Can a relationship work when one person has severe mental illness? In today’s Not Crazy podcast, Gabe and Lisa discuss dating with bipolar disorder. They share their own story of dating, marrying and divorcing under the umbrella of Gabe’s bipolar diagnosis, and discuss the ups and downs from both perspectives.
What are some positive signs that the relationship can last? And what are the clues that you might need to call it quits? Tune in for a heartfelt discussion on living and dating with severe mental illness.
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About The Not Crazy podcast Hosts
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 Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Lisa is the producer of the Psych Central podcast, Not Crazy. She is the recipient of The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Above and Beyond” award, has worked extensively with the Ohio Peer Supporter Certification program, and is a workplace suicide prevention trainer. Lisa has battled depression her entire life and has worked alongside Gabe in mental health advocacy for over a decade. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband; enjoys international travel; and orders 12 pairs of shoes online, picks the best one, and sends the other 11 back.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Dating Bipolar” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Lisa: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a psych central podcast hosted by my ex-husband, who has bipolar disorder. Together, we created the mental health podcast for people who hate mental health podcasts.
Gabe: Hey, Lisa, before we get started, are you struggling with your mental health during the pandemic?
Lisa: Well of course I am. Everybody is, we’re all quarantined.
Gabe: Well, I want to tell you about a 4-week, fully remote program that I found developed by experts in digital therapeutics. It’s literally designed to help you manage excessive stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lisa: Yeah, and whether that stress is about your health, the new way of life, or your financial future, this program will help you turn anxiety into a balanced emotional state, all from home.
Gabe: The program includes access to mental health resources and exercises, an app to journal your emotions, as well as weekly online 15-minute sessions with qualified coaches.
Lisa: So, we encourage all of you to check it out now at the Feel Relief website.
Gabe: Get the mental health support you deserve, all while staying safe at home. Go to the Feel Relief website for more info.
Gabe: Welcome to the Not Crazy Podcast. My name is Gabe Howard, and with me, as always, is Lisa.
Lisa: Hey, everyone. The last couple of weeks, we’ve been asking you to send me suggestions on what I should be doing for the introduction, and one of the ones that I liked was to read a quote. So today’s quote is from the movie Joker. And it is, The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.
Gabe: I thought that was a very poignant quote for our topic. Today, we’re going to be talking about relationships and mental illness because we’ve got a letter. Somebody wrote in to show@PsychCentral.com and asked us for some advice. Now, it’s important to point out we don’t give advice. We just sort of discuss things and tell you things from our point of view. And as Lisa pointed out, you probably shouldn’t take relationship advice from a divorced couple anyway.
Lisa: Yeah, we are not in general advice columnists, but we did get this interesting e-mail. Please keep the e-mails coming. And it was a very long e-mail, so I’m just going to read a little bit of it. And so it starts. I’ve been seeing this guy for about a year. This winter, he told me he was bipolar. At that time, he started taking his medication again. When things are not good, they are not good. We argue and he is really moody. We haven’t talked about it in depth. I suggested he see a therapist. He agreed but never made an appointment. I have dealt with mental illness in my immediate family since I was a child and I have dealt with my own struggles. I’m not afraid of the diagnosis, but I don’t know how or if I can walk the line between trying to help him manage this and being romantically involved.
Gabe: So Lisa and I both got the e-mail, we decided this was a good subject based on our own romantic past.
Gabe: Don’t you love how I’m calling it a romantic past? Everybody knows that it ended in mental illness and divorce. But
Lisa: Well, it started with mental illness.
Gabe: It started.
Lisa: It didn’t end with mental illness. The mental illness was there at the beginning.
Gabe: That’s actually kind of funny, like the relationship started with hard core mental illness and ended with, like, beautiful mental health. Like, that’s it. I feel like.
Lisa: Aww. What a sweet story.
Gabe: I feel like it’s a rom com in reverse.
Lisa: A sad rom com.
Gabe: But listen, I. We both sat down with this e-mail and we sat down to map out our show and to do our talking points and everything. And I said to Lisa, OK, we’ve both read this e-mail. What are your initial thoughts for this couple?
Lisa: She should break up with him. She should break up with him immediately. Go, go now.
Gabe: And this struck me as odd because when I first read it, I sort of had this, like, nostalgic pang
Lisa: Aw, seriously?
Gabe: Like I was the guy with bipolar disorder and Lisa was the woman. And I mean, there’s a lot of similarities there.
Lisa: They’re are, yes.
Gabe: So you were just like end it. It’s over.
Lisa: Go, go now.
Gabe: I sincerely you can kind of hear in my voice I.
Lisa: Yes. You actually seem like your feelings were kind of hurt and I felt bad. And what do I do with that?
Gabe: So, being honest, my feelings were hurt because it from my perspective. I remember this as I was very sick. You showed up. You got me the help I needed and saved my life. Like this is a happy story from my perspective. This was the first time that it occurred to me that you were something other than a lifesaver. You were, you weren’t just a hero. You were a fully functioning person that apparently wishes you would have ran away.
Lisa: That’s not completely accurate. But yes, I was my own person with my own identity and my own thoughts and feelings.
Gabe: So let’s go all the way back.
Gabe: Let’s go all the way back to 2003, the summer of Gabe’s bipolar. And what do you remember, Lisa, from that period of time?
Lisa: So I think it would be useful if I told our origin story, as it were, from my point of view.
Gabe: I feel like you’re stealing my speech.
Lisa: Well, but it’s like the difference between the Wizard of Oz and Wicked. It’s from a different standpoint of a different character.
Gabe: Yeah, but Wicked is so much better and I have a feeling that you’re about to be Wicked.
Lisa: Sadly, Wicked is not better, but it should be. Anyway, Gabe and I had been dating for a couple of months. Casually dating. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been around someone who’s not quite to mania yet, but getting there, kind of a hypomanic? It is awesome. The energy, he’s the life of the party all the time. He’s staying up all night, going out, spending a lot of money, having a lot of sex. It’s amazing. It’s like being with a rock star.
Gabe: I would like to think that I’m still a little bit of a rock star, but carry on.
Lisa: Yes. It was amazing. It was great. Loved spending time with him. It was a constant, never ending party. But after a couple of months of this, I had started to think, OK. All right, it’s time to break up with this guy. I mean, yeah, he’s fun at the club, but where’s this going? What am I going to do? Get married? Have children? This guy’s all over the place. He’s a mess. I can’t even take him to visit my family. Yeah. I need to get around to breaking up with this guy. But he is awesome to hang out with at the club.
Gabe: I love how you keep saying club like we ever went to a club, like, really?
Lisa: Well, sorta.
Gabe: Right. Gabe was awesome to hang out with at Waffle House. That’s, we went to breakfast a lot. We went to the dollar movies. I don’t you know, you’re like boots and pants and boots and pants and boots and pants and boots and pants
Gabe: And boots and pants and boots and pants
Lisa: Why are you taking my awesome story, Gabe?
Gabe: I’m sorry. Continue.
Lisa: I’m making you into a club, kid. I mean.
Gabe: I’m sorry. Carry on.
Lisa: Yes, we were very happening and very awesome in Columbus, Ohio. Yes, that’s right. A very happening party town, the 14th largest city in America, with an amazing underground club scene that we were huge parts of. We’re not just Midwesterners, anyway. So he was way awesome to hang out with. We had a lot of fun, but he was all over the place and this was clearly not going anywhere. And I was getting ready to break up with him. I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. And then one day he told me that he was planning suicide.
Gabe: It is interesting to hear you tell the story now 17 years later, because I imagine back in 2003 you didn’t think to yourself, oh, this man told me he’s planning a suicide. You probably thought to yourself, oh, my God, he’s planning on killing himself.
Lisa: Yeah, I did.
Gabe: I remember the shock in the exchange. It was chaotic.
Lisa: It was extreme. It was extreme, and I knew I needed to take action immediately.
Gabe: And you did. And the action ultimately led to me being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I obviously lots of steps in between there. You know, I want everybody to know that Lisa did not have the power to just snap her fingers and Gabe would be admitted. Lots and lots of stuff happened. It took hours. But let’s fast forward ever so slightly. You were the one who picked me up from the psychiatric hospital. And the reason that I think that is so interesting is because the entire time I was in the psychiatric hospital, they told me that woman is gone. She will not be here anymore. Do not count on her. You need to make plans that don’t involve that woman. In their experience, casually dating women drop off their mentally ill casual men. And that’s the end of it.
Gabe: So what? What’s up with that?
Lisa: Well, as he said, long story short, he’s admitted to a psychiatric hospital and is diagnosed with bipolar disorder for the first time. And I thought, and I’m not really sure why, you can’t break up with some guy who just got out of the hospital. How evil are you? And I also kind of felt like, well, I’m the one who took him to the hospital. So I kind of have this strange sense of responsibility. Like, I have to look after him for a little while and I don’t know what my plan on that was. I mean, how long was I going to do this? Was I going to do this forever? But I did feel like I couldn’t break up with him days later. Right? You can’t break up with someone a day after he’s out of the hospital.
Gabe: This reminds me of, like, some weird rule. Like you can’t break up with somebody around Christmas. You can’t break up with somebody.
Lisa: Right, on their birthday.
Gabe: Somebody around Valentine’s Day. Like, just out of curiosity, in your mind, when is the best time to break up with somebody who’s been newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Or any other mental illness?
Lisa: That is an excellent question. Yeah, I don’t know. But the point is he got medicated for the first time and it was amazing. It was like magic. Within just a few weeks, his behavior completely changed. He was still really smart, really funny, really engaging. But now he was calm and sensible and like you could have a whole conversation without him freaking out, running down the street or trying to jump off the roof or just doing something crazy. You had this complete personality shift.
Gabe: I have so many questions and
Gabe: I’m trying to keep it in the context of our relationship, because that’s what the show is about. But it turned out OK.
Lisa: Yeah, but.
Gabe: I mean, I know that hindsight is always 20/20. I know we hurt each other’s feelings. I know we got a divorce. But we’re – you are my best friend in the whole wide world. So
Lisa: You’re mine too.
Gabe: So if all the way back in 2003, you would have dropped me off. Which is an amazing thing to do. And I want you to know, I as a mental health advocate, I am shocked at the number of people who see something and do nothing.
Lisa: Yeah, it’s horrifying.
Gabe: Yeah, that’s terrifying. But all you needed to do was drop me off in the psychiatric hospital. And you’re clean.
Lisa: And I agree with that. That is the end of your responsibility. If you’re out there, you’ve got this friend or this date, yeah. You do not, in fact, need to not break up with them. Your responsibility ends once you have handed them off to the professionals. So don’t feel like you have an obligation there.
Gabe: But here’s my question. It turned out so well for you.
Lisa: Did it?
Gabe: It turned out so incredibly well for both of us. We got a best friend for life. No, nobody
Gabe: Nobody else has a best friend for life. I guess other people have best friends for life. So, how come? You kind of remind me of one of these people that’s like I’m good when I do but they’re bad when they do. That’s what you’re reminding me of. Everything that you’re now advising, you’re like, don’t do it.
Lisa: Right. Don’t go down my path,
Gabe: Well, why?
Lisa: OK, so his personality, does this complete change. And it was way better. All right? All the reasons I was thinking I need to break up with this guy, were gone in just a couple of weeks. It was like magic. And I thought, well, hey, let’s ride this out and see where it goes. And a little bit about my own history. I had struggled with depression since I was a child. I had gotten medicated a few years earlier and antidepressants worked for me and they worked really fast and they made a huge difference. And so in my mind, the same thing was going to happen with bipolar disorder. He was going to get to the doctor. He was going to get medication. It was all going to turn out great. You know, how hard could it be? I mean, maybe a couple of months back and forth. But in general, everyone knows these things happen quickly.
Gabe: That’s an interesting thing. Everybody knows. That that buys into the myth of all you need to do is be med compliant. Right?
Gabe: And you believed that, like, even though?
Lisa: I did.
Gabe: Even though I always tell the story, that I knew nothing about mental illness and Lisa knew everything about mental illness. I believed all the myths that I saw on TV. But that Lisa was educated and smart and she was the bright light that lit the path to my recovery. And yet you believed this myth. You believed this, oh, all mentally ill people need to do is be med compliant and everything is good.
Lisa: It wasn’t quite that simple. I just thought that your journey would be the same as mine. We were very similar. You know, we’re both white middle class people from Ohio. You had access to excellent health care, as had I. When you hear about these stories of people who take years to recover, you feel like, OK, they didn’t have all the advantages we did. They didn’t have all the perks and the things going for them that we did. I thought your story was going to be like mine. I thought it was going to be straightforward.
Gabe: Do you think this is just part of the belief that like all mental health or all mental illness is exactly the same? Because that’s kind of how we talk about it, right? Well, I have mental illness and we mean everything from, you know, grief, anxiety all the way to like psychosis, schizophrenia. And, you know, in my case, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, you just, it’s all lumped in. Do you think that you just kind of believed this and were unaware that there was like a spectrum of disorder?
Lisa: Not necessarily, I just thought you were in a different place on the spectrum than you really were. It’s not that I didn’t think that bipolar disorder was serious or that I didn’t think that you had it. I was convinced immediately that it was definitely what you had. But I just felt like, not so much that it would be easy or even quick, but that it would be straightforward, that it would be obvious. One step would lead to the next, to the next, to the next. And you would know what path to travel.
Gabe: Ok, you’re avoiding the question of why did you stick around, though, what, because you thought it’d be simple?
Lisa: Because you got awesome.
Gabe: Because I got? So I agree that I am awesome.
Lisa: Why would I? I was saying to myself, OK, I need to leave this guy because he does the following things, but he has all these other positive qualities. And then one day you took a pill and suddenly you stopped doing the stuff I didn’t like, and you still had all the positive qualities. If anything, they were better. Why would you leave that guy?
Gabe: Ok, but spoiler alert. It was short lived. It took, from the time I got diagnosed to the time that I reached recovery was four years.
Lisa: Yeah, but you’re forgetting some steps. Your entire personally switched within just a few weeks, including the psychosis, which was completely gone, which was amazing and had always been the thing that disturbed me the most. And then you were completely stable for almost a year. And that was going to be one of the longest periods of stability you had in your adult life.
Gabe: That was a good year, and then it just all went away.
Lisa: Yeah, you were completely stable. Going to work every day, not having the panic attacks, not having the psychosis anymore. Being awesome, meeting my family. And at the end of that year, we moved in together and we got married. I don’t know if it was the stress of the marriage or just coincidence or just timing, but within a few weeks of us getting married, you completely fell apart. And you would not get that same stability back for years.
Gabe: No, no, hang on. What I am hearing is I was fine until I married you. And then after we got divorced, I was fine again.
Gabe: Maybe I don’t have bipolar? Maybe I have Lisa Polar?
Lisa: That has occurred to me and is a source of great upset for me. Yet again, we will add that to the ongoing list of topics we are going to get to, because that is something I struggle with a lot.
Gabe: I want to state unequivocally that’s not true. This is just how the illness works. This is how bipolar disorder works. This is the cyclical part of the illness.
Lisa: Thank you for saying that.
Gabe: It’s a mean, mean, mean illness. And it just so happened to work out that way. It’s just a coincidence. Everybody knows that. People who study bipolar disorder know that. But more importantly, I know that. And Lisa, I hope you know it as well. But again, you got a bestie. You got a BFF, and all you had to do is give up your youth.
Lisa: And once you lost all of your stability and just really got sick, that was the number one thing people said to me. You’re still young. It’s not too late. As if somehow when you get older, it is. You’re still young. You could leave this guy and find someone else.
Gabe: So all of the people around you are giving you the same advice or guidance that you’re giving our letter writer. And you rejected it. Now, here we are all the way back in 2020. And you said that all of these people told you to break up with me because you were young and you could go off and do better. And you said to all of those people, it’s none of your business. No, stop giving me advice. You’re all a bunch of assholes. And now again, here we are. And you are the assholes telling people to break up with people with mental illness. And that woman is you. You are giving somebody advice that you yourself didn’t take. Why is that?
Lisa: Many, many things. It was not an easy decision. I struggled with it all the time. For years. Years, wondering, should I get a divorce from this guy? Should I end this? Is this stupid? Is this a bad idea? And I couldn’t get through the idea that you were going to get better and it was going to happen fast. So for unknown reasons, I thought, no, no, no, any day now, he’s gonna get back to the way he was. And yes, it turned out great. We’re best friends now. It’s all good. We have these great lives, etc. But, do you know what the odds were on that? Astronomical. The odds were very much against that. The example I would like to give is your parents.
Gabe: Yeah, my parents always come up to this because
Gabe: My mother meets my father, who is a truck driver driving through her small town in Pennsylvania. She has a son, me. And they get married a month later.
Lisa: Literally a month
Gabe: Literally a month.
Lisa: From the day they met. A month later, they get married and she moves her small child to another state to be with this guy, she met four weeks ago.
Gabe: And they did live happily ever after. They are still married and I got my brother and my sister. Forty years.
Lisa: Yes, now they’ve been married almost 40 years. They have four children together, they’re very happy, beautiful home, blah, blah, blah. Right. But do you know what the odds were on that? If you met someone who said, oh, my God, I met this guy and I’m gonna go marry him right now, you’d be like, that is a terrible idea. Do not do that. That is not going to turn out well. Just because it worked one time.
Gabe: Yes, that is that is dumb. Nobody ever do that. Do not meet people and marry them after four weeks. But if you asked my mom if you should marry somebody after four weeks, she would say, and I quote, When you know, you know.
Lisa: That’s what she says?
Gabe: Because she’s a hopeless romantic. It’s bizarre. She loves the Hallmark Channel. Even my dad is like, well, I knew your mom was the one. And if you know that somebody is the one, there’s no sense in waiting. So you’ve bucked that trend. My parents should not give this advice. Listen to me. My parents, they’re crazy. You know how this show is called Not Crazy? My parents have a podcast called Crazy.
Lisa: I would listen to that podcast.
Gabe: So it’s. I’m not trying to nail you down. I just.
Lisa: You act like we just got here all of a sudden, there were a lot of ups and downs on the way and it was difficult. And yeah, now that we’re at the other end and we know how it turned out, maybe you can look back on it and say it was OK, but it could have gone another way. And frankly, we’re here now, so it really doesn’t matter. Why second guess this? But was it worth it? It was a lot. It was a lot for years. And it was very distressing and very upsetting and a constant worry in my mind of was this was the right decision? Should I be doing something else? Should I divorce this man? Constantly, for years. And that is a terrible way to live.
Gabe: But then why don’t you say that? One of the things that struck me is just how quickly you were like no, absolutely not. If you could press a button and make this woman break up, you would do it in a heartbeat because you are positive that that’s the right decision.
Gabe: But the world’s not so clean. You are also saying that if you could go back 40 years, you would hit the button on my parents’ marriage and then I’d have no sister. I wouldn’t have my dad, who is an incredible influence. You know, he adopted me and
Lisa: Right, right.
Gabe: Without my father, I don’t know what I would have become. I mean, seriously, he’s a big, big influence in my life.
Lisa: Well, and I’ve thought about that a lot. Without you, where would I have ended up?
Gabe: But you’re not giving that. You’re not saying, listen, if you want to go down this road, it is going to be extraordinarily difficult. The odds are not in your favor. You have a lot to think about. I did decide to do it and it hurt me in many ways. There is still trauma. Ultimately, it did turn out OK for me, but the odds of it turning out OK for you are astronomically low. And you have to decide if you have the internal fortitude to handle that. That’s not what you say. You say no, unequivocally no. It will not turn out OK. No. And I’m just so surprised by that because it turned out OK for you. So you were actually wrong. Your advice of it won’t turn out OK is wrong.
Lisa: Really? If a lottery winner said you’re not going to win, would you be like, well, that advice is wrong? No. Even though I won the lottery, yeah, you’re still not gonna win the lottery.
Gabe: But no, that’s not the same thing.
Lisa: Yes, it is.
Gabe: What you said is nobody wins the lottery. That’s unequivocally false. People win the lottery all the time.
Lisa: So few people win the lottery that it’s not worth trying to think that you’re going to win the lottery.
Gabe: That’s not what you said.
Lisa: The thing that you just said, that’s really good and perhaps is better advice than the things that I’ve been saying. You sum that up very nicely. It was actually quite perfect. Excellent advice. Listen to that thing that Gabe just said. Yeah. Do that. But the thing that I said was my first initial response was, yeah, don’t do it. It’s not going to be worth it. It’s going to turn out poorly. And let’s say it doesn’t turn out poorly, there is a lot there. There is going to be years of upset and unhappiness. And is that worth it?
Gabe: Was it?
Lisa: For you? Yes.
Gabe: I ask you. Lisa, was it?
Lisa: This is probably not the greatest thing to say to you, but I don’t know. I care about you very much. Things are very good for us now. And I do think about where would I be without you? You have definitely been an amazing influence on my life and a huge influence, mostly positive. But there were other men out there. Would I be saying the same thing to somebody else but without all the ups and downs, without all the pain that went with it? And it was a lot of pain. Was that worth it? Could I have acquired this in some other way? I hesitate to say that because I can even see on your face that it hurts your feelings. But, yeah, I, I don’t know. If I had known in advance how it would turn out, would I have done it? I’m not sure., I’m not convinced that it was worth it. I’m not.
Gabe: I don’t want to steal your quote thing because you just came up with the idea. But there’s this quote, it said that you are the sum of all your parts and if you’re happy where you ended up, then it was worth it. I have never liked that quote. I put that in the whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger pile. It’s one of those things that sounds really good, except that when you dig below the surface a little, what it’s saying is that whatever life you’re leading is the best life that you could have led.
Gabe: And I don’t that that’s true. It’s certainly possible that this is the best life that you, Lisa, could lead
Lisa: Yes. And it is a good life. I’m not saying it’s not. That doesn’t mean it’s the best. Maybe I could have done better?
Gabe: It makes it sound like that because you’ve made lemonade out of lemons that your life is good. Maybe your life is full of pain and trauma? And you have a good life, Lisa. And I was part of that. But I do wonder if you’d be like a millionaire, PhD physicist who solved world hunger and cancer? If you hadn’t spent five years taking care of me?
Lisa: Exactly. Aren’t you kind of proving my point there?
Gabe: No, I’m not disagreeing with your point. This weighs heavily on me as well. And I wonder sometimes if this whole thing would have turned out horrifically. We got a silver lining.
Gabe: We did. First off, we went through a divorce, which was extraordinarily painful. We hurt each other a lot, which was extraordinarily painful. And it was touch and go for a couple of years before we really worked it out and found our footing and really cemented our relationships as best friends. So if we were recording this episode six months after we got divorced, there’d be a lot more vitriol and anger.
Gabe: So, you know, we landed at a good place. But here’s what I want to say, Lisa. And I’d be curious as to your response to this. Let’s say that we didn’t end up in a good place, that you really regretted our marriage. Now I’m the guy with bipolar disorder. And let’s say that I am still well, that I wasted five years of your life. We are not friends. I am still well. How guilty would I feel?
Gabe: I know how guilty I’d feel because that’s how I feel about my first wife. You know, the one that I’m not doing a podcast with. Yeah, I don’t. I don’t know what to say to that. I don’t.
Lisa: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Lisa: We’re back talking about dating and bipolar disorder.
Gabe: It pains me so much to say, hey, listen, maybe dating somebody with bipolar disorder isn’t the best move. But then I realized that we actually have like qualifiers here that we’re not using. Lisa, what would you say if her letter said this, Dear Not Crazy people, I’ve been dating this man for six months and he is wonderful in every way. I love him so much and we do great things together. He just told me a couple of days ago that he does live with bipolar disorder and he takes medication for it and he sees a psychiatrist. I had no idea for the past six months, but now I’m really worried about it because the things that I’ve seen about bipolar disorder online are frankly quite scary. I’m not sure what to do. Now, what’s your advice?
Lisa: I think that’s an entirely different situation. One of the reasons I’m saying to this particular writer that she should leave is because she hits a few things here. Oh, he started taking medication again. I asked him to go to therapy. He hasn’t gotten around to it. And there’s one specific sentence where she says if he isn’t going to see a therapist take medication and generally follow any type of treatment plan. I don’t know what to do. And the answer to that is there is nothing you can do. Not all people with bipolar disorder and not all relationships with people with mental illness or with bipolar disorder are the same. If he had bipolar disorder and was in a good place and had been managing it long term, that’s a lot different than what you’re describing. So if you’re about to embark on a relationship or you’re in a relationship, here are some questions to ask. How are they handling their mental illness? How far down the road of recovery are they? And what are they doing right now to get further down that road? And a lot of people, when I say stuff like this, start immediately going about, oh, my God, you have so much stigma against mental illness. Why would you stigmatize someone for being sick? Yeah. This is not stigma. This is taking care of yourself. Depending on where you are, you are not necessarily fit for a relationship. You are not fit to be with someone else. And without treatment, you might never be.
Gabe: This goes back to what I was saying a minute ago about how if we wouldn’t have landed on our feet, I’d feel terrible that I wasted so much of your time. Like, I feel that you got a benefit in the end. I do feel bad about all the things that I did to you. I feel horrible about them. But the reality was I was not in a place to have a good relationship. And in fact, I married a caregiver. And once I didn’t need a caregiver anymore, our relationship collapsed almost immediately because we just fell into these roles that frankly were codependent and unhealthy. I was the sick one. You were the well one. You watched out for me. I let you watch out for me. And when I stood on my own two feet. We didn’t know what to do. And course, we also found out a lot of other things, like we didn’t have the same life goals. We didn’t spend money the same way. So I hate to say this. I know maybe taking relationship advice from a guy who’s been married three times is is not good. But I have some good advice in my trial and error. I’m happily married to the third and I’m best friends with my second wife, which I feel is good. First wife still hates me, but I was ready to date when I met Kendall.
Lisa: Yes. And I felt that very much so. Yes.
Gabe: I knew what I wanted. I stood on my own two feet. I had a job. I lived alone. Nobody would have known that I was sick and I was in a good place to be in a relationship. I question, I’m thinking about this from her boyfriend’s perspective. What is he getting out of the relationship if he’s so sick? Is he also trying to marry a caregiver? Is he also trying to date somebody to take care of him? Like, is this the most healthy relationship? Is this the relationship that’s going to go the distance? One person is sick and needs help and the other person is not sure that she wants to provide the help. Like, I just think relationships work better when they’re on equal footing.
Gabe: And my third marriage, we were on equal footing.
Lisa: Yes, and I would say for this man, who we don’t know anything about, you’re assuming that he acknowledges that he’s sick and needs a caregiver. It doesn’t sound like he’s even acknowledging that. And the bottom line is if he’s not willing to take responsibility for this, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t do all the work, only he can do the work. He has to want to get better. You can’t want it for him, and you can’t want it more than he does. And it feels like you can. It feels like if you could just hover over him, or push him hard enough, or say the right thing, or convince him somehow, that you would be able to make him see the light and get the care that he needs. And trust me, you can’t. It’s one of the cruel twists of mental illness. If you’re not willing to do the work, nobody else can do it for you. And the first thing people say is, oh, but the very act of having mental illness is what makes me not able to do it. Yeah, life isn’t fair. OK? You’re just gonna have to suck it up and do it. And if you don’t, you are not going to get better. And it is extremely sad that some people aren’t able to. And you’ll never know if this guy doesn’t try. And it sounds like at this point he’s not trying. And I also want to caution that if you do get into a relationship with this person, there is that real risk that you turn into a caregiver. And that drama can be super addicting. It feels good to be in that position.
Gabe: It feels powerful, right?
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. It feels good and it feels charitable. And you feel like a good person. You’re helping. You’re taking care. You are showing love in this very concrete way that cannot be denied. And of course, we all know the Florence Nightingale effect. And it can just be really hard to give that up. It’s exciting. And in some ways, it’s satisfying. And again, that level of drama where every single day is life and death. Every single day is at this super high level, because the truth is that most relationships on a day to day basis are boring. You know, my husband, what do we do? We eat dinner, we watch TV, we go to bed, we get up, we go to work. It’s not that interesting. Not very much happens. There’s not a lot of emotion and high arguments and anger and and all that passion. Yeah, that’s not there in a normal relationship, in a positive, good relationship. But you’re with that guy who’s mentally ill and it’s nothing but drama. It’s this unending roller coaster, that’s exciting.
Gabe: But it’s a roller coaster that has nobody else on it. Like, that’s one of the things that I noticed. You know, my family stopped coming around because they couldn’t figure out what was going on. Your family didn’t want anything to do with it. We became isolated from friends and the neighbors didn’t want to talk to us. And it was, it was just a real mess. So I think maybe that’s one of those feelings versus facts. It felt very dramatic, but factually, we were just nightmares.
Lisa: Yes, it felt very dramatic and important. It felt like we were doing something very valuable. But yeah, yeah, we weren’t. We were just a mess. We were just wasting our lives. Well, okay, I shouldn’t say it that way. You were getting better. And that’s what it took and that’s how long it took. But, yeah, that’s a lot of time you can’t get back. And specifically, that’s a lot of time that I can’t get back.
Gabe: There are some things that we should touch on in our story that I think are very beneficial. I did get better. I was going to therapy, you know, week after week. I was taking all of my medicines as prescribed. I never stopped taking medication. These were all signs that the sun will come out tomorrow. You know, the fact that I was getting good care and going to support groups and just fighting really, really hard.
Lisa: And I feel that is something we should really emphasize here. We were not in the same position as this letter writer seems to be. I never doubted that you were trying. There were times when I thought you could try harder. Although looking back on it, a lot of that was unreasonable. There were many very dramatic times where I was angry with you or upset in some other way. But I never thought that you weren’t trying. And you were. Looking back on it especially, and especially when I compare to some of the other people we’ve met, you tried so hard. There was nothing you didn’t do. If somebody said, hey, you should try this treatment, you did it twice. If there was a support group, you went, there was nothing you didn’t do. You were trying your very, very best and you just couldn’t do it. And that was part of the reason why I felt like I couldn’t leave. It was like watching a little kid who’s just trying and trying and trying, and he can’t succeed. And your heart just breaks.
Gabe: Speaking as the boyfriend or husband in that scenario, that’s not what I want to hear from my wife.
Lisa: Yeah, there’s that.
Gabe: I don’t want to find out that the reason that I’m married is because I’m too pitiful to be broken up with. I look at my marriage now, and if we called up Kendall live on the show and said, why did you marry Gabe? She would say, because I love him. OK. She’s got the party line. All right, just everybody says that. OK. But why? And she’d say, look, Gabe is reliable. I can count on him. I know that if I get in trouble and I call him, he will come and help me. If my tire breaks in the middle of the night, he will come and change it. When he says he was going to do something, he does it. He makes dinner every day. We go on vacations, we have fun. We watch the shows, we joke. Life is boring. But I can count on him and he makes me laugh. I don’t know if all of those are the reasons that she loves me. But it’s not, well, you know, he has bipolar, and if I left him, there’d be like some stigma there. And I don’t want to be that lady who leaves a person who’s ill. And frankly, if that was the reason that she gave, like, I just, I’d feel like garbage.
Lisa: It’s not quite that simple. And I do have to say that to the letter writer as well, you’re not doing this guy any favors if you’re going to be the one who saves him every time when he’s not putting in the work himself. You’re not helping. That’s just enabling. Just throwing that out there. But when you said I don’t want a relationship that’s based just off of caretaking. A lot of people don’t understand that, and for example, I would go to support groups for people who, you know, support groups for people with loved ones with mental illness, which was always strange because I had my own mental illness. But whatever, that’s where I was. And although some of them were extremely helpful, some of them really weren’t, because they act like all loved ones are the same. All relationships are the same. The spousal relationship is chosen and it can be severed. This is not like your brother or your child or your parent having mental illness, and, hey, they’re yours. I didn’t get married so I would have someone to care for. You get married to have a partner, to have an equal. And next thing you know, you have a child and that’s just never gonna work out. It’s not fair to either one of you. And it’s a really horrible way to live.
Gabe: Lisa, I obviously don’t know all of the things that you did over the five years that we were married. But I know that it gave me the best opportunity to be well. Obviously, you did a lot of things right. But obviously, at expense to you. And I only say that because it’s always expense. If my parents needed caregiving right now, I would do it because I love my parents. But it would be at an expense to me. It would be my free time or my money or, you know, frankly, I just don’t look forward to the day that I have to, like, give my dad a sponge bath. I’d rather do a lot of other things, but I’d still do it. But yeah, there’d be a cost.
Lisa: But you would also get some payout of that, you would get the love, the knowledge that you’re doing the right thing. So I’m not saying that I didn’t get any good things or that I didn’t get the pay out of the relationship or that there was no positives, but it was a really difficult road for a long time. And the way other people reacted is also kind of interesting, and I wanted to touch on it. For any other long term illness, you will be criticized if you leave. If you leave somebody with cancer, oh, my God, what a bitch. I can’t believe she would do that. How evil. But when it comes to mental illness, you will be criticized if you stay. Everyone just looks at you as what’s wrong with her? She must be just as crazy as he is. Why does she stay with him? There is not a lot of social pay in it. Everyone thinks you should leave and that makes it difficult to get help and support. Because when I said to someone, or when I said to my family, oh, my God, this is what we’re going through, Gabe’s bipolar the following problems, medication, whatever. The only advice anyone ever had was, well, leave him. You should just leave him.
Gabe: It’s interesting that you bring that up. Because one of the things that I learned by being a patient advocate. Now I’m obviously a mental health advocate and I spend the majority of my time in mental health advocacy, you know, mental illness. But I’m also a broader patient advocate trying to reform just the general system, because it doesn’t matter if you have cancer or lupus or HIV or a mental illness. A lot of us feel that the medical community and the pharmaceutical industries are not listening to the patient voice. So I do spend some time there and I only bring that up to point out, one of the things that I was so shocked to hear is how much shit people got for dating with a serious physical illness.
Lisa: But you’re looking at that backwards. They were the ones with the illness. The person who was dating them, the well one who’s with the sick person. They get nothing but compliments.
Gabe: I love it when you’re wrong. I just. I knew you were going to walk right into that. Thank you so much. We actually spend quite a lot of time on this in all of our little patient centric silos. Because, well, everybody wants to be in love. And it’s interesting because when I talk to them, they’re like, no, the minute I said my girlfriend had Crohn’s disease or the minute I said that my girlfriend had colitis or the minute I said that my girlfriend had lupus, people are like, dude, you wanna hitch your buggy to that? Is she the only fish in the sea?
Lisa: Yes. But listen to what you said, you said girlfriend. You didn’t say wife. If someone said to you my wife has cancer, I’m going to leave her. You’d be like, oh, my God, you’re a terrible person, a terrible, terrible person. Now, if someone said, my girlfriend, that’s a little different.
Gabe: This has now devolved into a semantics argument, and I understand your point. Yes, if you have been married and the person was well when you got married
Gabe: And then five years later they get sick. You’re right. If they get a physical illness, everybody encourages you to stay. If they get a mental illness, they’re like, hey, cut bait and run. What I’m talking about is if you are a healthy single person and you start dating a chronically sick person, it doesn’t matter if that person has cancer, bipolar, lupus, whatever, the whole world is like, dude, don’t marry that person. Male or female. And that’s why I bring up the wider patient movement. People with mental illness often believe that we’re the only ones that are having trouble finding love or we’re the only ones that are getting shit from our doctors or we’re the only ones that feel overmedicated or fill in the blank with anything. And in the broader patient movement, we’ve learned that, no, people with physical illnesses, they feel this same way. Obviously with slight little differences. But yeah, they’re not getting as much love and support as maybe we’ve been led to believe. Although I will concede they are, in fact getting more love and supports than we are, but not even nearly enough.
Lisa: Well, I can agree with that.
Gabe: Lisa, as we wind up the show, I want to ask you for some positive advice, because you are in a position where you did see a good outcome. So, you know, take off your negative hat, put on your rose-colored glasses. What advice do you have for this woman if she wanted to try and move forward with this gentleman so that they could both have the good life that we want both of them to have?
Lisa: That is a really hard question. I would say that just like any other relationship, you know what your boundaries are. And you know what you need out of a relationship. What you want out of a relationship. And what you need him to do to take care of himself. And if he is willing to do that, if he is willing to be a partner with you in making this happen, and not just have you take care of him, then, yeah, if you’re seeing more positives than you are negatives out of this relationship, move forward. Move forward with optimism, but with caution. Optimistically but slowly.
Gabe: Lisa, I really like that advice and I know how hard it is sometimes for you to be optimistic. As somebody who is chronically late, moving slowly is not your problem. But being an optimist is definitely not in your wheelhouse. Do you think a lot of people end up like us? I mean, sincerely?
Lisa: No, I do not.
Gabe: Lisa, I don’t think that our relationship is unusual. And in fact, I only ever think that it’s unusual or weird or odd when people tell me that it’s weird or unusual or odd or when they pull my wife aside and say, hey, we didn’t want to tell you this, but we saw Gabe with his ex-wife today in the store. I’m so sorry. So I guess I know the answer to this question. But from your perspective, do you think that more people could end up where we are being both exes and friends? And take out children, we don’t have children. Do you think people are often just. Why do you think that people would rather, I don’t want to say be enemies, but just be indifferent? I guess it just depends on why the marriage ends.
Lisa: Well, one, yeah, I’m sure that’s a big part of it, but I would say because there is this cultural expectation that you will be enemies. And just like you, I’ve never felt like this was weird or odd. It never seemed strange to me. But I can recognize that apparently the whole rest of the world does not agree. People tell us that it is strange or weird or unusual all the time. And so I can see that. I can see that it is in fact unusual, and it doesn’t happen very often, but it’s always felt right to me.
Gabe: I strongly believe that the reason that we are friends is because you saved my life and that made me try a little harder. It was such a big positive and momentous thing in my life that to cast the person aside who did it, even though all of these other negative things occurred with you standing nearby. It’s just we went through a lot of negatives and we went through a lot of positives and.
Lisa: There were other things that happened, it wasn’t just your mental illness. Like any other relationship, we had positive and negative things, things to overcome.
Gabe: I feel very strongly that the reason that we are still friends is because you saved my life and frankly, I owe you a life debt. You’re like my Jar Jar Binks, both in the terms that you are annoying and.
Lisa: Can I be your Chewbacca instead?
Gabe: Right. I mean, sure,
Lisa: Thank you.
Gabe: That makes me Han Solo.
Gabe: I like that. But why are you friends with me?
Lisa: Because you’re awesome.
Gabe: I feel bad now that I say that I’m only friends with you because you saved my life. And you’re like, well, I’m your friend because you’re awesome.
Lisa: Yeah, good point.
Gabe: I mean, I guess.
Lisa: I guess I am better than you.
Gabe: I guess you are awesome, but I’m awesomer.
Lisa: And I don’t know how to say this without it sounding stupid, but you are my best friend and I do really value the relationship that we have and you have incredible positives and you make a huge difference in my life right now, just day to day. So we went through a lot and here we are. You’re an amazing friend, you are absolutely invaluable to me.
Lisa: It’s true.
Gabe: Well, I think you’re fantastic too. Well, Lisa, I’m kind of jealous that you got to start the episode with a quote, so I’m going to end the episode with a quote, which is all’s well that ends well, which, you know, for me is another one of those double edged sword kind of quotes. On one hand, it’s like, hey, you got here. It all turned out OK. Don’t dwell on the past. On the other hand, maybe you did something that, like you should, like, regret and you should really reflect back on that. And even though it turned out OK, don’t do it again.
Gabe: I’d like to believe that I have learned my lesson. Lisa, thanks for hanging out with me. It’s always a pleasure.
Gabe: All right, listen up, everybody. Here’s what we need you to do. If you love this show, please subscribe. Please rank us. Review us. Use your words. Share us on social media. Use e-mail if you are still social distancing, which you should be. Talk a little louder when you say it to your friend. Because after all, they are six feet apart. And don’t worry, everybody, we will be back.
Lisa: We’ll see you next Tuesday.
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