop-in center, you mentioned where there is no requirement for stability, you just show up as you are. It’s like church come as you are to the to the to the group. You don’t know what you’re getting. And it can be very dangerous in a time where you are in a very emotional state and they are in a very emotional state. That sometimes connection on any level can feel just electric and just so reassuring. And so, I want y’all to hear me say I don’t knock when people tell me like, oh, I met somebody in this group I’ve been going to and they’re going through the same stuff I’m going through, and we really click and we really connect and we really get each other.
Dr. Nicole: That’s the euphoria of just feeling seen and heard that may not necessarily be love or even a great friendship. I see people jump to move in together and things like that, and I’m always discouraging and they’re always like, there she goes again. Dr. Washington is telling me not to have fun, but that is euphoria. That whole feeling seen, heard after you’ve gone so long after not feeling like anybody gets you and you meet one person who’s like, Yeah, I get it. Because my family did the same thing and all of a sudden your heart starts beating fast and you start thinking, Wow, they’re pretty good looking. And next thing you know, bam, something big is happening. Not necessarily good, but something big. So, I just encourage you, if you’re looking for a peer support, not that you can’t have friends in your group and you all support each other in a way, but make sure that your primary peer support is somebody who’s in recovery and not still actively trying to figure this thing out because that can be a pretty dangerous combo.
Gabe: And I want to echo that it’s okay to enjoy that euphoric feeling. It’s okay to enjoy being seen. That’s part of the recovery process. It doesn’t mean that you need to invite them into your home. It doesn’t mean that you need to set up a boutique on Long Island. It doesn’t mean that you need to go into business together. It just it just means that you can enjoy that feeling of being seen. And listen, if it’s real, if it’s if it’s real love, if it’s a real friendship, what’s the rush? Real doesn’t go away. It’s going to be there if you take it slow. And in fact, it’s much more likely to be there if you don’t rush it. I sincerely look, you want another analogy. You drive to somebody’s house going the speed limit. Your chances of making it, albeit slower, are really high. You decide to drive the car as fast as it can humanly go. Your chances of making it are less. You may get there faster or you may crash. And that’s not what we want. I still want to say, though, Dr. Nicole, those early moments of being seen, that’s a, that’s a wonderful thing about a peer support group and about a peer supporter. You feel seen. It is okay to enjoy the feeling. Just don’t make decisions based on that feeling. Just bask in it for a little bit. So, let’s move over to friends.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah. Friends. It reminds me of a song.
Gabe: People need friends. And I think that friends are a really important part of our support team now. Ideally, you’ve got friends from your past, you’ve got friends that you went to high school with, that you went to college with, that you worked with, that maybe you have just lost connection with. That is the low hanging fruit that I would focus on when building your support team, repairing some of those relationships or just reconnecting. I was surprised at how many people I had lost touch with that there was actually no damage there.
Dr. Nicole: Hmm.
Gabe: I was just so sick and so busy being sick that I just stopped calling them back and they were so busy with their lives that they stopped calling me. And all of a sudden, three years later, I’m like, hey, why did we stop talking? And they’re like, you know, I have no idea. You want to you want to get a cup of coffee? You want to go to a movie, you want to go to a hockey game, you want to do it? I’m like, yeah. And then I can share with them that, look, over the last three years things have been really bad and they’re like, Oh my God. And then you have that nostalgia to connect with. You have. It was sort of like your relationship was on pause and now you can move forward. Not every friendship that is not present in your life has some tragic backstory. Sometimes people just grow apart.
Dr. Nicole: I do always encourage people to attempt to rekindle friendships. I’m maybe a little more hesitant than you, than you on which friendships to actually rekindle. I will admit I’m a little pessimistic sometimes because I think that we have to be very careful about the relationships we go back to. I think it’s important to do some inventory and figure out why that relationship end. Did it need to end? Did we just fall off? I want to know those things before I start telling you and encourage you to go back and rekindle a friendship that has been lost.
Gabe: I don’t think you’re being pessimistic. I think you’re being careful.
Dr. Nicole: I am careful.
Gabe: And I think that’s wise advice.
Dr. Nicole: And I’m protective of my people. So, once I have a patient and they’re mine, like I’m protective of them. So, I’m like, oh, I don’t want your feelings to get hurt. Like, I want to make sure everything’s good. Because I do know and have to prepare them for, okay, but what if you rekindle this relationship or you attempt to and they completely blow you off? How are you going to handle that? Are we going to be okay with that? Do we have a plan B? What’s the deal? How are you going to answer the question where have you been over the past few years? You kind of fell off the map. I don’t know what happened to you. That’s a whole nother problem. How do I tell them? Oh, I’ve been in and out of mental health facilities for some years, but I’m great now. You want to go to lunch next week? That’s not quite how this works, so I’m just always a little. Are so hesitant about rekindling relationships, and I just like to make sure they’re worth reviving. Like if we’re going to revive something from the dead, let’s make sure it’s something that’s worth bringing back to life, not somebody who is completely toxic to you and who you know will not be a good person to be by your side in your recovery.
Gabe: And that’s a beautiful point to bring up, and I’m glad that you said it. We don’t want to rekindle toxic relationships. People that we knew when we were super sick who may have enabled us or contributed to that. Taking an inventory of who these people are is really, really smart for your continued recovery as well. I’m strangely optimistic about friends. I really did enjoy reconnecting with people who I lost touch with, both in order to make amends and in order to just have that connection to my past. But obviously I needed to make new friends. It’s always good to make new friends. And I really think that the art of making friends for people living with bipolar disorder is identical to the art of making friends for people who don’t live with bipolar disorder. There’s so many things that you can do to increase your odds of meeting folks. Volunteering is a big one for me. I cannot stress enough how beautiful it is to go and help an organization that you care about out with other people because you get to do two things. One, the worst thing that can happen is you help an organization that you care about out. The best thing that can happen is you meet like-minded people, people who also care about that organization. And again, this isn’t this isn’t like a single shot. Please do not sign up to pick up trash at your local, you know, nonprofit. Go out there for an hour and be like, well, I didn’t get a best friend. This is some BS right here. They told me on this podcast I would get a best friend if I picked up garbage along the highway for Make America Beautiful and I got nothing. No, it’s just. It’s also something to do. It gets you out of the house. It gives you that good feeling, but it does put you in a position to meet like-minded people.
Dr. Nicole: But that is important. Having people that you can just spend time with, not necessarily people who have bipolar disorder. Just people. You don’t want your whole life to be all about bipolar disorder. You don’t want to feel like that’s the basis. It’s the same reason I do not hang out with doctors for the most part. I don’t want to be friends with doctors. Why would I do that? Are they going to want to talk about doctor stuff.
Gabe: I don’t want to be friends with doctors either.
Dr. Nicole: No, I don’t want to be with a doctor. Now, some of some of my best friends now are doctors because we started off as colleagues and we found that we had more in common than that. And so, it was a great way for us to connect on a deeper level. So, employment, whether that be part time or full-time volunteering, those are all ways to kind of find people. But when I was in medical school and residency never hung out hardly with other medical students and residents because I didn’t want to. I wanted to just be around normal people.
Gabe: You wanted a break from that.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah, I wanted a break from that.
Gabe: You didn’t want to be reminded of the stress
Dr. Nicole: Yes.
Gabe: Or whatever.
Dr. Nicole: Yes. And I think that holds true for the patients I have with bipolar disorder. They just want to be seen as a normal guy or a normal girl, whatever normal means. They just want to be seen as just a regular person. They don’t want to always be seen as, oh, that’s so-and-so who has bipolar disorder. So, I get it going to places and not necessarily wanting to bank all of your socialization on peers or other people who have illness.
Gabe: Whenever I talk about building a support team, I think people are surprised to hear that there should be people on your support team, your friends who have nothing to do with directly managing bipolar disorder. They’re not meeting your doctor. They’re not helping you with your meds. They don’t understand what you’re going through or nor do they even need to. They’re not part of your day-to-day care. They’re literally just the person that you call up because you watch the same television show or you like the same movie or you like the same sports team. They’re just the people that you hang out with because that adds value to your life. And you’re like, well, okay, but then how are they on your bipolar support team? Yeah, because they’re giving you something to do other than manage bipolar. They’re showing you a whole other world that’s out there and they’re reinforcing why you’re staying, getting, trying, reaching recovery. Just nobody wants to reach recovery so that they can have a support group of people who remind them about bipolar disorder. People want to reach recovery so they can go to Hawaii. And these are the people you’re going to Hawaii with. And I think that that’s just a super beautiful thing. And some of my friends who have literally done nothing directly with bipolar disorder have been my biggest sources of inspiration because I saw them buy a house, I saw them get married. I saw them go on vacation. I saw them get a new car. And they shared those moments with me. And I thought, I want that. This is why I’m fighting so hard to get. Well, this is why when Dr. Nicole talks, I think, okay, okay. It scares me. It angers me, it upsets me. But I’m going to work that little extra hard because I want to make sure that I have X, Y, Z as well. This is where you get your motivation and those are the people you share it with. And I believe that that is what makes friends so imperative to a strong support team when managing bipolar disorder.
Dr. Nicole: Hmm. Hmm. So, we’ve talked about the people that we choose. What about those people? We don’t choose.
Gabe: Family is a super sticky wicket. It’s always going to be a sticky wicket and it’s such a sticky wicket that we did an entire episode on managing family relationships and talking about the mistakes that my parents made and mistakes that in general parents make. Now, the previous episode focused pretty much only on parents, so I do recommend giving it a listen because a lot of those hints and tips apply to other family relationships. And of course, a lot of people really, really want to connect with their mom and dad, and I certainly understand that. But when we talk about family, remember, family is family is big family’s brother, sister, cousin, aunts, uncles, there’s all of these people. And people are like, well, I’ve just been pretty much disconnected from my entire family. What do I do? How do I how do I build up those relationships? And I want everybody to know I’m not being pessimistic. I’m just assuming that you have no reason to keep listening. If you’re already getting along great with your family and they’re super supportive. So, I’m going to assume that there’s some sort of issue that you’re trying to get over. I, I don’t have great advice because families are complicated, but the advice that I do have is sometimes it’s best to not start where the source of the trauma is like mom, dad or brother or sister. Do you have an aunt or an uncle that you can talk to? Do you have a cousin who you can talk to? Do you have people who are maybe a little further removed and they’re just like, you know, I I’m not really sure what happened there. I just know that one day you were at Thanksgiving and then I didn’t see you for four years. Reconnecting with them could be a very, very good idea to sort of help you get that family back and move through the proverbial ranks.
Dr. Nicole: As a great idea to start maybe not at the very center of the target, move a little bit out and see about coming closer as those experiences go. Well, you’re right. Families are super complicated because you just you I don’t know; you can’t pick them. You just kind of get what you get. And sometimes you win a jackpot and sometimes you don’t. I mean, I think it’s important to remember some people’s families just suck. Like, let’s just. Let’s just put that out there. Some people’s families are terrible. I have often spoken to family members and I have walked away from the conversation going, well, no wonder this person is dealing with some of these things they’re dealing with. This family is really not trying to work with them at all. And sometimes your family is going to welcome you with open arms and be there for you. I think it’s important to know who is your person, though. Like I think even within your family, you have to have that one person like the just the one.
Gabe: Mine’s my granny.
Dr. Nicole: Is it your granny?
Gabe: It’s my granny.
Dr. Nicole: Just that one. Like the one person in the family that you know is always going to be yours no matter what. If you can find that one person, it might be an auntie, it might be a cousin, it might be a sibling. But find that one person and then let that be the person. In the beginning. If the relationship is strained, let that be the person to try to help bridge with the other people where there is stress and strain. Like let them help you. Let them help you. If you don’t have a lot of negative things going on in your family’s kind of peripherally supportive, which is what I see most of the time. Most of them are not necessarily not supportive, they just aren’t actively supportive. They’re not being negative to the person. They don’t really say ugly stuff about them, but they’re also not necessarily doing things to be helpful. So, I think it’s important to have somebody that that you can go to with the things that you need. The person who knows if I get hospitalized, this is where my spare key is and make sure you go feed my dog. This is the person that you say, okay, my plants need to be watered this many times a day. Can you take care of that or can you reach out to this person and have them take care of that? If I go in the hospital, I’m going to need A, B, C, D, and E. Can you make sure these things happen? Like you need a go person. You need somebody who’s going to be able to do stuff for you and actively support you when the time comes.
Gabe: I like that you went straight to utility, Dr. Nicole. You’re like, Look, you. You need somebody to know where your spare key is in case you get locked out. And of course, you can be that for them as well. These are small things that you can focus on and build. And to that end, I want to talk about the idea of looking forward. As you’re making your way through the ranks, as you’re reconnecting with family. This is not open up the trauma again. I really think that we have to be in a strong place where we’re like, okay, I’m ready to move on, work with your therapist, work with your Dr. Nicole, and get yourself straight with this idea. You might never get an apology for the thing that you deserve an apology for. And are you okay with that? Can you build from this moment forward? Now, again, this is every family is different. There’s just not a one size fits all. Your parents may want to unpack it. Your grandparents may want to unpack it. Your brother, who you hurt, he’s like, no, I want to talk about it and I want to reach resolution. And that’s where family counseling could be very, very helpful to get that third person in the room.
Gabe: You have to be very, very nimble. But I want to say, if you’re working your way through the ranks, if you’re talking to the cousins instead of the aunt you got in the fight with, you need to make it abundantly clear that, no, I’m not sharing the story. Well, you and my mom got in a fight a long time ago. What happened there? That’s between me and your mom. I want to connect with you, and I want to get to it. Just let the family know that you’re not here looking for allies in the upcoming war you’re facing forward. You’ve got to be very, very clear that your reason for connecting with family members is to repair the damage that you had some part in causing in the family. You’re not here to open old wounds. You’re not here to win an argument. You’re not here to say anything negative. In fact, you’re hoping that we can all make new memories and move forward, make that clear up front. I think that’ll be very helpful and sincerely, from one guy with bipolar disorder to all the people with bipolar disorder who have hurt their families, whether accidentally on purpose, whatever word you want to use, they’re going to be suspicious.
Gabe: And I think that therapy is very, very helpful. So, when they’re like, hey, why are you why are you sniffing around? What do you want? What are you up to? And they don’t trust you. You can understand that. Look, that’s part of the process. You’re earning some of that trust back and it’s worth it. Don’t be mad at them. And that’s a hard thing to do. It’s a really, really hard thing to do. But having that family on your support group, Dr. Nicole. Sincerely, I believe I know this is a messed-up thing to say, I really do. But I believe that every support team for people living with bipolar disorder needs to have at least one person who can say this phrase to you. I remember when I wiped your butt. I just there’s just something about having that connection and about hearing those stories of when you were a child and the people who were around you and anchoring you in a time and place that was that was different or maybe better or just who knows. I think having a connection to your past is important. And not everyone gets that. But if you have the opportunity, I think it’s worth fighting for.
Dr. Nicole: And y’all don’t just pick the friend or family member that you know will agree with you most of the time. Pick that person who is going to hold your feet to the fire and hold you accountable when you may be stepping out of line. You want to make sure you have that person on your team, whether it be the friend or the family member, because we all need somebody in life, whether we have bipolar disorder or not, to hold us accountable when we step out of line and, believe it or not, step out of line quite often.
Gabe: Dr. Nicole. That’s it. That’s the list. Those are the five people that you need to build to your team. And here me again. You’re the coach. You’re in charge. You’re building your support team. You’re getting them to work together in whatever way you want, and you’re off to win the super NBA Stanley Cup Bowl championship. And I believe you can do it. You can do. I feel bad. We’re going to get emails from baseball folks. Like, why didn’t you add the World Series in there? What’s up with that? Baseball is a sport. I get it. I get it. I’m sorry. I just. I just say stuff. I don’t know. I don’t know. I. I sincerely, sincerely. Having a good support team has a sixth member that we never, ever talk about. And I think that we absolutely, unequivocally need to mention them. You you’re on your support team. You’ve got to be your biggest fan and you’ve got to believe that you can do it. It’s really, really important to moving forward and motivating the other members of the team.
Gabe: All right, everybody, thank you so much for tuning in. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also a public speaker who travels nationally and could be available for your next event. If you want my book, you can grab it on Amazon. However, if you want a signed copy with free swag or you just want to learn more about me, visit my website, gabehoward.com.
Gabe: Wherever you downloaded this podcast, please follow or subscribe. It is absolutely free. And hey, can you do us a favor? Share this podcast. Tell people in a support group. Tell people at work. Tell people on social media. Hell, send random people text messages about the show. Because sharing it is how we grow. We will see everybody next time on Inside Bipolar.
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