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Podcast: Low Self-Esteem and How it Connects to Mental Illness

As a society, we suffer from low self-esteem. A lot. The entertainment media assaults us with beautiful faces and perfect bodies, making millions feel inadequate or even ashamed. We have school children who feel that anything less than straight A’s is failure. For people living with mental illness, the impact of low self-esteem is even worse. Listen to hear how.



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“Physical health is extremely important in mental health.”
– Michelle

“All mental health is physical health!”
– Gabe


Highlights From ‘Self-Esteem’ Episode

[3:30] Why do we feel bad about our bodies?

[7:00] Michelle used to be a photo retoucher. It’s all fake!

[9:30] We usually celebrate with food.

[14:30] Michelle’s Mom encouraged her to play sports to help her mental health.

[18:00] Physical health is important when it comes to mental health.

[22:00] Is hating yourself a mental health issue?

Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Low Self-Esteem and How it Connects to Mental Illness’ 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: Announcer: 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: Hello, everybody, and welcome to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast.  My name is Gabe and I have bipolar disorder.

Michelle: I’m Michelle, and I’m schizophrenic and I’m yelling like Gabe.

Gabe: No.

Michelle: Yes, Gabe.

Gabe: I wanted you to like match my energy. I want you to be like I am Michelle.

Michelle: You need to chill the fuck out.

Gabe: That’s not the first time that I’ve heard this.

Michelle: Gabe, I have a problem.

Gabe: You have more than one but what is the specific problem that we are going to discuss today?

Michelle: Gabe, I think I gained a whole bunch of weight. I’m not loving it.

Gabe: Where you think you’re the fat one?

Michelle: No, no I’m not fatter than you.

Gabe: Well OK OK. Well first off why do you think that you have gained a bunch of weight? Did did you weigh yourself?

Michelle: No, I don’t have a scale but I looked in the mirror.

Gabe: Ok so you don’t know for a fact that you’ve gained weight. You just feel like you gained weight based on?

Michelle: How my clothes are fitting, my appearance in the mirror. I don’t believe in scales. I think that scales are the devil. So I mean I don’t do that. I think.

Gabe: I just I’m now picturing a scale with like horns and a tail just like chasing women all over like we’ve gotten it wrong we’re looking for like a red guy with a pitchfork. But in actuality.

Michelle: Scales are the devil, Gabe, scales are the devil. Even though Jews don’t believe in the devil, scales are the devil. Just saying, just putting it out there. Putting it out there.

Gabe: Scales do exist, and they make many people cry. As you know, Michelle, ever since we started working together and the first time that we ever got on a stage together we watched the playback and the first thing that you said is that your hair looked frizzy and the first thing that I said was Holy shit I am fat gigantic ugly ugly just so fat because with just me and you in the frame. My six foot three two hundred and seventy five pounds next to your five foot four not two hundred and seventy five pounds it just made me look so fat just so fat. But you told me that I was not fat. You were actually very you. What did you say?

Michelle: What exactly did I say? You just look broad and built.

Gabe: Yeah. And you said that I didn’t look like I had a beach ball gut.

Michelle: Yeah. You don’t have a beach ball gut.

Gabe: You were very supportive. And you said look that’s what you look like you’re a big guy. You’re a giant of a man and that’s good. You’re just convincing yourself that you’re ugly because that’s what people do that this isn’t based on any fact you’re just looking at your body and you hate it like everybody else and you need to stop it. It was very good advice it was. It was kind. You told me that I wasn’t ugly.

Michelle: Well yes I guess I was being very nice to you, Gabe. Yes you’re not ugly. Yes.

Gabe: And you’re not fat.

Michelle: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Gabe: But the tie in here is why do we believe this? Why do you believe that you’re fat? Like you said you didn’t weigh yourself you don’t know that you gained any weight. You’ve just decided that based on your physical appearance in a mirror there’s something you don’t like. And now you feel badly about it because you feel bad about it.

Michelle: Yeah I don’t know. I mean growing up as a woman what I mean I grew up before the whole range of “Oh, love your body for whatever curves. It was all skinny skinny skinny skinny, you gotta be skinny, you gotta stay skinny, skinny skinny is good. What’s good you got us these skinny skinny skinny so not being skinny skinny skinny, it’s almost like you’re wrong, you’re bad, you’re not good because like the whole thing now is you know have your curves look like Kim Kardashian, she has that curvy body but you know growing up in like the early 2000s really it was not like that at all.

Gabe: I hate you so much right now because when you said growing up in. I fully expected 80s to come out of your mouth and you just leapfrogged a whole another decade. You were like the early 2000s when I was growing up like bitch. I had a job, owned a house, and was on my second wife but you’re not wrong. And even some of the messages that we absorb like, do you remember the Dove “Real Woman” campaign?

Michelle: Yes I do. Yes I do.

Gabe: And all of those women were just like two sizes bigger than all of the skinny women. The real woman campaign was like, “You don’t need to be a six, you can love yourself even if you’re a 10.”

Michelle: Yeah and all the plus sized models that are just sized four and up. Yeah. I’m not

Gabe: Yeah.

Michelle: Even at that. I wish I could be a size 4. Please, come on.

Gabe: But there’s even you know, my wife pointed out other things that you know now we have. There is a model who is very beautiful and she’s a size 16/18. Now I am a man. I don’t understand these but I’m told that 16/18 is well into the plus sizes, right? OK. And my wife wears a size (beep) and I know she loves this shit. She’s now like what the hell are you doing?

Michelle: She’s, yes, she’s going to be mad about that whole thing, Gabe.

Gabe: Yeah. Yeah but that’s OK. It’s for the family, for the family. It’s for the show, it’s for the show. But she said that she’d rather have the size 16/18 body and I was like wait, isn’t smaller better? Like this is confusing me because I thought it was all about numbers on a scale, it was all about numbers on the tag and she said that that model has this perfectly hourglass figure. This nice smooth stomach that while her body is larger it’s still like proportionate and attractive and it doesn’t have, and she started pointing out all of these things on her body that she didn’t like. You know like love handles etc..

Michelle: This model, is this in photos though?

Gabe: I brought that up too. I said look this is edited etc. But my wife said that’s not the point. The point is that if they’re photo shopping this plus sized model they’re still doing to her what they’re doing to all of the other women which makes it impossible for women to have an adequate body image

Michelle: Yeah.

Gabe: Because.

Michelle: Well what did what my first internships in the city was a fashion photographer. The way we used to do the photo editing the all of the retouching was insane. Thing is the camera they use shows every single flaw on the body. It’s so intense and we go in to photoshop and we take every flaw away, make every dress fit better, make every girl look amazing. I’m telling you straight up from the person who used to do this. It’s fake it’s not real. These dresses all dresses when you’re when you see a girl in a dress that’s made for a clothing line. Those dresses are sample size these models are not. Those dresses all have clips in the back to make them even fit better and then anything it doesn’t look like it doesn’t fit perfectly. We make that dress form fit to the body. It’s not real.

Gabe: It reminds me of I love action movies and I like James Bond action movies and things like that. And I was watching this special on how they do the special effects for action movies and in it James Bond was saying that you know he always fights in a suit. You know he’s always got his suit on because he sees suave and debonair and every single move that he does like a kick or a punch or a duck or a jump or whatever has a different suit. That way the suit can be cut all the different ways. So for example if he’s just standing there the suit is tailored so he looks nice and thin but of course he couldn’t lift his leg up or the pants would split. So when he has to do the scenes where he kicks he puts on a different suit that is cut so that he can kick and the same thing with punching and it just reminds me of all those women’s dresses I see where the woman standing up looks gorgeous. But in order to sit down she has to put her shawl on her lap because there’s just not enough dress left.

Michelle: Oh my God that’s hilarious. And what do you think this does to the public though? Everybody aspires to be these people they see in the movies and in the magazines and then people just like feel bad about themselves. I know I used to when I was younger and I didn’t know about all this retouching and everything like that I wanted to be these women in the magazines. I want to be as beautiful as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera all of them. But now I know that’s not what it was. And it’s you aspire to be fake but is it like a lie. Like do you feel like people need to apologize for what they did? You know almost it’s like you fooled kids and you gave young girls like low self-esteem causing eating disorders. Don’t people realize that sometimes doing these things is really detrimental to people’s health and their minds and bodies and all of that?

Gabe: Well, but herein lies the problem. What about like alcohol and cigarettes or Diet Coke or sugared foods or you know I weighed five hundred and fifty pounds. You know why I weighed five hundred and fifty pounds, aside from untreated bipolar disorder? It’s because I was so unhappy that I tried to do all of the stereotypical food things. You ever notice that food is in every celebration? When it’s Thanksgiving what do you eat?

Michelle: Food

Gabe: Yeah. When it’s your birthday what do you eat?

Michelle: Cake.

Gabe: And on Christmas, what do you eat?

Michelle: Chinese food.

Gabe: Yeah. Because you’re Jewish?

Michelle: Yeah.

Gabe: But I eat you know I just every single holiday every when somebody passes away food. When we celebrate big wins. What happens if the lacrosse team wins the championship? What do you all go and do?

Michelle: Go out and party. We never won a championship. I’m sorry.

Gabe: But I mean you would have a

Michelle: Had a huge party, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Gabe: You would have eaten. You would have drank. You would have celebrated. So all of this stuff goes together in my mind. So every time I saw happy people they were eating. So I thought Oh my God. All I have to do is eat more and all be happy. That right that connected in my brain. Now I understand my brain was messed up but that’s what I thought. But instead all I did was make me weigh five hundred and fifty pounds. Does this mean that the food industry owes me an apology?

Michelle: I see what you’re saying.

Gabe: Did they do something wrong?

Michelle: Hold up one sec. We’re going to hear from our sponsor.

Announcer: This episode is sponsored by Secure, convenient, and affordable online counselling. 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 and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you.

Gabe: We’re back talking about diet, exercise, body image, and probably lacrosse.

Michelle: When do people like learn good food habits? When are food habits even taught? When our good self esteem habits taught? I almost feel like those should be classes. Those are something that should be taught in school but I think those are left to be taught by the parents but not all parents know how to teach that well.

Gabe: It gets even worse than that. Think about families with multiple children and then think about how society pressures you to treat different children of different genders or different age groups. For example, we’ll take my family. My family, they encouraged me constantly to play sports because I was a fat kid. So just constantly you need to get out and exercise you need to play sports. You need to. They were doing this because they didn’t want me to be the fat kid but it made me hate exercise. I didn’t like to go outside. I didn’t want to play sports. I didn’t like any of it but my brother, he loved sports. He played them all. And for whatever reason it didn’t occur to my parents that he was struggling in school. So they didn’t say hey you need to get better grades and go to college. But they told their smart kid hey you need to exercise more. It just shows that for some reason being fat is bad but not doing well in school? He plays sports, he’ll be fine. And this isn’t I don’t want my mom to send me a nasty email. My parents were great parents they just suffer from the same things that everybody suffers from in life. And what about like stay at home moms who teach all their daughters to be thin so they can get a man?

Michelle: Yeah

Gabe: I mean how does that fuck you up?

Michelle: That’s going to.

Gabe: Your whole life is to get married.

Michelle: Did people do that really?

Gabe: I would like to think that it happens less and less now but I read all these articles in the 60s and 70s about whether or not women should go to college if they’re already engaged because after all the number one reason that you should go to college is to get your MRS.

Michelle: I see you’re saying, I got that. You have to give me a second

Gabe: Yeah.

Michelle: And told me it’s like I got that.

Gabe: And these are in a national magazine. This is a discussion that America was having in the middle class and the upper middle class in the 60s and 70s and even into the 80s about a woman’s role. And people didn’t like the idea of women getting jobs and even today in 2019 there is still disparity in the workplace when it comes to pay or power or position or opportunity. So imagine if it’s this way in 2019, imagine how it was in 1950, or 1960, or 1970?

Michelle: Good point.

Gabe: And how does this affect the way that we build our self-esteem up? And then, Michelle, my final points and what this has all been leading to is how do you teach that to somebody like us? You know our parents didn’t know that we had bipolar and schizophrenia. So they just taught us like they taught any normal child, but we didn’t learn or think like normal children.

Michelle: True

Gabe: So they were just fucked.

Michelle: I guess so. I mean I played sports. I was encouraged to play sports and I kept playing because I was told I was good at them. So that’s why I played. And then in high school, playing sports was really my only reason to still continue high school. It was the only thing I had going for me that was fun and something I was good at. The only way I made any friends. It’s kind of the only reason I even went to college really. But.

Gabe: So it sounds like your parents encouraging you to play sports saved your life. I mean maybe not literally but I mean it put you on a better path to get help.

Michelle: It really did. It really did. It did. But you know it’s sports especially at the college level. They’re not easy and it can almost make you struggle more sometimes because it’s just stressful. You work so hard and hard and hard and hard and hard and then you know you can end up losing.

Gabe: Well and there’s another point. What about people who can’t handle the disappointment of loss, or people who get so stressed out about the outcome of the activity that they’re in, whether it be sports or anything else, that they don’t focus on other areas of their life? For example, what if you were so desperate to win a lacrosse championship that you stopped going to class and failed out of college?

Michelle: That’s true. That’s true.

Gabe: And then you wouldn’t have a college degree.

Michelle: Well, yes, I wouldn’t.

Gabe: But you’d have a lacrosse championship. Which is more valuable when you’re 40, lacrosse championship or a college degree?

Michelle: I get you.

Gabe: Some people might say no no no. I wish I could. If I could do it all over again. I would make sure that I won the national championship.

Michelle: Well yes.

Gabe: Like I wouldn’t have done math.

Michelle: Yeah I get it but.

Gabe: To hell with math. Math is awful.

Michelle: That doesn’t really work though because lacrosse is a team sport. So everybody would have had to been doing that. I don’t think I could have possibly worked harder than I worked. I worked as hard as can possibly be. Honestly.

Gabe: But does this mess people up. Does not understanding that you have to pay attention to all areas of your life. This is especially important for people managing mental illness because let’s say that I put all of my energy and focus it only on managing bipolar disorder. Just think about that for a minute. I’m putting all of my time and energy in fighting a disease that is trying to kill me. So this is serious bipolar disorder if left unchecked will kill me. So I put 100 percent of my time into fighting bipolar disorder on one hand, that sounds really good right?

Michelle: Yeah.

Gabe: Yeah but now I don’t take a bath. I don’t do diet or exercise correctly so I’m eating potato chips and smoking and drinking and I don’t get any exercise. So like getting up and walking to the bathroom like I can’t do so I’m just fat and my knees give out by the time I’m 30 because I’m just you know I need a hip replacement at 28 but I’m beating bipolar I guess? Do you think that if I would have only paid attention to my mental health and ignored my physical health that I would be where I am today?

Michelle: Oh absolutely not. I would think they do totally go together.

Gabe: But I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I think a lot of people only especially living with mental illness serious persistent mental illness you know people living with schizophrenia. People living with bipolar disorder or major depression. I think they only pay attention to their mental health and they ignore their physical health and then what happens to them and, Michelle, you understand physical health better than anybody I know.

Michelle: Well yes. Physical health is extremely extremely important in making you feel good about yourself. You mean just being skinny doesn’t automatically mean healthy. You know you have to be somewhat fit but also something that I struggle with is that my whole life I was forced to work out by playing sports. So then you know not being forced to work out anymore is kind of challenging for me. You know I did cross fit for a year because that that kind of workout you’re being told what to do it’s so hard it’s really really intense. But it’s sometimes like let me go work out I’m going to go for a run and I’ll run for 10 minutes and I’m like Oh no one’s forcing me to run right now I can just start walking and then I can go home. Yeah I don’t want to run anymore. This is really easy to quit doing. Yeah.

Gabe: And on the way home you can get an iced coffee.

Michelle: Exactly. Exactly. So it’s like a really weird transition. But I do want to work out. I just the motivation is not like I’m going to get in trouble if I don’t. It’s not like I’m working to be a great lacrosse player anymore. I kind of I’m over that now. I get it. I can’t go back to being a good lacrosse player. I’m too old now and

Gabe: You’re too old? I love how you’re too old. You’re what 30? Oh my God the horror. You’ve just aged out of society you’re basically just waiting to die. Thirty. Oh God no.

Michelle: There’s no pro teams.

Gabe: You know a few weeks ago, you talked about being a mom and now a few weeks later you’re just like I’m done. My dreams are over.

Michelle: Of athleticism.

Gabe: Oh, of athleticism. You mean like being a professional athlete? What about a coach? Oh my God. Could you imagine Michelle as a coach?

Michelle: I was a coach. I was a coach for like two years. I was a coach.

Gabe: Aren’t all the coaches old?

Michelle: You should have seen me on the sidelines, Gabe. You should have seen me on the sidelines. I was a yeller. I was a yeller, you have no idea.

Gabe: You think I have no idea how you’re a yeller?

Michelle: Oh

Gabe: I mean really.

Michelle: But I was a positive person. I never said anything bad. It was all positive

Gabe: Oh how do we get that back?

Michelle: Positive. It was a positive yelling.

Gabe: How do I sign up for that version of Michelle? We’re no longer doing a podcast, we’re playing lacrosse.

Michelle: I would say to my girls, when the other team has the ball, who is the most important girl on the field? Gabe, do you know the answer? When the other team has the ball, who’s the most important person on the field?

Gabe: All of you.

Michelle: The girl with the ball. Duh.

Gabe: Why is she the most important?

Michelle: She has the ball and she’s on the other team. She’s the most important person on the field. Get the ball away from the person on the other team.

Gabe: Why don’t you disrupt the passing lane? Maybe the most important person is the person she’s going to pass the ball to?

Michelle: Ok, so everybody marks up? So OK, OK, Gabe. So everybody will mark up everybody else on field and not the girl with the ball so she can run down the field with the ball to the goal and shoot? Does that make any sense to you, Gabe?

Gabe: When you say the most important person on the field is the person with the ball, it reminds me of like little kids playing soccer where as soon as somebody gets the ball all the players just swarm.

Michelle: No, no, no. What it means is, Gabe, she has to get a mark on her before anyone else gets a mark. That girl needs to be marked up before anyone else gets a mark.

Gabe: And what’s a mark?

Michelle: A man on her.

Gabe: Gotcha. And listen I know nothing about lacrosse. Everybody who listens to the show for more than one episode knows that Michelle is a lacrosse genius and that Gabe is a lacrosse idiot. But here’s why this is so valuable because it Michelle understands the rules of the game and that allows her to play it better. For example everything she just explained I likened to you know children playing soccer but this works so well for Michelle that while she did not win a championship you got it. You got a scholarship, you were in Inside Lacrosse magazine, you were kind of a bad ass.

Michelle: Ok. Well I didn’t get a scholarship but I was in Inside Lacrosse Magazine. Yes I was.

Gabe: All right. So I’m half right. But you enjoyed your time and you’ve also talked about it in terms of how it helped you with managing and getting help with schizophrenia in a way that other things may not have. But that’s all because you paid attention to all of it. You didn’t make assumptions you learned. I want you to put that and I want our listeners to think about the things that they hold deep beliefs on like when they look in the mirror and they say that they’re fat and ugly just because you believe it doesn’t make it true. Michelle, I have no idea if you have gained any weight. I honestly don’t know. And listen we can all stand to be healthier to eat a few more vegetables and to get less iced coffee or drink Diet Coke or not eat Cadbury eggs three months past you know Easter before they podcast. We can all do better but hating your life? Getting up every morning, looking in the mirror, and hating yourself? That’s a mental health issue and it’s something worth addressing.

Michelle: I agree with that one. You don’t want to wake up in the morning hating your life.

Gabe: Especially since mental illness already kind of helps with that, right?

Michelle: Yeah. So you know.

Gabe: We have enough reason to hate our lives.

Michelle: Working on your mental health really does mean working on your physical health as well.

Gabe: I agree.

Michelle: Yeah

Gabe: I agree. And you know what I hate?

Michelle: What?

Gabe: I love how we have mental health and physical health because isn’t mental health your brain? Which is in your body? All mental health is physical health. Just pay attention to your health people. Finally I saw this really great joke online and it made me laugh so hard that I want to share it with you, Michelle.

Michelle: Please do.

Gabe: It said would you take fifty thousand dollars cash if by taking it the person you hate more than anyone else in the world got one hundred thousand dollars? And I thought to myself, why on earth would I pass up a chance to get one hundred and fifty thousand dollars?

Michelle: Now I oh I get it.

Gabe: Michelle, any last words.

Michelle: To all the ladies and gentlemen that are looking at the people in the magazines, it’s completely fake. I used to do it for a living. Those clothes do not fit like that. Those people are not built like that; their skin is not that smooth. Trust me. If you want to get your photos retouched, you can hit me up too. Just letting you know.

Gabe: I love how you hit a plug. All right everybody thanks for tuning in remember wherever you downloaded this podcast if you can leave us as many stars as humanly possible and give us a great review like literally use your words we would appreciate that. Share us, e-mail us, take us to support groups, make your mom and dad listen. This is a very very very friendly crowd. You know for a group of people with mental illness. Finally, go to Click on the little chalkboard. Ask us your questions. They could appear in a future episode. You can also e-mail us at and tell us why you love us or why you hate us. We will see everybody next week.

Announcer: 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 To work with Michelle, go to schizophrenic.NYC. For free mental health resources and online support groups, head over to This show’s official web site is You can e-mail us at 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


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.

Podcast: Low Self-Esteem and How it Connects to Mental Illness

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APA Reference
Podcast, N. (2019). Podcast: Low Self-Esteem and How it Connects to Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 27 Jun 2019 (Originally: 1 Jul 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 27 Jun 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.