It’s no secret that there’s stigma around mental health. Offensive comments made about bipolar disorder are enough to drive anyone, well, crazy. Listen as Gabe explores the intricacies of language down to word choice and how comments can impact folks with bipolar disorder. He and Dr. Nicole Washington discuss how language can be an alienating force — sometimes the only language we have to describe our experiences is grounded in stigma — and how to better handle insensitive comments from others.
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 Howard: Greetings, everyone. My name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder.
Dr. Nicole Washington: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist.
Gabe Howard: I want to ask you a question. You’re a doctor. You’re a psychiatrist. I believe you’re board certified. I’m not sure where I got that, but it sounds true. Are there jokes or stereotypes or comments made about your profession that get under your skin?
Dr. Nicole Washington: Oh, absolutely. I think the biggest one for me is when I meet somebody like at a party or in a social setting and they say something like, I’m gonna be careful what I say around you. You’re going to be analyzing me. Like that makes me crazy.
Gabe Howard: As I heard that I’m like, that would make me crazy too, thinking I’m going to work for free. What would I analyze you for free? I’m not doing that for free. What do you think?
Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: Is this a coupon? This is my time off. I’m not. I’m not analyzing you right now. What did you think? It’s my hobby is go around? Right, just go away.
Dr. Nicole Washington: But I imagine as someone who lives with bipolar disorder, you also get a lot of things that people say to you because you’re pretty open with your illness. So unlike,
Gabe Howard: Jeez. How did you know this was where we were going? Just as it’s called Inside Bipolar and not inside board-certified psychiatrist. Is that what tipped you off, Dr. Nicole?
Dr. Nicole Washington: And because people also often think that I’m reading their mind, they’re like, Oh, psychiatrists can read your minds, right? Maybe I’ll read your mind.
Gabe Howard: Wait, wait. You can’t read minds. I have been writing you apology emails for no reason. Just how. Why haven’t you stopped me? This is. Oh, this is. This is incredibly awkward. No, you are right. We are going to talk about things that people say to me about bipolar disorder. And you’re right, I’m very open about it. Now that we have a video component, I have my literal logo, which is the bipolar logo tattooed on my body. I also have the sticker that I’ve held up here. I have shirts with the logo on it. So even if I’m not talking about living with bipolar disorder, there’s better than average odds that there’s something around me that’s projecting it, a sticker, a pin, a shirt, a tattoo, or I’m just flat out talking about it because that’s how most people come to know me. And I’ve noticed something. I’ve noticed a theme doing this for over a decade and nationally, the stupidest and most hurtful things that people say are accidents. When we start off, you know, a conversation like this, people are like, oh, my God, did they try to take away your civil rights, and call you an asshole? It’s like, no, they said, Boy, that’s a lot of pills. Or they said, Oh, isn’t everybody a little bipolar? Or, you know, I always thought my mom was bipolar because she was nuts. Ha ha. Women. Just these are the main areas that I get and I’m just like, what is happening here? Why are you saying this to me? But I figured it out.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Oh, do tell. Because I’m still trying to figure it out.
Gabe Howard: It’s awkwardness, it’s fear, it’s arresting to them. The majority of the world believes that bipolar disorder is a bad thing. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anybody to get diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Living with bipolar disorder has been exceptionally challenging. So, I’m not saying it’s a good thing. It’s negative. So, the minute somebody walks up and just proudly proclaims, Hi, I have bipolar disorder, they’re naturally shocked. And if we’re being fair, if somebody walked up and proudly proclaimed that they had breast cancer or testicular cancer or diabetes, and they just like said it in like a, you know, because I, I try to keep pretty upbeat and pretty positive that would also be arresting. So now people want to engage. They see that I’m friendly, they see that I want to chat. So, I walked up. Hi, I live with bipolar disorder and they’re like, everybody’s a little bipolar.
Dr. Nicole Washington: So, they’re trying to make you not feel bad about having bipolar disorder. But in doing so, maybe they minimize the fact that you have bipolar disorder.
Gabe Howard: Maybe. Or maybe they just blurt something out.
Dr. Nicole Washington: I mean, silence is uncomfortable for people and maybe they just don’t know what to say. But it still comes from a place of ignorance and can be hurtful.
Gabe Howard: It can be. I wanted to bring up something that was somewhat innocuous and something that people say a lot really at first, because I want to put this idea in the audience’s mind that while these things can be painful, where they can be offensive, why they can be stupid, aggravating, they’re not necessarily malicious. Now, that’s not an excuse for people to do it. We must educate the people around us. We must get to a place where they’re not saying short-sighted, stigmatizing statements like that. But I think that sometimes we as people living with bipolar disorder hear it and we jump to the conclusion that we’re being discriminated against, we’re being stigmatized against that. It’s a malicious statement in order to pull us down. And I’m always really bummed by that because I have realized, Gabe Howard personally, that the majority of the time it’s because the person that you confessed, I guess, for lack of a better word, bipolar disorder to didn’t know what to do. And they were so terrified of saying nothing or saying the wrong thing or leaving the impression that they were being malicious, that they just walked right through the offensive door. And I would like every advocate and everybody listening to take a couple of things to heart. One, there’s an opportunity here. There’s an opportunity to educate. And two, if somebody is so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they do say the wrong thing, that’s kind of progress. Right?
Dr. Nicole Washington: I mean, I guess. I don’t have this experience, but as a black woman in the world, sometimes people say things, right? And they don’t think about like how offensive something could be or how it could evoke an emotion that they weren’t intending. Right. Like they were trying to make a joke. And you’re like, I don’t know that I think that’s funny. An example for me is a lot of times people will say, oh, last name Washington, were you related to George? And I’m like, well, maybe he owned some of my ancestors. I mean, I don’t know, like what? Like, what do you want me to say? So, it’s kind of those you got to laugh to keep from crying moments. So, you got to laugh to keep from being sad moments. But at the same time, those kinds of statements can be can be offensive. Like the person didn’t mean anything by it. They were trying to make a joke. They were trying to connect with me in some way. They were trying to just maybe build some rapport. You know, they were trying they just didn’t think all the way through to the other side of the comment. So, I hear people say these things to my patients and I cringe because like, oh, they shouldn’t have said that. And I think another one that falls in this category is, well, you don’t look bipolar.
Gabe Howard: Oh, that’s, that’s my favorite.
Dr. Nicole Washington: And I know that they probably mean well, like they probably mean well, but also comes from a place of them really having poor knowledge or lack of knowledge, ignorance about bipolar illness. Right? Because when they think bipolar disorder, they think like some mad man running naked through the grocery store, you know, doing stuff that’s wild and outlandish. They don’t think of, oh, but people with bipolar disorder also have these moments where their mood is perfectly stable and normal and they just look like everybody else. And you can’t tell just by looking at them. Another one of those, I bet that makes you cringe.
Gabe Howard: It makes me cringe for two reasons. One, because this idea that bipolar disorder has a look. There’s this part of me that wishes that that were true. Could you imagine if, like, bipolar disorder had a look and we could identify what that look was, and then we just be on the lookout for it? Like, for example, if all of the sudden something started growing out of my forehead, we would know that was abnormal, and everybody seeing this would look at my forehead and be like, hey, there’s a bump there. That bump is getting bigger. It’s ooh, you need to see a doc, right? I get help sooner. I wouldn’t have to wait for this abscess to cover my eyes, make me go blind or kill me because people would notice it right away and help would be rendered. Bipolar disorder doesn’t have that. There is no look. And that’s why that is an extra tough statement, because there is no look. But people think there’s one. How many people are they overlooking? And I say this because I was. I was overlooked because I didn’t look crazy. Making air quotes for the people, not watch it on video, but just listening. Nobody thought that I was nobody thought that I needed help. Nobody thought to talk. Take me to a Dr. Nicole. Get me therapy. Talk to me. Help me. Just. I was left to suffer because I didn’t look like the people with mental illness on television. So that one kind of gets me in the gut for that reason. Two, I’m like, Man, I had to suffer for all those years because I didn’t. I didn’t look like some makeup artist’s interpretation from a movie.
Dr. Nicole Washington: I once I heard someone say this recently, someone was talking about having had a manic episode and a person said, man, I wish I was manic, at least like a couple of days a month. So, I could really like get my house cleaned and get stuff taken care of. And I’d love to be manic for a little bit. And I could see the facial expression of the other person who I knew had bipolar disorder. You know, I knew their struggles. And so, I was like, I don’t I don’t think that was good.
Gabe Howard: You know why that’s the worst? Everybody listening with bipolar disorder already knows that’s the worst.
Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: But if you have somebody in your life who says this to you, I want you to pause right now. Go get them and bring them back, because I’m going to tell you why that’s awful. It’s awful because mania is terrible. Oh, it feels good. Lots of stuff feels good.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.
Gabe Howard: It doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Many people who have managed bipolar disorder for any amount of time has a horrific story that starts right about the time mania ends because that artificial, positive feeling that mania was pumping through your body goes away and all you’re left with is this devastation and destruction. So, you ask any parent who’s lost their children, you ask anybody who’s been arrested, you ask anybody whose spouse or significant other has left them. You ask anybody who’s lost their job, spent their mortgage, lost their house, filed bankruptcy. Just how great having mania is? And all of us are like, Wow, it’s the literal equivalent of siding with like your buddy’s worst enemy. You know, your buddy shows up and be like, man yeah. Bob attacked me and set my house on fire. And everybody’s like, Yeah, I wish I could be Bob’s friend. Like, just a couple of times a month. You said, what now?
Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: I just told you Bob was terrible. And then they explain to you why. No, no, no, no, no. Bob is a really good friend. It’s super motivating. You know how much exercise you get when you’re running away from the fire, like, that’s excellent. I wish I could get just. Here is another example. I wish that I could get chemotherapy so that I could lose weight. Anybody who says that is an asshole, that’s a terrible thing to say to somebody who is treating cancer, that the benefit of chemotherapy is you lose all that weight. That’s a really crass and mean thing to say, even though weight loss is a side effect of chemotherapy. It’s just utter nonsense. Please stop saying it.
Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: I believe that we can work it out and we can be friends, but stop it. It’s hurtful.
Dr. Nicole Washington: But it can also serve kind of another unintended consequence, right? How many people do we know who have bipolar illness, who are constantly, like longing for their mania? They have all these people around them saying mania is bad. Mania is bad. I know it feels good, but it’s bad. And then you got one person who says, man, I wish I could be manic for, you know, a little bit. I mean, like, it looks fun. Like you got a lot of energy, you get a lot of stuff done. And then that person is like, Yeah, you know what? It is pretty great. And they latch on to that one person who talks about how cool being manic was versus the 15 people in their lives who said It’s bad, it’s really bad.
Gabe Howard: I understand why people romanticize mania and listen, as a speaker and a podcaster, I talk about mania a lot because it’s fascinating. I am fascinated by mania and the audience is fascinated by mania. And when people hear the things that people do because of mania, it’s incredible storytelling. I would say that of the top ten stories that I ever tell publicly, half of them are related to mania because it’s just so incredibly gripping. But, you know, true crime podcasts are the number one genre of podcasts because true crime is gripping. Murder is fascinating, but nobody takes that extra leap to say that murder is a good thing. We acknowledge that crime happened and we acknowledge that for whatever reason, we’re entertained hearing about the details. And we should probably examine that maybe a little bit. Maybe the next time we’re at a party
Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: You could examine us, Dr. Nicole. Maybe just analyze why we’re fascinated by using murder as entertainment, but as we go through this example, people are thinking about it. They’re like, Huh, that is kind of a weird thing. Why do we use murder as entertainment? For people who have experienced mania, truly, truly experienced mania, been burdened by mania and had their lives fall apart we’re just like, wow, why do you think this? And you’re right. In the early days, I was extraordinarily impressionable people who said, oh, Gabe, you’re the life of the party.
Gabe Howard: That’s awesome. They accidentally and I’m it’s a difficult thing for me to say because I’m not blaming them in any way. But, you know, mania has a way of ramping up. And sometimes there is a moment where if you have the right people around you, you can get it to subside. Those people can run real interference for you. They can calm you down. They can decide, you know, tonight’s not the night we’re going to go out. We’re going to stay in. Maybe Gabe needs help sleeping. Maybe we can do something different. But then there’s your other friends, who largely because they don’t know. In fact, I’d say 99% because they don’t know anything’s bad that happened, they’re like Gabe’s wild today. Gabe is talking about we’re going to the club. Woo, woo. This is going to be awesome. Watch it. Last time we did this, Gabe ended up in the fountain. That was awesome. Remember when you ended up in the fountain, Gabe? And yeah, I remember when I ended up in the fountain. I’m lucky I didn’t get arrested. Maybe that story wouldn’t be so fascinating if we were all hauled off to the police.
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Dr. Nicole Washington: And we’re back talking about bipolar disorder and the offensive things people say. Those are the like I mean well, I’m just trying to fill space, build rapport. But then I think there’s a different category of these things that probably you also don’t like when people use bipolar disorder in these ways. And so, I want to put these in the little basket that I’m gonna label when you know better, you should do better basket.
Gabe Howard: Yes. I like that basket.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Those are the those are the things that we say without necessarily like really thinking about it, right? So, we’ve seen a lot here lately, people having to learn more. They’re having to learn more and they’re having to do better. Right. We saw Lizzo and we saw Beyonce take lyrics out of songs because they use, you know, the term spaz, which is a very negative term that a lot of people honestly didn’t know the origins of the word. Right. They didn’t know it was a negative term or didn’t know that it was derogatory towards a certain population of people with certain disabilities. They didn’t know. Right. So, we just use it. It became part of culture and they put them in these songs and people said, Hey, you can’t say that. And so, we got these two like stars who said, you’re right, we can’t say that I need to pull it from my song. I can do that.
Gabe Howard: One of the criticisms that I get is I say all the time like, that was crazy or that was nuts. And people were like, Well, but Gabe, as a as a as a mental health advocate, why do you keep saying crazy? You’ve got to get rid of that word. And I always respond with, look, language is difficult, language is constantly evolving. And I believe that crazy doesn’t really have anything to do with mental illness. It’s become a catch all term to mean something is out of sync and they’re like, Well, people with mental illness are out of sync. Okay, well, it means that something is different or abnormal. Well, people with mental illness are different or abnormal. Okay, but what word are we going to replace crazy with when I say, Oh my God, that was crazy. You know what I mean. If I say, Oh, my God, that was a situation that was unlike other situations in a way that was very different. And you’re just like, What is he talking about? But here’s the thing. Here’s all I need to know. I remember Lizzo and Lizzo was like, I don’t mean it that way. I didn’t know that’s what it meant. But you have educated me. It doesn’t matter how I meant it. I now know how you perceived it, and it’s my job to communicate. And therefore, let’s go ahead and change this up.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Right. It’s not that serious.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, we’ve seen this happen. Businesses who have dropped offensive words from their name. I remember several years ago before the pandemic, Dolly Parton dropped the word Dixie from Dixie Stampede. She owns a, Dolly Parton owns everything, but she owns a chain of, a chain of dinner theater restaurants that was called Dixie Stampede. And Dixie is an offensive word. It bothers a lot of people. Now, some people are like, Well, Dixie doesn’t bother me. I’m fairly certain you’re Caucasian then.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes. [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: But DollyParton was like, Look, if I call it Dolly Parton Stampede, everybody’s still coming and everybody’s still having a great time and
Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.
Gabe Howard: Now nobody’s offended. This is a super easy lift. Dolly Parton is a national treasure.
Dr. Nicole Washington: She is a national treasure. We stan a queen. We’ve got to put that out there.
Gabe Howard: Yeah.
Dr. Nicole Washington: We stan a queen.
Gabe Howard: We love her.
Dr. Nicole Washington: And nobody is going to not listen to Lizzo because she took that word out of her, her
Gabe Howard: Exactly.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Or her album. Like ridiculous. Ridiculous.
Gabe Howard: We’ve got to decide where we want to draw our lines.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah. Yeah.
Gabe Howard: And supporting people who are willing to grow with us is super important.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes. Yes. But I think if you care about someone or you use that term and somebody says to you, I didn’t like that you use that term. Like it made me feel some kind of way. I didn’t like it. If you’re in a public space and we use the term on this site, we used it on this podcast describing something. And if people were writing in and saying, Oh, I didn’t like that you use that, I think we’d have to own that and go, We care about our listeners. We care. You’re right, we shouldn’t have used that word. We’ll do better, right? I think it’s the reaction that comes after someone says that’s a little bit offensive because you don’t get to tell me what offends me. Right. Like I can’t tell you, well, Gabe, you shouldn’t be offended by that. That’s crazy. You shouldn’t be offended by that. That doesn’t make sense. Right? The other one, what about when people say the weather is bipolar?
Gabe Howard: See that one doesn’t bother me at all because that’s accurate. Bipolar just means between two poles. Like that’s the literal definition of the word. It also describes a diagnosis, but bipolar has a definition. So, when people say the weather is bipolar, they just mean that it’s existing between two poles. First off, the illness that we have is not called bipolar. It’s called bipolar disorder. Right. That’s what makes it a complete sentence. We’ve kind of chopped it in half. So, I really do think that we kind of have to give this one back. And we have illnesses that exist where the illness name ties in to other things. Like we’ve heard politicians have to be removed from the Senate because they’re like a cancer to their party.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Oh. Well, nobody gets offended, right? Everybody’s like, okay, we get it. Some words just have double meaning. And you know who invented that? Michael Jackson. Because when I was a kid and I was bad, I knew that mom and dad were mad at me. But then Michael Jackson came out and he’s like, you know, I’m bad, I’m bad. And then my mom was like, You’re bad. And I’m like, Damn right I am I. Yes. And you know what kids do now? Sick. That one struck me. Some kid that I was dealing with and by kid, he was 25. He’s like, that’s sick. I’m like, really? I did something like I was, Why do you think that’s sick? I’m like, I think he’s like, No, no, no. Sick a good thing now. I’m like, what’s happening here? I only bring all this up because language evolves and changes, and it could mean different things to different people.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Language absolutely evolves and changes. I agree with that. And I think, I like your weather analogy. It’s not one that I used. Like I don’t know if it’s a term that is in my vocabulary. I don’t think I’ve ever described the weather.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, I don’t say it either.
Dr. Nicole Washington: As bipolar, but I know that I have had people tell me like, oh, I was, you know, in a social setting. And someone said this and it made me feel, you know, some kind of way. And, you know, it just kind of made me feel bad. And, you know, I think it still always goes back to like, what kind of emotion did it evoke for someone you care about or. And let’s be honest, right? Like we don’t here we go. This is this is where I give you my disclaimer. What I’m about to say may upset you. What
Gabe Howard: Uh-oh.
Dr. Nicole Washington: I’m about to say you may not like. So email Gabe if you don’t like it. Don’t email me. But what I’m going to say is I do think for some things, yes, I agree with you like yeah, I could see how that would be offensive. It’s like, I get that, right. But sometimes, my bipolar disorder having listeners, sometimes when something is such a huge part of your life and it’s so stigmatized and you feel so just outcast because of the fact that you have this illness and you really haven’t come to grips with the fact that this is a disorder that I have and you’re still trying to grasp, like, am I a normal person still? Or does this mean like I’m damaged or. Especially when you’re in that phase of the illness yourself, everything can feel like a flight. So it is easy to be a little more sensitive to somebody saying that weather’s bipolar and you take it as like, oh, my God, they said something really negative about me when if we really dig through it, maybe something like that may not necessarily be that it was malicious or anything like that. It may just be that you were just in a vulnerable spot, and when they poked you, it hurt because you were being very sensitive, which we know that there are times, especially early on in your illness or you’re still trying to grasp the idea and the concept of, I have this thing that can be really tough.
Gabe Howard: As you were saying, that one of the things that I think of as a common story or phrase terminology, maybe for lack of a better word, that they have in trauma therapy, which is somebody else walked through a door that somebody else opened. The person that you’re mad at is the person who opened the door. But because the door was opened, this other person was just like, Hey, open door. So they just walked through it, not thinking anything of it. You’re now mad at the person who walked through the door when you’re actually angry at the person who left the door open in the first place. That really speaks to me a lot, because living in a society and listening to things in pop culture, listening to things on the media, we can’t live in this perpetual state of offense because, well, that’s just no way to live. And I’m very lucky in my life. I am surrounded by advocates all over the nation in things other than mental health, you know, LGBTQ+ advocates, feminist advocates, social justice advocates. I mean, just on and on. I talk to all of these different groups because we meet together at conferences to figure out how to be better advocates.
Gabe Howard: And I am I’m reminded of a of a woman I met at a conference and I said, look, isn’t that offensive? And she looked me right in the eyes and she said, look, I don’t have time to be offended at everything. It’s not offensive enough to get me out of bed in the morning. I’m just I’m just going to let that one go. Now, that’s a big, big level. But push this back down to individual. Is it worth blowing up at your friend? Is it worth blowing up at your mother? What about if your buddy says it like, you know, your buddy’s heart? That’s why that’s why he’s your buddy, right? You know, your mom’s heart. You love your mom. And, you know, the it’s a little bit hard for me to share this story because it’s true, but my mom doesn’t come off. Well, the worst slight that I ever had as a man living with bipolar disorder. The meanest thing that anybody ever said to me is when I was newly diagnosed and I was on seven pills in the morning and five pills at night.
Gabe Howard: That’s a lot of pills. I have giant hands. I’m picking up these little tiny pills and I’m putting them in this little pill minder. I’m only a few months past diagnosis, so I’m still not in recovery. I’m still learning, I’m scared. And I’m sitting there at my kitchen table trying to do this, and my mom walks in, takes a look at this whole thing in front of her and says, Oh, those pill cases are bigger than your grandmas and it hurt. I’m a 26-year-old man. And with all that that carries, I’m just going to leave that statement right there. And you just compared me to an old woman. It hurts. It hurt me deeply. And I didn’t tell my mom that story for years. In fact, my mom heard the story for the first time in a public speech that somebody put on YouTube and she was all upset. She’s like, I didn’t mean nothing by it. And I said to her, I said, I know. That’s why I never addressed it with you. I knew you weren’t trying to be mean.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.
Gabe Howard: You don’t have a mean bone in your body. The reason that she was at my house is because I was struggling. I was just a few months passed diagnosis and I couldn’t be alone. And she came all the way from Tennessee, 700 miles, 650 miles to stay in my house and take care of me. So
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: I but to this day, it just hit me so hard. But, Dr. Nicole, sincerely, I got to tell you, as an advocate, I could find reasons 24 seven to be offended if I wanted to.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.
Gabe Howard: I think it’s more empowering to find ways to find the offensive things and make real change. To challenge those things in a way that make people want to engage. Let’s talk about that for a moment. I just I want to give a hard truth. If somebody says something offensive to you and you start yelling at them in public, they win.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah. Because you have proven them right. Even though they’re not right,
Gabe Howard: Exactly.
Dr. Nicole Washington: You have proven them right.
Gabe Howard: Anger in our society is disrespected. It is a needed emotion. It is a powerful emotion. But I got to tell you, public displays of anger are not respected. Listen, depending on your gender, your age, your race, your culture, where you are, it’s even less respected. I think I could probably get away with yelling at another man, maybe. But imagine if all six foot three, 250 pounds of Gabe started screaming at his five foot three mother, I no way anybody is going to hear that she hurt my feelings after I yell at my mother. Right. The big guy’s yelling, I’m like a foot taller than my mom. And she little she’s so little. This is a part of the story that she likes. She a tiny person. She weighs like 90 pounds, soaking wet.
Dr. Nicole Washington: But it sounds like what you’re also saying is that your mom had some equity built into this thing. So you were able to kind of separate her from her words. Right. Because you knew
Gabe Howard: Exactly.
Dr. Nicole Washington: That her words were not necessarily indicative of who she has been to you for the years up until that point. Right. So you chose
Gabe Howard: Yes.
Dr. Nicole Washington: To take this. You chose to just pick your battles. And I think that when people are offended in general, whether it is because of race or gender or whether it’s because I think we live in this lane of you pick your battles, right? Because you also don’t want to be that person who every time somebody says something, you know, like you’re like, well, you know, you shouldn’t use that word because of blah, blah, blah or, you know, I don’t like when you do that. So a lot of times people do find themselves in situations where they pick their battles and they pick and choose like, what are the things that my mom could say? That I would then turn around and say to her, You know, I know you didn’t mean it that way, but when you said it, you know, I, I immediately thought this and felt that way. And, you know, I was a little offended. And, you know, I’d like it if maybe you would not use that term anymore, because it does. It sends me to a place that I don’t like being and, you know, and it just fosters conversation. But I think there’s a way to be angry, right? Like there’s a way to be upset about something. You don’t have
Gabe Howard: Absolutely.
Dr. Nicole Washington: To yell and jump up and down and curse people out when you’re angry. Like you can be angry and never raise your voice.
Gabe Howard: Anger is the seed of change, right? In my opinion, if anger is used properly, it’s like the seed to the oak tree. Nobody ever sees the seed to the oak tree. It’s in the dirt. Right. And that’s the genesis of change. Anger is the genesis of change. And if you do it right, if you water it, that that anger becomes passion. That passion becomes planning. That planning becomes a productivity, it becomes a listening, it becomes understanding, it becomes compromise in it. It grows into the world in something that people want to take ownership of and be proud of.
Dr. Nicole Washington: So, I think basically we’re saying if you have bipolar disorder, you are very likely to be offended by someone at some time. They might mean well and are just awkward about their attempt at trying to build rapport with you or trying to fill the void or like you said in efforts of trying not to say something awkward, they say something awkward anyway. And then there are sometimes people use things out of ignorance they don’t know, right? They may not know. And then sometimes they are just being not nice people. But you have to decide how you handle that and how you channel that anger and what you do with it and whether you decide to hold on to this one. As the great philosopher Kenny Rogers said, Gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run.
Gabe Howard: Completely. And, Dr. Nicole, I don’t want you to be the only one who gets angry letters. So, I’m going to say some things that’s going to generate some angry emails. And when you do decide to talk to somebody about something offensive that they said or that they’ve done in regards to bipolar disorder and mental illness, you need to own why you’re doing it. Because, listen, if the reason that you’re doing it is to get revenge and to get that person to admit that they were wrong and to hurt them like they’ve hurt you, listen, that is your choice. And I cannot stop you from making it. But please don’t call it advocacy if your goal is to make them feel as bad as they made you feel. That is not advocacy. That is revenge. I it is hard. It is I understand it. When that feeling wells up in me. This is why I have my friends. This is why I have my family. This is it. Venting is an art that we should all foster with our friends, our family, and our support system. I make sure that when I go out and talk to the people who have said or done the offensive things that that that I am empowering myself and my community and my society to know that my goal is to seek change. It’s so that they can know better and do better. It’s not to embarrass them. It’s not to browbeat them. It’s not to tell them they were bad. And it’s not to seek revenge. It is to provide them with information that they were missing. The emails are already writing themselves, Dr. Nicole.
Dr. Nicole Washington: They’re coming. They’re coming. But this was good stuff. This was good stuff.
Gabe Howard: It’s good, I think I think it’s important, to be honest. The, Dr. Nicole, I know we got to get out of here, but I really do want to say one more thing. I think it sometimes we have to give people grace in the way that they talk about mental illness, because our self-talk is usually reflective of that. I never once lied awake at night and wondered if I was having a mental health condition. I never once said, I’m thinking about completing suicide. I never used any of that language. I wondered if I was going F-ing nuts. I wanted to die. I used very specific, bold and quite frankly, offensive language to describe my own experiences to myself. If that’s the way I’m talking to myself, then that is obviously the way that I’m going to talk to others. And if we are truly, truly as a mental health community interested in meeting people where they are, remember, many people on their mental health journey are still at the phrase where they’re using very stigmatizing language, because that’s the only language that we have collectively ever been taught to describe our emotions, our pain and our struggles. And if we shut those people down because we believe that they were offensive to us, it’s quite possible that we miss that they were telegraphing their own struggles to us, and then we lose the opportunity to work with them, to help them and to see them. Just keep that in mind.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Well, there’s nothing else to be said after that. Okay. Nothing,
Gabe Howard: I love it when you’re speechless.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Nothing. Nothing.
Gabe Howard: Mostly because I get to talk more.
Dr. Nicole Washington: This is your mic drop moment. This is your mic drop moment.
Gabe Howard: Aww.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Just drop it and walk away.
Gabe Howard: Don’t, don’t drop the mic, though. Healthline doesn’t like that. These mics were expensive. Dr. Nicole, thank you for hanging out with me. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” You can grab it at Amazon because well, you can grab everything at Amazon, but if you want a signed copy with free swag, head over to gabehoward.com.
Dr. Nicole Washington: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington. You can find me on all social media platforms @DrNicolePsych to see all the things I have my hand in at any given moment.
Gabe Howard: Can you do Doctor Nicole and me a favor? Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe. It is absolutely free and tell somebody. Share us on social media, send a text message, send an email, bring it up in a support group. Do not make Inside Bipolar your best kept secret. Sharing the show is how we grow. We will see everybody next time on Inside Bipolar.
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