When you’re depressed, it’s hard enough to muster the energy to brush your teeth. So the last thing you want to hear is “Just take the bull by the horns!” Or “Cheer up! Every cloud has a silver lining.” But is there a grain of truth to these sayings? Today we discuss whether this “take control” advice is harmful or helpful for people with mental illness. Click on the player below to listen now!
Computer Generated Transcript for “Personal Empowerment Quotes” 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, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Not Crazy podcast. I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and I am here, as always, with my favorite co-host, Lisa.
Lisa: Hey, everyone. So today’s quote is, you must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons or the wind, but you can change yourself. And that is by Jim Rohn.
Gabe: I’m assuming that we’re going to be talking about personal responsibility when it comes to managing and living with mental illness. This dude said it better and considerably shorter than Gabe and Lisa say anything. So you want to wrap?
Lisa: Mr. Rohn, yeah.
Gabe: Like anything has a double edged sword, right? You must take personal responsibility. OK. I dig that. We can change ourselves. We can be in charge of ourselves. We can move forward. That’s a very empowering statement and one that, frankly, does speak to me. But it has an upper limit, right? If you’ve been incarcerated against your will, you’re a political prisoner in another country because of gender or race, like. And somebody is like, listen, you can’t expect these people to let you out of prison. You’ve got to take charge of your circumstances. That just seems like jerk advice.
Lisa: It’s extremely condescending from a certain point of view, yes.
Gabe: And I’m wondering, is it condescending to say to somebody with a severe and persistent mental illness, I mean, literally a disease? I have bipolar disorder. I have anxiety and psychosis, and I mean just. And you’re telling me, well, Gabe, you have to take personal responsibility.
Gabe: Should I just cheer up? Like, would that help?
Lisa: You could eat less.
Gabe: Is it like that? Or is there still, is there still wisdom in it, even for folks like us?
Lisa: There is absolutely still wisdom in it, because even if things are unfair, it doesn’t matter, you can’t change it. Although this advice is in fact very condescending and you want to say to this guy, hey, that’s easy for you to say. And it’s not a coincidence that when he said this, he was, of course, a wealthy white man. But it’s also just practical. It doesn’t really matter how much you’ve been screwed over by life. You can’t change that. This is all you can change. Your own behavior is all that you have control over.
Gabe: One, I completely agree with that, except that in the case of mental illness, we often don’t have control over our own emotions, brains, minds. I mean, just, I can only imagine if when I thought demons were trying to kill you and I was standing sentry in our front yard, you would have said to me, Gabe, you can’t control the demons. You’re only in control of your own actions in life. So therefore, by the power of will and want, you will defeat psychosis. Just come in the house and watch television. Do you think that would have worked? Would you have given me that advice on the lawn?
Lisa: That’s why we can spend the next however many minutes talking about it, because it’s so deep. There’s so many levels.
Gabe: Oh, is it meta? I know you like things that are meta.
Lisa: I don’t think you understand what the word meta means. No, this is not remotely meta. No.
Gabe: When you said that boxes were mailed in boxes and that was meta,
Gabe: I did laugh. But I have no idea what you’re saying.
Lisa: It’s a box of boxes. Whoa.
Gabe: I think what you’re getting at, Lisa, is we have to be active participants in our life. We can’t just sit back and wait for a magic medication or a magic treatment. If we don’t participate in our own recovery, recovery is unlikely to move forward. I understand that this advice does not work for people who are literally in the high end throes of mania or suicidal depression or suffering from psychosis or have such deep crippling anxiety that they can’t get out of their house. Mind over matter doesn’t always work. We’re discussing this from the point where we have gained back some of our faculties, where we have a little bit of control and we have the ability to make decisions and we’re trying to decide if we want to. That’s how it kind of was for me for a while. I didn’t know that I wanted to try. I’d failed so much. It was painful to try.
Lisa: You do have to be at a certain base level of functioning to even begin to take this advice. But as condescending as it sounds, it is practical.
Gabe: It’s so easy, Lisa, when I’m depressed to just really hate these quotes, because people are just throwing them at you, right. Constantly telling you you pick yourself up from your bootstraps, just cheer up, go for a walk. You know, stop and smell the roses. The sun will come out tomorrow. It is what it is. There’s just a million of them. But I do agree with it. So there’s a lot of nuance to all of this. And I just want to orient our listeners to the idea that what we’re saying is, if you have the ability, use it. And if you don’t have the ability, do whatever you can to get it. And then finally, this is going to be the crux of the show, right, Lisa? Try to figure out the difference.
Lisa: Well, maybe this would be a good time for you to tell the story that inspired today’s podcast.
Gabe: Nope, Lisa, you’re going to tell the story, because arguably this is your story. But I’ll give you a little bit of setup. Bipolar disorder took a lot. It was unfair. I didn’t deserve it. I don’t deserve it. I was fighting this illness, at, you know, what, twenty five years old? And all of my friends, they kept advancing in their careers, whereas I lost my job. I wanted to make sure that everybody within the sound of my voice knew that I was wronged. That I was a victim of this. That I was suffering from it. And that it was bullshit. Picture all of my anger, energy and loudness, proclaiming how I was a victim and how I was wrong. And I did it one too many times, and, eventually, Lisa snapped.
Lisa: I couldn’t take it anymore. And you would just go on and on and on about, oh, this isn’t fair, this isn’t my fault, this isn’t the way things should have turned out. All these terrible things have happened to me. Woe is me. And all those things were true. And what I finally said to you is, yes, I agree with you. You are completely 100% right. God f**ked you and nobody cares. You can go on and on and on about this for the rest of your life, but where’s that going to get you? You cannot pay your bills with this sad story. And I think what specifically I said is, well, then why don’t you just call up the bank and say, hey, look, I’m sorry, I can’t pay my bills this month. See, life was unfair and the universe turned on me and life screwed me over. Yeah. Why don’t you go ahead and do that and see how far it gets you.
Gabe: We fought about this for a while.
Lisa: We did.
Gabe: A nuclear argument ensued, lots of yelling. Like, she offended me so. That was really hurtful. That was probably the meanest thing. Yeah. Up until that point, that was probably the meanest thing anyone had ever said to me. And I was hurt. I was damaged by it because how dare you? I felt like she was taking the side of bipolar, I honestly, I thought.
Lisa: See, that makes no sense. Because I agreed with you.
Gabe: I thought that you were relishing in the idea that I deserved this. That’s my initial thought.
Lisa: Well, what’s up with that? Why did you think that?
Gabe: Because what you said was mean and it was meant to be mean and it was said in anger.
Lisa: Ok. All those things, yes. But I’d also like to say it finally got through to you, and it worked.
Gabe: And that’s the amazing part, isn’t it? This is probably my favorite story to tell in a speech for two reasons. One, I, always give the exact quote, so what, life screwed you, get over it. Are you going to spend the rest of your life bitching that life isn’t fair? Or are you going to do something about it? Because no one gives a shit about you and you sure as hell can’t pay your bills with your sad story. That’s the quote I start the speech with and then I end of the speech with, so, you know, I have just told you my story. I got hired to be here, which means I’m going to get paid to tell this story, which means finally, Lisa was wrong. I sure as hell can pay my bills with my sad story.
Lisa: Who saw that coming? I have to say, that does really annoy me. But I think my original point stands.
Gabe: Listen, here’s the point, I never would have been on that stage to take that cheap shot at you if you hadn’t erupted.
Lisa: Once again, you’re welcome.
Gabe: The part where Lisa and I are in a perpetual fight for the rest of our lives and now have a podcast for unexplainable reasons, just push that to the side. I couldn’t see it. If you would have asked me right before Lisa snapped if I was doing everything that I could to get better, I’ve have said yes. But then when you asked me the next day if I was doing everything that I could to get better, my answer was no. No, I wasn’t. I hate to say that the power of positive thinking is real, but it kind of is. I was thinking about everything pessimistically and all I wanted to do was wallow in my misery. And Lisa pointed that out. And had she never pointed it out, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have been able to move forward. I wasn’t taking a realistic stock of everything that I needed to do. I just wanted to wallow. And that was.
Lisa: Counterproductive? Self-destructive?
Gabe: In a way, it was allowing bipolar disorder to win because it had me right where it wanted me. It was attacking me and I was sitting around complaining about it. Once I attacked back, momentum started. Extraordinarily slowly, but I had a little bit. I am thankful for that, Lisa. Maybe you could have said it nicer?
Lisa: Well, maybe I could have done it in a different way. Hindsight. But also, maybe it wouldn’t have worked if I’d said it nicer.
Lisa: But I want to make clear, I agreed with you. Life had screwed you over. You can have a lot of compassion and love and feel bad and feel sorry for someone that has had bad things happen to them. For someone who society has screwed over, who society has abandoned. Just on a practical basis, it doesn’t matter. What are you gonna do? You just gonna sit around and wait for life to turn out fair? For the cosmic scales to be balanced? Gonna sit around and wait for wealth inequality or racism or sexism or the structural problems with society to be fixed? You don’t have time for that. You’ll be dead by then. The only thing that you have control over is what you yourself do. And again, it’s condescending. And the more life has screwed you over, the more ridiculous this advice is. But, it does give you some agency and some control over your own life.
Gabe: When it comes to living with mental illness, one of the things that I think about is that point that you just brought up, Lisa. The trashed mental health safety net, the abuses in the psychiatry, people that have money get better care than people who have no money. Just on and on and on.
Lisa: Social inequality.
Gabe: I think about that, and that’s, I did not know this at the time, but if I had not gotten better, I could not have become an advocate. I want everybody listening to get well and lead their best life. Because being well and living their best life is a good enough reason. Like, you can just stop right there. But I’m a little bit selfish. As loud as I am, I can’t do this alone. I’m helping other people. People are helping me. And I want everybody listening to be advocates as well. And one of the best ways that you can be an advocate, of course, is to live well in spite of mental health issues and mental illness. So, when you get there, you can then become an advocate and we can turn around and try to fix all of these social problems and funding problems. And I don’t think Lisa is saying, I’m not trying to put words in your mouth. I don’t think Lisa is saying to ignore these issues. She’s just saying that everything has a time and place. You can’t fight all this social inequality if you can’t get out of bed. And that’s really where I was. I just wanted to lay in bed and talk about how it was unfair. That wasn’t doing anything to make it fair. I wasn’t helping myself and I sure as hell wasn’t helping anybody else.
Lisa: I’m not normally a big self-help fan, and there certainly is a place to wallow because, hey, it feels good for a little while, but at a certain point, you’re not helping yourself. And letting your loved ones wallow, you’re not helping them either. You’re just enabling them. It’s not fair. Who cares? It’s like you always say, Gabe. It may not be our fault, but it is our responsibility.
Gabe: That’s a hard thing for people to understand. It’s a bitter pill, right? I have to be sick and I have to deal with the consequences of being sick? But I mean, yeah. Yeah, that’s how the world works.
Lisa: I just keep coming back to the practicality of it, that all this other stuff is kind of an esoteric argument. You’re trying to address all these social things, all these large-scale macro things, big picture. But you don’t have control over any of that. Advocacy can certainly help with all of those things, and you should definitely go down that route. But all you have control over is the little micro environment that you’re in. It’s just not practical to sit around and complain. The only thing that you can do is try to affect the immediate environment around you.
Gabe: I have to say, one of the things I keep thinking about is how often I wanted to talk about how unfair the world was. It wasn’t because I thought that I was making the world more fair. Me complaining wasn’t moving the needle in any way. It’s not like I was volunteering at a peer center or donating money or I wasn’t doing anything.
Lisa: And the world was unfair. I want to be very clear on that point. It was unfair. Bad things did happen. But no one cares.
Gabe: But I wasn’t affected any change. I was using it as an excuse not to have to deal with my own shit. I mean, you were there, Lisa. Was my complaining making life better for people living with mental illness?
Lisa: No, and it was actually kind of weird. It’s like you thought that if you could convince enough people that life was unfair, it would somehow suddenly get better for you. No. No, it wouldn’t. As I say that, I think about well, I guess if you could convince enough people that the mental health safety net was in tatters, that you would, in fact, be able to make some change and that might make life better.
Gabe: Well, let’s focus on that for a minute. You said that if I could convince somebody. That’s sort of my point, right? Would the angry mentally ill guy who isn’t speaking in coherent sentences, who’s probably not done a lot of really good research, who probably has word salad going on? I’m not sure that that individual is going to get a meeting with somebody who can affect real social change. But, hey, I’ve fallen into shit before, so let’s say that I do get a meeting with that person. Am I going to take advantage of that meeting? I have gotten those meetings now, and I come in prepared and with stats and with talking points, and I shake people’s hands and I say, hello, my name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder. And the reason that I am standing in front of you now as a voter is because I was able to find care. And the only reason that I got access to care is because I have money and privilege. And a good family. And arguably a Lisa.
Lisa: We could spend days upon days upon days talking about all the problems, all the things. But what are you going to do right now? What are you going to do immediately? And I think there is a lot to be said for when you feel like you have some agency over your own life, no matter how small an amount of agency that is, it’s good for you, and it leads to positive things.
Gabe: One of the things that you said to me, Lisa, which I found very incredible, is I told you, that one of the reasons that I was struggling is because before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, before I was aware, I had 100% confidence. If I went in and applied for a job and I didn’t get the job, it’s because I didn’t get the job. No big deal. If I tried out for a sport and I didn’t get the sport, it’s because I wasn’t good enough, no big deal. But then afterward, like, my confidence was shattered, right? And I would not get a job, and I would think to myself, is it because they didn’t, they didn’t want a guy with bipolar disorder?
Lisa: What you’re talking about is privilege. Privilege is never having to wonder.
Gabe: Yeah, and my privilege evaporated immediately. But then also I started to wonder, like is the reason I didn’t get the job because I was symptomatic during the interview? That was a hard thing to struggle with as well. So, you know, I’d say, you know, I want to be a bricklayer. Let’s just go with bricklayer. And I feel that I’m a good bricklayer and I go apply for the job as a bricklayer. And they don’t hire me. Now, did they not hire me because secretly I’m a bad bricklayer? That’s a possibility. Did they not hire me because I have bipolar disorder? That’s a possibility. And.
Lisa: Is there a more qualified bricklayer who also applied for the job?
Gabe: Right. That’s certainly a possibility as well. But the thing that bothered me is if you’re not getting hired as a bricklayer, then you need to look internally and you need to think to yourself, OK, maybe the reason I’m not getting hired is because I’m not a good bricklayer. And what got in the way of that was two things. One, am I really a good bricklayer but nobody wants to work with a bipolar bricklayer? But put that aside. Maybe the reason I’m not getting these jobs is not because I’m not an excellent bricklayer, but because I’m always symptomatic during the interviews? Or I’m not well enough to work as a bricklayer right now? Or I have a panic attack right when the brick laying interview begins? So if I could get those symptoms under control, then I could get a job as a bricklayer. That’s like another element that I had to deal with. That was very difficult. Now there’s programs in, once again, here’s some luck, in big cities. Vocational programs that will help you work on that. They will work with you in your chosen professions to let you know. I did not go through one of those programs because I was not aware that they existed. The thing that I used to do for a living I was still qualified to do. I was very good at it. But I had to switch jobs because I had a high-pressure job. There was a lot of stress. And every time something would happen at work, that was a normal part of the job that I chose.
Lisa: You lost it. You couldn’t do it.
Gabe: Lisa, how many times did you have to pick me up?
Lisa: A lot, a lot.
Gabe: Somebody thought I was having a heart attack at a job once because the panic attack was just so.
Lisa: It was actually pretty amazing how often you kept getting new jobs. You apparently are amazing at job interviews because you would get hired. But then you couldn’t keep that up for more than a few weeks, maybe a couple of months.
Gabe: I couldn’t.
Lisa: The pressure would get to you and you’d quit. One time you came home and I said, what? Why are you not at work? And you said, well, it was an emergency. I had to quit. It was an emergency quitting? Yes, there was an emergency, and I had to quit. Huh.
Lisa: Yeah. No, you had a panic attack and you couldn’t take it. You quit.
Gabe: That was the emergency. So, I had to take a long, hard look at what jobs I could do. It was very difficult because I didn’t want to leave that profession. I was good at that profession. Like Lisa said, I got hired a whole bunch. So,
Lisa: You got paid well too.
Gabe: Yeah. Clearly my resumé was good enough to keep getting these jobs, and I was good. But I, I had to switch gears. I had to find what else I was good at that worked with well, essentially my new reality. I worked it out with my therapist. I worked it out in groups and I wish I would have known about vocational training because that, man that would have made it easier. But I didn’t. But I, it’s one of the things that I worked on in therapy and we started with, OK, what are the things that you’re good at? What are the things you are bad at? What are the things that cause you panic? I started part time and I, I worked my way up. I’m very, very thankful to have been able to move all the way up. But I originally tried to go back to work as if nothing had ever left. I tried to do exactly what I was doing before. I tried to do exactly what I saw people my own age doing, because after all and this is the phrase that got me in more trouble, I wanted to be just like everybody else. I compared myself to others chronically, chronically. Gabe, why are you doing that? Because Joe did. Well, so? That’s how I know I have to have it. It’s like keeping up with the Joneses, except instead of stuff, it’s like, you know, job status or work status or.
Lisa: The point is that you were trying to go too far, too fast, too soon.
Gabe: Yeah, yeah.
Lisa: Baby steps were really where you needed to go here. And once again, if this is about taking back whatever amount of agency or control you can have, a small amount at least get you started down the road, and eventually you’ll get all of it. But for now, whatever you can claw back, take it.
Gabe: You know, I remember when I was really, really depressed like super super depression, and I couldn’t leave the house. A therapist recommended that I write on the mirror everything that I need to do. But like, don’t write, take shower. Because take a shower actually encompasses a lot of things. Right? Take a shower is, you know, washing your hair, washing your body, shaving, brushing your teeth. You know when people say, I have to take a shower, they tend to do all of that stuff. Right.
Lisa: She was basically saying that you needed to count the success where you could.
Gabe: Exactly. So, I wrote on the thing, all right, get undressed. All right. Got to do that. Brush teeth. Shave. Get in shower. Soap up body. Rinse off body. Dry off. Get dressed. And I kept all of those, like, single things.
Lisa: So, one day at a time, one step at a time kind of mentality. Just one foot in front of the other.
Gabe: Yeah, and don’t be bothered with how long it takes you she said. Don’t even worry about the time. Don’t say, well, I have a friend that can do all that in 10 minutes and certainly don’t say, well, I’ve done that before in 20. Just make that your goal for the day and cross them off as you get there. If you don’t get them all done, start over tomorrow. So, Gabe, these 10 things, which again, brush my teeth and turn shower on, turn shower off, were on the list. Celebrate that success. I loved that for depression. It helped me a lot. It helped me get moving. And eventually I didn’t need the list, and I started taking showers in 20 minutes again and getting dressed and leaving the house and no problem. I started applying that to my ability to work. So, a 10 hour a week job was a huge amount of success because I was no longer comparing it to a 40 hour a week job. And that really helped. You know, I’ve had some jobs that people would consider crummy, but I kind of liked them. One of the jobs was at a fast food restaurant where I got free food. Truthfully, I kind of miss that job. Free Diet Coke, all I could eat food. It didn’t pay well at all, and I had to work until like 2:00 in the morning. But, man, did I love that job. That was a good job. You remember that job, Lisa?
Lisa: Well, that ties back to the eating disorder episode, doesn’t it? You were unreasonably thrilled by that job.
Gabe: Yeah, yeah, I didn’t talk anything about the money or the benefits or the stability or that they were nice to me or that it was close to my house. Nope, just the free food.
Lisa: Perhaps not the best example. Anyway.
Gabe: But it did work for me and it got me to where I am today.
Lisa: It got you out of the house.
Gabe: Well, it got me out of the house. But what I wanted was what I have now. What I wanted was to go from nothing to what I have at this moment right now. And that was unreasonable.
Lisa: Yeah, you can’t do that.
Gabe: And, you know, I’ve since gone on to marry a woman with an MBA. It’s a master’s in business administration. She understands how businesses work. And when I started my business, I was like, well, this is the business I want, and she’s like, OK, what are the steps to get there? And I said, what are you talking about? This is the business that I want. She was thinking in the same way that I needed to think to get over depression or get back to work, which is the day you opened your business is not the business that you want. As much as we like to think that all of this thinking is abnormal and it’s just something that people with mental illness need to do. No Amazon, the most profitable and wealthy company in all of America, started out with a plan. Day one, register Amazon.com. Day two, build the Web site, expand the Web site, growth, build the warehouses. And now world domination. But
Lisa: The point is step by step. Not all at once, you can’t get there in one fell swoop.
Gabe: And the bigger point is, this isn’t some rule that only applies to people with mental health issues. This is how everything works. I got a billion examples of this, but maybe this is my favorite one. The day you join the workforce is not the day that you have all the shit your parents have because it took them 50 years to get it and you want it on day one. This is how the world works. And I needed a big reality check for that and I needed to realize it. I needed to apply those skills. But more importantly, I needed to recognize that I was in control. I had the ability to affect the outcome, and that gave me power. That power is why I work so hard, because that was infectious. I had missed that. I had missed having agency. I had missed having control. Do you remember, Lisa? I know we were divorced and I had worked so hard and I moved into a six hundred square foot apartment.
Lisa: You really loved that place.
Gabe: It was in a mediocre section of town. It’s not the bad section, but not, you know. Lisa and I, when we were married, we had dual income. Mostly Lisa income.
Lisa: We lived in the good section.
Gabe: We lived in a very upper middle class section, in a house. We had a house. And then I moved to this little six hundred square foot apartment. And everybody, everybody, including Lisa, was positive I was going to fail.
Lisa: I was. I did not have enough faith in you. What I said to you a year later, because you said, oh my God, I’m just so depressed, I’m so sad. This is not where I want to be. And I said, are you kidding? Do you remember a year ago? None of us thought you could do it. And there you did, throwing it right back in our faces.
Gabe: Your exact words were, you rubbed our faces in your success. And when I thought about it, I was like, yeah, I did.
Lisa: We didn’t think you could do it and you did.
Gabe: How you like me now?
Lisa: You were a good sport.
Gabe: I was. I was not a bad winner. Especially since I didn’t think that it was good enough and you had to remind me of it. And I fell into the same trap where I was comparing the apartment that I lived in to other people’s my age, houses and marriages and children and nicer cars and better vacations. And that’s what I was doing. I was comparing myself to others again. And when Lisa pointed out that literally everybody in my life was positive that I was going to need to be rescued. They were all making plans behind my back. All right, how are we saving Gabe as soon as he screws this up? Which again, they were doing because they loved me and because they’re a good support system. And when I started hearing the stories of how shocked they all were that I made it, how proud they were of me. A year later, same job, same car, all my bills paid, had built up a little nest egg. I just.
Lisa: Even started cleaning your place. It was amazing.
Gabe: I did have the magic hamper. Lisa still did my laundry. That was pretty cool.
Lisa: He got it at Ikea.
Gabe: I bought this hamper and I threw dirty clothes in it, and once a week the hamper would show up in my apartment with clean clothes in it while I was at work. It was pretty awesome. I, still to this day, don’t know how it works, but do you know how that worked, Lisa?
Lisa: And eventually he started trying to test it. How much could he put it that hamper? Just how far could you push that? Yeah.
Gabe: One day a week, my sheets would automatically change on my bed and it would be made.
Lisa: It was a magic apartment.
Gabe: Sincerely, though, even as I tell the story right, Lisa was still helping me out. I’m sort of making air quotes because she wasn’t helping me, like, manage my mental illness or anything. I mean, she was.
Lisa: You were helping me, too.
Gabe: Oh, yeah, we were trading. But,
Lisa: Yeah. We traded.
Gabe: You know, she was doing my laundry because she had a washer and dryer and I did not have a washer and dryer. And Lisa didn’t mind. I took care of her car because I didn’t mind taking care of her car. She’s about to list all this other stuff that she did for me. Suffice to say, she did a lot for me and I am very thankful, you don’t.
Lisa: I was actually going to list all the things that you did in return. That shows you where your negative thinking gets you. That’s when my shoulder had gotten so bad, and so you started coming over and mowing the lawn and all the other stuff that I couldn’t do.
Gabe: I did. I did. You couldn’t lift anything. Which really slowed down your ability to clean my apartment, I might add.
Lisa: Yeah, I know, I know. Almost as if that inspired you to start cleaning yourself.
Gabe: I mean, all six hundred square feet. You basically stood in the middle with like a Windex bottle, just spraying it. You covered every surface. I didn’t have a real vacuum cleaner. I just had a DustBuster and that was enough.
Lisa: What? Why does that even exist? No. We’ll be here for the rest of our lives talking about why DustBusters suck.
Gabe: We’ll be right back after these messages.
Announcer: Interested in learning about psychology and mental health from experts in the field? Give a listen to the Psych Central Podcast, hosted by Gabe Howard. Visit PsychCentral.com/Show or subscribe to The Psych Central Podcast on your favorite podcast player.
Announcer: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counseling. Our counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counseling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.
Gabe: And we’re back discussing the wisdom of self-help clichés.
Lisa: It can be very difficult to know where that line is. Because you want to have sympathy and love and compassion. But at what point does it cross into enabling? At a certain point you’re not doing this person any favors, you’re just allowing them to stay sick. And you’re thinking, well, but there’s such a limited amount that he can accomplish. There’s such a limited amount that this person can do. Well, yeah, but that ain’t zero. And you want to make sure they’re living up to that potential.
Gabe: And not for nothing, you don’t know.
Lisa: Well, that’s true, yeah. Your expectations could be completely wrong, and won’t you be surprised?
Gabe: Like you were, Lisa, when I just became this.
Lisa: That’s true. I didn’t think you could do it. I really didn’t. And I feel bad saying that now. And there have been times where I’ve tried to be like, oh no, I always had faith in you. I knew you could do it. Nah. No, I totally didn’t. It took me about a year to realize that you could. I might have told you I thought you were gonna make it, but, yeah, I didn’t really think so.
Gabe: No, you told me I was going to fail. In a way, I think that honesty helped because you weren’t enabling me. You let me try. I understand, Lisa, that our situation was a little different, right? I mean, I had to move out. We were getting a divorce. We couldn’t live together anymore. We were moving on with our lives and we needed to do stuff. But I know that you were angling very hard, that maybe I move a couple of states away near family or in with family because you did not want to be a caregiver. I insisted that you were never my caregiver, and that’s part of the reason that we are getting a divorce. Long and involved story, we don’t need to discuss it. But the point that I’m making, though, is that I believed that I could do it. Lisa did not believe that I could do it. But Lisa didn’t interfere.
Lisa: You did not believe you could do it. That is not true.
Gabe: I did believe that I could do it or I would’ve.
Lisa: Did you really?
Gabe: Yes. What I said was that.
Lisa: You didn’t say it at the time.
Gabe: You are wrong. I obviously thought I could do it or why would I have done it? Yeah, I could have moved in with my parents, I could’ve moved in with my grandparents, I could have moved in with my sister. I could have tried to apply for disability. I could have moved into a roommate situation. I could have. I had 100 other options. Why did I pick the one I thought I was gonna fail at? You’re thinking, no, no, it wasn’t perfect. You weren’t like [singing]. Yeah, you’re right. I had trepidations. I was nervous. I was scared. I cried the first night I was in my apartment. But no, I absolutely thought I could do it.
Gabe: That’s nonsense. That’s like saying that Debbie doesn’t think that she could be a mom because while she was pregnant, she was worried she’d be a bad mother. No, Debbie was confident she could be a good mom. She was just scared.
Lisa: Thinking back on it now, I don’t remember it that way, but there was a lot going on. So, I don’t know.
Gabe: The point that I want to make to people is, you know, this is how we decide who is in our lives. Because I knew that Lisa was worried about me and didn’t think that I could do it. And I knew that my family was worried about me and had major reservations about whether or not I could hold down a job and live alone in an apartment. And everybody was very, very worried, but they still supported me. They did make their worries and concerns known, which I think made me better. I was able to talk to them about my worries and concerns, which got me help during the process. And even though Lisa thought that I was going to fail, she still did my laundry. That’s really nice, right? We’re a divorcing couple where she thinks that her mentally ill, soon to be ex-husband, is about to, like, get fired from a job and run out on a lease and become homeless.
Lisa: And implode.
Gabe: She’s still talked to me like an adult. She still helped me. We still worked it out. And all of that, it helped prove Lisa wrong and helped prove my family wrong and helped me, as Lisa put it, rub all their faces in it. Those are the people that we need to surround ourselves with. We need to talk to the people who are supporting us, helping us, or giving us a leg up and saying, look, if you don’t think I can make it and you are actively hindering my progress, I probably can’t make it. If you don’t think I can make it, and you refuse to help me, maybe I can’t make it. Because one of the reasons that I believed I could make it is because I did believe that I could count on the people around me. You know, Lisa, my family, my friends. I thought I had good support and they never turned on me.
Lisa: Do you remember what you said to me, you said, you know, I don’t understand why you think that I can’t do this. What were you working all this time for? If you thought it was hopeless, why did you bother up until now?
Gabe: It was curious. I don’t know why you started dating a severely mentally ill man, got him help, got him all the care that he needed. And then when he went out on his own with a job, said, you’re going to fail.
Lisa: You make me sound bad when I say it that way.
Gabe: You wanted a severely mentally ill man who didn’t get better.
Gabe: In your house forever?
Lisa: Now, when you do stuff and I say things like, oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding me, blah, blah, blah. Really? You went for a hike? You never would hike when we were together, would you? And you always say, why did you try so hard if you didn’t think that someday I would become this? Why did you even try to get me here in the first place? Why didn’t you just ditch me by the side of the road? And so, yeah, it turns out I was very prescient.
Gabe: A lot of us are younger when we’re going through these things. You know, I was young, twenty-five is young. Thirty is young. I talk to a lot of people that are in their early 20s. You know, they’re talking about their families, you know, their parents who have put up with a lot. And they ask me, they’re like, why should I tolerate my family treating me this way? And I was like, well, look, you’ve gotten yourself into this rut together. You know, stop pretending that it’s all your family’s fault. It’s not just, you know, mom, dad, brother, sister, best friend that have done it to you and you’re innocent. And this is the part about taking responsibility and control of our own agency. Lisa cares about me very much. She was there through the worst of it, she guided me. She is my best friend in the entire world. Her thinking that I was going to fail is not because she was mean. It’s because I had a history of failing. It’s because I had a history of emergency quitting jobs and having panic attacks. And I had a history of not being able to do it. So, I needed to understand that honestly, people thinking that I wasn’t going to be successful was probably not an unreasonable thought. They have that right to think that. Just make sure that they’re respectful and ask them directly how they can help. You know, we use the example of Lisa doing my laundry. It’s because I asked her, I said, hey, I don’t have a washer and dryer anymore. Can you help me with this? And Lisa said, absolutely. That’s how we did it. I hope we’re an inspiration to all.
Lisa: It’s not just that someone is enabling you, you are allowing them to. Again, it doesn’t matter how little control you have, it’s more than zero. And the more you can take, the more you can get.
Gabe: Lisa, I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about, we lived together.
Lisa: Yeah, well, we were married.
Gabe: Well, yes, but and I know this isn’t completely analogous to a lot of our listeners who aren’t married or maybe live with roommates or friends that are causing them problems or live with family members who are.
Gabe: But I think that a question that I want to know is how I was able to manage you? The scenario that I’m setting up, is let’s say that you’re a person living with mental illness, mental health issues, and you’re living, you know, in your sister’s basement or you’re still a younger person or just whatever. You’re living with somebody who you now are thinking they might be enabling me.
Lisa: Ok, OK.
Gabe: They’re not trying to help me get a job. They’re not trying to push me out the door. They’re OK paying the bills and let me play video games all day. But you’re right. I do want more out of life than playing video games all day. And people are thinking to themselves, if they’re reasonable. Well, as soon as I tell them that I want to get a full-time job, they’re going to tell me I’m going to fail. Like you did, Lisa, with the apartment and everything. And they’re like, well, man, this guy seems to have a good relationship with this lady and she didn’t believe in him. What are the odds that my friends and family are going to believe in me? Maybe they have failed a lot, like I did. I’m trying to project my story onto them because the question that I have is, how did I convince you to help me even though you didn’t believe in it?
Lisa: I’m uncomfortable with you saying I didn’t believe in you, although that is accurate. Maybe I’m just uncomfortable in being portrayed in a way that I feel is negative.
Gabe: I know that you don’t like the truth, but, you know, this is a no bullshit thing and you did not believe in me.
Lisa: I did not.
Gabe: You were positive that you were going to have to bail me out of some sort of trouble.
Lisa: I was.
Gabe: No doubt with time, energy and money and pick up the pieces of whatever I destroyed.
Lisa: Yes. Yes, I was positive of it.
Gabe: And I told you, in no uncertain terms that I would be fine and that you were wrong.
Lisa: I don’t think that’s accurate, you actually did not have that much confidence, at least not that you were expressing to me.
Gabe: I had enough confidence that I did it.
Lisa: That’s true, but it’s not like you were saying, I am a winner. You know what I mean? It’s not like you had this mindset.
Gabe: Who cares? My actions projected confidence. You told me that I would fail. Nobody told me that I would succeed. And I did it anyway.
Lisa: Yes, you did.
Gabe: You understand the question that I’m asking. Why did you decide to support me? What is it that I said that made you think, well, I need to support this guy, even though I think that he is wrong?
Lisa: I don’t think there is anything that you said. It’s just what’s the other option? How do I not support you? Just say no? No, screw you, you’re on your own. Don’t call me if bad things happen. I mean, how do you? What would I have had to do to not support you?
Gabe: We fought about this. We fought about this a lot. This was not a touching moment. This was not the part of the Hallmark movie where we came to terms and hugged each other. This is the part of the Hallmark movie where we yelled at each other and doors were slamming so that when we finally did hug each other at the end of the Hallmark movie, it was so much more meaningful, because we came together. How did we come together? What did that path look like? Stop pretending that you were just like, oh, I think he’s wrong. I’ll just be okay because there’s no other option. The option is to constantly tell me I’m going to fail and try to talk me out of it.
Lisa: Did I do that?
Gabe: Yes. What made you stop?
Lisa: You know, I don’t know that I remember. I guess the obvious reason of what made me stop telling you that you were going to fail was probably when you succeeded. Why would I keep saying to you, you are not going to be successful in doing this when you were right in front of my eyes being successful? Once you moved into the POD, did I ever say at that point you were going to mess this up and I’m going to have to bail your ass out? Did I ever say that at that point?
Gabe: Side note, POD stands for Pretty Okay Domicile.
Lisa: It was nice.
Gabe: Because my high school bedroom was pit of despair, which I also called a POD. I was trying to be trying to use my coping skills and.
Lisa: You were reframing.
Gabe: Yeah, I was reframing. I like that.
Gabe: That is a good point. You’re right. You remained critical until the die was cast. You did not believe in me. And I kept moving forward. And finally, I moved forward enough that you really had no choice but to follow along.
Lisa: Well, right. Yeah.
Gabe: And I think that’s a powerful message, right? For people listening, like how can I get my family on board to support me? You might have to take the first several steps of the journey.
Lisa: On your own.
Gabe: While listening to them criticize you and tell you that you’re wrong. You’re right. You were not on board until I was, until I was already down the path. Do you think that’s the message? You’ve got to take the first several steps by yourself? That you probably won’t get buy in.
Gabe: Until after you’ve stuck to your guns for a while?
Lisa: But let’s look at the reason why you’re not getting buy in. And again, I acknowledge that it sounds mean, etc. But the reason why I did not think you were going to be successful, you did not have a track record of success. Not having faith in you was, frankly, the safe bet. I feel like that was reasonable at that point. How much blind faith versus pragmatism should we have here? I mean, how do you find that balance?
Gabe: I’m not saying that you were wrong for not believing in me. I’m just saying that I think there’s a lot of people that believe that the people in their lives have given up on them.
Lisa: Maybe they have.
Gabe: I’m just trying to get your side of the story out. Why did you not believe in me? And you’re like,
Lisa: Because you had not succeeded up until then, you continued to have a track record of failure. How much was I supposed to invest in this potential future where you said, no, no, no, I’m gonna do it this time? I mean, how many times had I been burned before?
Gabe: See, that’s what really struck me looking backwards for me. First, I thought, well, she’s just being mean and she doesn’t support me. I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. Right? I didn’t see all the times that you supported me, and then, of course, I let you down or it didn’t work out or failed.
Gabe: I was looking at it in this one little window. This whole thing reminds me of the basketball coach who cut Michael Jordan. And everybody’s like, oh, my God, that guy’s an idiot. He cut the greatest basketball player ever. What a moron. Except that he was right to cut him, he wasn’t good yet. He needed to be cut because he wasn’t prepared. He wasn’t ready. He needed to learn more fundamentals. He learned to practice. And one could argue that, in fact, that coach is not an idiot, but the father of the greatest career in basketball history.
Lisa: Right, because this failure gave him inspiration. Or his coach’s lack of faith in him is the extra push for him to practice, etc.
Gabe: Sure, all of those things. Whatever it is, and I think that sometimes we don’t give that credit. We take the easy route, which is a ha-ha that coach was a moron for cutting the great Michael Jordan.
Lisa: But he wasn’t the great yet.
Gabe: Right. The actual thing that happened, Lisa, is it’s not that you were a moron that didn’t believe in the great podcaster Gabe Howard. No. The guy to you didn’t believe in wasn’t great at anything.
Gabe: I had failed at everything. You looked at the facts and said, yeah, this isn’t gonna happen. And because you were honest, and because you told me what I sucked at, I had the opportunity to fix it. I’m just going to pretend that in the Michael Jordan analogy that the coach was like, dude, you can’t make it because you suck at free throws and you can’t dribble. And Michael Jordan was like, aha, I will practice that. And then ta-da, we get Michael Jordan, or in this case, Lisa, we get Gabe. So, this guy unleashed Michael Jordan on the world, sorry LeBron James fans. And you unleashed Gabe on the world, sorry fans of quiet and peace.
Lisa: Sorry world.
Gabe: Yeah. I think that a lot. But it’s easy. It’s easy when you’re that guy to just look around and be like nobody believes in me. And I just think that I want the people who are listening that might be in this situation to think it’s not that my family and friends are morons. It’s that I haven’t given them anything to believe in yet. And that’s taking back the power. Right? Remember your quote, that’s you taking back the power and giving them something to rally around. Like, give your family something to believe in. I feel like an 80’s song is coming up. Don’t stop believing. But do you agree with that? Like at what point were you like, now I can rally behind Gabe.
Lisa: Maybe you want to look at it from the other person’s point of view. How much of what you perceive of your family and friends not supporting you is actually them trying to protect themselves emotionally? It is exhausting to be let down over and over and over again. How many times are you supposed to get your hopes up only to have them dashed? What’s a reasonable amount?
Gabe: It’s interesting, this idea of it’s not all about us. Like that’s kind of a new concept.
Lisa: Yeah, almost like you’re not the focus of the universe.
Gabe: But it’s easy, though, right? It didn’t occur to me that.
Lisa: Is that actually true? It honestly didn’t occur?
Gabe: No, of course not. I was only thinking about myself
Lisa: Like, you honestly didn’t think about that?
Gabe: No, I was busy only thinking about myself. Why would I?
Lisa: Well, that makes a lot more sense.
Gabe: And I think that if you thought about it, it wouldn’t occur to you that I would have thought about anybody other than myself. I was very wrapped up in everything that was going on in my life.
Lisa: Right. Well, that’s what mental illness is. You’re trapped in your own sphere, in your own mind.
Gabe: Yeah, exactly, but forget about mental illness. I think it’s just very common when you feel like somebody has done something that’s mean to you. I felt that it was mean that I wasn’t being supported. So, I don’t know that it’s natural to put yourself in the shoes of the person who’s being mean to you. I’m not saying it’s not a good idea. It’s an incredibly good idea. And it would have paid dividends all the way back then. Because if I could have seen things from your point of view, maybe we could have . . . Anybody listening, put yourself in your family and friends’ point of view. Is it that you’re too anxious to leave the house? Or is it that you blew them off eight times and they’ve bought food and made dinner and counted on you to come over? Like, how are they seeing what’s going on? You, Lisa, were seeing it as, oh, my God. If he does this, I’m going to have to save him.
Gabe: I’m gonna have to worry. Time, energy, money.
Gabe: This is emotionally devastating when he fails. I must prevent this and protect myself.
Lisa: Right. You have to look at your own individual situation. How long has this been going on? How much is your family and friends been doing for you? What are the risks? What are they putting on the line? How many times have they had to rescue you already, and maybe they just don’t want to do it anymore?
Gabe: All very fair questions. I guess the thing that I want people to understand from listening to both of us, from the perspective of the person who is upset that nobody believed in him and the person who was exhausted at believing in me and being let down is that both of our journeys are valid. I didn’t mean to let you down, Lisa. I wasn’t malicious. I wasn’t trying to hurt you. But that doesn’t.
Lisa: Yeah, but you also weren’t focused on not
Gabe: Yeah, probably.
Lisa: It’s not like you were going out of your way to not hurt my feelings.
Gabe: I think that’s part of a larger conversations. I mean, I was desperately trying to get well and if I could have succeeded in getting well, that would have not hurt you. So in that way, I was trying to be who I needed to be. But even if you don’t believe that, I certainly wasn’t trying to end up divorced. That was not my goal.
Lisa: Well, maybe this goes back to your point of you should start with baby steps,
Gabe: Yeah, it does.
Lisa: Because the more steps, the more complicated, the bigger your plan, the less buy in you’re going to get. Because statistically, just playing the odds here, the less likely that you’re going to succeed. You were talking about how do I get buy in right away or is it even reasonable? Well, maybe if you start with small goals and then accomplish them, maybe that will help you get buy in as well. Rather than saying, I’m going to go get a job. Eh, I don’t know that I’m going to help you with that. I’m not going to do this. Help you buy a new outfit and spruce up your resume. I’m not gonna go through all this crap again. I’ve already done this eight times. You’re on your own, buddy. Maybe if instead you said, hey, I’m gonna go volunteer. Someone would be like, oh, okay. Yeah, sure. I’ll drive you,
Gabe: Hey, at some point, you’ve got to make the leap. I think it’s a leap. I think it is a leap for folks to believe that their loved ones can do it.
Lisa: You’re acting like this is the first time anyone’s ever asked them to do that. They’ve already taken that leap several times and fallen. So, you’re saying, hey, take a leap of faith, but if you’ve already leaped multiple times and fallen to the bottom of the canyon, at what point are you just an idiot for leaping again?
Gabe: I hear ya. But just do we want the message to be don’t believe in your loved ones, don’t believe that they can ever get better? I mean, how many times is it reasonable.
Lisa: Exactly, maybe the in-between message is if you feel that the goal they’ve set is unreasonable or you think, Ugh, no, not again. Maybe that’s the takeaway, that you should try to work towards something that you both believe is a thing. What are some options? I think many people do have in-between options, but they don’t want to take it because it’s depressing. No one really ever wants to set manageable goals. Right? Everybody’s always like, I’m going to lose 50 pounds. Yeah. People say that all the time, but no one ever says, you know, I’m going to go for a walk right now. No one ever does that. It’s more fun, it’s more satisfying to have these large, bigger goals, but it’s also less likely to be successful.
Gabe: I hear what you’re saying and it goes back to the discussion we were having earlier about baby steps. Don’t just say, hey, I want to get ready and leave the house, say that I want to get undressed, I want to turn the shower on. You can do more than you think you can. It’s going to be a lot of work. And if people don’t believe you, try anyway. But be reasonable and get rid of toxic people. But maybe consider that their toxicity is on you.
Gabe: And it’s not 100% their fault. So be willing to forgive them when you succeed and finally, set manageable goals. There’s no reason to say you’re going to lose 50 pounds when you’re not even willing to put on sweat pants and walk around the block with your dog because, and I quote, it’s hot.
Lisa: It’s easier said than done, but try to step outside of yourself and see it from someone else’s perspective.
Gabe: That is a difficult concept for people.
Lisa: Well, obviously, yeah.
Gabe: And again, it’s not a mental illness thing, right, Lisa?
Lisa: Yeah. That’s everybody, yeah.
Gabe: People have a hard time seeing things from other people’s perspectives.
Lisa: Yes, obviously. Otherwise, we the world, would be so much different.
Gabe: Yeah, it would be. I only bring that up because, again, as a guy who lives with bipolar disorder, I think these things are only happening to me. We love all of your comments, everyone. In fact, our favorite comment was where somebody said, I love listening to your show. Do you and Lisa have kids? No, we do not have kids, but we do have a podcast, and that’s like a kid. We certainly fight about the podcast as much as other people fight about their children.
Lisa: Gabe, the only reason we’re fighting is because you’re just always way too hard on the podcast.
Gabe: Well, he’s got to learn.
Lisa: He needs your love.
Gabe: I want the podcast to get into a good college and not be spoiled like my other podcast.
Lisa: You know, sometimes you just need to sit around and play a game. It doesn’t always have to be high stakes. My advice is good.
Gabe: I love our podcast parenting style. Listen up, everybody. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for tolerating us and for listening. And if you loved the show, please subscribe on your favorite podcast player. Please rate, rank and review. Share us on social media. Use your words and tell people why they should listen in.
Lisa: Don’t forget about the outtake, and we’ll see you next Tuesday.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Not Crazy Podcast from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit PsychCentral.com. Not Crazy’s official website is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. To work with Gabe, go to gabehoward.com. Want to see Gabe and me in person? Not Crazy travels well. Have us record an episode live at your next event. E-mail email@example.com for details.
This article originally appeared on Psych Central as Podcast: Self-Help Cliches Have a Peculiar Value.