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9 Questions about Living with Depression

9 Questions about Depression

A few months back, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire about living with depression. It took me a while to get to it and by the time I did, I was too late to submit it. I figured since I took the time to fill it out, I might as well publish it as a blog. So, without further ado, a depression questionnaire blog!

1)  How long have you had depression?

Looking back, I have had depression my entire life; I just didn’t know it. I thought I was lazy, physically sick, or just really tired. I pretty much thought it was anything but depression. I didn’t understand what “medical depression” was, so it didn’t make sense to me. I understood sadness, but what I was experiencing was deeper than sadness.

Once I learned what depression was, it became obvious that was what was going on. It wouldn’t be until my mid-20s that I would really learn about mental illness – including depression.

2)  Does depression or other mental illness run in your family?

Not really. I’m special that way. :)

While it is fortunate that other members of my family do not suffer from depression, it did lead to my suffering not being noticed. My family didn’t get me the help I desperately needed because they were unaware I needed help.

3)  What are your symptoms?

I have bipolar and anxiety, so my symptoms range from feeling worthless, suicidal, and hopeless all the way to feeling god-like, invincible, and indestructible. It is a whiplash effect. The depression feels physically heavy and exhausting. All my limbs weigh 50,000 pounds. Accomplishing anything is impossible. I wrestle my own mind and my body feels like heavy spaghetti.

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Why are Mental Illness Advocates Fighting Each Other?

Mental illness advocates are used to debating. This is not surprising as all advocacy involves a lot of debate. We live in a society that has yet to agree on whether the toilet paper goes over or under, so it isn’t surprising that something as complex as being a mental illness advocate often brings out the claws.

We only have to look to Facebook to see the anger that some folks show toward political candidates they disagree with. Democrats and Republicans will be in conflict from now until the end of time. And, without muddying the waters with political debate, that makes sense. Those two parties are on different sides, with sometimes wildly different views.

But what about the massive disagreements of people who are, in theory, on the same side, who should have similar views?

Mental Illness Advocacy is Personal

Mental illness advocates deal with serious issues. They are life-threatening. But more than anything, they are personal. The outcomes fill a spectrum from inspirational to devastating. I work in an industry where the typical advocate is either a person living with mental illness or a person who has had a loved one, most often a close family member, suffer from or die from this illness.

Mental Illness AdvocatesMost of us have, on some level, watched someone we love suffer. The most affected of us will carry the emotional scars of someone we love having died. The loss is only compounded by the idea that, had we done something differently, this tragedy would not have occurred.

But most of us have no idea what it’s like to be that person living with the illness, experiencing the discrimination, managing the disease, being terrified of what is next, and suffering at great lengths due to not being healthy and, worrying about how we are negatively affecting our loved ones.

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Reflections from a Bipolar on His Birthday

If you are reading this blog to figure out if a person with bipolar disorder celebrates a birthday differently from the rest of the population, you can stop reading after this paragraph. I assure you the customs of my people are driven by culture, upbringing, and cake – just like everyone else’s. What is different is what memories we dwell upon from our past. I cannot speak for every single person with bipolar disorder, but I spend a lot of time reflecting on the years I lost while fighting this cruel disorder.

Reflections from a Bipolar on His Birthday

#awesomepotatoes

Today, I am 38 years old. I don’t feel middle aged. I either feel excitable and curious, like a teenager, or mentally tired and worn out, like an old man on a rocking chair contemplating the state of the world. Some of you may say that is an analogy for bipolar disorder, but you would be wrong. It is an analogy for Gabe. I am not only an illness, although there isn’t much else that has so incredibly defined the past 38 years.

I Was Born With Bipolar Disorder

I was born with bipolar disorder. The second I entered the world, I was already flawed. Somewhere inside my biology was a genetic mistake – a predisposition toward developing bipolar disorder, which made me different from the majority of other babies born on that day. Not all mistakes define a person, however. I make mistakes while driving all the time and it hasn’t led to a single defining moment.

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What People Living with Mental Illness are Afraid of

At least once a week, I stand up in front of a group of people, most often strangers, and say, “My name is Gabe Howard and I have a mental illness.” Sometimes I mix it up, to prevent my own boredom, and say I have bipolar and anxiety disorders, but the single message is always the same: I publicly confess to having mental illness, which is a disorder most people not only don’t understand, but actively fear.

Society talks a lot about being afraid of people with mental illness. However, people living with mental illness are afraid as well. What are they afraid of?I have been called brave and people shake my hand, give me hugs, pats on the back, and tell me that I have given them valuable insight, hope, and understanding. It is a wonderful feeling, and one of my primary motivators, but even with all of that, it doesn’t come close to erasing my fear about living with mental illness.

Perhaps the single most ironic part of my life is that in order to fight my fear of being mentally ill, I have to be brave. As a person living with mental illness, I am afraid. I fear for myself because the reality of relapse, pain, suffering, and even death is very real. (I have made the comparison that Mental Illness is an Asshole)

Fear of how Society Reacts to Mental Illness

When you consider the very public debate of involuntary treatment, the undermining of privacy rights, and the elimination of due process, it is easy to see why I am afraid. The outcomes of these debates have very real, and potentially negative, consequences on my life.

Society openly talking about what is best for me, as if I have nothing to offer the conversation, is frightening. There are countless stories of people just like me being denied jobs, services, freedoms, and opportunities because of an illness we didn’t ask for and absolutely don’t want.

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I have Bipolar and Anxiety Disorder and I’m a Hypocrite

Being a mental illness advocate, blogger, and speaker is a fascinating career. For the most part, I enjoy it and I am quite good at it. I like challenging people’s perceptions of what it means to live with bipolar and anxiety disorders, I like providing education and insight, and I like the change I see in people when they have a better understanding.

I believe that openly discussing mental illness, including my own lived experience with bipolar and anxiety,  has a great benefit to society. More often than not, the public sees people with mental illness at their worst. The media leads with examples of the mentally ill acting bizarre, being arrested, being violent. In short, they show us in crisis. The common stereotype  portrays I have Bipolar and Anxiety Disorder and I'm a Hypocriteus while we are at our sickest points, when everything that could go wrong has.

My message is, and presumably always will be, a message of realistic optimism. I don’t deny that the worst case scenarios occur. I embrace them. I own them. I talk about my own worst case scenarios and all of the many times I failed to be the person I wanted to be.

And then I leave people with the impression that I will never go back. And it gets worse. In my writing, speeches, interviews, and so forth, I leave the impression that I beat this terrible illness and I am home free, free of symptoms, setbacks, and mistakes. One time, I came right out and said, “I don’t think about bipolar and anxiety every day. I just lead a perfectly normal life.” This is, almost entirely, an outright lie.

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Is it Offensive to Call a Person w/ Mental Illness a Whack Job?

Recently, while talking to a friend, I called myself a whack job. It isn’t uncommon for me to use a variety of colorful phrases and words to describe my mental illness, situations, or others. But, on this occasion, my friend stopped me and said, “Wait, isn’t that term offensive?”

Is Calling Someone with Mental Illness a Whack Job Offensive?Language, much like people, is a tricky thing. There is no clear indicator in a single word between being offensive and not. Words stand alone. They have meanings, naturally, but they don’t have malice in and of themselves. Words are… well, innocent. There are no bad words or good words; there are just words. Neutral and meaningless…

…until you add context. Context is a sneaky thing.

Context is the difference between being cutely told to shut up because you embarrassed your love interest in public by exclaiming to all around that you loved them and being told to shut up because you’re hated and disrespected.

Words are the same; context is difference. Sneaky context, blaming the words for being offensive.

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I Have Mental Illness and a Dad

I thought I would dedicate an entry to my dad

On the surface, my dad, Gary Howard, is an uninteresting man. Before retiring, he was a semi-truck driver and now spends his days doing what can best be described as pissing off my mother. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee, and enjoys playing on his computer and amassing DVDs like squirrels amass nuts.

I Have Mental Illness and a DadWhen I was younger, my dad had the coolest job. I would brag to those around me that my dad could drive — and I would motion toward a giant semi-truck barreling down the freeway — one of those. Once, when I was in high school, I met him at a truck stop and watched him arrive in his 12-ton truck, felt the ground shake and the rumble of the diesel engine through my body, and watched his extremely average-sized body jump out of the cab onto the concrete. Maybe it was the diesel fumes I was breathing in, but I believe I caught a glimpse of what my mother must have seen in him all those years ago.

My dad didn’t teach me much on purpose. He certainly tried, but failed almost every time. He tried to teach me to play baseball, but hit me in the face with the ball; tried to teach me to ride a bike without training wheels, and I ran into the back of a parked car. Once, after realizing my teenage obsession with Cindy Crawford, he sat me down and explained that “most women don’t look like that.” I am certain this set off my desire to prove him wrong by dating only supermodels. :)

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Guest Blog: The Positive Elements of Bipolar Disorder

Please welcome guest blogger, Laurel Roth Patton, to GabeHoward.com:

The Positive Elements of Bipolar Disorder (Yes, There are Positive Elements)

Guest blogger, Laurel Roth Patton, discusses her experience with bipolar. Read how she goes from "Life of the Party to When-is-She-Going-to-Go-Home Girl."

I had my third episode of “bipolar florid mania” a year ago. Many people I know with Type I bipolar disorder have rapid onset. My own onset, however, is so slow, spanning as much as six months, that the changes from “normal” to hypomanic to manic are almost imperceptible. My signs of bipolar hypomania invariably present as completely positive. I’m finally happy! I am finally able to put my ideas into motion and follow through! My self-esteem goes up to a healthy level. When I am stable, my self-esteem tends to be low. I view myself through a distorted lens. It is actually when I am hypomanic that the lens snaps into focus. I become free of anxieties, confident, and feel that this is my true self. When stable, I often feel bad about myself, despite objective reasons that my self-esteem should be high: I am a kind, loving person with strong creative abilities, two master’s degrees, and a wonderful daughter and husband. I’m considered attractive, and have many friends and relatives who love me. I’ve had several interesting careers, because I want to experience as many things as possible, and I have wide-ranging interests. Many of the things I’ve crossed off my bucket list are considered pretty amazing. So why can’t I hold onto that positive self-esteem, productivity, and relief from the voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough?

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I am Pissed Off About Having Mental Illness: Are You?

People living with mental illness share many common traits. In the advocacy world, we share many of them openly. We discuss the symptoms of the illness, the uncertainty, the fear, and we share ways that people with mental illness can receive better treatment, better services, more understanding, and have better outcomes.

We have another common trait that is seldom shared. We all experience it, on some level, and most of us share it only with our trusted friends and family. When we sit alone with other mentally ill people, we swap stories. That is when the true, unaltered, unpolished feelings come out. And what comes out is anger. I am Pissed Off About Having Mental Illness: Are You?

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Pay Attention to the Man with Mental Illness!

There are many ways to start a blog titled Pay Attention to the Man with Mental Illness! The title is rather self-explanatory, but also brings up other questions. How long should you pay attention? What subject should you pay attention to? Let’s clear this up, shall we?

Pay Attention to ME, not my Mental Illness

Welcome to the Gabe Show. I want all the attention, all the time. Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration but it is closer to the truth than me being a wallflower and certainly closer to the truth than me being a typical extrovert. The energy of people has always propelled me forward or pushed me backward. I love people. I am addicted to them. And, I want to be their leader.

Okay, leader is the wrong term. I don’t want to be responsible for them or tell them what to do or set boundaries or enforce rules. Mostly because I don’t want to enforce those rules on myself. Picture a free spirit and add a healthy dose of crazy.

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Gabe Howard Interview on La Literati

Hey everybody! Have you heard my latest podcast interview with La Literati? If you haven’t already, check it out.

In it we discuss my story of how I became a motivational speaker for learning how to live with mental health issues. I explain my personal background in how I discovered I have bipolar disorder and how I’ve overcome obstacles that I have faced because of it in my life – and I continue to do so. It’s an ongoing battle that can be managed and you do not have to let get you down.

Gabe Howard is a speaker, award-winning advocate, mental illness blogger and writer, as well a person living with severe bipolar and anxiety disorders. In the past ten years, he has made it his mission to put a face on mental illness that isn’t stereotypical. Society often sees people living with mental illness at their worst and he works to add a more balanced view to the conversation. Gabe is frequently irreverent, often too loud, and always unpredictable, but anyone who knows him will tell you that life would be so boring without him.We uncover some of the stereotypes and misunderstandings that people with mental health face from others who have never experienced it. We take calls from a few other people suffering with mental health issues and the common thread throughout the interview is that we’re not alone. We’re all in this together. There are others just like you going through the same struggles.

My goal is to help humanize and educate others who are living with mental health problems (1 in 5 Americans suffer from it). Got a question about the topic? Want to leave a comment? Please feel free using the below form. I’d love to hear what you have to say!

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I have Bipolar & Anxiety Disorders and I #LiveBold on HealthCentral

I am excited to announce that I am the second place winner of HealthCentral’s Live Bold, Live Now Photo Contest. The Live Bold contest is designed to show a person living well in spite of a health challenge. I have bipolar and anxiety disorders and I live bold every day. I have Mental Illness and I #LiveBold on HealthCentral

During the contest, over 1,150 individuals cast almost 2,100 total votes for me alone. The outpouring of support was amazing. As I sit here, I am still in shock, knowing the cumulative effort of so many people made this possible.

Winning this contest means an incredible amount, not just to me, but to anyone living with mental illness. The people who were voting sent me message after message cheering me on for my bravery, my openness, and they used my story to openly discuss mental illness with their friends and family. The amount of value this has is immeasurable.

Living with Bipolar and Anxiety is Uncertain

Living with bipolar and anxiety is uncertain, but I am absolutely certain about this: While it may be my name on the ballot, this is not entirely my victory. This victory belongs to every single person who wakes up every day and works to lead a good life in spite of their mental illness. This is a victory for every person who works to eliminate the fear, discrimination, and misinformation about mental illness. This is our victory, because we all stood together and weren’t quiet. We shared our stories, believed in ourselves, and supported each other. In the end, we all won, together.

We didn’t just click a gray box that said VOTE. We opened ourselves up to the idea that people with mental illness can, and do, #livebold. Thank you to everyone who voted and shared this story with the people in their lives. Working together, we accomplished something amazing.

I cannot thank you enough.

~Gabe Howard

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Hello world!

Welcome to the new GabeHoward.com. I am currenty working the kinks out and setting everything up.  There will be more to come very shortly. Stay tuned!

In the meantime – connect with me on FaceBook or E-mail me, gabe@gabehoward.com

A special thanks to Elijah Heiss for making this possible. :)

Thank you,
Gabe Howard

 

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