Our hosts try to avoid pop psychology topics and focus on specifics with more robust scientific backing. However, imposter syndrome has been getting a lot of attention recently. Even though imposter syndrome isn’t officially a diagnosis, it’s a real issue for many, including people with bipolar disorder.

The fact is, imposter syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of other mental health disorders, and finding community and allies is one way to combat it. In this episode, our hosts reflect on the broader societal implications and the importance of recognizing and validating achievements without self-doubt. Listen Now!

People with mental illness are constantly on the outside looking in. Always, always, always. Women in the 1970s, on the outside looking in. People of color, on the outside looking in. Being in environments where you are the only, you are one of the few. Any time you are in any of those kinds of categories, how could you not have imposter syndrome? If the world and society and the media and the way we portray people with bipolar disorder and all those things paint you in this one way, how could those things not creep into your psyche and affect how you see yourself and your ability to be successful?” ~Dr. Nicole Washington

Gabe Howard
Gabe Howard

Our Host, 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.

To learn more about Gabe, or book him for your next event, please visit his website, gabehoward.com. You can also follow him on Instagram and TikTok at @askabipolar.

Dr. Nicole Washington
Dr. Nicole Washington

Our host, 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: Thanks for listening everyone. My name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder.

Dr. Nicole: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist.

Gabe: We here at Inside Bipolar, we try to avoid certain pop psychology topics, things that you see on memes, things that you read about in viral vlogs or things that influencers push. And one of the reasons is because of our association with Healthline Media. As many of you should realize, but maybe you don’t. Everything that we do is medically reviewed. Of course, while I live with bipolar disorder, we also have Dr. Nicole, who you may or may not realize is a board-certified psychiatrist.

Dr. Nicole: Yeah, I’m actually a doctor, actually.

Gabe: Yeah. You’re an actual doctor.

Dr. Nicole: I’m the actual doctor.

Gabe: You’re an actual doctor.

Dr. Nicole: I do not just play one on this podcast. I’m actually a doctor.

Gabe: The reason I bring all this up is because we wanted to do a show on imposter syndrome, and for some people, many people, in fact, imposter syndrome, it’s sort of in the gray area of the of, of real psychology research and pop psychology research. Now, we’re not trying to devolve into a debate about it, but I, I do believe that imposter syndrome is not something that you can be diagnosed with.

Dr. Nicole: Yeah, I mean, it’s not in the DSM, if that’s what you mean.

Gabe: Exactly.

Dr. Nicole: It’s not, it’s not. It’s not there if you’re looking for it there. But there’s lots of things that that aren’t official diagnoses that people say, oh, yeah, I got that. I have that, I mean, it’s what we do.

Gabe: It’s the gray area, though it’s not fair to say this is settled science. If you meet these three criteria, I can diagnose you with impostor syndrome, but impostor syndrome, it does have some research to it. It does have some umph. It is an understood phenomenon. Obviously it rose to the level of being on the show. So just spoiler alert we’re not about to like segue into we picked a different topic. So clearly, clearly it rose to the level. But I do like to make sure that our audiences understand that if you have imposter syndrome, it’s not something that you can get medicine for. There’s not a treatment option available for it. It is something that you should discuss in therapy. But if you live with bipolar disorder and you’ve been told that you have imposter syndrome, you feel like you have imposter syndrome. A lot of this is it. I it’s murky, and I do want to make sure that people understand that mania depression are different symptoms of bipolar disorder and mental illness

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: Than imposter syndrome.

Dr. Nicole: Yes. So you can have imposter syndrome and have no underlying mental health disorder. You can have imposter syndrome and have depression. You can have it with anxiety. You can sprinkle some ADHD, OCD, whatever, whatever illness disorder you want to throw in there. You can have imposter syndrome and have something else or you can have nothing else. So you’re right. It’s not. It’s not something that you’re going to come in specifically for treatment for. But let’s just talk a little bit about the technical side, because that’s my job. That’s why I’m here.

Gabe: Yeah. Where did this come from? Where did imposter syndrome come from? Why do why are people talking about this?

Dr. Nicole: So a long, long time ago. So the late 1970s. So everybody close your eyes. Picture the late 1970s. So we have these two women researchers. Their last names are Clance and Imes. And they are killing it. Right? They’re at the top of their game. They’re researchers. They’re women in the late 70s who were researchers. And so they did work with women who were also killing it. And at the top of their game, these were high performing women, top in academia, top in their industries. These were medical students. These were, you know, students working on advanced degrees. Again, 1970s. This is a big deal. So they put out this term and they published this paper called the Impostor Phenomenon and High Achieving Women Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. So it was all about how these women were at the top of their game, worthy of being in the spaces that they were in, yet feeling inadequate, anxious, feeling like they were intellectual phonies going to be found out somehow people were going to realize they didn’t belong and how distressing that was. So that’s the basis of it. But where the pop culture part comes in, because I just told you this paper was published in 1978. Some of y’all weren’t even born in 19. Gabe was because he’s a

Gabe: Okay,

Dr. Nicole: Little on the Gabe was born there, but

Gabe: I, I, I knew you were.

Dr. Nicole: Okay,

Gabe: I think you were too.

Dr. Nicole: I was, but that’s not the point.

Gabe: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Nicole: I was younger than you in 1978. I was younger than you were.

Gabe: You’re also a doctor. How many different ways do you have to win Dr. Nicole?

Dr. Nicole: [Laughter]

Gabe: Just, you recognize at some point you’re just going to have to be like, hey, I beat a guy with bipolar disorder, and everybody’s going to be like, you’re a doctor.

Dr. Nicole: Gabe, I don’t.

Gabe: That’s not a victory you should claim.

Dr. Nicole: Gabe I don’t see your bipolar disorder. I just see you.

Gabe: Awww.

Dr. Nicole: I don’t see it. Anyway

Gabe: Or I don’t see you as a doctor, so it’s fine.

Dr. Nicole: So. So this was, you know, this was 1978. And this was a time. Right. So this was 78. And here we are today. And now it’s popular. So there are people out there who think like, oh, imposter syndrome is this new thing. No, it’s not.

Gabe: It feels like a new thing.

Dr. Nicole: It’s not.

Gabe: Because it I, I recognize that 1978 to now is a huge chunk of time, but it really feels like it has just cropped up and it started to get real momentum of people utilizing this term in the last decade. I never remember hearing about this when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 20 years ago. But

Dr. Nicole: I.

Gabe: Now, poof! Here it is. Why?

Dr. Nicole: And that poof, I don’t know. I mean, so I will I will come up front and say, I have a lot of frustrations with this whole imposter syndrome thing. And one of them is the fact that it’s been around since the flipping 1970s, and all of a sudden we’re acting like, oh, it’s a thing now. It’s a thing now. It’s always been a thing. So I get a little frustrated when we take term’s and like you said, pop culture takes it and runs with it. And then all of a sudden it’s legit because pop culture said it was legit. And there are other terms that this has happened with, like resiliency, like resiliency is not a new thing. But now all of a sudden everybody’s talking about resiliency and being resilient. It’s just very frustrating that, you know, we wait until the world tells us something is important for us to believe. It’s important. And we have the internet. In 1978, there was no TikTok. So I guess if there had been TikTok in 1978, it would have taken off back then to who knows? But I think the. The point to kind of hone in on when you start talking about imposter syndrome and that feeling like you’re a failure when there really is no evidence to support that you’re a failure or you feel like you are a phony. I guess phony is a better word when you feel like you’re a phony, and there is really no evidence to support that. You’re a phony when you feel like you’re occupying a space that you don’t necessarily belong in, or you feel inadequate in that space when you have that feeling, regardless of whether imposter syndrome is a diagnosis, regardless of whether there are other diagnoses present, I think there’s zero reason why you should ignore that and shouldn’t find somebody to help you work through those feelings, regardless of whether you have bipolar disorder or not.

Gabe: Thank you so much for giving the history of it. And I do agree it becomes inherently frustrating, especially for people in the mental health community when we have been saying something for years, patients say over and over and over again, x, x is a problem, X is a problem, X is a problem. And then one day, decades later, a doctor says, you know what the problem is X? And everybody acts like this is something that that that hasn’t been well said and I’m just sticking. I want to be very, very clear. We can do this socio-politically we can talk about this in terms of race relations. We can talk about this in terms of socioeconomic status. We can talk about this in terms of gender equality. There’s always these things where suddenly the non-marginalized group recognizes that there is a problem, and everybody gives them credit for seeing that problem, whereas the marginalized group or in this case, the people suffering from imposter syndrome, or the people suffering from low self-esteem, or the people suffering from this, this idea that they do not belong. They’ve been aware of it since, well, apparently 1978.

Dr. Nicole: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Gabe: But getting us on track. I want to establish the history of imposter syndrome and really where it came from and what it is, and make sure that that people with bipolar disorder understand where it fits, because a great many people apparently suffer from imposter syndrome this low self-esteem, myself included. And I theorize and that’s all I can really do. I can really just theorize, but I theorize it is because of that initial diagnosis phase. So one day I thought I was a god, right? That is what mania is. Hypomania is you think you’re one of the gods, not the god, right? But there’s a lot of confidence inflated, exaggerated, and often unearned confidence that comes with mania. There’s also grandiosity. That’s self-explanatory. You think you’re great because your brain is telling you that it is, but it’s not necessarily supported by reality. So now you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and you’re looking backwards and you’re learning these things and you’re open to this idea. If we talked about in other episodes, you go to your mom and dad and say, hey, remember that fight where I am positive that you were wrong? I am now open to hearing your version.

Gabe: And now because you’re open and they start putting the pieces together, you’re like, ooh, logically, your version makes much more sense than my memory. So now here we are. And we’re undoing all of that. We’re learning all of that. And at the same time, hopefully we’re becoming stable. We’re having less manic thoughts, we’re having less grandiosity. We’re relearning how our brain works with this newfound stability that comes from coping skills and medications and all your Dr. Nicole goodness. Right. And then one day, right, we show up someplace and we feel like we’re doing a good job. Oh, my God, we’re here. We’re killing it. We are rock stars. And then we remember we’ve had this feeling before. And it was bullshit. And we’ve had all of this therapy that helps us understand that just because you feel successful doesn’t mean you are. But we don’t actually have this understanding of how do we validate that these feelings are earned versus the previous unearned feelings that came along with bipolar symptoms? Does that am I explaining it correctly and how it looks from the perspective of somebody with bipolar disorder? Because we get told a lot, especially right after diagnosis,

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: Know your business is not going to make $1 million. No, you don’t have $1 million idea. No, you’re not king of the world. No, you’re not the greatest. No, you really upset people. But our feelings make us sound great. So now later on, we feel great and everybody’s like, well, that’s earned well, but it feels exactly the same as that thing that you said wasn’t two years ago. What are we supposed to do? That’s the tie in to bipolar disorder.

Dr. Nicole: I don’t okay, so let me make sure I understand what you’re saying.

Gabe: You may ask three follow up questions.

Dr. Nicole: [Laughter]

Gabe: No, I’m just kidding. You can ask as many as you want.

Dr. Nicole: So what you are saying is that for you, when you think about imposter syndrome and how it ties to bipolar disorder. It’s that it’s that phase where you’re not in a manic episode or a hypomanic episode, and you’re not in a depression episode. You’re in that middle road. My mood is pretty normal. I’m kind of taking life as it comes part of bipolar disorder. And when you feel good, you don’t know if you really should be feeling good and then you doubt yourself. And that’s where it comes in.

Gabe: Almost. I would say that, that’s, that, that that’s close enough for government work. But to, to just make sure that we expand it a little more. People with bipolar disorder are taught to evaluate externally that that’s really the best way that I can put it right. We can’t rely on our emotions because we have learned that our emotions, our feelings lie, right. Our gut is just BS. Our gut tells us that we can, you know, storm the stage, grab the mic from the lead singer because everybody secretly wants to see us and not the band that they paid for, right?

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: So we clearly can’t rely on us. So we learn through coping skills, through therapy, etc. that okay, evaluate. Can you sing? No. Did anybody invite you on stage? No. Is anybody paying to see you? No. Is your name on the poster outside? No. This feeling does not line up with the known facts, right? That that’s

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: Just a quick down and dirty example. But let’s say that one day somebody does invite you on stage and they’re like, hey, we want you to come on stage and sing a song with us. And you’re thinking, okay, but should I accept this or did I earn it? Now everybody’s cheering again. Intellectually, you’ve been invited on stage. You sang

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: A song, everybody cheered. But now you have imposter syndrome because you don’t feel that you belong up there, right? That that’s the definition of imposter. All the facts are now lining up. You were invited. You sang a song, everybody cheered. So when you say I did a bad job, everybody’s like, well, that’s imposter syndrome. You clearly did a great job. You were invited for a reason. Everybody cheered. But you feel like you don’t because you’re going back to that. You know what? The last time I wanted to go on stage and sing a song, this is how I felt. I felt like I deserved to be there. And it turns out I didn’t deserve to be there. Now you’re telling me that that exact same emotion that before you told me meant I didn’t need to be there now is an earned emotion. That means I do deserve to be there. And here’s the connecting point. Both of those emotions in the body feel identical. How do they have two separate meanings?

Dr. Nicole: I just think for most people, it’s not going to be that spur of the moment. Like I’m at a concert and people are cheering for me to go on and there’s a mic in my face like that. That is a great example.

Gabe: You have never been bipolar. You have never been bipolar.

Dr. Nicole: I have not.

Gabe: In our minds, it works that way all the time.

Dr. Nicole: [Laughter]

Gabe: All the time, all the time.

Dr. Nicole: I have not. But to go to a more realistic setting and a more realistic set of circumstances, they’re going to have time to do the exact same questioning that you didn’t have the ability to do during that mania or during that hypomania. Like I would say that when your mood is more stable, kind of more in that normal range, it’s a lot easier to ask yourself those questions and to, to evaluate, okay. You know? What else is going on? You know, are the people that are with me? Are they looking at me and are they saying, don’t do that. Are they encouraging me? You know, that’s the that’s a big difference when you’re a manic or hypomanic game and you’re doing all that stuff. The people who are with you are looking at you like, oh my God, he’s going to do, you know, like, don’t do it. They’re terrified that you’re going to do this thing if they’re cheering you on, if, if it, if it I just think it’s a little bit different in that I think that most people would have the time to ask themselves those questions.

Gabe: I do want to play a little bit of devil’s advocate here, but before we do that, I want to acknowledge that you are absolutely right. One of the things that people with bipolar disorder should be learning is how to evaluate those external circumstances, to validate what we’re feeling because we want them to line up right. If we feel good about something, we need to find external factors that prove that that thing is good. So in that example, I was invited on stage. I sang a song. Everybody cheered. That lines up with me feeling great about singing that song. But here’s a little bit of devil’s advocate. The problem is, is we’re reflecting backwards into a damaged brain and into memories that are, frankly, shattered. I have a memory of standing on a bar and singing a song and everybody loving it. It’s why I chose this example. I know how that felt to this very moment. It it’s kind of a happy memory, right? The that the band stopped playing and everybody was cheering my name. The house lights went up. I, I really look at that moment in time exceptionally fondly. But once I got into to therapy and once I got diagnosed and, and once I got medication and once I became, you know, in control, and I really reflected back on that and I talked to the people around it. I know damn well everything that I remember and feel did not happen. It did not happen. I’ve shared this before. The reason that the band stopped playing is because the bouncers were trying to get me off the bar. They turned up the house lights.

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: What we have is a loudmouth drunk dancing on a bar, and we have to throw him out, which they did. The reason that people cheered is because I was gone and the house lights could go down and the band could resume playing. They weren’t cheering for me. So now, all these years later, I have that feeling when I accomplish something, like when I’m sitting in a meeting and somebody says, hey Gabe, you need to let Dr. Nicole know that Inside Bipolar went to number one. It’s huge. It was one of the fastest growing podcasts on Spotify. The rap on this thing was huge and we are so excited the two of you did a great job. And here is the first thing that immediately popped into my head as I had that great feeling. Dr. Nicole did it. It’s her. I just hooked my wagon to the right person. And the reason that I used that as an example is because this is where I feel that it gets insane. I do feel good. I am glad that Inside Bipolar did good. Now I’m going to use my external evaluations. Number one podcast. I’m on it. It’s good. Dr. Nicole did everything. I’m pointless. Any bipolar will do. We have a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are inherently better than patients. Gabe. You suck. Of course you do. You talk too much, you know? In fact, sometimes people send you evil emails, and that kind of sucks. It’s all Dr. Nicole. Dr. Nicole did it. You stink. Okay, that tracks. So now I’ve done the external thing, given you all the credit, and it’s over. And now I realize that that feeling is wrong. So I just need to push it down, like I’ve done with all the other feelings and move right on. And imposter syndrome

Dr. Nicole: Okay.

Gabe: Can live.

Dr. Nicole: So those are two different things that you’re talking about, Gabe. Those are not the same thing.

Gabe: Yes they are.

Dr. Nicole: No, it’s not.

Gabe: They’re the same thing.

Dr. Nicole: It’s not, it’s not.

Gabe: Okay, why not?

Dr. Nicole: They’re not. They’re absolutely not. The part where now let’s say you really can sing and you’re at this event and they invite you on stage, even doubting yourself in that moment. To me, that’s not imposter syndrome. Like, that’s not imposter syndrome to me.

Gabe: But no, it’s not doubting yourself. It’s knowing that you suck.

Dr. Nicole: But you say it in that moment, it was more about like, is this the old? Is this the mania? Is this really, is this really that I’m good or am I manic thinking I’m good and I’m not?

Gabe: Right?

Dr. Nicole: That’s not imposter syndrome.

Gabe: Okay. What is it?

Dr. Nicole: That’s not it. This other scenario you gave, that’s absolutely where it lands. Where it lands is in that area where here you are. You have worked hard. You have been the host of multiple podcasts. You have put the work in. People invite you to speak, they pay you to speak. They do all these things to prove that you’re an expert in this area. You’re an expert in the field. You have established yourself as an expert in the field, but yet you still feel like at some point somebody’s going to say, hey, we just decided we don’t need you. We just we just we just don’t know that we need you. Like, we don’t know that we need you for this thing. That’s where the that’s the imposter syndrome part. That’s the part where you have every credential of putting if you took your bipolar disorder away and you put you next to average Joe Blow, podcaster, nobody would say you were a less of a podcaster, but for whatever reason, that that is what’s there for you. So my beef with imposter syndrome is. The people that usually have it are people who find themselves on the fringe of whatever it is. So, you know, for people who have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or you have a mental illness. People with mental illness are constantly on the outside looking in, right? Always, always,

Gabe: Yes, yes.

Dr. Nicole: Always. Women in the 70s, on the outside looking in. People of color, on the outside looking in, being in environments where you are the only, you are one of the few, you are. Any time you are in any of those kinds of categories. How could you not have imposter syndrome? Think about the 70s. So go back to me saying, close your eyes, boys and girls. Let me tell you a story. Do you think that in an academic setting, a woman who had her PhD in 1978, there probably weren’t that many of them. There were probably lots and lots of testosterone. Lots of men in those spaces. Men. They’re very bold today, but in the 70s, let’s face it. You know, those men were telling those women that they didn’t belong or they were making little snide comments, or they were purposefully leaving them out of stuff. They were not kind to these ladies, I’m guessing all the time. So you imagine you’re in the C-suite in the 70s, you’re a medical student woman in the 70s, you’re a grad student in the 70s, you’re a PhD. In the 70s, you were not being treated. How could those women not have? How could they feel like they belonged when their environment was saying, you don’t belong? Like, how could they? How can you or how can a person who has a mental illness and people tend to think of bipolar disorder as, oh, it’s bipolar disorder, it’s a severe mental illness. Like they don’t think of it as like an anxiety disorder or depression. They say, oh, you have bipolar disorder. Like they think of it like it’s on another level of mental illness.

Sponsor Break

Gabe: And we’re back discussing imposter syndrome with bipolar disorder.

Dr. Nicole: So if the world and society and the media and the way we portray people with bipolar disorder and all those things paints you in this one way, how could those things not creep into your psyche and affect how you see yourself and your ability to be successful?

Gabe: I want to say real quick that I kind of disagree with you, which there’s this part of me that thinks that’s stupid, you know, because you’re a doctor and you understand this topic from a, from a technical standpoint, better than me. I didn’t even know who came up with it in 1978, for example. That was all you. But I think when the average person thinks about imposter syndrome, my scenario of being invited on stage, singing a song, getting a standing ovation and still thinking that you suck is what they’re thinking of when they think of imposter syndrome. I just want to point that out real quick, because maybe that’s not the technical definition or. I do think that might be how people with bipolar disorder are thinking about it. But all of that said, I, I want to talk about what you said in the second part because I think it’s it’s much, much more relevant to helping our listeners. And it’s it’s been much more relevant in helping me. How could we not feel this way? People have been pushing people with bipolar disorder down since the second we got diagnosed. We’re always looked at as less than. There’s always a and I, there’s a long time ago I was talking to Lisa.

Gabe: Lisa is the producer of the show. She does a yeoman’s job, doesn’t get enough credit. And I said to her, I said, I just can’t believe this. I can’t believe that they’re doing this to me because I have bipolar disorder. And they said they said that I have become obsessed. And they’re just they’re just they’re just looking down on me. And nobody in that room is taking me seriously. And she looked at me and she said, well, this is what it feels like to be a woman. And I stopped for a second. I said, what are you talking about? And she goes, what you’re responding to is your loss of privilege. Privilege means never having to wonder. See, before you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Gabe, if you didn’t get a job, it’s because you didn’t get it. Now, when you don’t get a job, it could be, it’s not a lock, but it might be because you have bipolar disorder and you don’t know how to handle that. So when I was listening to you talk, Dr. Nicole, you’re right. I don’t know why people are so mean to people with bipolar disorder who are responding to the fact that we are consistently told that we can’t achieve.

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: Aren’t we just listening to the people around us? But then here, here’s my problem. Like, we can’t just, like, play the theme music and end the show and be like, there you go. Society hates us and we hate ourselves. Thanks, everybody for listening to this edition of Inside Bipolar. What can we do to overcome that? Because as even you pointed out in my example, I have a great many reasons to not think the way I do about

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: Inside Bipolar, but you and I both know that that is how I feel. So what do I do about it?

Dr. Nicole: Yes, Lisa was absolutely right. There is a place of privilege that comes with not having to think about these things, not having to determine why these things are happening to you. As a black woman in medicine, I have often had to think as, even as a medical student, I remember having to think like, why is this person being mean to me in this moment? Do they hate medical students? Do they hate women? Do they hate black people? Like, why? Why is this person not treating me fairly right now? And have to think through those situations frequently. But your question was like, what do you do about it? What do you do?

Gabe: Yeah. What do you do about it? How do we turn the corner on this? And what can we learn from those examples that you gave?

Dr. Nicole: So I think community.

Gabe: But it’s a community, just other people with bipolar disorder, because you’ve given a large group of people who experience imposter syndrome because

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: They’re considered outliers. I

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Gabe: Think this is an example where we need to make sure that we’re not just pointing people in the direction of other people with bipolar disorder, but there’s actually a much larger conversation to be had here and many more allies than we realize.

Dr. Nicole: There is a much larger conversation, but I do think it starts with people who are in your same space. So I think it starts with you having a community of other people who have mental health disorders, who are working at the top of their games, right, like who are who are doing what you’re doing in whatever their industry is, because then it doesn’t feel so foreign. It doesn’t feel like this is a mistake. It feels like, oh, I have this thing. But you know what? I can name five other people who also have the same thing, and they’re really great at what they do. So it is possible that I’m great at what I do. I think part of it, when you’re the outlier, it just feels very lonely. So you think, well, it has to be a fluke that I’m here. It has to be a fluke that I’m even doing this and that people are paying me to do this, because where are the other people like me who are getting paid to do this? Like I don’t see them in my space? The reason you as a as a white male, don’t question if you can do something is because there’s not very many industries you can look at and not see white men killing it. Why wouldn’t you think you could do any of those things? That doesn’t always hold true for bipolar disorder. That does not always hold true for people who are in other marginalized communities. That doesn’t always hold true. So here you are and you’re you know, you’re a doctor and you’re how many black doctors are there? Like, not that many, comparatively percentage wise, not that many.

Dr. Nicole: I’m a black psychiatrist, only about up to 4% of psychiatrists in this country are black. That’s a very small number to feel like. Oh, like, did I belong here? Like, should I be here? You could see how a person would feel that way or question that. So community is important. So for a person who has bipolar disorder who is questioning their station in life, and you’re improving and you’re constantly improving and you’re working your butt off to not be the to not be the person who can’t function right. You work so hard. I have so many patients who work so hard, their goal is to not be on disability. Like, let’s use that as an example. So if I have a patient and they say this is my goal, I want to be able to work. And if we can get them to that point where they are able to work, they’re able to come off their disability income and they’re able to function in that space. It would be nice for them to be in community with other people who are in that same space and in that same walk of life. It’s important. You need. You need those people around you so you can say, oh, I’m not the only one. I’m not an outlier. Look at all these people. They absolutely deserve to be where they are. And then you can start to believe it a little bit more about yourself.

Gabe: I do think that’s a great strategy and one that if it works for you, you should absolutely employ. And I don’t want to say anything negative about it.

Dr. Nicole: Mm-hmm. But you. But you’re about to. Because it’s like, I don’t mean to be mean but

Gabe: But, but.

Dr. Nicole: I don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Gabe: Yeah. Right.

Dr. Nicole: But go for it.

Gabe: Right, right. No offense.

Dr. Nicole: Go ahead.

Gabe: No offense. The but one of the things that I do think about as you were talking is, is the quote comparison is the thief of joy. I personally get in more trouble when I compare myself to other people because after all, I have a podcast on Healthline Media. I’m literally one of the only people with bipolar disorder who can interview the executive director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who can work with a board-certified psychiatrist for well over two years and who enjoys the process and who considers me on some levels, worthy and equal to a conversation about these things. It’s meaningful that I have risen to that level. So all of this means something to me. But all I can think about is that I’m not Joe Rogan. I’m not on NPR. I’m not on iHeartRadio. I didn’t sign $1 million contract. Why don’t I have a true crime podcast? Those get bigger numbers. Why am I not on the top 200 list? Why didn’t, why didn’t, why didn’t, why didn’t? And what’s constantly pointed out to me by my therapist is, dude, what are you doing? Why are you comparing yourself to all these people? Why don’t you go back nine years ago and talk about when you started your very first podcast, Inside Mental Health? How has it improved year after year after year? If you compare that success? Oh yeah, I’m killing it.

Gabe: But if I compare that podcast to something else, well then it sucks. And now I’m upset again. So I just want to point out that I do think that comparison is the thief of joy. I do remember what my uncle said when we would go bowling after Thanksgiving. He would say, we’re not competing with each other, we’re competing with our last game. So if you got a 150, your last game, your only goal should be to get above 150. This game, it doesn’t matter what your grandpa bowled or your brother bowled or your father bowled, all that matters is that you are improving frame after frame. I think that’s pretty good advice for getting over it, but it does resonate a lot what you say, Dr. Nicole this idea that it’s sometimes difficult to be alone in a space and wonder if you’re not the token. And that’s been very hard for me, because a lot of people with bipolar disorder have been tokenized a lot, and we don’t know if we earned our spot or if somebody just needs a patient to sign off on it. So maybe you’re being tricked. We should delve into that. Maybe in another episode, like, why are people with bipolar disorder so paranoid even after we reach recovery? And we could call the topic, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that people aren’t actually out to get you.

Dr. Nicole: Oh my gosh, Gabe.

Gabe: But does that all resonate? What I’m saying? Do you, do you do you do you do you kind of pick up what I’m putting down?

Dr. Nicole: No, that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. And I agree that comparison can 100% be the thief of joy. But this is more about community than comparison. I think that there is a reason that we need people who are like us, around us. We need to be able to see it, to achieve it kind of thing. We need to be able to see it, to believe it believe it can happen for us. I think that’s important. Now, we also you talked about allies earlier when you brought this up because you say, well, I just, you know, hanging around with a bunch of people with bipolar disorder isn’t necessarily the answer. I need other people to be on board with this thing. And I think you’re absolutely right. We all need allies. We all need to figure out how to be allies for each other. In whatever, whatever situations we’re in, if you think about, you know, where you are. So here you are. You’re podcasting. You’re killing it. You you you have bipolar disorder. You’re very open with it. What if something comes up, the opportunity for you to talk to a group or teach a group about podcasting in general? That has nothing to do with the fact that you have bipolar disorder. Somebody who knows you could be an ally and say, hey, I think Gabe would be great for this, not just pigeonholing you into, I want you to teach this group of people with bipolar disorder about podcasting. You know, like that. That’s different. But if they said, oh, there’s this great opportunity for podcasting in general and we think you’d be great for it, that’s huge. That is somebody saying that Gabe is an expert in this field, period.

Dr. Nicole: End of sentence, not Gabe is an expert in this field, and he does really great for a person who has bipolar disorder. And you know, it just it’s just different. So we need people to bring us in and bring us along. When you think about organizations and women or people of color having imposter syndrome, it helps when there are initiatives to have a diverse workforce. It helps when there’s more than just 1 or 2 women hanging out. It helps when there’s more than 1 or 2 people of any particular ethnic category. It helps. The more diverse the workforce is, the more open we are to hiring different kinds of people and bringing different kinds of people in the room. When decisions are being made, the better off we all are. Like the things that we come up with are infinitely better when the room is more diverse. That’s where our allies come in. That’s where you come in to getting to that space where we can start to improve people’s confidence. Because I fully believe it is not always on the person with the imposter syndrome to solve the problem. It may not even be their problem. To fix it might be somebody else’s problem. Because if every system I walk into, if every structure I enter, it is very clear that there is a tone of we don’t have that many of you here, whatever you is. Like I’m. I’m never gonna believe I belong. If there’s always this shortage of people that look like me or in my similar situation hanging around, I’m just. It’s just going to be a hard sell for you to convince me that I belong in this space when I’m the only one sitting in that space.

Gabe: I really like what you said there. And it just it reminds me how big bipolar disorder is. You know, often when we do these shows, we have a symptom of bipolar disorder. And we have, you know, some data that suggests that these are some coping skills, these are some management skills, these are some best practices. I get to share a little story of what worked for me, or a story of somebody from a support group or an email, and what worked for them may maybe give some advice and some strategies, and the whole thing kind of closes up and, and fixes itself in 45 minutes and we pat each other on the back and, you know, tell you that you can hire us. And we travel nationally and that Dr. Nicole has an Instagram and those are great episodes. And I think they’re really, really powerful. But the reality is, is that imposter syndrome has nothing to do with bipolar disorder. Many people with bipolar disorder experience imposter syndrome. And I think especially when we get caught in our own little echo chamber, we start to believe that imposter syndrome is something that impacts people with bipolar disorder more than other groups. And the reality is anything but. And I want to make sure that our audience understands that, because when we’re looking for our tribe, and I think that many of us, especially people who have been in recovery for a little while or even long term, you know, the importance of that tribe, right? We’ve all found our tribe, whether it’s from a support group that we go to, a secret Facebook group or a member of, whether it’s in the influencers we follow or even just the friends and the support system that we have built, we know how important it is.

Gabe: And chances are we looked for other people managing bipolar or managing serious and persistent mental illness. Now it’s time to level up. We’ve got to level up. If we want to beat imposter syndrome, we’ve got to find people who are experiencing, suffering from and moving forward in spite of imposter syndrome. We don’t have to find people with bipolar disorder who have imposter syndrome, although that’s fine. I’m not saying not to. I’m just saying I; I think there’s a lot of people who we can find, and I would really, really recommend getting outside the echo chamber, googling for different search terms, finding people who can understand what you’re going through and sharing ideas with them. And in some ways, being able to spend time on this much larger issue. It’s not even a symptom of bipolar disorder. It just happens to be an issue that a lot of people with bipolar disorder experience. I think this shows tremendous growth and really connects us with our humanity. Now, again, as we’ve talked about in this show, there are some things that people with bipolar disorder probably won’t understand. So it’s always good to, you know, maybe stay subscribed to our podcast.

Dr. Nicole: Yes, they subscribed, but I think you’re I think it’s a great point that we need other people. We need other people who are dealing with this, but maybe on different levels to be a part of our communities that we build. You can have more than one community. And I think the overall goal should be, you know, Gabe is a great podcaster. And somebody may say, oh, and he happens to have bipolar disorder, not Gabe is a great podcaster with bipolar disorder. You know, gay.

Gabe: I thought you were going to say Gabe is a great bipolar. I was like that, that’s weird.

Dr. Nicole: You’re a great. No, I wasn’t going to say you were a great bipolar.

Gabe: I do think I’m a great bipolar. Thank you.

Dr. Nicole: [Laughter] Of course you do.

Gabe: Thank you. I am the greatest bipolar.

Dr. Nicole: Of course. Of course you do. Of course you do. But I mean, you want to be seen. You want to get to a space where you feel like you are worthy of being in that space, regardless of whatever that thing is. So for you, it’s your bipolar disorder. We’re we want you in that space. I want people to say Gabe’s a great podcaster. Period. Done. End of sentence. Right. Not only reach out to him for things related to bipolar disorder. Maybe he’s good at other things. You know, seeing him beyond that is very valuable for me as a psychiatrist. I am very passionate about mental health in the African-American community. But guess what? I’m a psychiatrist. I am also passionate about other topics. I’m passionate about bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and professionals who have mental health disorders. Those are areas I’m passionate in. It is very frustrating when people try to put me in a hole of, well, can you come talk about black mental health topics? Yes, I can, but I can also talk about general mental health topics because I am generally pretty good at what I do. So I, you know, want to be considered in all those spaces. And I think that’s what we all are seeking, and we all want to get to that space where we feel comfortable being considered for those things without us having to go to that. Oh, but, you know, it’s probably just because I’m black and a woman and they need to meet this quota. Or it’s probably just because I have bipolar disorder and they need to be diverse and bring on somebody with mental illness. You know, you just want to get to that space. It takes work to get there though, y’all. It is not easy. It is not quick. It may take you years to get there, but you can get there.

Gabe: As we come to the close of the podcast, I’m really reminded of this phrase that was big in my day, you know, the 80s and the 90s, which was for a girl. As women’s athletics started to become more and more prominent, people saw the incredible things that female athletes were able to do. But they always added the phrase for a girl, you know, did you watch the women’s basketball team that that won? Oh, man, that lady could dunk. She’s one of the greatest dunkers I’ve ever seen. For a girl. So the compliment was in there. But they always added that on and I imagine that. And I didn’t even think about it at the time. I thought it was actually a very reasonable thing to say. I want to be the first to admit I did not see the inherent misogyny or the problem with it because I was like, well, but she is a girl and it’s not male athletics. And it was not an educated thing to me. I bring all this up not to expose my ignorance, but because I was in fact ignorant and I did need to be educated about these things.

Gabe: I think there are a great many people in our lives who may not realize the impact of what they’re saying. They may well believe that saying, oh my God, you’re one of the, the greatest speakers I’ve ever heard, especially for someone with bipolar. They may believe that that’s complimentary and your mileage may vary. Maybe to you, it is, in fact complimentary, which of course muddies the water even more. But I never like to miss the opportunity to show that people with bipolar disorder we live in the same social constructs and the same world as people without bipolar disorder, and it happens to be with imposter syndrome that it’s impacting us like it’s impacting so many other marginalized groups. And in this way, remember all the way back to when you probably said to your Dr. Nicole or to your friends and family, or to your support group, or maybe just to yourself in the middle of the night. I just want to be normal. Congratulations. Unfortunately, right now in 2024, this is normal.

Dr. Nicole: You’re here suffering with the rest of us. Welcome to the club.

Gabe: And what an exclusive club that it is. And we are glad that you’re in it. Before we get out of here, we need a couple of favors from you. First, wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free and that way you won’t miss any future episodes. And we need this really, really big favor. Share the show with the people that you know. Share it on social media. Share it in a support group. Send somebody a text message. Send somebody an email group. If you’re in a private group somewhere, message for them. Share the show. Sharing the show is how we’re going to grow. My name is Gabe Howard, and I’m an award-winning public speaker. And I could be available for your next event. And if you want me to, I’ll invite Dr. Nicole along. I also wrote the book “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which is on Amazon. However, you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me just by heading over to gabehoward.com.

Dr. Nicole: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington. You can find me on all social media platforms @DrNicolePsych or at my website, DrNicolePsych.com.

Gabe: And we will see everybody next time on Inside Bipolar. And we will see everybody next time on Inside Bipolar.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Bipolar from Healthline Media and psychcentral.com. Have feedback for the show? E-mail us at show@psychcentral.com. Previous episodes can be found at psychcentral.com/ibp or on your favorite podcast player. Thank you for listening.