It can take a long time to reach recovery with bipolar disorder, but once you do, what then? Is it over? Can you stop going to support groups, monitoring your sleep, and tracking your moods? What about your medication and doctor’s visits — can all that just be forgotten? In fact, how long will it be before you can stop paying attention to all of this and leave bipolar disorder in your rearview mirror?
Join us as Gabe and Dr. Nicole share the answers to these questions and why it may be better to look at bipolar as an annoying roommate versus something you’ll never have to deal with again. And, perhaps most importantly, why that’s OK.
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: Hey everybody. My name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder.
Dr. Nicole: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist.
Gabe: Dr. Nicole, I was thinking the other day, I’ve been in recovery with bipolar disorder for almost 15 years now. Which, which does feel good, but it presents a challenge. And the challenge is how do I stay in recovery? Can I stop working? Is this over now? Can I just put bipolar disorder in the rear view? Can I just look forward? Is the past in the past? And this presents a lot of problems for people living with bipolar disorder, as I’m sure you know very firsthand.
Dr. Nicole: Yes yes yes. And, you know, I typically encourage people to think of recovery not as like a point on a map like recovery is not like, oh, I get there and then I’m done. I’ve been there, I’ve conquered it. I’ve seen it. Done deal. Recovery, I don’t even know what to equate it to, but it definitely it’s an active thing. Like it’s a verb, like it’s you’re in recovery like recovering. It’s it’s active. It’s something that’s ongoing. It really never stops. It’s kind of like resting, right? Like resting is an active thing. Like when we rest and we recharge it’s active. So, if we can think of it as an active thing and not so much a place that we get to and then we’re done with it, I think that can help shift our thoughts a little bit as you start thinking about, like, your individual recovery process.
Gabe: In the early days, I always said recovery from bipolar disorder. I’m in recovery from bipolar. And I really, really, I used that exact phrasing from bipolar disorder as if recovery was the current and bipolar disorder was the past. And then I started to learn more. I started to talk to a lot of people, and I really talked to people with bipolar disorder who stopped taking their medication, who stopped going to therapy, who stopped looking for warning signs, who stopped practicing their coping skills because, after all, they were in recovery from bipolar disorder. It was it was sort of in the name. I kind of felt like even the way we were discussing it set people up to fail. So, I made a change. I made a change in my advocacy that many people had made where I started saying recovery with bipolar disorder. So, I’m in recovery. That is my present. But because I’m with bipolar, it’s still hanging around. Bipolar disorder’s like lingering. It’s in the shadows, like glaring at me, but it’s no longer in the spotlight. And that feels much safer to me and much more realistic to what I’m actually experiencing.
Dr. Nicole: Do you think it’s kind of like people who deal with dependency or addictions to substances, how they say like I’m they use the terms often, like I’m always an addict. Like once an addict, always an addict. Like I’m always there. So, people who have, you know, chemical dependency issues don’t walk around saying like, oh, I used to be an alcoholic, or I used to be drug dependent. Like they still see themselves as kind of actively with that thing. It’s just not taking the driver’s seat anymore. You know, it’s not in charge. They’re in charge. You think it’s kind of like that?
Gabe: I think it’s absolutely like that. I have learned so much from the substance use disorder community because they do say things like, I am addicted to alcohol. Well, okay, but does that mean that you’re using alcohol? Nope. I’ve been sober for ten years. Okay, but are you sure you’re still addicted? Yep. I can control the first drink, but I can’t control all the others. So therefore, I’m working very hard to make sure that I do not take even a sip because I can see the future and because they’re on guard for that. And this is the part that I want our listeners to focus on, because they are on guard against that first sip. They’re giving alcohol, substance abuse, chemicals, drugs. They’re giving it so much respect as a formidable enemy that they’re watching out for it. So, the minute they end up at a party where there is alcohol, they’ve got a million solutions for how to avoid it, or they know in advance that they don’t go. They have trained their friends and family to say, hey, Bob, we’re going to invite you to the party. But, you know, we are serving, so we understand if you can’t make it and then Bob can make an informed decision. They’ve done all of these things to their lives to give them the best chances of success. And when I think of myself in recovery with bipolar disorder, I want to give myself the best chance of success.
Dr. Nicole: I mean, if you think about it, there’s very well, I’m trying to think I’m going through my list in my mind of DSM diagnoses that I, that I interact with on a regular basis. I mean, you think about depression, you think about bipolar disorder, you think about schizophrenia, even anxiety disorders. I mean, those symptoms could always return, right? Even if you go into remission of sorts from any of those, they could always return. So, it it’s in your best interest probably to. Do the things and continue to do the things that you know, protect you and keep you grounded and decrease those chances. But, I mean, any of them could come back. So, it’s almost like pretending like, oh, it’s over. I don’t ever have to think about that again. It just doesn’t seem like a great space to function in. It’s almost a little bit of denial, but it’s just not a realistic place to be. And I just like to function in the realistic.
Gabe: If Disney were on this podcast, they would say it was a tale as old as time, right? It’s practically a stereotype. The person with bipolar disorder reaches recovery and they build an incredible life. They buy a house, they get a job, they’re stable, everything is wonderful. And they think to themselves, I don’t need this medication anymore. Now I understand this idea of being curious about your medication, how much it’s helping you, etc. And that gets me to arguably, in my mind, the bigger mistake, which is that they decide that they just know everything all of a sudden that the psychiatrist and the therapist and the team that got them
Dr. Nicole: Yeah.
Gabe: To that stability, they’re not going to engage in the questioning of whether or not they still need medication, whether or not they still need coping skills. They just decide, hey, I got this. And I’ve heard phrases like, I’m a grown man, I’m an independent woman, I’m an adult, I’m very stable. I’m not like I used to be. I’m completely different now. And then they make this decision to cold turkey without any medical involvement at all, just to one day stop taking their medication. And I want to make sure that people listening to me, I’m not saying that medication reduction or that challenging medication is wrong. I am saying that cold turkey stopping your bipolar medications is dangerous and it almost never turns out well.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah, well, what I’m saying is it is wrong, unless you went to medical school. And even if you did go to medical school, even if you did go to medical school. What’s that thing about an a client? Like, being your own attorney has a fool for a client. Like you
Dr. Nicole: Should not be your own doctor
Gabe: If you’re an attorney and you’re representing yourself, you have a fool for a client.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, not a good idea. So, what I’m saying to you is, yeah, it is a bad idea to challenge it on your own, with no medical knowledge or understanding of what that means. You might understand your body, but I understand what can happen with the medicine. And so, we need to work together and do this, not you doing it on your own. Second, why is it that I don’t hardly ever have patients say to me, you know, I’m feeling so much better? I bet it’s because of the medicine that I feel better. So maybe I should keep with it. What is that about? Like what? What is it innately in the person who has bipolar disorder and depression, for that matter, happens all the time that says, you know what, I feel so much better. It could not possibly be the medicine the doctor put me on. It must be the fact that I’m eating better and I’m less stressed at work. Why is it never the medicine could have, could have helped me?
Gabe: I want to. I’m making, like, you know, like fist pumps and you know like cheering yes yes. Why can we never take a realistic 30,000-foot view and say that all of these things have contributed to the stability that we are so proud of. But I also want to redirect everybody to something that I call just the saddest of missed opportunities when it comes to medication. Medication is awful, as you have said Dr. Nicole.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah.
Gabe: It’s not sexy.
Dr. Nicole: It’s not sexy at all.
Gabe: It’s got, it’s got terrible side effect profiles. It’s I understand why people don’t want to take it. And now you’re stable, so you’re actually in the best opportunity to start tweaking these things. You know, that deal that you made five years ago where you’re like, you know what, I’m going to live with X symptom because the hallucinations are gone, or I’m going to deal with X symptom because I’m no longer suicidal or I’m going to live with weight gain because at least I have energy and I’m happy. Well, now you’ve been stable for a couple of years. That is the best opportunity for you to go back and say, you know what? Right? When I first reached recovery, when I was hanging on by a thread, when all of that stuff was, well, frankly, not even in my rear view, but like, you know, touching up against my bumper, I was willing to live with this side effect.
Dr. Nicole: Mhm.
Gabe: But now, I’m not. And when they come to you, Dr. Nicole and said, hey, I’ve, I’ve had two, three, four, five years’ worth of stability and I am now no longer willing to accept this side effect. Does that give you more to work with than when somebody had a couple of weeks of stability and they want to start making changes?
Dr. Nicole: Absolutely. The longer you’ve been stable, the more we can have these conversations, as long as we also have these conversations with the caveat that we know things could go south. You know, I tell people all the time, we start mucking around with your meds. One of three things is going to happen. You’re going to stay the same, which would be fine, because hopefully you’re in a stable position at this point, right? You’re going to get better. That would be even better if you thought, wow, I thought I was good. I really do feel much better. You could always get worse. Like one of three things is going to happen. So, we just have to be prepared, you know? Are you prepared for that? And really you brought up earlier people saying, well, I’m an adult, I’m grown. I can make these decisions. This is part of being grown and making, well make grown decisions then. Right? We all we make grown decisions all the time. I’d love to go on vacation, but I have bills to pay so I can’t not pay my bills to go on vacation and do the fun thing, right? I have to do the adult thing. We do adult things all the time. Somehow, when it comes to bipolar disorder or whatever, whatever disorder it is that you’re avoiding dealing with, that’s not being grown like, that’s almost being adolescent, like, right. Like saying, oh, I know I have this thing that I should probably do something about, but I’m not. And I’m going to do it kicking and screaming, talking about how much of an adult am.
Gabe: When I personally think about living in recovery with bipolar disorder, I start thinking about the changes that I can make. And medication always rise to the top because everybody hates it, right? But let’s talk about little things. Let’s talk about when you’re like, you know, I’ve given up every Wednesday evening for the last two, three, four, five years to go to the Bi-polar Bear Support Group. I don’t know that I want to go there anymore. And that’s a really reasonable question. Right? So, what I want to redirect people to is the starting small. Maybe you don’t need the bipolar support group. Maybe you don’t need to get online every day. Maybe you don’t need to put as much attention into managing your bipolar disorder. And I would say that that’s probably true. Anybody listening to themselves, if they’re wondering if they’re still getting stuff out of their support group, they’re probably not. They probably have gotten as much out of it as they can. And if they if this is your opportunity to think, have I stayed long enough that I’ve passed on wisdom? Have I mentored the new crop and am I ready to go do something else?
Dr. Nicole: And I would encourage you to think a little bit further in those questions that you ask yourself. You know, do I need this support group? Do I need this particular support group? Right. It doesn’t mean do I need support groups in general. So, am I at a different place, you know, is it is it valuable for me to be in the group with people who are still in and out of the hospital, or still trying to cope with the fact that they have the disorder? Do I need to find another group? Do I need to find a group of people who are in my age range, who’ve been dealing with this for decades, who are in a different place in life because those are different conversations that happen, right? They’re just in different places in life. You’re 20 years older. Families, children, careers. It’s just very different, even with the medication. Do I need the same medication? Do I need it to be in this strength? And sometimes that’s where you can get with your Dr. Nicole and have a conversation. You know, when you were severely depressed, when you were manic, it may have taken a lot of meds to get you to center, to get you level, to get you even, to get you closer to that midline that we’re always trying to strive for. And now that you’ve been stable for a long time, maybe you don’t need as much. Maybe you can try. Maybe the compromise is, well, I don’t think it’s a great idea that we totally not take a mood stabilizer because your history shows that you’ve done really great with those. But maybe we can compromise about doses. Maybe we can compromise about which one. So, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing with any of those questions that you ask yourself. I think you have to be flexible. Flexible in your ask.
Gabe: And I just want to echo that. That’s a great thing. Not knowing where you’re going to end up when you start the plan is proof that you’re actually taking data and using it to formulate the plan. So, ask open ended questions, gather the data, and put together the plan. You should not know what it looks like when you begin. That’s not how any of this works. You’re supposed to meander. You’re supposed to have trial and error. You’re supposed to gather different information. If you already know the outcome before you begin, you’re not making a plan. You’ve already made a decision. And I want to circle back to that complacency that you talked about, because I love this. Because I think that people become complacent. Hard. Stop. Right. Not about bipolar disorder, just about life. And I think I think of when I got my driver’s license, I, when I first got my driver’s license, I had so much respect for cars, right? I had seen all the videos and driver’s ed, you know, my dad told me about, you know, how your car is going to hydroplane if, like, somebody spits on the road in front of you, I would say I was just absolutely terrified, right? Because that’s what we do. We scare kids and everything’s new. So, it’s ten and two, and I’m constantly checking the mirrors every 8.6 seconds or whatever it was back then, I, I didn’t even want the radio to be too loud. But then I got comfortable, right? I got comfy, right, and the radio got a little louder. I started leaning back in my chair a little more. The two hands on the wheel became one hand and I got. Part of that is comfortable, right? It’s good to be more comfortable.
Gabe: But then I got a little complacent, right? I, I, I took some things for granted that I shouldn’t have. And it turns out that hydroplaning, especially when you drive a shitty car, is a real concern. And one day driving down the road, I hydroplaned and my car spun around a couple of times and it scared me. It terrified me. And when I look back on that moment now through full adult eyes, you know, middle aged, and I look back at 17-year-old Gabe. Yeah, I’m super lucky that all I did was spin around my car a couple of times. It could have been really bad. I did not give the situation the credence and respect that it deserved and it called me out. I think that we do the same exact same things with bipolar disorder, right? We don’t give recovery the credence and respect that it deserves. And bipolar disorder is lurking. I’m. I wrote a book. You all know it. If you’ve listened to the end of the show called Mental Illness is an asshole. And the reason that I say that mental illness is an asshole is because I believe that people are always on guard for assholes. They always want to know what assholes are doing. They’re always worried that assholes are out to get them. They’re always watching people who they think might want to hurt them. We never get complacent with our enemies. I think bipolar disorder is an asshole, which means bipolar disorder is my enemy and I never want to get complacent around it. It’s my way of remembering that bipolar disorder is just waiting. It’s just waiting for an opportunity.
Dr. Nicole: And it’s episodic. And so, we know that if the if the window opens, it will creep right on in there. And an episode, you know, can occur. So, it is important to have a healthy respect, healthy watchful eye over those episodes, whether it’s depression or mania or whatever that looks like. And your recovery, like, we started off saying like it’s an activity, it’s active. It’s not a I got here and now I’m done. It is an ongoing thing.
Gabe: Recovery is active. Dr. Nicole. I love that. Do you tell people that all the time? Is that a thing that you say constantly to people?
Dr. Nicole: I do, I do. Recovery is a is an active process, just like rest.
Gabe: And do they believe you?
Dr. Nicole: No, they do not. They do not. They do not. They do not. People often side me and don’t think I know what I’m talking about.
Dr. Nicole: And we’re back discussing your recovery journey in bipolar disorder.
Gabe: You use the example that resting was active? You’re not doing anything when you’re resting. That’s kind of the point.
Dr. Nicole: Well, I mean, that’s absolutely not true because you’re doing something like you’re choosing to fill your time with something resting. It’s an activity like you have made a conscious decision that you’re accomplishing something. Resting is helpful. Like it has a purpose. People say, well, I you know, I don’t really do a lot of resting things because I’m not getting anything done. Yes you are resting is is a thing and it’s necessary. Your body needs that rest. Your body needs that that recovery time like that. It’s helpful. So, it is absolutely an active thing, just like your recovery.
Gabe: So that’s what I love. I love the part where we have to shift the way we think about recovery, right? Remember, recovery used to be a goal in my early days. You’re fighting for recovery. You’re going to reach recovery. You’re going to get to recovery. I’m excited for recovery. I’m getting closer to recovery. And that was the way that I talked about it. Now you’re in recovery. You’re there. You did it, right? But recovery needs to be maintained. And there’s a billion examples of this. You can save and save and save and save and save for a car, which means you’re working towards a car. Many of us did this in our younger years to get our first car right. We were super excited. And then we took that money and we bought a car. Now imagine if we thought in our head that the minute we bought that car that the money spending part was over, we’d be very disappointed. Because cars are expensive, they need maintenance, they need fuel, they need pinstripes, they need new CD players. Well, I’m really aging myself. They’re putting a CD player
Dr. Nicole: CD player?
Gabe: In my first car.
Dr. Nicole: A cassette player.
Gabe: But no, no, no, I had a CD player, right?
Dr. Nicole: Oh, okay.
Gabe: I was I was not part of that cassette generation. But I can understand our disappointment. And here’s where the analogy holds up. If you work really, really, really, really, really hard to get that first car right, saved up all your money, worked that summer job, did everything, and you thought to yourself that once you got it, you didn’t have to spend another nickel and therefore you cold turkey, right? Stopped putting money into your car. Things are going to start to happen. First you’re going to run out of gas, right? But maybe somebody takes pity on you and supports you through that, right? Right. Maybe you got a good mom or dad. You got you got buddies who are always giving you gas money. So maybe you weather that storm. All right, but but then you’re not replacing the oil. You’re not changing the oil out. Now. Now oil can go a long time. People go a long time without changing their oil. And the car just holds up. But eventually, eventually that car stops because you didn’t maintain the car. You didn’t continue to do the things with your new car that you needed to do. But the most important part of this analogy is when you’re saving up for the car, you’re in saving mode, right? Once you get the car, you’re in maintaining the car mode. So, when we’re trying to reach recovery, we’re in reaching recovery mode. Now we’re in recovery. We’re in maintaining recovery mode. We still have to do things, but the things that we have to do are different. And I think that people don’t understand that.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah. What’s been different for you? Different like for you personally, what can you point to that has been different now compared to back then?
Gabe: One of the biggest things that’s been different is before I had to learn coping skills, I didn’t have any coping skills. Trial and error. Trial and error. I had to learn coping skills. Now I have the coping skills. So, a big shift is I know what coping skills worked. So now I want to use the coping skills early, right? Or even better, even better, I want to put myself in the position where I don’t even need them. Right? That’s the advanced move. I want to recognize when I need the coping skill as early as possible. That’s a skill that I’ve worked on in recovery, but two I want to avoid the issue altogether. I want to not even need the coping skill because I see it coming with enough time to adjust. These are big, big thought changes that people in recovery with bipolar disorder can do to improve their outcomes and still give them something to work on.
Dr. Nicole: Okay. So, once you reach this, you know, this, this great maturity, deep understanding of your illness, you know, the coping skills, you know, the things you need to do. And you’ve done them for a decade, two decades. And you’ve had little blips along the way, maybe. But you, you haven’t had like a full episode, no hospitalizations. You’re feeling yourself. You’re feeling really good about your ability to manage bipolar disorder,
Gabe: I am. I’m feeling confident. I’m feeling confident.
Dr. Nicole: Yes. I would imagine that in that journey to continue to master this, because that’s the goal, right? Like I want to kick bipolar’s butt, like I want to I’m going to show it who’s boss. I’m in charge, not my bipolar disorder. Did you ever reach a point where you thought, okay, I’m good, maybe I don’t need these meds? Like, maybe I’ve reached this master of my illness to the point that I don’t need the meds anymore.
Gabe: I personally never reach that level. And I’ll tell you why. It’s not because I’m great. I never reached that level because when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, one of the first things that people around me, people who I really trusted, some of my first peer mentors, my first support group people, they looked me right in the eyes and they were like, don’t be a dumb ass and go off your meds. And one person who is my closest friend and my closest ally, she looked me right in the eyes and she said, I will support you. I will be here with you every day, no matter what happens, unless you quit. And not taking your meds is quitting. It’s quitting. If you stop taking your medication, I am gone and I won’t help you. And I believed her. And then the third factor that I. That I really had, that I really think is important, is I saw people do it. And I don’t mean like I read about them on the internet or heard about them on a podcast, like, no people who I saw doing well, people who I looked up to, people who had been recovery for the entire time I knew them. Then one day they just announced, I’m not doing this anymore. I’ve done yoga. Yoga was a big one. It was. It was all the rage.
Dr. Nicole: Yes. Yeah.
Gabe: Now I’m now doing it with diet and exercise, essential oils, CBD oil.
Dr. Nicole: I’m Keto.
Gabe: Whatever it was. People have heard me talk on this podcast before about alternative treatments and how much I dislike them. And one of the reasons that I dislike them so much is because I watched people who were doing well and they would go for these alternative treatments. They would, they would abandon everything that worked and I would see them lose their jobs. I would see them lose their spouses. I would see them lose their children. I would see them lose their houses. And unfortunately, in one occasion I, somebody died by suicide. And I am just so, so angry that something on the internet was so shiny and so convincing and wasn’t held down by facts, that it made a huge impression on me. And I think about this all the time. And so, so me personally, Dr. Nicole. No, but I can certainly understand it. I want to make sure that the listeners don’t hear that I think that it’s because I’m so smart or good. Frankly, it’s just another example of where I got lucky.
Dr. Nicole: I mean, you know, don’t don’t sell yourself short. You’re you’re smart. Okay. You’re smart. Don’t say such things about yourself. Um, you know, I don’t know that I’ve had anybody tell me they thought of it as I’m not a quitter. So that’s an interesting kind of take on it. Like, if I stop my meds, I feel like I’m quitting on myself and quitting on all the work I’ve done. And I haven’t heard anybody, um, kind of talk about it in those terms. I do see a lot of people, though, who think, well, that’s not going to be me. Like, we will that’s not going to be me to death, right? I mean, why do people even start using certain drugs, right? Like, I mean, you could make the argument that cigarette smoking looks cool. You know, marijuana can be made to look cool, but have you ever seen anyone who uses crack cocaine or methamphetamines who has been made to look cool? No. Everybody thinks it’s not going to be me, right? They think that, oh, I’m not going to be that person. Like, I’m gonna keep all my teeth. I’m not going to behave erratically.
Dr. Nicole: I’m not going to be, you know, the I’m not going to be the butt of jokes. I’m not going to be disheveled and poor grooming. Like, that’s not going to be me. Like I’m going to be able to control this. This people look at their bipolar illness. They’re like, well, that person went off meds, but I bet you they also didn’t do A, B and C, and I’ve been doing A, B and C, so I think I’m going to be okay. People don’t think that it’s going to happen to them. So then there’s the conversation of but I think I want to try. Like I can try, right? Like, can’t we try coming off the meds. And you know, sometimes it works out okay. Sometimes it works out not so okay. Sometimes it crashes and burns and ends up on fire and working out horribly. But, as adults, being in charge of your own self, the master of your destiny. You have the freedom most of the time to make decisions that the Dr. Nicole’s of your life do not think are great decisions to make.
Gabe: Reflecting backwards when I think about fighting for recovery, when you’re working towards recovery, recovery is always this goal. And everybody’s like, my goal is to reach recovery. And of course, what they’re actually saying is their goal is to live well. Right. Their goal is to have a life outside of the pain and suffering that that bipolar disorder causes. And that is a very sustainable thing. And it gets us through those long, well, frankly, those long months and years that it takes to reach recovery. But here’s the thing. Recovery is kind of a nebulous concept when you actually get there. What does recovery mean to you? What does recovery mean to Gabe? Recovery doesn’t have this actual meaning. Everybody’s trying to reach recovery, but nobody’s really defining it. And I think that one of the keys to long term recovery is absolutely defining that recovery.
Dr. Nicole: So then what is your personal definition for recovery?
Gabe: So, my easy compact definition is I spend more time living my life than I do managing bipolar disorder. I’m always going to have to give some time to the management, whether it’s making an appointment with my doctor, Nicole going to a support group, keeping track of my symptoms, just talking to my friends and family about it, or hell, standing in line at the pharmacy. Bipolar disorder is never going to get zero. But of course, when I was when I was fighting for recovery, at 1.100% of my life was owned by bipolar disorder. And that is the truth. There’s no lie there that that that that is honest to God. My definition of recovery, and it’s the one that I keep in the back of my head and but it’s it it’s not cool, right? It’s it’s not as motivating as maybe I want it to be. And, and I think having like a, I think having new goals is
Dr. Nicole: Mm.
Gabe: What recovery looks like for me. Right.
Dr. Nicole: Right.
Gabe: For the longest time my goal was to be stable, to reach recovery. I’m making air quotes. But now I got to do something else. So, then my goal was to get married, right? I wanted to be in a stable relationship. And then and then I did that. And then we started making goals together. Right. You know, buy a house and then I started this business. I wanted a, you know, to be a podcaster. I wanted to be a public speaker. And I had other goals along the way, like, I, I wanted to see Stonehenge. I wanted to go on vacation with my family. I wanted to buy a house. I wanted to get a dog. All of those things that are actually life goals are
Dr. Nicole: Mhm.
Gabe: Also, for me, recovery goals, because
Dr. Nicole: All right.
Gabe: Those life goals are impossible for me to get if I am not stable and if I am not well. And I think that many times people living with bipolar disorder, we separate those out. Recovery is a goal. And then all of these things are a goal. And I really think we need to blend them together. And I do think we do this in other areas. You know, most people understand if they have the goal to buy a house, then the goal to get a good job goes hand in hand. So, I think we need to remember that recovery needs to be part of your life goals conversation. It’s not just this thing that you put on the back burner that you only think about when you’re in trouble.
Dr. Nicole: Yeah. So, it doesn’t have to be a firm definition like you started out with. It can literally be if these are the things I am able to accomplish when I’m in recovery, and then constantly reassessing those goals, I like that I may steal it. I may use it from here on out.
Gabe: You can have it. I am putting it out in the public domain. I think that I really do believe that my myself I have over complicated, frankly simple things living well, being stable, searching for meaning, being content, helping your fellow people in the world. These are all goals that people strive to do. Those are also recovery goals. And I really, really, really think that we over complicate this by pretending that there is anyone out there who doesn’t have the goal of being stable, by pretending that that there’s somebody out there who doesn’t want to be well, by pretending that there’s somebody out there that doesn’t want to be of value to their loved ones. Those are not recovery goals. Those are people goals. And I just I do think that sometimes we tend to look at everything as, oh, I want to be stable because I have bipolar disorder. Dr. Nicole, you do not have bipolar disorder. Do you want to be stable?
Dr. Nicole: Absolutely.
Gabe: So, we share this.
Dr. Nicole: And hands down, no question.
Gabe: And it’s what we want for our friends and family.
Dr. Nicole: And it’s work. And it’s work. Whether you have bipolar disorder or not, to have a stable life and to feel stable and to take care of the things you need to take care of. So, this is one of those times where, you know, we talk a lot about how people with bipolar disorder tend to define most things in their bipolar lens and say, well, I don’t want to have to do that because it just reminds me that I have bipolar disorder, but it shouldn’t. It should just remind you that you’re alive and we all have to do these things.
Gabe: A 100% and I would say, Dr. Nicole, for my money, remembering that I have bipolar disorder is the number one thing that will keep me in recovery, because the minute I forget that I have bipolar disorder, bipolar disorder knows that I forgot because it lives up in my brain and it starts to mess with me again. I think that’s the other thing about recovery that we should probably touch on. Recovery is not perfection. Recovery does not mean you have zero symptoms. Recovery doesn’t mean that you never have a bad day. Recovery doesn’t mean that you don’t screw up colossally. Recovery doesn’t mean that you don’t make a mistake. Recovery doesn’t mean that you don’t even end up not in the hospital or in an IOP program. Or there’s so many things that can happen to people with bipolar disorder, but you can still be in recovery. You just had a challenge. You just had a setback. You just made a mistake. You do not have to win every game to be an elite athlete. You do not have to be perfect day in and day out to be in recovery. And I really do think that that’s another mistake that people make. They’re like, well, I’m not in recovery. I’ve been sad this week or I’m not in recovery. I was I was hypomanic for a couple of weeks, and then I had to call my doctor and I needed a med change or,
Dr. Nicole: Yeah.
Gabe: Or I just and that’s so sad for me because it’s impossible. It’s impossible to be perfect.
Dr. Nicole: Definitely not how it works. Definitely not how that works.
Gabe: Because like so many people don’t choose to rest or to take time to recharge, so many people in recovery don’t think they’re doing anything, and therefore they don’t choose to stay in recovery. Whether they realize it or not. The end result is often the same. Dr. Nicole, you’re super awesome.
Dr. Nicole: Oh. Thank you. I haven’t been told that in a very long time.
Gabe: Oh, well, people should tell you that way more. And you know who else is awesome? Our listeners, thank you so much for tuning in to this episode. My name is Gabe Howard and I am an award-winning public speaker, and I could be available for your next event. And I’m super happy to bring along Dr. Nicole. I’m also the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which is on Amazon. But you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me just by heading over to gabehoward.com.
Gabe: And listen up. We need a favor. Do Dr. Nicole and I a solid? Wherever you downloaded this podcast, please follow or subscribe. It is absolutely free. And listen, you don’t want to miss out on anything. And while we’re asking for favors, we have another one. Recommend the show to people. Bring it up in a support group. Bring it up in an online support group. Send somebody an email. Put it on social media. Hell, just send somebody a text message with the link because sharing this show is absolutely how it will grow. Thank you everyone and we will see you next time on Inside Bipolar.
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