Bipolar disorder is difficult to manage and it doesn’t just affect the person with the disorder. The entire family is involved, often negatively. Unfortunately, more often than not, no one takes a greater hit than mothers.

In this episode, our host Gabe Howard’s mom shares the early signs of bipolar disorder, what it was like to deal with teenage angst on top of serious and persistent mental illness, and what her worries are now.

Join us as Gabe steps aside and leaves the show entirely in the hands of Dr. Nicole Washington as she interviews his mother, Susan Howard.

Gabe Howard

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,

Dr. Nicole Washington
Dr. Nicole Washington

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

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.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Welcome to the show, everybody. I am Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist. And Gabe, well, Gabe is not here, but, I’ve got one better for you. And I know you’re thinking who could be better than Gabe? Well, it’s the creator of Gabe, Gabe’s mom. Mrs. Susan Howard is here with us today. Susan, thank you so much for being willing to do this episode.

Susan Howard: Well, you’re so welcome. And I’m glad to be here.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Awesome. So, one of the reasons this came about is that I well, we both get a lot of feedback from listeners, which is awesome. We love it. Keep it coming. Gabe gets a lot of the feedback he gets, but I think the feedback I get is a little bit different. I get messages from the family, the parents, the significant others, the siblings, the best friends, the support system. Folks are always reaching out to me, asking questions, making comments about things we talked about. So, we talk about the psychiatrist side of bipolar disorder on this show. We talk about Gabe’s experience with bipolar disorder as a patient. So, today’s show, we’re going to talk to the people that love the people who have bipolar disorder. So, I just want to start with tell me about, like, little Gabe. Like little Gabe. Little. What was he like? Was he full of energy? Was did he have a lot of personality? What’s little Gabe like?

Susan Howard: As you probably know, he has a lot of personality.

Dr. Nicole Washington: He does.

Susan Howard: He has always had a lot of personality. He has always come up with things that you wouldn’t think a young child would come up with. Little Gabe was absolutely the perfect little boy, with the exception of typical toddler stuff and elementary age stuff and things like that. It was the teenage Gabe that was the problem.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Ah, okay, so teenage Gabe arrives on the scene. Here we are, I’m assuming late 80s, early 90s and

Susan Howard: Yes.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Late 80s, early 90s. And here is teenage Gabe. What kinds of things did you notice about teenage Gabe?

Susan Howard: I pretty much noticed that he was very defiant. He always pushed my buttons, I guess is the best way to put it. He always had to have the last word. He argued with you till there was. Till you would get so frustrated that if you didn’t hit something, you would have hit him. Very disrespectful. He did manage to upset the adults around him.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Um, at the moment. Did it feel intentional?

Susan Howard: Oh, yeah, absolutely. But he was also my first child who I had at 18 years old.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: And the joke that my mother used to say all the time is just a shame you can’t raise the first one and throw them away. Had this been

Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter]

Susan Howard: My third child, I might have recognized that, wait. This is. This is a little beyond defiance and disrespect.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm. And that whole, you know, raise them and throw them away because the first one’s always the hardest. That’s

Susan Howard: Yes.

Dr. Nicole Washington: The one we make the most mistakes on. That’s, that’s

Susan Howard: Mhm.

Dr. Nicole Washington: The one that, that we do all those things that years later we think oh I shouldn’t have done that.

Susan Howard: Did I really do that?

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: Right. Yeah.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Did I say that? Did I do that?

Susan Howard: Mhm.

Dr. Nicole Washington: No, I get that for certain. So, when? When Gabe was going through that. That phase, that teenage maturity. I’m a young man, not a boy. All all of those things. The things that most teenage boys go through. Looking back, knowing what you know now, at what point do you think that the signs of the fact that he could have a mental illness, at what point did those things kind of come out?

Susan Howard: Recognize this is in the late 80s and the early 90s that mental health was not something that was talked about it.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: There was zero education. And there was periods of time that he listened to us really well, and then there was periods of time that he didn’t. But again, I knew nothing about bipolar. I knew nothing about mental illness. It wasn’t something that was in our family. And I just thought he was your typical teenager that just had a little bit more voice. Now, in all fairness. And. We’ve talked about this. I had Gabe at an early age.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: From a previous marriage that did not last. So, Gabe’s bio dad pretty much abandoned him. My thoughts of his disrespect was because his father abandoned him and he was not my husband’s biological child, which, believe me, was never, ever went in. If anybody had Gabe’s back, it was his, his dad, his the dad that raised him. But in my mind. I gave him an excuse of it’s it’s because his bio dad was abandoned him. That was really my thoughts. That’s what I blamed a lot of his acting out on.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: And of course, it’s all in perspective now but not 30 years ago. Not 30 years ago.

Dr. Nicole Washington: No, absolutely. And I mean, that does bring up a good point because I think as parents, we we’re always trying to figure out what could be wrong. Like we always want to fix our babies. Like as moms, we’re like, what’s going on? We’re going to fix this. Like, something’s something’s wrong. There’s a hurt. I’m on a bandage. It it’s going to be fine. That sounds great. But was there ever a point where you thought, oh, this is not working, we need to do something else? Or did you write it off as this kid is just not going to do the right thing and we’re going to have to deal with that.

Susan Howard: I don’t think I would say I wrote it off. I

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: Would never have had that. But there was one point that he made me so angry. And of course, I have no idea what it was that I actually called Children’s Services to see if I could have him removed from my home. It was a split, it was in the moment of anger. I picked up that phone and I said, then you don’t need to live here anymore. And I actually made the phone call. In part of my mind, I’m thinking I’m trying to get a reaction from him. But in the other part of my mind, I was dead serious about I can’t do this anymore. Like I said, he pushed all of my buttons.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: All of them. He always had to have the last word. He and of course, in one sense, that hasn’t changed. So.

Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter] Oh, gosh. So, some of that is just personality.

Susan Howard: [Laughter]

Dr. Nicole Washington: Some of that we can’t fix.

Susan Howard: Yeah.

Dr. Nicole Washington: But as a mom, I can only imagine. I have two children of my own, and I can only imagine that you were driven to a place that you just had never been and never thought you would go, because I can’t imagine making the decision that I would rather just have someone take him than for me to have to continue to deal with it. So that tells me that was a really dark space for you.

Susan Howard: It was. It was. And fortunately, it was a fleeting moment. And, of course, he shares that when he was 17, he moved in with my parents. It was either move in with my parents or he was quitting school and going out on his own. That was that was what he was thinking. But, he always, like most kids, oh, I wish I was dead. Oh, I’m going to kill myself. I remember thinking it, and I’m not mentally ill.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Uh huh.

Susan Howard: I didn’t know he was thinking it all the time. But when he said it, it was the first time when I talked to my mom, I said, Gabe said he’s going to kill himself. And mom said, do you think he will? I said, for the first time in his life, I’m not sure.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And that was at 17.

Susan Howard: And that was at 17. And that was the decision. I thought, well, if he goes and lives with mom and dad, he has more respect for them than

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: Anybody in the whole world. You know how he talks about his granny.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes. Yes.

Susan Howard: And my dad. So, it was it was a decision that was hard. But I can’t tell you how relieved I was

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: That he was moving.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So, once he got to grandparents, did the behaviors get better? Did they continue?

Susan Howard: The behavior’s got better because he had there. My dad was retired. My mom didn’t work. Well, you know what I mean when I say. Didn’t work outside the home

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes. Yes.

Susan Howard: And they kept on him. They kept on his teachers. They kept on him. They did things with him. They constantly were watching him. Not because he was mentally ill, because we didn’t know it, but

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.

Susan Howard: Because they were there. They were concerned. He moved there for a reason so he could get his education and so he could be out of the situation where we thought was our home. And we know better now. But at the time, very much he was, you know, bickering with the siblings. There was things going on around him. I worked outside of the home, hence part time, but I still did. Husband, his dad. He was an over-the-road truck driver. So, you know how often he was home.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Susan Howard: Every other day for ten hours. He was not. He was not. I always I always said I was a single mom with a husband benefits.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Susan Howard: Of the income that could support us. So, and I only worked part time. I did not work full time.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So, he gets the grandparents. And it’s I think it’s worth pointing out that he had a lot of support.

Susan Howard: A lot of support.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And it sounds like the level of support that he had is just not a level of support that most family systems are able to give to any child, let alone, you know, a child who has had some of the problems that Gabe had coming into it. And I you know, I’m sure somebody’s listening and they’re like, well, why couldn’t she do that? Why couldn’t she give him that level of support? Well, it’s a whole lot different being the grandparent who’s retired and who has all the time and attention to dote on the grandkid than the mom who’s, like she said, a single mom and raising two kids and having to work

Susan Howard: Actually, three children. There’s three of them.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Three children, yeah. So, raising three children

Susan Howard: Yeah.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And having to work. And so, I don’t want people listening to think, well, she could have done that. Why did she have to ship him off to her grandparents? Listen, grandparents live a whole different life than parents. It is. I’m sure that now you’re in the grandparent phase. You’re appreciative

Susan Howard: I am.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Of that, of that phase. It’s fantastic I hear. I’ll get there one day, I’m sure.

Susan Howard: It is.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So. So, they get him out of high school, I’m assuming. Grandparents.

Susan Howard: Yes. Yes.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And here he is, young adult Gabe. So now we’ve moved into yet a new set of roadblocks for him to have to navigate. knowing the troubles he’d had up until that point, what were your concerns as a parent?

Susan Howard: To be honest, I didn’t have any. So, he didn’t live in the same area I did in the beginning. And so, adult Gabe. I didn’t see sick adult Gabe. I didn’t see that side of Gabe.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: Because, you know, as a mother, we have a tendency to put on blinders.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes, we do.

Susan Howard: And not see

Dr. Nicole Washington: Those glasses are very rosy.

Susan Howard: What’s right in front of us.

Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter] He’s had a great past couple of years with my parents. Like life is good.

Susan Howard: To quote Gabe, I’m a Pollyanna.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: So, if you want to know my personality, that’s kind of where I’m at. I’m one of these people that can shelf things.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm-hmm.

Susan Howard: If it’s not, if I’m not in the moment, I can leave it where it’s at.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: So, I just didn’t deal with it. That’s pretty much sums it up. I didn’t

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: Deal with it.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Ostrich. Head in the sand.

Susan Howard: Pretty much, yeah.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: Yeah, pretty much.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay. So didn’t deal with like didn’t even think about all those things because it wasn’t helpful in the moment. You needed to in the moment, be supportive to Gabe.

Susan Howard: And I felt like I always was. We never weren’t there for him. So

Dr. Nicole Washington: Uh huh.

Susan Howard: It wasn’t a matter of we weren’t there. But like I said, pushed every single. And as an adult, let me tell you, he went off on me. You could hear it. I know you don’t see that side of Gabe, because that side’s not there anymore. It’s. It’s. It’s taken care of. That’s the. The illness. I know that now.

Dr. Nicole Washington: You said that you all were supportive the entire time. Do you think Gabe felt supported in that, in that moment or in those moments?

Susan Howard: No, not in that moment. He was mad at me. So,

Dr. Nicole Washington: Looking back, I mean, in the in all the moments, all the all the angst years, do you think there’s anything now that you would have done differently to be supportive during that time?

Susan Howard: Well, first off, I wouldn’t have ever, ever. Now I realize that it wasn’t because bio dad abandoned him. I had nothing to do with it.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.

Susan Howard: It nothing to do with it. So, I would have known that and might have taken a different course in in how I reacted. And then, of course he would have been properly, properly doctored. You know,

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: We would have had him to a psychiatrist or a psychologist that recognized that the kind of help he needed. Kind of the difference on what we would have done.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: You would have got your child the help that they needed.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right. So just more aggressive and sooner.

Susan Howard: Exactly. Exactly.

Dr. Nicole Washington: More aggressive and sooner care.

Susan Howard: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay. That that makes a lot of sense. One of the things that Gabe talks about is his family and the support that you all give and the fact that even through all of the disagreement and the discord, you were still there, like you were able to upset him because you were still present. And it sounds like it was very hard

Susan Howard: It was hard.

Dr. Nicole Washington: For you to be present and to continue to be present and to not walk away. I get a lot of feedback from people saying like, I gave up on my loved one. They have bipolar disorder. They won’t do right. They won’t. You know, I can’t continue to deal with this. And I’m just done. Like I listened to your podcast. I hope that one day this person comes around. But for now, I can’t do it. I can’t do it. What kind of advice do you have for people who are in that situation?

Susan Howard: I don’t know that I would give them advice. I can only give them as mom, I can’t imagine walking away from my child. There are different levels of what different people have been through.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: I had an out. I had my parents, so I kind of had an out. And then when he was at his lowest, he was married. So there again, I didn’t deal with that. So, would I have thought about walking away if I was the one dealing with what Lisa dealt with? Maybe I’d like to think I wouldn’t, but I’m a realist also, you know. What do they say? If somebody’s toxic in your life, walk away.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: I don’t know that I could have ever done that as a mom, you know, do as I say, not as I do. So.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes, yes, I get that. It is hard to think like, oh, this is my kid. And the advice that I typically give family members is if you have to walk away, nobody’s going to fault you for that, you know, because like you said, there are so many levels of things that family members have to deal with at the hands of someone who maybe isn’t in treatment yet and whose symptoms are pretty severe. And it can, it can get pretty severe. I tell them if you have to walk away, that is okay.

Susan Howard: Or don’t get the medication. Takes. That takes time.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah. It does take time. It does take time.

Susan Howard: Six years before Gabe’s got. Six years. Not six days. Not six weeks. Six years before he got his medication to where. He’s where at where he’s at now. It did not happen overnight.

Dr. Nicole Washington: No, it is not a quick process

Susan Howard: And everybody wants this, give me a pill. I want to fix it Now. That is not how it works.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: And recognizing that and there again, like I said, Lisa’s the one who got the brunt of most of the transition for him from sick from the worst to where he is now.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So sometimes walking away is the answer. Temporarily. I do always

Susan Howard: Temporarily.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Tell people sometimes you have to walk away and sometimes you even have to close the door. But you don’t have to bolt it and cement it closed. It can be a door that is able to be opened if and when that person gets to a point where you’re able to open that door again safely for both sides. And that is a tough decision, I think, for a lot of people to make.

Susan Howard: Wow, walking away was never in my thought process. I never thought about walking away. Even when I was calling Children’s Services, it was more of a scare tactic for him.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And a cry for help for the whole system. Yeah.

Susan Howard: Yes. Yes. And it’s like I don’t know how much more I can do of this. But again, there are times when he was great. Times that he wasn’t.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: But we know that now.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes. So, you all put the work in. You

Susan Howard: We did.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Did the research. You learned about bipolar disorder. What did you do? Did you read books? Did you go to support groups? How did you all do that?

Susan Howard: We went to a NAMI support group and learned a little bit more of that. And did the NAMI walk even and, you know, went to several meetings to learn more about bipolar.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So, organizations like NAMI where

Susan Howard: Mhm.

Dr. Nicole Washington: You were able to gain support, you talk to other people who’ve been where you are,

Susan Howard: Yes.

Dr. Nicole Washington: That that was very helpful.

Susan Howard: And family members.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes. Family members for sure. I think that is one of the greatest things about NAMI.

Susan Howard: Mhm.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Shout out to NAMI because they do provide

Susan Howard: Yeah.

Dr. Nicole Washington: A resource that you just can’t hardly find because people don’t know. People don’t know what to say to you when they find out that, oh, your kid’s been diagnosed with a mental illness like bipolar disorder, and people give you horrible advice on thing that they think you should do.

Susan Howard: Oh, yeah. Oh, he’ll get over it. That’s not real. And I still hear that. And I said, oh, let me tell you, there is nothing not real about mental illness. And until you have a close family member, sadly, nobody’s going to believe it until they personally deal with it.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: You know, at some close range. Everybody in our immediate family and even, ah, extended family understand mental illness now, but only because of people like you. People like Gabe, people like all the other advocates for mental illness. That’s the reason we know more about mental illness.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay. So, at no point. Because I do find this fascinating. So, I will tell you, I work with a lot of families and I, I get a lot of calls from families with lots of questions. So, at no point did your family have any meetings that didn’t involve Gabe, where you

Susan Howard: No.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Talked about bipolar disorder, how you all needed to support him, maybe calling somebody out for not supporting him? None of these things ever had to happen.

Susan Howard: I would say, if anything, my mom and I would talk. We are very close.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: I would say we would. Okay, what are we going to do about Gabe? And like I said, when I called to say that this is the first time I wasn’t sure that Gabe wasn’t going to go through with suicide, that was the first time that I was otherwise, you know, you took it as a teenager making a threat, you know, and like Gabe so lovingly always says, Yeah, I stayed up all night and then didn’t want to get up in the morning. Yeah, no teenagers has ever done that. I want to, you know I yelled at my parents. Yeah. No teenager has ever done that. All these things that he did, every teenager has done in their life, or at least most teenagers. So

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: When it came to that particular moment in his life, kind of the pivoting point of whether or not he was here today or not, getting his education was first and foremost. But then in. When it all came to a head. Okay. What can we do? He was in this to the financial support as much as we could. We did that, and we got to make sure Gabe has his medicine. Absolutely. As it ends up, it was never an issue. But believe me, we were going to make sure he had his meds. So, in that sense, we had those kind of support but not, you know, conversations, I guess, is what you’re looking for. But. at no time did we all sit down and say, okay, we have to do this so Gabe doesn’t get upset or we have to do this. So. So Gabe knows we’re supporting him. Gabe knew we supported him.

Dr. Nicole Washington: When you talk about things coming to a head, like what did that look like?

Susan Howard: Lisa calling us up. His girlfriend at the time saying that I just put Gabe into a mental hospital. It’s like, What? Excuse me? What does that even mean? I mean, I knew he was he was depressed, but everybody gets depressed. That doesn’t mean there’s something medically wrong with you. That just means you’re depressed.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: And so, coming to a head was that moment. I didn’t know that he was planning suicide. I didn’t know that he was given all his stuff away because he wasn’t going to need it anymore. I didn’t know any of this stuff. I don’t know if you want to say I had my head in the sand or just. Of course, he’s going to be sad. He was getting divorced from his high school sweetheart. Of course, he was sad. So. There again, normal stuff that people are sad over.

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Dr. Nicole Washington: And we’re back with Gabe’s mom discussing bipolar disorder. So, you’ve, you’ve used the word Pollyanna and we’ve talked about the ostrich, but this was that moment where you couldn’t put it on a shelf like it was right in front of your face.

Susan Howard: No, no, I could not shelf it.

Dr. Nicole Washington: You could not put it on a shelf. You couldn’t pretend you couldn’t come up with other. It was right there in your face.

Susan Howard: And I cried about it. And I when we moved him into the apartment, what he so, I don’t want to say lovingly, but what he called his suicide apartment. He took that apartment. And I’m telling you, a I didn’t think it was as bad as my husband did as Gary did, as Gabe’s dad did. I didn’t think it was as bad as, I didn’t think it was all that bad. Going in was pretty disgusting. But I thought, well, you know, you got to get a place to live. You’re selling your house. And when we helped him move, we actually drove all night. My husband got back from a trip. Gary got back from a trip, and we actually drove all night. We’re 600 miles from. From Columbus.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: And we drove all night to help him move. And Gabe sat there. And didn’t help move. It’s like, come on, this is your place we’re moving into. And my Gary, he got it right now. He said, No, it’s okay. He’s upset. We’ll take care of this. And I was. It’s okay, Gabe. We’ll fix it up. We’ll clean it. We’ll get curtains. We’ll fix it all up. We’ll make it look nice. It’s not what he wanted to hear, but

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: The Pollyanna in me. Don’t worry. It’ll be fine. But of course, he knew what his plan was. I did not.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah. You said that you cried when you when you were faced with that that knowledge. And in the moment surrounding that, did you have any regrets about how you had handled things up until that point?

Susan Howard: I would say no, just because I didn’t know, just because ignorance is bliss. So, they say, yeah. What have handled things differently? I don’t know that it would have made a difference only. If I knew that he had a mental illness. Sure, that would have made a difference if I didn’t do anything about it. But you can’t fix what you don’t know.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm. Mhm.

Susan Howard: I didn’t know. The signs. Yeah, they were there. But again, were they there? Were they that dominant? And I wasn’t around. I was 600 miles away. I was not part of Gabe’s everyday life when it came to a head.

Dr. Nicole Washington: When everything happened.

Susan Howard: Uh huh.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Do you think that Gabe thought you should have done more?

Susan Howard: I don’t know. That never occurred to me. I suppose. I suppose in the back of his mind he was, hence why he was mad at me for years. Why did actually, when he would when he read what I said, what is bipolar? I’ve never heard I’ve heard the phrase but never paid attention to what it was. And he read the definition of what bipolar was. I

Dr. Nicole Washington: Uh huh.

Susan Howard: Said, wow, that is you, Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Hyde. No in between there was no middle ground for Gabe. So, in that sense, and that’s one of the reasons he was so mad at me, the signs were there. Mom, why didn’t you see them? Why didn’t you get me help? So, yeah, I’d say yes, he was. He was angry at me that we had the signs. And we ignored them. But we didn’t ignore them. We didn’t know. Would I do it differently? Oh, absolutely. But again, until you know somebody and you actually go into the depths of what all this means.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: That’s where all this information is so wonderful. Now, people aren’t so quick to say, oh, you’ll get over it.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Uh huh.

Susan Howard: They’re more. More apt to just not bury their head in the sand. So, yeah.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah. Things are very different now. Thank. Thank the Lord. Things are very different now

Susan Howard: They are.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Then they were, than they were in the late 80s, early 90s. So, we’ve talked about the moment where things really kind of hit home for you and lots of lots of things were made clear. Things were very clear all of a sudden. So, once you find out that Gabe is in this hospital and you’ve had your tearful moment, what are your next steps?

Susan Howard: Supporting Gabe. What do you want us to do? What do we need to do? How can we help you? Do I need to come? Do you need to come here for a while? Do you? What do you want us to do? And that’s when he said, I want you to learn about my illness.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: And we did. So real eye opener there. It’s like, wow, I. I was one of those. You’ll get over it. Just suck it up. I know better now.

Dr. Nicole Washington: How did your view of him as a person change once you found out about his diagnosis?

Susan Howard: I would say it didn’t. It didn’t. I was always proud of him. He was always charismatic. He was always a talker.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: It was it. Of course, the now Gabe is so different than the then Gabe, but. How he felt about us was always. An open book. We always knew he loved us. That was never an issue.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And I know you say we were always proud of him. And I think there is a fundamental place where most parents are. You’re always proud of your kids. Like you

Susan Howard: Mhm.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Love them. Like it’s like saying, well, I always love my kids. And that is true. But as a parent, I also know there are times you don’t like your kids.

Susan Howard: Absolutely.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So, there were some times where Gabe was not likable and that maybe it was it was hard to see how proud you were of him because of some of the behaviors and some of the things that were going on. But was there still a part of you that thought my kid could be a jerk? Like it could be that my kid’s just not a good seed? Like in the moments of the anger, the things that he was doing and saying in those moments, did you have those thoughts of like, oh my gosh, my kid could not be a good person and then sit that next to them learning, oh my gosh, my kid has bipolar disorder.

Susan Howard: I don’t know if I can define it as good person versus bad person. Was I ever disappointed in his decisions? Yeah. When I found out for a whole six months he wasn’t going to school and the school never bothered to tell me. It was like what I said. I checked to make sure your car was at school. Oh, yeah. I parked it there and somebody picked me up. Okay. Those kind of things. So, I’m not sure how to quite answer that. That will resonate. How I felt about it. Yeah, we’re always disappointed in our kids for certain things. They lied to us. We found out they weren’t going to school. We found out after the fact. All those kind of things. Yes, we find out. And yeah, sure, they you’re going to be disappointed but

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: Never never to the point where for us anyway, or at least for me, never to the point where I was going to. Shut and lock the door.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Do you, do you feel like his anger was reasonable?

Susan Howard: At the time, probably thought it was typical teenager Now, looking back. Oh, no, no, there was nothing. He didn’t like a shirt and he threw a temper tantrum in a mall. because mom wanted liked the shirt and he didn’t. That’s not normal. You’ve heard him talk about the wrath of Gabe. That would have been then. Now it’s just really. Mom. Okay. All right, I get it. He teases me about my wallpaper. I love my wallpaper. Is it dated? Sure. But believe me, the old Gabe would be why I would have gotten a. A whole lecture on why I need to change this wallpaper. Whereas now it’s like, Really, Mom? So, the difference.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So, it sounds like looking back, you can recognize that anger as being above and beyond

Susan Howard: Now. Yes.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Kind of the typical anger. But that was something that only really came for you once you educated yourself about the illness and the diagnosis came and you had that moment where now everything’s making sense in a way that it didn’t make sense before.

Susan Howard: Right. And had he been the second or third child. My other two kids, even though, believe me, they did things too. They knew when to stop. They knew when to stop because they could see mom was getting mad. They

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: Knew they were going to have to pay consequences. Gabe didn’t care about the consequences. He just kept on going to the point. One time I threw a softball. Not at him, but above him to get his attention, and then it ricocheted off the wall and hit him. But that’s. Yeah. And then you hit me with a softball. He’s going on and on and on about it. Did I mean to hit him with a softball? No. Did I care I hit him with a softball? No, because I was too angry.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah, it, it is. It’s interesting to me that you brought up the whole like, first kid thing, and I guess I hadn’t thought of it in that way because you don’t have a you don’t have anything to compare to. You have no idea.

Susan Howard: Uh huh.

Dr. Nicole Washington: You have no, no clue that something is wrong because you haven’t gone through kids who didn’t behave that way. So, if he was number three, you maybe would have thought, oh, my goodness, this is not this is not this is not it.

Susan Howard: Yeah.

Dr. Nicole Washington: This is not normal like this. This is not what I this is not the normal I expect from raising a child. So maybe you would have asked more questions. But you were a young mother, a new mother, and you just didn’t really know what to expect.

Susan Howard: I was a teenage mother. As Gabe lovingly says, my mom got pregnant in high school.

Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter] Yes. Yes.

Susan Howard: Well, I did. It’s like

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: I did. So.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Gabe likes to throw you. He likes to put you under the bus.

Susan Howard: All the time.

Dr. Nicole Washington: He absolutely loves to throw you under the bus.

Susan Howard: Doesn’t bother me a bit.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Um, it does it not? I mean, are

Susan Howard: No.

Dr. Nicole Washington: You. Because he says a lot of things about you.

Susan Howard: He goes into more detail when he’s, when he’s not public. Like, come on, Gabe. Enough of that. But you would not believe some of the things we hear. So, believe me, you get a much lesser scenario than what he says around here.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Did it ever bother you, like in the beginning, when he was

Susan Howard: No.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Now all of a sudden going. So, it never bothered you that. Never.

Susan Howard: He never he never did it in an angry way. So, no, had he did it in an angry way? Absolutely. It would have bothered me. Oh, yeah. You got knocked up in high school and look what happened then. It probably would have bothered me, but it didn’t. It doesn’t bother me because he always did it in his Gabe way.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So, then it was okay because it wasn’t.

Susan Howard: Yeah.

Dr. Nicole Washington: The tone was a little different.

Susan Howard: It’s okay.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: Facts are facts.

Dr. Nicole Washington: That is true. Do you personally have regret? Do you do you do you have regrets about any of those moments?

Susan Howard: I would all. Probably nothing pops out at the moment. Because the one time I would have had a regret is if I had not reached out to my parents when I knew Gabe was at his lowest, one of his lowest points in his childhood life. If I had not paid attention to that, I’m sure I would have had regrets because I don’t know that he’d be here today. But yeah, we all have regrets. There are things that. First off, I shouldn’t have tried to have the last word like he wanted the last word. I should have walked away and I didn’t. So, in one sense, yeah, I would say there are some regrets in that sense that I should have been more patient. And but there again, what I thought was the problem wasn’t.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm. Mhm. Mhm. Mhm. So here is Gabe and he’s out here and he tells you Hey I’m going to make a living going public about my illness and educating the world about bipolar disorder. What did you think when he told you that he was looking to go in that direction.

Susan Howard: The truth.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes, absolutely. The truth. [Laughter]

Susan Howard: I thought he lost his mind again. I

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: Thought, are you kidding me? You can’t support yourself. It’s not that he was doing it.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mm-hmm.

Susan Howard: Him publicly educating people was not what was the problem. It

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Susan Howard: Was how can you you’ve got you’ve got rent to pay or mortgage to pay. You’ve got utilities, you got groceries, you’ve got car insurance, you got car. How can you possibly make a living at this?

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm. mhm.

Susan Howard: So, in that sense, yes. But in the sense that he was going public with his illness. No, there is nothing that he has said on his podcasts, in his speeches about Gary and I that we have not been supportive of. He can tell it all because it is helping other people and it is not going to hurt us. I want him to tell it all. I want everybody to know everything. Because if it helps the next family that has a child like Gabe. Then I want them to get that child help right away so they become a productive adult immediately instead of when they’re in their 30s.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So, there was no point in the beginning where you thought, I don’t know how I feel about him

Susan Howard: No.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Putting all our stuff out. It never concerned you at all?

Susan Howard: Nope. Never concerned me. No.

Dr. Nicole Washington: But there was some concern that, like you said, I think he had lost his mind. But that brings up a good point, because sometimes when you have a loved one who has an illness like bipolar disorder. It is. It is easy to almost find yourself always on the lookout for like what some like symptoms.

Susan Howard: Yes.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And so, when somebody tells you something like, and I’m going to do this and I’m going to become a public speaker and I’m going to do blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and I’m sure there’s a part of you that thinks, okay, is this grandiosity?

Susan Howard: Are you manic again?

Dr. Nicole Washington: Is he manic or what is this?

Susan Howard: Uh-huh.

Dr. Nicole Washington: How do you manage that part of being the loved one?

Susan Howard: It’s been over 20 years since Gabe was diagnosed, so. He’s been great for ten. So.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm. But what about the beginning? You know, in the beginning of his diagnosis and you all just learning and trying to figure it all out, how did you navigate those moments where, you know, we get irritable, right? We’re alive and sometimes we’re irritable and we we’re snap or we aren’t as integrated a mood. How do you see those things happen and not jump to, oh, my gosh, here we go again. He’s depressed or oh, my gosh, he’s manic.

Susan Howard: I would say quicker the. What’s going to happen to him? What is he going to do next? Okay. When this doesn’t work, what is he going to do? How is he going to take it?

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: That type thing more than. Just. Oh, no. He’s already lost this job. He hopped to this job, then he hopped to this job. And you have to make a living.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Susan Howard: You have to make a living. And. And. I think that the Social Security system for disabled is absolutely wonderful. But we all know you can’t make a living on that. You can’t live. It’s very unfair.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mhm.

Susan Howard: So. Getting to where? You can find something that you love. Be good at it and make a living at it. Sometimes it’s two different things.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So, it sounds like you found yourself in a situation where when these little things would happen, like the, oh, this is what I’m going to do, or if there were things that reminded you of, oh, this is what Gabe did when he was depressed and now he’s doing this thing. It sounds like what you’re saying is it

Susan Howard: Uh huh.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Took you to a place more so of fear of what’s

Susan Howard: Yes.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Going to happen to him.

Susan Howard: Yes. Yes.

Dr. Nicole Washington: So, families struggle.

Susan Howard: They do.

Dr. Nicole Washington: I mean, and it definitely sounds like your family had a lot of just good foundation to help you all maneuver something this big.

Susan Howard: We did. We did.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And that really, you know, is not the case for everybody.

Susan Howard: You’re right.

Dr. Nicole Washington: I listened to Gabe talk about you all on a regular basis, and he it’s very clear just how much he loves you all and how much you all love him.

Susan Howard: Mhm.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And people out there listening because I know there are family members listening because you all messaged me frequently with all of your questions. I do genuinely hope that this was something that you found beneficial because we don’t often talk to you. We often just talk to the person who has the illness. So, this was definitely a treat, not something that we we’ve gotten to do before and I’m super, super excited about it. And I just cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for allowing me to interview you on this topic.

Susan Howard: Well, I hope that I helped some family members out there. And I guess what the biggest advice I would give is don’t feel bad if you don’t do it right. We’re not perfect. Just do better the next time. Just recognize that, wow, I should have done something differently and then do something differently. So.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Susan Howard: But yeah. And you’re not going to love them any less. It doesn’t work like that. And if you’re and if anybody’s thinking about shutting the door on their mentally ill child. Do some research. Do some research because it might be better for you, but it definitely won’t be better for them.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Thank you again.

Susan Howard: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Nicole Washington: You’ve been listening to Inside Bipolar. On behalf of myself and Gabe’s mom, we need you to do us a favor. Recommend this podcast to all of your friends, post it on social media, send a text message, mention it in a support group, carrier pigeon, whatever works for you, but just share it because sharing the show is how we grow. Thanks everyone, for tuning in and we’ll see you next time on Inside Bipolar.

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