“I’m in recovery from mental illness,” is a common phrase in our circles. Sure, mental illness is replaced with the specifics – schizophrenia, bipolar, or depression, to name a few – but the idea that people consider themselves to be living a life free from the symptoms of mental illness is a common one. However, is it true? Is recovery actually a thing? Or are all these people just deluding themselves?
Gabe and Michelle discuss this – and more – on this episode of A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast.
“To me, recovery is spending more time managing my life than managing bipolar disorder.”
– Gabe Howard
Highlights From ‘Recovery’ Episode
[1:40] Are Michelle and Gabe in recovery?
[4:30] What is recovery and where did that term come from?
[7:00] Should we be policing language or context surrounding mental illness?
[11:00] What’s all the fuss over person first language?
[16:30] Why do we think people dislike the word “recovery”?
[19:00] What word should we use instead, if not “recovery”?
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Recovery from Bipolar or Schizophrenia’ Show
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: [00:00:07] For reasons that utterly escape everyone involved, you’re listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. Here are your hosts, Gabe Howard and Michelle Hammer.
Gabe: [00:00:20] You’re listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. The loud one is bipolar. And that’s me. My name is Gabe.
Michelle: [00:00:27] I guess I’m not as loud. I’m Michelle. I’m schizophrenic.
Gabe: [00:00:30] You’re not as loud. It’s not that you don’t want to be as loud. It’s that I have a three hundred pound, six foot three frame of which to make noise. And you have, like, a hundred and twenty pound, five foot four frame of which to make noise.
Michelle: [00:00:48] Are you judging me based on the size of my body? That’s stigma, Gabe.
Gabe: [00:00:52] No actually, it’s not. But, yes. Yes. Yes I am. I’m judging your ability to make noise.
Michelle: [00:01:01] You don’t know how loud I can be.
Gabe: [00:01:04] Actually I do. You get pissed off at me and start yelling all the time. And I always think to myself, “Thank God she does not have my mouth on her, or I’d be in trouble!”
Michelle: [00:01:14] Whatever. Moving on.
Gabe: [00:01:16] What are we talking about?
Michelle: [00:01:16] What are we even talking about? We just heard arguing with each other. Are we even going accomplish anything today?
Gabe: [00:01:23] No, we never accomplish anything. That’s why podcasting is the best suited job for us.
Michelle: [00:01:28] Because we can’t do anything.
Gabe: [00:01:29] We can’t we can’t do anything. We’re not.
Michelle: [00:01:31] I can’t do a thing.
Gabe: [00:01:32] You can’t do a thing. We should start over because this is not going well.
Michelle: [00:01:35] Yeah.
Gabe: [00:01:35] [Laughter] Michelle, let’s talk about recovery. Are you in recovery?
Michelle: [00:01:43] I say I’m in recovery. I guess I’m in recovery. You think I’m in recovery.
Gabe: [00:01:47] Hang on. Let’s stop right there for a second, OK. You say that you’re “in recovery” but you don’t know what “recovery” is. So why do you say it?
Michelle: [00:01:56] I mean, I feel happy, and content, and I think things are going well. I think if I was not in recovery, it would have been having the mentality I had five years ago.
Gabe: [00:02:09] But you don’t know what recovery is.
Michelle: [00:02:12] Define recovery.
Gabe: [00:02:13] Well, no. I’m asking you to define recovery.
Michelle: [00:02:16] I don’t know. Living well. Not letting your mental illness disrupt your day in really negative ways. I would say that doesn’t really happen to me anymore. Is that recovery? Do you think that’s recovery?
Gabe: [00:02:30] I do. I believe that I am “in recovery,” and I define “recovery” simply as spending more time living my life than I do managing bipolar disorder, and that’s it. That’s the definition that I use. That’s it. When Gabe Howard says, “I’m in recovery,” all I mean is that I spend more of my life living my life than managing bipolar disorder. But this word is like this magically nebulous word that people fight about. Like, people in the mental health community are still debating is “recovery” the right word? What does recovery mean? Can you ever recover? Should we say “remission” instead of recovery? There’s all of these little debates. And then people pop up and say, “Well, I don’t believe that recovery is possible!” And then that upsets other people who say, “recovery is possible!” And it’s just really has become this quagmire. And there’s not really a definition. I mean there are. There are definitions. You know SAMHSA has a definition. National Institute of Mental Health has a definition. Peer groups have definitions. And Gabe Howard! He has a definition.
Michelle: [00:03:37] That’s right.
Gabe: [00:03:39] But we don’t really all agree.
Michelle: [00:03:41] I must be doing well because I’ve been asked by many people how do I act like I do even though I’m schizophrenic? And their family member who might also have schizophrenia isn’t doing as well as me? So, my definition of recovery, of living life well with schizophrenia, kind of makes sense there. If people are always wondering how I’m doing so well. Don’t you think?
Gabe: [00:04:04] I do think that you’re in recovery, Michelle. And in many ways I think this whole “recovery” debate is nonsense. And that makes people mad. It really reeks of “person first language” to me. Listen, we need a way to describe that we’re doing well, and we borrowed from the addiction community. Because they never said that they’re “cured” from drugs and alcohol. They say that they’re “in recovery” from drugs and alcohol. And for them it’s a little cleaner because when they’re “in recovery” from drugs and alcohol it means they’re clean. It means that they’re not currently using and they’ve built up time. So they’re in recovery because they’ve been clean for four months, for example. It’s a little bit tougher, because you can’t say well I’m clean from schizophrenia.
Michelle: [00:04:45] Yeah.
Gabe: [00:04:46] I’m clean from bipolar. But we borrowed from the addiction community and that’s where the term came from. And frankly, fine. Who gives a shit? It bothers me to no end the amount of time we waste on policing words.
Michelle: [00:05:07] We always police words.
Gabe: [00:05:08] When somebody says they’re “in recovery,” what they mean is that they’re doing well. That’s it.
Michelle: [00:05:13] What about high functioning?
Gabe: [00:05:15] Well, that’s a dismissive term. So there could be an argument made that it is kind of an insult. Because when you say that somebody is a “high functioning schizophrenic,” what you’re really saying is that they are a person living with schizophrenia who’s doing well. So why can’t you just say, “That’s a person that’s doing well?” Why do you have to kind of make it sound like that person isn’t doing as well as they could? So you know that reeks of an insult to me. So I can understand why there’s some debate about that term. But the term “in recovery?” I just don’t get why are we arguing about it? We know what it means. Everybody that I’ve ever talked to about “what does recovery mean to you?” Or why do you not like the word “recovery?” They always have all of these reasons. “There’s no cure.” “I think that remission would be better.” “I don’t define it that way.” Nobody’s making you.
Michelle: [00:06:00] So what if somebody is talking about you and they’re like, “Oh, yeah. Gabe – he’s bipolar.” Are they automatically going to think, “Oh my goodness! He’s bipolar! Is he OK?” You know? But then that person who is talking about you, he goes, “Oh no! He’s doing very well.” How would they describe you? Gabe’s “in recovery?” Gabe is “high functioning?” Gabe “lives well with bipolar?” Or Gabe the one that doesn’t have an “issue with his bipolar? What if somebody is describing you, and they do mention you have a mental illness, but they want to tell the people that they’re with that you are “fill in the blank?”
Gabe: [00:06:33] And I would argue that all of those were fine. I really would. Even the high functioning, which I won’t lie, it’s kind of one of those terms that kind of irks me. I’ve said this before on the show and I’m gonna say it again; I think that people in America are idiots policing language. Because what we should actually be policing is context. And I’ll tell you why. Because of my friend, Michelle Hammer. She is my podcast partner. She is my friend. I love you to death, Michelle. I do. And you once told somebody, “You should work with Gabe. He’s fucking nuts but you’ll love him!” That was a huge compliment. But, but wait – shouldn’t that have been an insult? I mean, 1) you said the f-word, and 2) you then you called me nuts. I mean what’s wrong with you? How could you? But see, I understand the context. You were letting that person know that Gabe is quality, Gabe is reliable, Gabe will do a good job, and Gabe is fun. That’s all you meant by it. It was a huge compliment. And remember, when I got fired from my job, there wasn’t a single word out of place. They said “mental illness.” They said, “suffering from bipolar.” They said everything just so; it was written by a lawyer. The verbiage was perfect. There wasn’t a single insult in the entire thing, except for the part where it said, “Gabe can’t work here because he’s mentally ill.” That part was pretty offensive.
Michelle: [00:07:58] Ugh.
Gabe: [00:07:58] But hey, at least they didn’t say I “was bipolar!” So now I’m happy to not have health insurance and a job. You see what I mean? This is just such an incredible waste of time. I think that people should be free to define recovery however they want. And listen, that also means that people should be free to disagree. Because if you come to me, Michelle, and you tell me that you’re “in recovery” and you’ve been not taking your meds for two months, and you’ve been sleeping on the streets, I would disagree with you. I would think, “No, Michelle. You’re not ‘in recovery.'” And you might disagree with me, and then I would get to work helping you. I would get to work trying to convince you that you had work to do. But I think that most people that are arguing about “recovery,” they’re really just arguing semantics. They really are.
Michelle: [00:08:46] Do you think it’s more being argued by people without a mental illness?
Gabe: [00:08:50] No actually and that’s what’s messed up. I think it’s being argued more by people with a mental illness that are trying to, you know, fight to gain this little bit of ground. And I think part of it is because people with mental illness have such little ground. We’re not a popular segment of society. People don’t listen to us. We don’t hold a lot of power. Most of the panels, discussions, lawmakers, etc., they talk to doctors. They talk to family members. Very rarely do they talk to people with mental illness. So I think that we’ve gone after low hanging fruit as a movement. I think that it’s really, really hard to get legislators to take us seriously, and it costs a lot of time, energy, and money. So instead, we’re going to fight “stigma.” So it’s nebulous. Or we’re gonna argue over “person first language,” because that’s easy. You can do that in the comment section. Somebody types something and you type that they’re wrong or we’re gonna argue over why I’m not “in recovery,” I’m “in remission.” Or I’m not “in remission,” I’m “living well.” Well, I don’t know that mental illness exists the way you think that it does. It’s all semantics. It’s nebulous at best.
Michelle: [00:09:57] It’s just people arguing to argue.
Gabe: [00:09:59] I believe so. And I know really good people – and that’s the thing that I want to say. I know really, really good people that are having this argument. These are not bad people. These are not bad people. These are people that I’m proud to call advocates. These are people that I’m proud to call friends. These are people that if they called me right now, and asked me to stand next to them, and fight for something, I’d do it. Because they are incredibly powerful and meaningful people. But I think they’re wasting their time. I do. And I’ve told them that. I think you’re wasting your time. Don’t put your energy on “person first language” or on “recovery” or on these words. Who cares?
Michelle: [00:10:40] People who think that person first language is the biggest problem. Like, really? They need to get their priorities in check. Like, that’s the bottom of the list. Everything else going on with mental illness and mental health issues is way more important than saying the word “schizophrenic.”
Gabe: [00:10:57] I think that it is an incredibly privileged position. That is how I feel. I feel that if you are homeless, if you don’t have access to medical care, if you can’t get access to a psychiatrist, if you can’t get access to the care that you need to live well, those all come before semantics. Those all come before words. So if you have all of those things.
Michelle: [00:11:24] You know what is also interesting? People that are so about that person first language? You know schizophrenia, the actual pronunciation is schizophrenia.
Gabe: [00:11:34] Is that even true?
Michelle: [00:11:35] It’s true. So everyone that says that to me, that it’s schizophrenia. You know, not on the internet but in person? You can tell them they’re not even pronouncing it correctly.
Gabe: [00:11:43] You know what gets me? And I know, I know, please don’t shoot daggers at me every single person listening to this that does this. “Bipolar is spelled B-I-P-O-L-A-R. Bipolar. It is not spelled B-I-dash-P-O-L-A-R. Bi dash polar. But so many people write it that way and I don’t know why. Maybe there is some writing of it where that is correct? Maybe it’s correct in another country? I don’t know, but for some reason that always just makes me want to, like, cringe. And the reason that I’m bringing this up, is not to insult people that write it that way, because, again, maybe they’re right. I don’t know. Every time I see it written that way, Gabe Howard personally, cringes and I’ve never once brought it up. Never once. Because when they write to me to talk about bipolar disorder, I don’t care if they spell it with a “W.” If I know they’re talking about bipolar disorder, I’m going to give them an answer. I’m not gonna insult their typing skills. Who cares? People are suffering. I wish for a moment people could read our email, Michelle. Just the desperation, the heartbreak, the horror. And then if anybody can talk to these people, can talk to their families, and can realize just how fucked up it is out there, and still get up the energy and the gumption to talk about whether or not “recovery” is the right word for doing well?
Michelle: [00:13:11] Do you do you think there’s a cure? Because some people think there’s a cure.
Gabe: [00:13:15] I don’t think there’s a cure yet. No. I think that there are treatments. I think that there is recovery. I think that there is remission. I think that there is wellness. I think that there is doing better today than you were yesterday.
Michelle: [00:13:30] Yeah, but there is no cure.
Gabe: [00:13:31] No of course not.
Michelle: [00:13:31] We’re both going to be on meds for the rest of our lives.
Gabe: [00:13:34] With the medical science as we understand it today, yes. Yes.
Michelle: [00:13:37] So I would say that there is no cure. Because if you do have to be medicated the rest of your life, then you’re not cured.
Gabe: [00:13:43] Exactly.
Michelle: [00:13:43] Right.
Gabe: [00:13:43] So, you’re in recovery.
Michelle: [00:13:45] Yes. So then you’re –
Gabe: [00:13:45] Yes.
Michelle: [00:13:46] There you go. You’re in recovery. You’re cured.
Gabe: [00:13:49] That’s it? That’s it? That’s all recovery means?
Michelle: [00:13:50] You can’t be cured but you feel fine. I guess you’re in recovery.
Gabe: [00:13:54] Well I don’t want to use “recovery” anymore. I want to use “you’re in tacos.”
Michelle: [00:13:58] “In tacos?”
Gabe: [00:14:00] Yeah. If you say you’re “in tacos” it shows you’re doing better.
Michelle: [00:14:03] Whatever. I think if you say you’re “in a hamburger” is actually better.
Gabe: [00:14:07] Well, I’m offended by that.
Michelle: [00:14:09] Well, I like hamburgers better than tacos.
Gabe: [00:14:11] Well, I like tacos more than hamburgers.
Michelle: [00:14:13] Well, tacos are actually fake.
Gabe: [00:14:18] We’ll be right back after these commercial messages.
Announcer 2: [00:14:20] This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counseling. All counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist, whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face-to-face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counseling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.
Michelle: [00:14:51] Welcome back. We’re talking semantics.
Gabe: [00:14:54] Well, hamburgers are just given to you by the government to control your brain.
Michelle: [00:14:58] These are semantics. These are semantics, and we cannot be arguing about this. This is semantics.
Gabe: [00:15:03] It’s not even semantics, it is nonsense.
Michelle: [00:15:05] That’s the point I’m getting at.
Gabe: [00:15:06] Anybody that sits around and argues what’s better? A taco or a hamburger? They’re just wasting their time. And, hey, if you want to waste your time, that’s fine. But I would argue, that if your goal is to make life better for people with mental illness, and your primary cause is whether or not it’s “recovery” you’ve missed the boat.
Michelle: [00:15:24] If you are a social worker, and you’re gonna tell me that the word “schizophrenic” is offensive, you can stop listening to this podcast.
Gabe: [00:15:32] Well I don’t want them to stop listening. I just want them to reconsider.
Michelle: [00:15:36] Fine.
Gabe: [00:15:37] I mean, isn’t that what we want? You and I talk about this all the time. I love it. I love it. I know you don’t, because you’re Michelle. I love the well thought out arguments about why we’re idiots. I do. I do. In some ways I like them more than the compliments. Listen, I love compliments. We both love compliments, but I respect the hell out of that because that’s what we do. Michelle, we are just trying to enlighten people to our way of thinking. We are just trying to get our thoughts into the world so people can consider them and maybe that will make a paradigm shift. Maybe more people will think, “Oh my God! You’re right! I’m worried about the word “recovery” when there are homeless people out there! I’m going to start working on this other thing and not be so bothered by that.” And then when we cure all of those other problems. Then we can worry about the word “recovery.”
Michelle: [00:16:30] Sounds good to me.
Gabe: [00:16:32] You think we’ll ever get there?
Michelle: [00:16:36] Well if the world “recovers” from the word –
Gabe: [00:16:38] No! No! No! Oh my God! I can’t believe you said recovered!
Michelle: [00:16:42] That’s what I’m saying, you gotta recover from hearing the word “recovery.”
Gabe: [00:16:44] Do you think that people dislike the word “recovered” because they do think that it conjures up this image that it can never come back? Because a lot of the time people say, well, if you’re in “recovery” or if you have “recovered from,” then it’s gone. And since you have to manage it every day, then maybe that’s why recovery is a bad word. I mean, let’s be fair, it conjures up something in them that makes them unhappy. Is that it?
Michelle: [00:17:11] Well, I mean, I still say that I’m schizophrenic.
Gabe: [00:17:14] Yeah. Me too.
Michelle: [00:17:15] I mean [inaudible] I just don’t understand what the big deal is? I am schizophrenic. If somebody is describing me, I don’t think they’ll describe me as absolutely batshit crazy, or you know, who knows. But I think they’ll say I’m interesting, I’m schizophrenic. They might not say like, “Oh, she’s recovered.” I say, “Oh, she lives well.” You know, I don’t think anyone’s going to say horrible things about me describing me.
Gabe: [00:17:42] Well, if they do, I don’t think that it’s the recovery thing that’s going to bother you. If somebody says that, you know, “Michelle’s lazy. Michelle can’t work. Michelle doesn’t make enough money. Michelle’s untrustworthy. Don’t let Michelle near your kids.” Those are the things that would really hurt your feelings.
Michelle: [00:17:56] Right.
Gabe: [00:17:56] Not whether or not they describe you as recovered or not. I do think there is a point to be made, albeit a small, one that sometimes people say “recovery from bipolar.” “From bipolar” does kind of conjure up the idea that bipolar is gone. It is one of the reasons that I say I’m “in recovery with bipolar” instead of “from.” But once again, people should know what I mean. I’m not saying that I’m not bipolar; I am just saying that I spend more time living my life than I do managing the illness. And that’s exactly what people from the addiction community are saying. They’re not saying that they’re cured. They’re not saying that they’re no longer alcoholics or drug addicts, because they’re – I’ve talked to a lot of people in the addiction community, and they’re very clear they are still alcoholics but they’re in recovery from alcohol because they’ve been clean for X number of years. And I guess that’s all I’m saying.
Michelle: [00:18:56] Do we need a checklist that means “recovered” and “not recovered?”
Gabe: [00:19:00] Perhaps. Is this the hill we want to die on? Is this what we want the mental health advocacy community to work on?
Michelle: [00:19:08] I know we use the word “recovery.” I don’t know if it’s the best word, but it’s the word that we use. Is there a better word to use? Because we could use that one. Do you know of a better word?
Gabe: [00:19:18] Well here’s the thing, I think that if we change the word, there’d be a whole group of people who didn’t like that word. I think there’s always going to be dissent, and I think that’s what we need to understand. Are there people that like the word recovery? Yes. Are there people that dislike the word recovery? Yes. But I think the biggest group are people that just don’t care. That’s just the word. They understand that it means, “to do well,” and they say, “I’m in recovery with bipolar disorder. I’m in recovery from schizophrenia.” And all they’re trying to articulate is that they’re doing well. They don’t have any deeper thought other than that. And if we change the word they’re still gonna be those three groups.
Michelle: [00:19:56] Why can’t we all just fight the same fight? Why are we fighting each other?
Gabe: [00:20:01] I have wondered that for the longest time and I think in some ways we’re not fighting each other. I think that we are all unique and we all process the world differently and we just want to be heard and understood. And, as I said before, I think sometimes we go for low hanging fruit. Because if I can convince you that the word “recovery” is not the best word, then I’ve succeeded. I’ve gained a little ground. I’ve convinced you of something, and that feels good, and that feels powerful, and that’s easy.
Michelle: [00:20:30] But if you’re going to tell me “recovery” is not the right word, tell me a word to replace it with.
Gabe: [00:20:36] And every single person I have talked to has other words. I want it to be “remission.” I want it to be “a cure.” I want it to be etc.
Michelle: [00:20:46] Can I just say that I live well with schizophrenia?
Gabe: [00:20:48] You can.
Michelle: [00:20:48] I like saying that. That’s gonna be my new thing. I live well with schizophrenia.
Gabe: [00:20:53] Ok. Does that mean you’re in recovery?
Michelle: [00:20:56] It means I’m in recovery, but I’m just not going to say “recovery” because for some reason it pisses people off.
Gabe: [00:21:03] Sometimes it does.
Michelle: [00:21:04] And for some reason right now I don’t want to piss people off which makes no sense. That’s very unlike me.
Gabe: [00:21:08] This is very unlike Michelle Hammer. It’s unlike a New Yorker.
Michelle: [00:21:12] I will not stop saying “schizophrenic,” and if you say, “Don’t say you’re schizophrenic. Say you have schizophrenia.” I’m going to say, “It’s actually schizophrenia. You dumb ass.
Gabe: [00:21:22] That is Michelle Hammer antagonizing the schizophrenia community! Way to go!
Michelle: [00:21:28] [Laughter] I live well with schizophrenia.
Gabe: [00:21:32] Is life really the best word to describe what we’re doing?
Michelle: [00:21:36] We’re not? We’re not in life right now? Are we in the world? Are we in the universe? Are we in the Milky Way galaxy?
Gabe: [00:21:43] I will. I prefer Snickers.
Michelle: [00:21:44] Really.
Gabe: [00:21:47] Yeah.
Michelle: [00:21:47] You like nuts.
Gabe: [00:21:48] Packed with peanuts.
Michelle: [00:21:49] You like the nuts.
Gabe: [00:21:54] Should of said Kit Kat.
Michelle: [00:21:55] Then give me a break.
Gabe: [00:22:00] Seasons greetings, everybody! We thank you so much for listening. Remember to leave us a review. You can hop over to store.PsychCentral.com and buy the spectacular “Define Normal” shirt, which helps support the show. Also, please leave us a review on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you download this. Please leave comments on PsychCentral.com. Share this on Facebook. Anything that you can do to get the first podcast by mentally ill people for mentally ill people out into the world. We would really, really appreciate. Seasons greetings, and we will see you next week hen we talk about New Year’s resolutions.
Michelle: [00:22:39] Recovery!
Announcer: [00:22:39] You’ve been listening to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. If you love this episode, don’t keep it to yourself! Head over to iTunes or your preferred podcast app to subscribe, rate, and review. To work with Gabe, go to GabeHoward.com. To work with Michelle, go to schizophrenic.NYC. For free mental health resources and online support groups, head over to PsychCentral.com. The show’s official Web site is PsychCentral.com/BSP. You can e-mail us at [email protected]. Thank you for listening, and share widely.
Meet Your Bipolar and Schizophrenic Hosts
GABE HOWARD was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2003. Now in recovery, Gabe is a prominent mental health activist and host of the award-winning Psych Central Show podcast. He is also an award-winning writer and speaker, traveling nationally to share the humorous, yet educational, story of his bipolar life. To work with Gabe, visit gabehoward.com.
MICHELLE HAMMER was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, but incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18. Michelle is an award-winning mental health advocate who has been featured in press all over the world. In May 2015, Michelle founded the company Schizophrenic.NYC, a mental health clothing line, with the mission of reducing stigma by starting conversations about mental health. She is a firm believer that confidence can get you anywhere. To work with Michelle, visit Schizophrenic.NYC.