It is that time of year again: time to get with your extended family for the holidays. If you are not looking forward to it, join the club. A lot of people with bipolar disorder — and a lot of people in general — have trouble navigating complicated family dynamics.

Join us as Gabe and Dr. Nicole shares some tips and tricks on getting through the holidays — or any other big gathering.

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.

Gabe Howard: Hello, 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: Dr. Nicole, when we talk about bipolar disorder, we’ve always got like these huge concepts, right? Mania, depression, suicidality, in-patient hospitalization. But when you really, like, reach out among people living with bipolar disorder, people like myself, and we’re like, Hey, what are you worried about? Those topics come up. But there’s one topic that comes up seemingly more often than all the other ones,

Dr. Nicole Washington: Hmm.

Gabe Howard: And it’s surviving family functions. It’s getting through Thanksgiving, going through the holidays, getting through Easter Sunday dinner. It’s all part and parcel of this idea of like, look, I’m hanging on, I’m doing the best I can. And whenever I show up at these functions, I got all kinds of feelings, all kinds of problems, all kinds of issues. And frankly, I just rather stay away, which of course, we don’t advise, but we’re going to have like all kinds of tips

Dr. Nicole Washington: Do we not advise it? I mean, sometimes don’t you need to just stay away? Sometimes is family not so toxic that it’s best for your mental health to stay away?

Gabe Howard: I have I have like the arc with my family, right? The I want to stay away. I hate you. You guys were awful to me. And then we got all the way to the other side where I’m like, okay, look, mistakes were made, all right? But we’ve repaired all the damage. I love you. Christmas is wonderful again. You know, birthday parties are great. I willingly go to these things and I want everybody to be me. And I do want everybody to strive to make up with their family. But

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: You’re right. If your family is so toxic and it hurts your mental health, sometimes the best decision is to stay away. But.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah, maybe not stay away from people altogether.

Gabe Howard: That’s fair.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Maybe you create this other network.

Gabe Howard: So, you can define family however you want.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right, right, right, right.

Gabe Howard: I like that a lot. So, from my perspective, I really come from the bad. Right. I’m just going to. It was bad. I never wanted to see my parents ever again. And now I’ve got I willingly go on family vacations with my parents, but I complain about it. And of course, there is everything in between. So, let’s just talk about a stereotypical family gathering, any random holiday that you can put in your head where your family gathers. There’s ten people in this house. That’s a lot for anybody, Dr. Nicole,

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: You and I have worked together for a while, and I know that you do not live with bipolar disorder, but

Dr. Nicole Washington: No.

Gabe Howard: I know that you’ve described not wanting to be in a house with ten of your family members.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Ten of anybody. Really. I’m not selective.

Gabe Howard: [Laughter]

Dr. Nicole Washington: I mean, really large numbers. So even though you have bipolar disorder, right? Some of us are still going to be introverts. Some of us are still going to be extroverts.

Gabe Howard: So, it’s important to understand that it’s possible that the reason you don’t want to hang out with your family has nothing to do with bipolar disorder at all.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.

Gabe Howard: It’s just a personality trait. And self-stigma is a thing.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Absolutely.

Gabe Howard: We think that the reason that we don’t want to go to the family function is because, oh, you know, bipolar disorder took this from me. But the reality is, is, hey, maybe you prefer to hang out in smaller groups.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah. I’ll use me as an example. I love to throw parties. love to plan events. I like themes. I like things to be fantastic and food to match. As far as like the theme goes, like, I’m all in this thing, right? But I’m hardly talking to anybody during this event. I am like planning. And in some ways, it’s easier for me to plan because then I am busy doing the other stuff and I don’t have to be overstimulated with people coming at me with different stuff. So, I get it. If you get out and you feel overstimulated, there’s nothing wrong with you feel I mean, like people feel that way sometimes. It’s just overwhelming to have to be on to the point that you have to talk to people and answer their questions and smile a lot and all those things.

Gabe Howard: I really want to call that, like Dr. Nicole tip number one. She’s got a few of them, ladies and gentlemen. But Dr. Nicole, tip number one, throw the party yourself.

Dr. Nicole Washington: [Laughter]

Gabe Howard: You have home-turf advantage,

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: And you’ve got all this stuff to do,

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: Right? You’re washing the dishes; you’re putting out the plates. You’re doing all of this stuff. So, nobody thinks that you’re being antisocial. They think you’re being helpful. Nobody thinks that you’re ignoring them. They think that you’re busy and you know all the great hiding places.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Because it’s your house.

Gabe Howard: Because it’s your house. Now that can be overwhelming. Having a whole bunch of people in your home can be overwhelming. But I like what you said there about you. You’ve got the stuff. I do this every Thanksgiving. I throw Thanksgiving at my house and I’m constantly cooking the food, cleaning up, putting out the hors d’oeuvres, doing the dishes, and everybody’s like that Gabe. He’s so amazing. And what I’m thinking about is I don’t have to talk to any of you because I’m doing the dishes like this is. I’ve never wanted to do dishes so much in my life.

Dr. Nicole Washington: You can jump in and make a little small talk. And then when it gets to be to the point where you’re like, oh, I’m really done with this conversation, you can go, oh, let me let me go check, make sure there’s enough blankety-blank on the table, and then you just go. And then if I disappear because I need to go do my little five-minute breathing in my bedroom or in the closet or a meditation or whatever that looks like, I can do it. And nobody thinks it’s odd that I disappeared into some back room.

Gabe Howard: I want to segue into what I call Dr. Nicole awesome tip number two. Ladies and gentlemen, if you stop listening after this tip, you will be in such a better position. This tip, when I first met Dr. Nicole over a year ago, changed my life. If you are feeling overwhelmed, if you are. If you just have to get out. but I can’t believe I didn’t think of this myself. Dr. Nicole, if you’re feeling over well, anywhere, it’s not just your party. You’re. You’re at a friend’s house, you’re

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: In any given situation, and you need 5 minutes to yourself.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: What do you recommend that people do?

Dr. Nicole Washington: Fake a phone call. Fake a phone call.

Gabe Howard: Fake a phone call. Ladies and gentlemen. That’s

Dr. Nicole Washington: Fake. A phone call.

Gabe Howard: Like I said, you’re going to stop listening right now.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Fake a phone call.

Gabe Howard: That’s how good this is.

Dr. Nicole Washington: People say, Oh, well, that sounds so rude when I tell patients like just fake a phone call. If you get overwhelmed and they’re like, that feels rude. Nobody knows. Nobody knows,

Gabe Howard: And nobody cares.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right? In this day, nobody cares. Nobody cares.

Gabe Howard: When you say fake a phone call, you mean like, literally like, hey, I’ve got to take this and you hold up your phone.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: That has become everybody’s okay with that. Everybody’s like, Yeah, of course, of course. He’s got to take it.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And really, it doesn’t even need to be on. Right? Like your phone can be off. Right. And actually, you do want it. You don’t want your ringer on because you don’t want it to start ringing while you’re pretending to be on it, because you know that gives you away. So, you that gives you away. So, you want to make sure.

Gabe Howard: This has happened to you, hasn’t it Dr. Nicole?

Dr. Nicole Washington: No, but I’ve seen it.

Gabe Howard: You’ve been standing there talking on the phone when it’s rang right in your ear, haven’t you?

Dr. Nicole Washington: You don’t want that to happen to you. So, you want to make sure that the ringer is at least off when you when you when you get this call that you get. And then what you do with that time is on you. You may literally just be taking deep breaths. You may just need a moment of silence where nobody’s talking to you and you’re not having to talk to anybody. You may want to do a quick two-, three-, four- or five-minute meditation. If that is something that helps you, you may want to listen to a song or a snippet of a song or whatever it is, but just know that you can use that. And I wouldn’t feel bad about it.

Gabe Howard: One of the things that’s great since you first said this on the Inside Mental Health podcast, well over a year ago, people thought that this was a genius idea, which is why it’s at the top of the show. We’re not even making you wait until the end of the show to learn this technique like we did in the last episode I’ve learned all the things that people do. People are like, Oh, I’ve got a I’ve got a pump song, right? I got that song. It just cheers me up and I just play it right in my ear, you know? My wife’s like, Yeah, I just listened to MMMBop by Hanson. She’s like, that, that that gives me energy, right? Other people have guided meditations that are listening in their ear. Take a deep breath. Hold it 3 to 1, let it out. Other people have, you know, motivational podcasts that they listen to for 5 minutes. It really is endless. But the thing that I like most about it is we really are in in 2022, if you hold up your phone and say, I’ve got to take this, people don’t challenge it, especially if you’re using it sparingly, right? I mean, if every 5 minutes you have to take a phone call, that’s going to annoy people. But if you’re out for a few hours and you do this twice, once at the top of every hour and then in the middle, you work in a five-minute bathroom break, you’ve got yourself really a building break about every half an hour to give yourself that 5 minutes to relax and people will not say boo. Also, it is very polite if you’re going to take a phone call to step out of the room, to step outside, to go someplace. So, you’re even going to get I’m going to go with kudos or kudos a thing still, Dr. Nicole, I’m going to go with you’re going to get kudos for actually being polite.

Dr. Nicole Washington: I like it. So, I mean, I think that’s a reasonable thing to do. I mean, you know, I mean, we love people, right? The people in our lives, we love them, but sometimes they’re a little bit too much.

Gabe Howard: Obviously this is a great technique to get away from situations that you’re feeling overwhelmed in or even to get away from, from people that you’re maybe feeling over overwhelmed by. But there’s a there’s a skosh of me it’s like, okay but that defense is running away. What recommendations do you have if I do want to stay present in the moment, I just don’t like what they’re talking about and I don’t like meaning it’s triggering the I have so much to say on this. And the first thing that I have is, listen, there is no party, no holiday, no social gathering between you and your family that is going to solve the political, religious or financial crisis in America. And if your family is one of those families like, look, we all like to get together and discuss politics, call ahead and say, look, can we reserve the political discussion till after dinner? Because I don’t want to participate. I

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.

Gabe Howard: Just I it’s yes, half the family agrees with me and half the family disagrees with me. And you all like to debate. And I have many members of my family that I like to debate politics with. My grandmother and I two or three times a week are discussing politics. We like it. You know, when we don’t do it, though, Thanksgiving, we don’t do it on Christmas, we don’t do it at Easter. We don’t do it at my niece’s birthday party. We don’t do it at weddings and funerals. We have a rule in my family, no politics, religion or money over the holidays

Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.

Gabe Howard: That there’s so many other days that you can do this. If you can’t set that boundary with your family. First off, try. Just say, Hey, look, can we make a rule where we don’t talk about these things

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: And you can fill in anything you want? If everybody’s getting in fights over American Idol, like,

Dr. Nicole Washington: Let’s not talk about it.

Gabe Howard: Let’s not talk about American Idol at family gatherings.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Can’t be that important that we can’t go 2 hours during dinner, you know, without talking about it. But I agree with you, if you can avoid it in the sense of if everybody is kind of doing their banter thing and you can just kind of sit there and zone out. Go for it. You know, if you don’t have to participate in the debate. Right. If they allow you to just sit there and you don’t get sucked in, just think about something else. Just go to your happy place. Like, let’s just not even entertain that. But if they’re trying to draw you in or if the conversation is offensive to you. Right. We have seen over the last few years holiday gatherings have gotten a lot more tense for a lot of people just because how politically charged things are in the world. And so, people are having conversations that really, they never had before as families, because everybody has an opinion and everybody wants everybody else to know their opinion and why their opinion is right. And so, if it’s offensive content, if it’s just you just can’t take it like that’s that spot. There’s a fine line between like, I’m walking away and not dealing with a situation versus this is just what I got to do. You know, I quote the great philosopher Kenny Rogers often. You’ve got to know when to hold them, gotta know when to fold them, kind of know when to walk away. Got to know when to run. Like it is really the best life advice anyone could ever give you.

Gabe Howard: As a mental health advocate, as an advocate, as a person who talks for a living, mental health advocacy is my entire life. It’s literally my life’s work. I got to tell you, I understand this desire when somebody says something that you find offensive, appalling, stupid, dangerous to just slowly turn your head and unload. I get it. But also, as an advocate, I’ve learned to pick my moment. Right? Thanksgiving is not the moment, and here’s why. Dr. Nicole, you are now at my house. You say something stupid, right? I don’t like it. So, I turn around and yell at you. Now I’m going to say that every single person in the room agrees with me that what you said was stupid. I guarantee that at least half those people are going to be so uncomfortable, they’re going to take your side. They’re going to take your side because they don’t want it to be awkward over the holidays. They don’t want it to be awkward at the birthday party, at the wedding, at the funeral, at the at the get together. So

Dr. Nicole Washington: Mm-hmm.

Gabe Howard: Even though they agree with me, they feel like somebody needs to defend you. So now we’re not even arguing the point anymore.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.

Gabe Howard: Now it’s Gabe is attacking Dr. Nicole.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.

Gabe Howard: So, we have to help Dr. Nicole because we care about her.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: And then there’s the people who have to help Gabe because we care about him. And you know what’s lost in all of that? Whatever thing you said that I took umbrage to.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: And also, I’m going to say this and I get emails all the time when I say this. If everybody in your family knows you’re living with bipolar disorder and the doctor, Nicole, says something you don’t like and you start screaming, you have not done anything to improve your social standing, everybody’s like, Well, of course, Gabe started yelling, He’s bipolar

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: And that is unfair. It is a burden.

Dr. Nicole Washington: And you know what’s coming next. You know, what’s the question you’re going to get asked? Are you taking your meds?

Gabe Howard: Are you taking your meds?

Dr. Nicole Washington: Did you take your meds?

Gabe Howard: You getting good sleep? When was the last time you saw your doctor?

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: Which compounds and compounds and compounds and compounds and compounds.

Dr. Nicole Washington: But I will tell you this, though. This is a scenario that sounds very wonderful, that sounds reasonable. But what about that one relative, right? What about your inappropriate uncle who always says things at the holidays? Like, he’s just not a nice person. He likes to antagonize people. He’s highly opinionated. Like, nobody really likes him to be there. But they feel guilty about not inviting him because it’s the holidays or it’s a family function. We got to figure that out because that is where I think people have the most issue over, like some random person saying stuff.

Gabe Howard: Here’s my best advice for that one. I believe in group wisdom. I believe that there are safety in numbers. I believe that if you can find the rest of the family and honestly just say, look, I want to come, but Uncle so-and-so is going to be a jackass and you’re just on the phone now you’re sending a text message. Whatever. There’s this is two weeks in advance. You will find that a lot of people are like, yeah, yeah, we don’t we don’t like Uncle So-and-so either. We don’t like it when he does that. We love him and

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: Remember, we have to honor him. You know, he’s 75 years old and he fought in 16 wars and he helped build the road that we all drive on.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: And, you know, if it wasn’t for him, Dad wouldn’t have gotten to college. And if Dad didn’t go to college, he wouldn’t have met Mom. And none of us will be here. Family is very complicated, right? But if you focus in on a look, I don’t like it when he constantly tells me that I’m X or says these offensive things. And make no mistake, there are some uncles who say offensive things. Our choices are we. We can fight back and that goes nowhere. And it’s also what they want.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.

Gabe Howard: They want the fight. Or we can enlist a family member help who don’t like it either. And I believe that you will find, if you ask there are many family members who don’t like this

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right.

Gabe Howard: And you can all agree not to take the bait. You can also all agree that if somebody does take the bait, everybody’s getting up and leaving. And this is hard to do. And I’m not saying that’s going to stop them. I want to be very clear. Everybody getting up and leaving when Uncle so-and-so and nephew so-and-so get in the argument, that’s not going to stop them. It’s just not. But at least you found another room. At least you have an escape plan, right? You don’t want the house to catch on fire. But it’s a really good idea to know what door you’re going to go out of if the house catches on fire.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Absolutely.

Gabe Howard: And if the house catches on fire, go out the door. If the fight breaks out, leave.

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Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing navigating family gatherings with bipolar disorder.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Sometimes it’s the expectation, right? Like we know Uncle So-and-so cuts up every Thanksgiving. Why are we surprised when Uncle So-and-so cuts up every Thanksgiving? You know, every time we’re like, Oh my God, I can’t believe Uncle. Why? Why can we not believe anything that comes out of Uncle So-and-so’s mouth? My usual response I’ve over the last few years, I’ve really, like, made this my thing and it feels so good. When people say things that are really outlandish that I don’t agree with, and I feel like the hair on the back of my neck standing up, I literally just say, Oh, okay. And I just change the subject or I walk away like, I just go, Oh, okay. Or I go, Oh, well, that certainly is a take on that. I just don’t even go there, especially with people I know going there will lead to World War Three. Just like, Oh, okay, you just in your head think, Well, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard today, but okay, I’m going to walk away and I’m just not going to engage. So just employ the Oh, okay. If you say it like that, people don’t know how to take it. Like they don’t know if you agree with them or like they have no idea. So, you just say, Oh, okay, you just walk away.

Gabe Howard: Just give them nowhere to go while you’re slowly standing up, removing yourself from the room. It just shocks people every time because they wanted you to get defensive and

Dr. Nicole Washington: Exactly. Exactly.

Gabe Howard: Angry. And when you don’t, you take the power back and you confuse them.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah. And how good does that feel to not allow somebody to take you places you don’t want to go? That is a good feeling when somebody is trying to ruffle your feathers and you don’t, because really, at the end of the day, we are only in charge of us and in control of us. We are not in charge of those other people. So, it’s a successfully navigate a situation like that. You’ve got to give yourself a pat on the back after that.

Gabe Howard: This is a great segue to what happens if Aunt Millie. We are going to go with Aunt Millie. I don’t know why.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Uh-oh. Okay.

Gabe Howard: What happens when Aunt Millie if the offensive thing that she’s saying is about how mental illness is fake, about

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: How bipolar disorder is BS, about how, you know, if you get a job, you wouldn’t have those head issues. Or of course, my personal favorite back in my day, there wasn’t all these medications for feeling sad. What if you have that relative that was not politics anymore, right? That’s not even religion or money. That’s a clear blow, right to you. You have personally been insulted by somebody who is at this event. And like you said, it is usually that matriarch or patriarchal figure, somebody who’s been around the family twice as long as you, three times as long as you really did fight in 17 world wars. What do you do with them? Because you can’t just be like, Oh, okay. I didn’t realize I was a deadbeat loser. Thanks. Because. That feels counterintuitive. What are some tactics that we can use to overcome that? I do like what you said about how, look, you know, it’s coming.

Dr. Nicole Washington: I guess it would depend, you know, like, is this an every year thing? Right? Because then that goes back to you talking to maybe your parents and saying, hey, listen, she says these things. It’s super offensive. You know, my battle with my, you know, mental health situation, like you know what I’ve been through to hear her say those things just really it upsets me. I don’t know if I can take it, you know, if she brings this up this year, you know, I need some backup. Like I need your help. Like I need somebody to step in and say, well, that’s not really, you know, I need something from the people there. And if nobody there is willing to do anything and it upsets you that much, maybe you just, you know, show up early, help whoever fix dinner, and then you say, Oh, I got to go. And you don’t sit through that part, right? Everything doesn’t have to be all or none, because the chances of you changing Aunt Millie are zero.

Gabe Howard: I like that. You said that it’s not all or none, right? If you’re not going to go to the big event, the big holiday feast, the birthday party show up ahead of time, exchange gifts, call them up and say that you’ll come over afterward and help them clean up. Just to maintain that connection. But there’s also something that you said at the beginning of the show. If you’ve expressed to your entire family that this behavior is hurting you, it hurts your feelings, it’s offensive, it’s tiresome, it’s bothersome, and nobody in the family is willing to take your side. Yeah, you might have to set that boundary that that you need to really distance yourself from your family because they are now on notice of the pain that they are causing you and unwilling to change. That’s a really big red flag that, yeah, you’re not ready to repair that distance. They’re not ready to meet you. It is super hard. It’s so much easier said than done.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Right. I’m not telling people to cut your families off. Sometimes that is the best thing to do. Right. And even that’s temporary. Even that’s not permanent. Right. You can. You can maybe go a couple of years. Maybe you repair things. Maybe three Christmases from now. Things are fantastic and your family is able to help you set those boundaries with those relatives. And so, it can change. Right? It’s not permanent, but sometimes we do have to set some boundaries with our family. I am a firm believer that people don’t get to treat me poorly just because we share DNA. Right? And a lot of times we do that like we let our families get away with so much stuff that we never let anybody get away with. And we’re like, Well, it’s my mom. Well, that’s even more of the reason that she shouldn’t be treating me like crap. Like I expect people not related to me to treat me worse than the people who I share DNA with. So, I don’t think that just because you’re related to somebody by blood, that they have the right to treat you poorly, right. They can disagree with your opinion on things. Aunt Millie doesn’t have to agree with what’s going on. It’s all in how she says it or how she talks about it. You just got to figure out where do you fit in this puzzle? And I love offering to go afterwards to help clean, offering to go before maybe coming in for a little bit or coming in towards the tail end of dinner. You know, those things are all working out. But there are there are a lot of people out there who don’t have a lot of people to be with, especially for holidays. When you think about that kind of stuff, find your people, you got your people, create your own, create your framily, your friends who are like family, create that group. And that’s where you, you know, if you find your sweet spot for some of those kind of more important moments like Thanksgiving and Christmas and things like that.

Gabe Howard: I do think that we need to be comfortable with the idea of being alone. And we have to ask ourselves, do I want to feel alone on the holidays or do I want to be abused on the holidays? Which feeling is worse? And yes, we all want the Hallmark Christmas. We all want the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. I got to tell you, bipolar disorder or not, there’s a lot of people, a lot of people that aren’t getting that. And it has nothing to do with bipolar disorder. It has to do with family dynamics. It has to do with their age. It has to do with I you know, I, I the older I get, the more clear the past becomes. And I just I remember feeling, you know, 20, 21 and 22 that nobody was listening to me and that nobody respected my opinions and that I was just ignored.

Gabe Howard: And I felt really bad about this. Now, I did not know that I had bipolar disorder then, so that did not factor in in any way. The reality is it was true. My mom had been doing these holidays my entire life, literally my entire life. And here I show up at 20 with my own house and I want to change things and I want to help. And she’s like, Hell, no. Who do you think you are? Is it? No, this is mine. And I looked at it as disrespect. I looked at it as she didn’t trust me because of my age. I didn’t look at I looked at it as I looked at it as pretty much every way that my mother could be insulting me. Here’s the thing that I’ve learned now. It had nothing to do with me. My mom just didn’t want things to change. She wanted to have the same holiday that she always had with her same food on the same china in the same house. And the minute I said, Hey, why don’t we move it over to my house? Yeah, it hurt her.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Is my Thanksgiving not good enough for you?

Gabe Howard: Exactly. Exactly.

Dr. Nicole Washington: It’s my Thanksgiving.

Gabe Howard: And I think. And I think sometimes some of the things that happen have nothing to do with bipolar disorder. But we think it does.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: Well, they don’t they don’t trust me to do this. They don’t trust me to bring the dessert because I have bipolar disorder and they think that I’m going to flake and forget and that I can’t cook because of mental illness. Yeah, no, it’s an Aunt Lindsey has been literally making that same dessert since before you were born. And Aunt Lindsey is not ready to give it up. And I know, I know we’re tired of pineapple upside down cake. And I know that we have the Internet. And on Pinterest, we learned about this apple strudel with caramel. That would be so much better. It’s not that they don’t trust you because you have mental illness, it’s not that they don’t think that you can pull it off. It’s not that you’re going to flake and not bring dessert. It’s that nobody wants to tell Aunt Lindsey that she can’t bring her god-awful sponge cake with pineapples on top that she’s been bringing every year for literally before you were born. And now in the day and age of social media, with all the pictures and people zooming in, you know, they can zoom. Grandma and grandma wants to make sure that we’re still

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah. Yep.

Gabe Howard: Using that China from 1831. You can see how it gets complicated quickly.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah. She wants to see what those dishes look like. I mean, listen, I’m from Louisiana. I no longer live in Louisiana. I do Thanksgiving at my house. My mom comes to Thanksgiving every year. And if you don’t think that my mom is critiquing everything about Thanksgiving, you are delusional because she is she is critiquing everything. And if I decide that I’m going to do something different, I’m going to replace the mac and cheese with something else. It better be the most amazing thing ever. And even then, she might say, But I sure miss that mac and cheese. Has nothing to do with your illness. It has to do with parents and adult children dynamics, which is always bizarre and always weird.

Gabe Howard: I find it to be really helpful to plan the after party and the after party can look like anything that you want. People are like, Well, what if I don’t have enough friends to have an after party? No, no, you can have an after party of one. You know that that movie that you’ve been wanting to watch on streaming, save it.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: And then you get up that morning, you go to that event and then on the drive home, right. You stop it at that that treat place or you bought the thing the day before. What you have planned all of this. And while all this is going on, you’re just like, nope, I just got to get to that movie. I got to get to that movie and that cheesecake I got in the fridge.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: I got that cheesecake in the fridge. I got that movie. I’ve been waiting to see that movie. I’ve been waiting to see that movie. I’ve been on Facebook for two weeks and I want any spoilers for the movie. And then you get there, you drive home, you come in, you put on the comfy clothes, you pull out the you’re going to eat a whole cheesecake by yourself. This is not an eating disorder. This is not inside eating disorders. But remember, it’s a treat. Food you get the small cheesecake the for

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: The four inch one.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Maybe the tiny. Maybe the tiny one. Yeah.

Gabe Howard: OK, buy a slice of cheesecake. Just buy a slice of it. I think people understand where I’m going with

Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.

Gabe Howard: This. Now, if you can meet up with friends afterwards, that’s fantastic too. Maybe you got a few buddies that are just like, Oh, I am so not looking forward to Thanksgiving, Christmas, whatever with my family. And you’re like, That’s no problem. Let’s all agree to meet up at 5:00 at our favorite restaurant that is still open on that day, right? Do the scouting ahead of time. And don’t do the thing that I have done so many years past where I’m upset, I’m emotionally drained and I’m desperate to talk to somebody and I find myself home alone on my phone. Are you there? Are you up? What are you doing? Can you talk? Because those people don’t have plans with you. They’ve made plans with other people. And if they are available, you feel like you’re dragging them down because you are. They’re not in the zone to help you get through your thing. Right. They’re not ready yet. Or you do what many of us have often done and that we’re so desperate to meet somebody who feels better that we call somebody that we shouldn’t have. And this is where a little planning can go a real long way and figure out what your best plan is. I’m all for the great big party with all of your buddies. I really am. But it’s the holidays. People travel. I have I have watched many a good movie with many a good frozen pizza on a holiday after my family has gone and just sat there with the Christmas tree on. I you know, it always seems to be Christmas just eating the cookies at my mom sent home with me, which makes me feel good about my mom. And I’m like, you know what? Whatever. It’s just whatever. And that made me feel good because I did a little bit of pre-planning.

Dr. Nicole Washington: Exactly. Exactly.

Gabe Howard: Now I want to I want to shift gears ever so slightly and not talk to the people living with bipolar disorder, but to our friends, our family are our caregivers, support systems, moms, dad, brothers, sisters, friends, spouses. I, I was able to do a lot of these things not because I had support. That was that was really step one for me, you know, standing up to Aunt Millie or Uncle Bob and not losing my shit is. Yes, it’s because I went through therapy. Yes. It’s because I got stable on medications. Yes. It’s because I was getting better with bipolar disorder. But I got to tell you, I don’t think any of that was important as knowing that I had somebody in my corner, that if I did it, somebody was going to be like, hey, good job, good job. And now I want to turn it back to the people with bipolar disorder.

Gabe Howard: When you see your family do that for you, when you see your friends do that, your spouse, I look, I’m not saying that I ever thanked them. I’m going to be honest. didn’t do it and I’m not It would be good if you did it, but I don’t know that you will. But at least admit it to yourself, right? When you’re thinking about how this thing went, at least put in your head. You know, Dad did me a solid, grandpa did me a solid, my sister did me a solid. My, my, my spouse. Because we get annoyed at these people a lot. And we remember every single time they asked if we took our meds, if we were honest with the doctor, if we’re sleeping well, we have a whole list of things that people did to annoy us at that party. You should balance that out with the with the things that people did to step up, because it will make you feel better to know that, hey, there were some successes at that party. For the first time ever, Mom told Grandma to back off about my job.

Gabe Howard: All right, that’s solid, because I know Mom wants me to get a job just as much as grandma. So, these are. These are powerful moments. Finally. Not for nothing. Look, it. It’s a family gathering. It’s a holiday. It’s a special occasion. It’s not an afterschool special. It’s not a the more you know, it’s not a learning experience. Everybody needs to take the day off. For people living with bipolar disorder, this is not the day that you’re going to convince your family that you are whatever you want them to think you are. And for all of our family members and friends, now is not the day that I’m suddenly going to realize. And I need to work harder and go back to college. I just let let’s just celebrate each other. Let’s just take a break, be together and focus on the little joys out of life. Let’s just build some good memories and move on from that. And you know, Dr. Nicole. If they stress, you know, you can always fake a phone call and go outside.

Dr. Nicole Washington: You can. You can. But it is also important to remember this likely will air around the holidays and it’s always good holiday advice. And that’s the time of year that we tend to think of these things. But really this advice is good for any time of year weddings, Mother’s Day, Easter, any time, family reunions, funerals like literally any time you have to get with your family or larger groups of people and you feel like it’s going to or has the potential to cause some distress, this is a good episode to save as a favorite and pull back out later.

Gabe Howard: Well said, Dr. Nicole. And to all of our listeners, thank you so much. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” You can grab a copy on Amazon because, well, everything’s on Amazon or you can head over to my website and get a signed copy with free swag. That website is

Dr. Nicole Washington: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington. You can find me on all social media platforms @DrNicolePsych to see what I have in my hand in at any given moment.

Gabe Howard: We need a big favor. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe. It’s absolutely free. But also, we need you to tell people about us. See, we do not have giant advertising money. We can’t afford to advertise during the Super Bowl. But what we do have are great listeners who love our show. Please, sharing the show is how we grow. We will see everybody next time on Inside Bipolar.

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