You’ve been diagnosed with mental illness — what does this mean for your family planning? Is it anyone else’s business but your own? What are the unique challenges faced by parents with mental illness? In today’s show, Gabe and Lisa discuss their reasons for not having kids, while also interviewing Amy, a bipolar mom of two boys. Click on the player below to listen now!
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Guest information for ‘Mentally Ill- Have Children’ Podcast Episode
Amy Barnabi is from northeast Ohio. She received her BA in Elementary Education from the University of Akron, where she attended on a Division 1 basketball scholarship, and has a BS from Full Sail University in Educational Media Design and Technology. She has been a teacher for over 18 years. In 2011 she was the Claymont District Teacher of the Year. Amy is also a published author (Randy Howe’s, “One Size Does Not Fit All.”). You can follow Amy’s journey on her Facebook page: My So-Called Manic Life. She is married to her husband, Mike, and they have two sons, Ryan and Nate.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Mentally Ill- Have Children” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to 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: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Not Crazy. My name is Gabe Howard, and I am here with my co-host, Lisa.
Lisa: Hi, I am Lisa.
Gabe: You say that every week
Lisa: I know, I know, I need to do something better. Yeah, I’m working on it.
Gabe: There’s just like seven days in between every show.
Lisa: You’d think I’d have time.
Gabe: We’re in the middle of a quarantine, so I know you aren’t going to concerts or out dancing. What is more important than coming up with a better, Hi, this is Lisa?
Lisa: I will take suggestions in the comments section. Like, share, and subscribe and let me know what I should be saying.
Gabe: I swear, if next week you say hello, cool cats and kittens, I’m
Lisa: Oh, I should start doing that.
Gabe: No. That’s not yours. Somebody else has that.
Lisa: Oh, that’s a good one, though.
Gabe: Speaking of the quarantine, you know, Lisa, when we were married, we talked about having kids and ultimately we decided not to have children for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that we ultimately got divorced. Clearly, we couldn’t stand each other so
Lisa: We ran out of time.
Gabe: Well. Yeah, but I’m seeing all of these people with the quarantine talk about being trapped at home with children.
Gabe: And you see a lot of families on social media anyway.
Lisa: Yeah, right.
Gabe: But this is probably the most negative that I’ve seen these families. Usually it’s perfect photos, perfect moments, perfect memories. And parents are starting to crack. And they’re just like, I want my kids to go to grandma and grandpa’s. I hate them so much right now. And then they put, like, winky face. I think the winky face is supposed to let us non people know. It got me thinking about should people with mental illness have kids and my decision to have kids because
Gabe: I made the decision not to have children. I had a vasectomy. It’s over for Gabe.
Lisa: And mental illness was a big part of your decision making. Back in the day.
Gabe: Yeah, it was, and I wanted to talk about it more, because I think it’s a fascinating discussion. I think it’s a fascinating topic. And of course, people have just said incredibly supportive things about my decision. People have said incredibly offensive things about my decision. And, well, people have just commented on it like it’s their right to comment on it.
Lisa: Yeah, everybody thinks it’s OK to comment on other people’s reproductive decisions, which, of course means you’re commenting on their sex life, so stop it.
Gabe: But that made me think, hey, there is a podcast in here. But of course, neither one of us had kids. So it seemed rude. It seemed rude not to get someone who lives with bipolar disorder who made the decision to have children and talk to her about it. And it also goes along with our show. We decided when we were creating this show that we didn’t want to just interview people with mental illness. We feel that’s just well represented in the space. Right. You just
Lisa: Right. Yeah, yeah.
Gabe: You can tell your story on social media. There is This is My Brave, which is an incredible outlet for people to tell their stories about living with mental illness in a positive and incredible way. And the reason that I bring this up is because that’s where I found Amy. Amy Barnabi and I met when we did the 2019 This is My Brave in Columbus, Ohio. And what I love about Amy more than anything is that we’re both about the same age. So I love it because I’m starting to feel like everybody is younger than me.
Lisa: Almost everyone at This is My Brave was dramatically younger than you.
Gabe: So I like having Amy around for that very reason. She also lives with bipolar. So we had a lot in common that way. And honestly, she’s just an ultra cool person. So big shout out to This is My Brave for introducing us. Big shout out to Amy for agreeing to be on the show and to wrap this all up in a nice little bow. Well, we wanted to create was a space for people with lived experience with mental illness to come on and discuss the things that are important to them, to talk about the things that are important to them, not just come on and be a source of inspiration, which make no mistake. Amy is a definite source of inspiration. But I want to know how Amy feels about stuff, thinks about stuff and talks about stuff. And I’m really looking forward to Amy telling me I’m wrong. Does that make sense, Lisa?
Lisa: I would prefer that she tell me that I’m right. But yours is good, too.
Gabe: All right, Lisa, are you ready to bring Amy on to the show?
Lisa: Absolutely. But first I want to say that whether or not you choose to have kids is your own concern, and it is not the business of anybody else.
Gabe: I could not agree more, and it’s kind of sad that we need to say that anyways.
Gabe: All right, Amy, welcome to the show!
Amy: Hi, Gabe, Lisa. How are you guys doing?
Gabe: We are super glad to have you.
Amy: Thanks, first things first. Gabe, are you telling me that I’m old and yes, Lisa, you are right.
Lisa: They were all so young, it is depressing.
Gabe: I’m not telling you that. I’m saying that we’re all old. I just I don’t know how it happened. And it happened like instantly when I got started in the
Amy: I know.
Gabe: Space, you know, I was I was twenty five and I was bouncing around with all this enthusiasm and energy. And then one day I noticed that I started walking onto the stage just a little bit slower and I was sharing it with people who were dancing on the stage. I’m like, what is happening?
Amy: Well, that and with the pandemic, you don’t know if it’s day three or or five. So.
Gabe: Oh, that is very true. Amy, thank you for being here.
Amy: Thanks for having me.
Gabe: You’re very welcome. Let’s just leap right in. Amy, you live with bipolar disorder. You have children. What is the most offensive thing that somebody has said about that?
Lisa: Whoo! I bet there’s gonna be a good one here. I bet someone has said something like really offensive.
Amy: Oh, right after I got married, I was seeing a clinician at one of our local mental health centers, and she actually told me straight up, you’re bipolar. You know, you shouldn’t have children.
Gabe: Just like that. Just look, you’re right in the eyes
Gabe: And said you have a medical diagnosis. Therefore, I am advising you. I guess she wasn’t even advising you.
Gabe: Did she say it that harshly?
Amy: Yes, it was that harsh. I mean, it was like. Matter of factly, like, you know, you shouldn’t. What do you mean? No, I never thought about I shouldn’t have children because I have a mental illness. That’s your opinion, not mine.
Lisa: Did she have more reasoning or did she explain her reasoning or give any specifics?
Amy: No, not necessarily. It was just one of those things towards the end of the session was probably only like the second or third time that I saw her. And I only saw the time. I did not see her after that because I was I mean, I cried all the way home. I never thought about it. I honestly never thought, well, I’m not going to have children because I have bipolar disorder. And then it made me think, am I being selfish?
Gabe: There are considerations when having children. There just are there’s considerations when having children. Do you have enough money? Do you have enough time? Are you stable? Are you ready for children? Children are all consuming and you need to be ready for them. And obviously, if you have an illness, whether it be bipolar disorder or any illness, you’ve got to figure out how that will impact your ability to raise a child, et cetera. I think we all know that the world is not clean.
Amy: Right. And it was something my husband and I had discussed. You know, when I married my husband, he had a five year old son. And so we did talk about, well, how many children are we thinking here? He was very aware of my bipolar disorder. It was something I disclosed about three, four months into our relationship when it was starting to get serious. But it wasn’t like, well, we only have one child because I’m bipolar. Essentially, in the end, that was something that came to mind and something actually my mother and I discussed. You know, life’s hard enough, and children are even that much harder. So you need to really consider where your time and energy is going to go. But in terms of know what? My husband and I decided it wasn’t just because, well, you’re bipolar. We shouldn’t have children.
Gabe: That’s the part that is kind of getting me the most, that somebody would just look you in the eyes and declare for you. Like Lisa said, I’m not going to throw this over to Lisa. Lisa said, when people are talking about your child rearing or no, what is it you said when
Gabe: Yeah, when people are talking about your decision to have kids or not have kids, they are injecting themselves into your sex life. Lisa, can you expand on that?
Gabe: Because I’ve never heard it put that way before.
Lisa: You’ve never heard anyone say that?
Gabe: No, I thought we were just talking about kids. I was just minding my own business and talking about a little guy. I was like a baby’s.
Lisa: I’ve just, I’ve just always thought that was really weird because, you know, we all know where babies come from. So
Lisa: Why would you think
Gabe: Where do babies come from?
Lisa: This is any of your business?
Gabe: From? I don’t know.
Lisa: Going back, Amy, when you say that your husband was really aware, etc., I was just wondering, how long had you been dating before you decided to get married? And had he seen you super sick or were you in a pretty good or stable place at that time?
Amy: That’s a really good point. No, I wasn’t. You know, I’ve been, for the most part, knock on wood, highly functioning with my bipolar disorder for most my life. So I was healthy. My husband is a few years older than me, but I was in my early 30s, so it really was one of those things. We got married a little over a year after we met. So it was one of those things. Three, four months into it. We weren’t talking about. OK. We got serious pretty fast because first, I think we both knew what we wanted at that point in time.
Lisa: Well, I mean, you’re not exactly spring chickens by then.
Gabe: Wow. Now you’re calling her old. This poor woman.
Lisa: No. No,
Gabe: She’s never gonna come back to the show.
Lisa: I’m just saying,
Amy: It’s all right.
Lisa: When you’re dating and you’re 22, it’s not the same as when you’re dating and you’re 35. You
Lisa: Know, it’s a lot different.
Amy: Well, in that, with my husband having a young son, too, you know, how attached is too attached? If we’re gonna do this, we need to do this because, you know, he’s falling in love with you. And I can honestly say that I fell in love with Ryan before I fell in love with Mike, so.
Gabe: I do think that it’s an interesting point, though. Did anybody give. And you might not know the answer to this. But did anybody give your husband shit about letting a woman with bipolar disorder around his kid? I mean, did anybody pull him aside and say
Lisa: Good question.
Gabe: Hey, why are you letting this woman with mental illness around your child? Or did that just never come up?
Amy: You know, it’s interesting. One of his very best friends in the world has struggled with severe depression all of his life. So it wasn’t something totally new. It wasn’t like, OK, you’re bipolar. I mean, it was it was a long, very long conversation that we had because he was very aware of how much depression can affect someone’s life. And then you had the fact that I also get manic. So it wasn’t something that you jumped into and then figured out later. He was someone aware of it. You know, we didn’t tell his family for many, many, many years, in fact. Until I got really sick, his family wasn’t aware that I was bipolar. And that was a little bit of a shock. And that was that was a difficult conversation. It was one of those things I felt, you know, as much as I love them and as much as they love me, I had to kind of defend myself a little bit. And I was really sick at the time. And it wasn’t like they meant to say hurtful things, but it was like. Did Mike know this before you got married?
Gabe: Wow. I just have so many questions for you, Amy, because you said that when you drove home, after the doctor said that to you, you were thinking is it selfish to have children or.
Gabe: Because I determined for Gabe, for me, that it was selfish to have children because I felt two things very strongly. One, I felt that I was too sick to have children. You know, the depression, the suicidal thoughts, the psychosis. I mean, it was just all too much. Gabe Howard cannot be a father because after all, you can’t be a father and be that sick. The second thing that kept going through my mind, which I thought was very selfish, is the horror show that was my life. I did not want to genetically pass on to another living creature so that they could suffer as well. I ultimately regret my decision, not necessarily. I don’t necessarily regret not having kids. I regret the reason that I came up with.
Amy: All right.
Gabe: The truth of the matter is, when I made the decision not to have children, I was correct. I was too sick to be a father in those moments. I was very sick. But that also means that my thinking was that I was never going to get any better.
Lisa: I don’t think that’s fair.
Gabe: Then why didn’t I do it?
Lisa: You’re not just saying that you’re never going to get better. You’re saying that there’s a potential that it will happen again. Maybe you’re going to be better. You’re gonna get better. You’re gonna be better for like 10 years. And of course, the kids don’t go anywhere. In that time, they didn’t disappear. You will continue to be ill on and off throughout their lives.
Amy: But I think part of being mentally ill is being stuck in the moment. You forget how good good feels like. And when you’re well, you forget how bad that feels like.
Gabe: How did you get over that? You have two children. Twenty three and fifteen. The 15 year old is the biological child. You know, but he’s fifteen. He’s wonderful. You have a normal family. You’re still married. I’m not saying that the world is all joy and roses or that you’ve never had any issues in life. But they haven’t been caused by bipolar disorder. They’ve just been caused by life, has issues in it. So I’m just curious as to how you got over that hump, because you know I’m asking for me. I never did. I was like, Gabe, you suck. You must have a vasectomy. You should never have children. You’re a horrible person. Done. And you didn’t. So I’m like looking at you. I’m like, Amy. Tell me your secret.
Amy: And there’s definitely no secret there. You know what, every day is a fight. I am bipolar and I have to treat bipolar first. You know, sometimes little things stress me out and sometimes they don’t. My son and I, my 15 year old son and I were talking and I said, you know, Bud, I hate that a lot of my memories or a lot of your memories is going to be about me flipping out some time in your life and how stressful that must have been for you. And he said to me, he said, you know, Mom, I’m going to remember more good times with you than bad times. And, you know, for me, I exemplify the bad times. I think, oh, my God, this is all he will remember. And it’s not that. I’m not screwing them up as much as I think I am. And even that much, my best friends, their children are the same way. And they’re not bipolar. So, you know, yes, it can be difficult at times, but, my God, they’re so worth it. I look at them every day and I think, my God, how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family and be surrounded by so much love.
Gabe: That is it. Ultimately, I don’t know if I made the right decision or not, but that’s just life, right? We never know if we made the right decision.
Gabe: I got to tell you right now, during the pandemic, I feel really good about not having children.
Lisa: Well, what I want to know is when you said you had this thought that, hey, is this selfish? How did you move beyond that?
Amy: All right.
Lisa: I mean, what was your thought process? What happened between, Oh, this is selfish and, OK, yes. Let’s have kids.
Amy: You know, I guess as far back as I can think for me and being surrounded with a big family, it was just a natural progression, you know, getting married. We both had good jobs. OK. Let’s bring another life in the world.
Lisa: So so you had an understanding from an early age that you did want to be a parent?
Amy: Yeah, and I never said, well, maybe I shouldn’t because I’m because I’m bipolar, because I have a mental illness. It’s interesting because that never crossed my mind until that doctor told me. Well, you shouldn’t have children.
Amy: Yeah, I never thought twice about it. You know, my mom and I have lengthy, like, real life discussions. And she did suggest maybe just one child, because eventually you have two all together. And life is hard enough from any standpoint. You know, again, from the family next door, that doesn’t struggle with the same things. Kids are tough. Kids are hard. And kids are very expensive.
Gabe: One of the cool things that I like about my job, you know, being a public speaker and telling stories about my life, you know, before my bipolar diagnosis and after and my childhood is I get to ask my parents a lot of questions that I think just maybe a lot of people don’t ask their parents. And one time I asked my dad if he was sorry that he married my mom. I’m adopted. So my dad is not my biological dad. He’s my real dad. But you know that this poor guy. He’s minding his own business. He meets this woman. He marries her, adopts her kid. And now he’s got a severely mentally ill child. Like, wow. And my dad was just like he’s like it was hard. I mean, he didn’t, like, blow smoke up my ass and tell me that he was all excited the day he found out that I was, you know, severely ill. But he’s like, it is what it is. Bad things happen to families. And he thinks that people try to predict too much and that this prevents people from just living in the moment or from having joy. He talks about friends that decided not to have children because they didn’t think they made enough money and ultimately
Gabe: They missed out on having kids. Did they make enough money? He doesn’t know because who knows? But he knows that they don’t have kids. So he thinks that people try to find excuses. And he really desperately tried to talk me out of the decision.
Gabe: He really wanted me to have kids.
Lisa: You never told me that.
Gabe: Yeah. He keeps trying to get
Gabe: Me to adopt kids. He keeps trying to find me children. He sends me links.
Lisa: No, I knew that. You’re telling me that back when you had the vasectomy, your dad tried to talk you out of it?
Gabe: Yeah, yeah. He was devastated by it. Yeah.
Lisa: You never told me that.
Gabe: Yeah. He did not like it at all. He said that it was a mistake, that I shouldn’t do it.
Gabe: The times will change.
Lisa: Really? You’ve never said that.
Gabe: What you feel today is not what you will feel tomorrow. And you know what my dad is like? He’s a truck driver. He’s a man’s man. He’s basically like quoting the posters that, like, people hang in there, you know, hang in there. It gets better with a little kitten. Yeah.
Amy: I think your dad, should have his own podcast.
Gabe: You know, every now and again, I have him on, like, a video or something. And people send me letters.
Lisa: Yeah. He’s well received.
Gabe: They just love him.
Lisa: Yeah. People like him.
Gabe: For real. I need to exploit this. But he wasn’t able to sway me. I guess that’s what I’m saying. He wasn’t able to sway me. But, you know, listen, that bastard was right. But I asked my dad about this a lot. Do you regret having me as a child? And I know some of that is because I’m adopted and because some people have told me that, like, oh, whoa, your step dad, which is horribly offensive and makes me angry, but they’ll say, like well, your stepdad inherited another man’s mess. And I’ve asked my dad about that.
Lisa: Wow, someone actually said that to you?
Gabe: Yeah, this is the problem of being a public figure.
Lisa: God, people are jerks.
Amy: Yes, they are.
Gabe: My dad was just like, look. Life is just like that. And my mom is the same way I know we spent a lot of time. But, you know, my mom, I’m like, hey, are you sad that you got a messed up kid? And she’s like, I never considered that I had a messed up kid. You were just always Gabe
Gabe: And I have such a hard time seeing life that way.
Gabe: And I don’t know if it’s because that’s my personality or because I have bipolar disorder. But to get us back on a little bit of track, Amy, like, do you feel. I don’t know. Lisa, you take this one.
Lisa: Well, I don’t want to be the killjoy who always has to be the negative voice here, but it is my role. You’re saying that you’ve asked your mother or your father. And obviously, I don’t think they do. I mean, your dad has always been your dad. There’s never been any of that stepfather crap. But having said that. Seriously, what are you expecting them to answer? Let’s say your dad did think, oh, yeah, this terrible. This is the worst mistake I ever made. He’s not going to say that. He’s not going to tell you that out loud. What kind of horrible person would say such a thing?
Gabe: Wow. You do not understand the dynamics of my family at all. Are you kidding? My dad would tell me this is not a problem in the Howard household. We call each other out all the time. He would absolutely be like, I hate you.
Amy: That doesn’t surprise me.
Lisa: I deliberately made the decision not to have children and many people, especially many women, have told me that they just always expected that they would have kids, that all growing up, they just always thought that someday they would have children
Lisa: Or they were always looking forward to that. Which is apparently how you felt. And I just personally never felt that. So I have a little bit of trouble understanding that point of view. So I never thought that I would just automatically have kids when I was a little kid. I was thinking, oh, well, someday I’ll be the mom.
Gabe: Yet another answer to the mystery of why we didn’t make it as a couple. ladies and gentlemen. For those playing at home.
Lisa: I know, right?
Amy: There’s so much you guys don’t understand about each other. There’s so much you don’t know about one another.
Lisa: The mystery is still there, we learn new stuff all the time. And that is actually one of the things that I feel bad about since we got divorced that I learned. But that’s a whole nother topic. I will add it to the list of future podcast topics.
Gabe: Next week on a very special Not Crazy.
Lisa: Our entire society is very oriented around this idea that having children is very much natural or what everyone wants or what everyone desires or, you know, the cult of true motherhood. Right?
Amy: I think, though, in the same breath, I think because this is just my opinion. The friends that I do have don’t have children. Like I talk about this overwhelming love. You’ve never felt that because you don’t have children. And I guess it’s the same thing with mental illness unless you walk the walk. You don’t understand that. And that’s OK. That definitely that’s a choice everyone has. But I know from my perspective, from being a mother, it’s difficult. They’re a pain in the ass a lot of the time. But there is nothing in the world that I want more than to wake up or to go to bed and kiss my kids and tell them how much I love them. And it actually makes me appreciate my husband even more sometimes, not always, because he’s also a pain in the ass. But it’s like you gave me these guys and I can’t imagine any greater gifts than that.
Lisa: Well, I just want to put out there that there are plenty of people who have very happy, very fulfilling lives without
Lisa: Children and,
Lisa: You know, they’re not necessarily for everyone, they’re not necessarily the end all be all for everyone. And there is a very strong bias against. I think very few parents are going to say, oh, I regret this. So.
Gabe: All right. All right. yes.
Amy: Kind of like, get Gabe’s parents saying, no, no, we love you regardless.
Lisa: Well, yeah.
Gabe: Fine. My parents are liars. They regret having. No, I know.
Lisa: That’s not. There is no way for me to say
Lisa: This and not sound like an evil bitch.
Gabe: No, no, Lisa I.
Lisa: People often
Amy: No you need to understand.
Lisa: Say to
Gabe: I understand.
Lisa: People say to me, you’ll regret not having children.
Gabe: I get it.
Lisa: And it’s very frustrating to me because people are always saying, oh, you might regret it. You might regret it. You’ll regret this someday. No one ever says that in the reverse. No one ever says you are going to regret having this child. And and there is no reason or incentive for parents to ever say a word if they do, in fact, regret having kids.
Amy: Absolutely right.
Gabe: All right. All right, hold that thought, everybody. We have to hear from our sponsors and we’ll be right back.
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Gabe: We’re back discussing whether or not people with bipolar disorder should have children with our special guest, Amy Barnaby.
Lisa: I had my tubes tied when I was young. And when I got sterilized, every doctor said, you know, you might regret this someday. But I was 22. If I had walked into a doctor’s office pregnant at 22 and said, hey, hey, here I am. I’m pregnant, I’m gonna have this baby. No one
Lisa: would have said to me, you know, you might regret that some day.
Amy: And, you know, Lisa, that’s almost as bad as a doctor telling me, hey, you shouldn’t have children because you are bipolar. And I mean that I can I can see that now. I can see how offensive that would be to you.
Lisa: Again, when you decide, yes, I will have children, people accept that. That’s no problem. That is not a decision that needs explained. But if you say yes, I am not going to have six children. Well, my personal favorite and misogyny being, you know, you’re not married right now. Some day you might meet a man and he might want to have children. But
Lisa: Again, if I showed up pregnant, no one would have said to me, well, you know, someday you might meet a man and he won’t want to have children and he won’t want to raise another man’s babies. So you should really consider that before you continue this pregnancy. No one would have said that.
Gabe: We are we are way off topic. So you’re telling me that you think that the standard in America is that people will try to get you to abort your child?
Lisa: Exactly. That’s my point. No one will ever encourage you not to have children.
Lisa: People will always encourage
Lisa: You to have children. And if you make the conscious decision to not have children, people second guess it like there’s no tomorrow.
Gabe: So I’m so hang on. All right, hang on.
Lisa: Although, of course, we’re talking about this in the context of the mental illness. So it’s a little, it throws it off.
Gabe: Yeah, let me let me flip this a little bit. Just so we don’t get too far off track here. I understand everything that you’re saying. And what you’re basically saying to to sum it up, Lisa, is that strangers and society feel that they have a say in your reproductive choices, whether or not
Lisa: Yes. Well, obviously.
Gabe: You have children, how you have children, how you raise children. And
Gabe: So we all know that that’s a thing. Let’s just establish that as a hard fact. My question is, why are they considering your mental illness? My question here is, as you said, and I agree with you, that society wants everybody to have children
Lisa: No, that’s.
Gabe: Until you have mental illness.
Lisa: Let me rephrase.
Gabe: No, I. I’m agreeing with you. Why are you trying to take it back?
Lisa: That’s not exactly what I’m trying to say.
Gabe: But, that is what you think. And you’re right. Society wants everybody to have children. Your right. Why are you trying to run it back?
Lisa: But there’s this big asterisk,
Lisa: Which is the thing that we’re discussing right now, which is that as a young woman who was childless, there’s a lot of pressure to have kids. But here she is saying, hey, I want to have kids, and they’re like, oh. Unlike every other woman, you should not because you’re bipolar.
Gabe: Oh, OK, I see what you’re saying.
Lisa: So there’s a different dynamic at play when you get this idea of. I was. Well, to be fair, these doctors probably don’t know I was mentally ill, but I was pushed very hard to not decide to not have to have children. But you’re getting the opposite message. So I think the majority of women very strongly get this message of you should have children. So it’s kind of interesting that no matter how overbearing society is about this, they are, in fact willing to take that step back for women who are mentally ill.
Gabe: I get it.
Amy: And you know what, though? I know as a teacher looking at families and there sometimes we’re just like, you know, these people really shouldn’t have children.
Amy: So it’s not that everybody should have children. I think
Lisa: They’re out there.
Amy: Yeah, and you’re like, oh, my gosh, we’re going to have two more. You know, just.
Gabe: You make a good point. Anything that is public facing people are going to judge. We just need to point
Gabe: That out. I have opinions on everything when I’m driving around. I think the opinion of that sign, the opinion of the shoes that guy is wearing at McDonald’s. I judge people’s orders. We are all judgmental creatures. It’s when we take it, the next step. And we feel empowered to share that with strangers. When the guy in front of me orders a Diet Coke that he also wants coffee mixed in, I think to myself that is disgusting. What would it take for me to feel empowered to tap that guy on the shoulder and say what you ordered is disgusting? See, everybody would think that I was wrong if I did that. But if that person was deciding to have children and I found out that he had bipolar disorder and then I tapped him on the shoulder, people would like root for me. They’d be like, good job, good job. Pointing out that he shouldn’t have kids.
Amy: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Lisa: Well, but you also have to consider, though, Gabe, that the message is entirely different for women. Notice that you don’t see a lot of people out there saying that men should decide not to have children if they’re mentally ill or saying that men need to make these decisions. This is about women.
Amy: Good point, good point.
Lisa: And like every time you see something horrible that happens to a kid like stupid example. But years ago, remember, that poor child fell into the gorilla cage?
Lisa: And the first thing everyone said is, where was his mother?
Gabe: And the mom and dad were standing right there.
Amy: Yeah, yeah.
Lisa: No one
Lisa: Said, where was his father, what was his father doing? Why did his father not save him? So this expectation that you can comment on and talk about people’s decision or how they raise their children is very much about how they mother their children. It’s not about what fathers are up to.
Gabe: All right, so we’re
Gabe: Off the rails. We know that society sucks. We know that society is very judgmental about how people raise their children. We know society is very judgmental about whether or not people have children. We know that society is very judgmental about
Lisa: No, what I’m saying is society is very judgmental about how women do that.
Gabe: She’s right. I agree with Lisa 100 percent.
Amy: And Lisa, you’re right about the you know, it all comes back to the woman and you’re right. People don’t say, well, you shouldn’t have children because you’re a man and you can pass on that bi polar gene or that mental illness gene. That’s absolutely true. No one says that. It’s just as genetically passed on
Lisa: Right. Right.
Amy: By one of us or both of us.
Lisa: It’s not different. It’s the same odds.
Gabe: I got to give a really, really hard pushback on this. I am a man who lives with bipolar disorder. And when my wife and I were dating and people found out that she was dating a man with mental illness, they did push back on her. They’re like, you should not marry this man. You should not be with him. You should not have children with him. I’m not sure why we’re playing the suffering Olympics, but I know that it’s worse for women. But I’m telling you, as a man, I got a lot of shit. And when I dated, people broke up with me upon finding that I had bipolar disorder. To say
Lisa: Well, but that’s
Gabe: That, oh, well
Lisa: A different question.
Gabe: It’s worse for women. Probably everything’s worse for women.
Amy: But were you always very open about your illness?
Gabe: Oh, yeah, I had a Web site.
Amy: Were you OK? Yes. Yes.
Gabe: I had a Web site and my own clothing line. I know that it’s worse for women. Lisa, I know everything’s worse for women, but I just don’t want to leave men out. To pretend that men aren’t being discriminated against for living with mental illness. That’s
Lisa: Well, no, that’s not what I’m saying.
Gabe: Just disingenuous and unfair.
Lisa: Not what I’m saying. But, that’s not what I’m saying.
Gabe: But every single time I say people, you say only women. Do you honestly
Lisa: No, I’m saying.
Gabe: Believe that no man has ever been discriminated against for being a father?
Lisa: No, of course not. But I think, you
Gabe: With children?
Lisa: Know, I think it’s important to point out when you say I get a lot of shit. You have no idea.
Gabe: Just because somebody gets it
Lisa: You have no idea how much shit is out there.
Gabe: But where does that end? I just I can’t help but notice that.
Amy: It doesn’t.
Lisa: It doesn’t, yeah.
Gabe: Nobody should ever be able to get help because somebody is always going to be sicker.
Lisa: That’s not the point.
Gabe: Then how come when I said about my experience, you interrupted my experience to talk about female experiences? You’re saying that my experience has no value because women have it worse? Is that really the message that we want to get out there?
Amy: And I think to where I say, unless you’re a mom, you don’t understand what it is like to have children. I think the same thing can be said with. I’m a woman and I know how untrue because of my mental illness. I guess I don’t think about how men are treated because I know I’m treated. I never could understand because I’m not in your shoes. But, you know, that’s why we have podcasts and conversations, because it helps open open everybody’s minds.
Gabe: Exactly. Exactly. Listen, I don’t want to get a bunch of, like angry letters for people thinking that I think that that what I go through and what women go through are the same because they’re not. But I also don’t think that what middle-class women go through and what lower class women go through is the same. And I certainly don’t think that what
Amy: Right. Right.
Gabe: Middle class women and homeless women go through are the same. But if Lisa said I need help for my mental illness and I said, well, you have no idea what it’s like to be mentally ill being homeless, Lisa would say that doesn’t change the fact that I need help.
Amy: Right. It just goes back to that same scenario where, you know, well, there’s always somebody has the worse off than I do. Well, it doesn’t minimize my pain.
Gabe: That’s what I was trying to say. Thank you.
Lisa: She says it better.
Gabe: Thank you, Amy. So now to pivot for the thirty fifth time in this podcast.
Lisa: Well, I do have one last question for Amy, and I think people are going to want to know how. I guess we can’t really say how did it turn out, because your children are still works in progress. But the first thing people are going to ask is, do your kids have mental illness? Is your son mentally ill? But I realize he’s a little young for that question.
Amy: Not necessarily, I started my journey at 14. I mean,
Lisa: Well, that’s fair.
Amy: You know, the whole genetic thing. My bipolar, for example, with my brothers, my brothers have children, too. And I know when some of them have had their children in therapy, they don’t bring up the fact that, oh, by the way, their aunt is bipolar because they don’t want their child to be labeled right away.
Amy: Yeah. They’re scared to death. And it gives me cold chills, because I’ve always been open about my mental illness. It’s not something that I’m ashamed of. It’s not that they’re ashamed of it. It’s just something I think that we’re all afraid of because it’s not easy living a life, being mentally ill. It’s a challenge. It’s not impossible, but it is a challenge. And I know that’s one of the things that my husband and I go around with is at 15 my son is so stinking moody and he’s never been. So, of course, I think, oh, my God, is he going to be bipolar? I mean, that scares me to death. And I don’t see not from what I don’t see any signs in him that I saw in myself. But it is definitely something that’s at the front of everything that I do. But again, you know, I’m reminded by good friends that say, hey, my 14 year old being moody and with boys, they show from what my girlfriends that have girls and then my girlfriends that have boys, you know, it’s very different how they deal with stress. But it is a concern. I mean, of course, it’s a concern. But, you know, now, knowing what I know now, like Gabe said, I had mentioned about talking about people that are really struggling during the pandemic.
Amy: I have resources in place if need be. If it gets to that point, I know even that’s true with my twenty three year old struggling. You know, I’m also going to say, okay, well, let’s look at our options. I always worry, you know, is he gonna be like me? You know, my mom’s a very smart woman. Then I take what she says to heart most of the time. She has told me, you know what? If he is bipolar, which I pray to God that he isn’t, but he’s also going to have your good qualities and the way you see the world. It’s not necessarily all because you’re bipolar or how you love films and how you love certain things that I see in me now. And I think, wow, those are things that I kind of pointed out to him since he was a little boy. And now he sees those things and he says to me, Hey, Mom, guess what? He’ll say, look at this or, you know. And I think those are things I’ve always pointed out to him. And that’s just my personality. It’s not because of my bipolar disorder.
Lisa: Well, what I would say is obviously parents are worried about their children. Every parent of a 15 year old is desperately worried about them. So
Amy: Yeah, right.
Lisa: So is it. Are you worrying more or is this just the form your worrying is taking? Would you be worried about some other thing instead? But the same amount of worry. Just a different topic?
Amy: You know what? That’s a great point, absolutely. I mean, and I worry about, you know, when he’s fifteen, you know, he’s going to be driving soon and I worry about it. I tell him certain things like, well, you don’t do this and you need to make the right choice. You need to be the better person. And you hope to God and you pray to God that when they’re out and about and they’re with a group of friends, that they make the right choice. And like you said, that’s just part of being a parent.
Lisa: If your son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, how would you feel? Would there be any element of well, at least now we share this in common.
Amy: No, because I understand. I understand the struggles. And, of course, you don’t want your children to struggle like you did. I know I struggle on good days, let alone bad days. And I don’t want that for anyone, especially for my child. But knowing the resources that we have now, if it goes there, I hope to God that I know better how to handle it early on. So unlike me, who struggled for years and years and years because we didn’t know a lot about mental illness, that we jump on it right away, so we put the right plans in place to make sure that he also can have a highly functioning good life. Because mental illness isn’t a death sentence, it’s just something that some of us struggle more than others.
Lisa: I had it many years ago. I saw this panel discussion. I of course, I’m going to mess up. They said it much better than me. But the question was, how would you feel if your child was gay? And obviously, you love your child. You don’t care if your kid is gay, but you do realize that a child that is gay is going to struggle a lot more than one who is not. And so how do you> Does that translate into you saying, gee, I wish my kid wasn’t gay? And how do you? How do you express that? How do you say that without it being so evil? So.
Gabe: Well, but homosexuality is not an illness.
Lisa: Well, no. But as she’s saying, well, obviously, I love my child. etc. no matter if they’re bipolar or not or whether mentally ill or not or whatever. No one wants their kid to have to struggle. You want. You would also love it if your kid turned out to be, you know, six, two and super attractive and had a perfect nose.
Gabe: I mean, you’re almost describing me.
Lisa: That doesn’t mean.
Amy: And athletic
Lisa: Yeah. Athletic and extremely intelligent.
Lisa: Because you want your kid to have all the advantages and as little struggle as possible.
Gabe: I think you have to consider there, Lisa, that you just said it was easier being male.
Gabe: So should you only want sons?
Lisa: Well, and that’s a valid question, actually. And that’s an interesting point to raise as well.
Gabe: But here is how I look at that. Here’s how I break that down. There’s a difference there that you have to look at. It is difficult being a woman or a member of the LGBTQ community because society is putting pressure on you. That makes society wrong. It is difficult to be bipolar because you have an illness. Even if society was perfectly nice and kind and loving and did everything right, you would still suffer because you have an illness. We could make being a woman equal. We could make being LGBTQ equal. We just don’t. We just don’t because society is evil. This is an example of society being sick,
Amy: Right. Right.
Gabe: Whereas bipolar disorder is an example of you being sick and we get the double because society is also sick.
Lisa: Well, yeah, exactly.
Gabe: Amy, what are your thoughts?
Amy: You know, I’ve always wondered, how would it be different if I had a daughter, compared to a son with this. And I honestly, and I don’t know. Again, Lisa, I think it goes from life being a little bit harder from our perspective for girls than it is for boys. I think I would struggle with this, with feeling my God, could they be mentally ill? Could they have bipolar disorder? I think it would be harder if I had a girl, I guess, because.
Amy: Yeah, and I think it’s because, do I look for patterns in my fifteen year old son? Of course I do. How could I not? But would it be harder, even more so with a girl? I think for me it would, I think I would read, if at all possible, read into it even more.
Lisa: Was there any history of mental illness in your family, Amy, or are either of your parents bipolar?
Amy: You know, it’s interesting you should bring that up. When I was diagnosed with bipolar, it was the early 90s and the first time I ever heard manic depression was when I sat across from the psychiatrist and he said, I believe you’re manic depressive. That was the first time my family ever heard of it. And it was just a weird name to something my brothers and my mom and dad lived with all of my life. I was diagnosed at 21. So it was just like, oh, OK. This summer my mom shared a story with me and she had said, you know, your great grandmother had a cousin that his mind moved so fast that they had to give him medication to slow it down. And she said to me, she said, I think he was schizophrenic. And I said, Mom, he’s not schizophrenic. He was bipolar. And so that was really the first I mean, we have of course which everybody does. I think to some extent there’s depression. Well, there’s anxiety. But that was the first hint of it. I just really connected with that. It was like, oh, my gosh.
Gabe: I am the only one. I am the only person with bipolar disorder in my entire family.
Amy: Does anyone else struggle?
Gabe: No. It is what it is.
Lisa: In any discussion about parenting or whether you should become a parent if you have mental illness or if you have bipolar disorder, it seems to be centered around three basic points. One of them being, are you yourself, too, psychologically fragile? Are you stable enough to be a parent and to do a good job and then worried about if you’re not stable or if at some point you become unstable? What effect will that have on the child? How will that influence how they grow up or their childhood? And then the third thing I think people will think about or wonder about is the genetics of it. What are the odds that this will be passed on?
Gabe: All I can hear in all of that is that I don’t think that’s unique to people with bipolar disorder though. I honestly believe that this is something that everybody contemplating becoming a parent should consider. And I really think our discussions over the course of the show just really shows that this is a very personal decision. And no two people with bipolar disorder are the same. Maybe it was a good idea for me not to have children. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was a good idea for Amy to have children. Maybe it wasn’t. But the only thing that I can unequivocally say is that it’s Gabe’s decision and it’s Amy’s decision and the fact that the rest of society has sort of gotten involved and put their two cents in, we should probably just ignore them.
Lisa: Easier said than done.
Gabe: I think that we should just do the right thing for ourselves and for our families and hope it turns out.
Amy: Right. Right. I mean, Gabe, like you mentioned, it is a decision and these are the same things I believe that other families are having as well. And pray to God that you’re doing the right thing and not screwing your kids up too much and that, you know, on the flip side of this, that everything’s going to work out. And you really you’re going to trudge through and you’re going to make it. You’re going to make it.
Gabe: Honestly, Amy, I think that is the most sane explanation for how to survive with children that I have ever heard. I love it. I love it. Amy, I cannot thank you enough for being here and for being willing to go just so deep. Lisa, when we talked about the show, did you know that Amy would be just so willing to divulge so much about her marriage? Because you started off the show saying that discussing people’s child rearing decisions was talking about their sex life. Do you feel that we put Amy in this position?
Lisa: We definitely have to say thank you so much, Amy, you were very gracious. I mean, these are some personal questions and so very nice of you to be willing to share so much with us.
Amy: Thanks a lot, guys. I really, really enjoyed it. It really left me also with some things to think about.
Lisa: Thank you so much. So nice of you to say.
Gabe: And Amy, I am so super glad that you agreed to do This is My Brave. For those who don’t know, This is My Brave is a great organization. You can go over to ThisIsMyBrave.org. You can also find them on YouTube. It’s a theatrical production of people telling their stories in five minute sections. And it was incredible and it was awesome.
Gabe: And it was how we met. And I just I want to give a huge, huge, huge shout out to This is My Brave. Check them out on ThisIsMyBrave.org.
Gabe: Or Gabe and Amy never would have been a thing.
Amy: That’s right. We are very thankful for This is My Brave. What an amazing thing.
Lisa: It was a great show, you guys did a great job.
Gabe: Lisa was in the audience
Lisa: I was. I was. I was very impressed.
Gabe: Once again, Lisa was behind the scenes when everybody else was front and center. Listen up, everybody, thank you for tuning in to this week’s episode of the Not Crazy podcast. If you loved it, which we hope you did, please rate, rank, subscribe and review. Give us as many stars as humanly possible and use your words. Tell people why you liked it. Share us on social media and use your words there, too, and tell people why they should listen. Write down PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy on a business card and pass it out wherever you go. Of course you really can’t go anywhere, so you should probably just do email. If you have some show topics, ideas, you love us, you hate us, you just have anything to say, hit us up at show@PsychCentral.com. We will see everybody next week.
Amy: Bye, everybody.
Lisa: See you then.
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This article originally appeared on Psych Central as Podcast: Parenting and Bipolar Disorder.