Podcast: Family Perspective on Mental Illness
What’s it like growing up with a sibling with mental illness? In today’s show, we hear it straight from Gabe’s little sister Debbie, who shares what it was like living with Gabe well before anyone knew he had bipolar disorder.
Join us for a great discussion on mental health issues in families. While it’s always hard, there is often a silver lining.
(Transcript Available Below)
Please Subscribe to Our Show:
And We Love Written Reviews!
About The Not Crazy podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Lisa is the producer of the Psych Central podcast, Not Crazy. She is the recipient of The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Above and Beyond” award, has worked extensively with the Ohio Peer Supporter Certification program, and is a workplace suicide prevention trainer. Lisa has battled depression her entire life and has worked alongside Gabe in mental health advocacy for over a decade. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband; enjoys international travel; and orders 12 pairs of shoes online, picks the best one, and sends the other 11 back.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Family Mental Illness” 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: Welcome to this week’s episode of the Not Crazy podcast, I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and with me, as always, is the awe-inspiring Lisa Kiner.
Debbie: Yeah, I don’t think so, I’m not Lisa.
Gabe: Well, then, who are you?
Debbie: I’m Debbie, your little sister.
Gabe: Oh, my little sister is on the show, you know, we pick on you a lot, but where is Lisa?
Debbie: She left.
Gabe: She’s left before and she’s always come back. So, I think we’ll be OK here. For all of our listeners, she has only left for one episode. I promise she will be back next week. I wanted to have Debbie because as longtime listeners of the show know my little sister and well, really my family, but definitely my little sister and my mom both take a huge beating. And since my mother wasn’t available, Debbie gets to help co-host the Not Crazy podcast. Debbie, welcome.
Debbie: Well, thank you for having me. I will do my best.
Gabe: Now, Lisa usually has a quote, have you prepared a quote for the listeners?
Debbie: Don’t eat yellow snow?
Gabe: All right, Lisa definitely puts more effort into it.
Debbie: Well, maybe if you would have given me a little advance notice?
Gabe: Oh, yeah, advance notice is really not part of the, part of the process, we really like to put people on the spot and then just be like, ha ha, gotcha.
Debbie: Yes, as your text this morning indicated.
Gabe: We’re part of the gotcha, the gotcha podcast media. We’re fake podcasts. No,
Gabe: I’m just kidding. We’re as real as they can be. We can even say things like bullshit, but not the F word. So now, you know, moving forward. Debbie, I wanted to have you on here because we talk about our families a lot, Lisa and me. We just, we see things through our experiences. But you have a unique perspective because you watched me grow up as my younger sister. Now, Debbie is five and a half years younger. She is my baby sister. I think that gets maybe missed a little bit. So, when I was 14 and going through a really troubling times, you would have been eight.
Debbie: Something like that,
Gabe: Does the math hold?
Debbie: Don’t make me math. Come on.
Gabe: We all went to public school. We’re not good at this. Education was not a priority in the Howard household in the early 90s.
Gabe: Debbie, what was it like? What do you remember about your big brother, Gabe? I know you’ve talked before about how you looked up to me. I was just your big brother. There was no concept of mental illness or bipolar disorder or even a problem. But you do remember some less than positive things from our childhood that had to do with me and our parents. Tell that story, or any of the stories.
Debbie: Like you said, I was very young and self-involved, my life was my best friend and I think I spent more time at her house than our house. However, I do remember a couple incidences that, looking back, can only be attributed to being an untreated bipolar. I know there was the time and it was when we were living at Karl Road, so I was in elementary school.
Gabe: Yeah, that would put me in high school.
Debbie: And I can remember you did something. You got in trouble for something, I don’t know what it was, but I could hear you down in the basement and you were just heart wrenching sobs, screams. Like not angry screams, but like just some heart wrenching, like being down there was going to kill you or something. And.
Gabe: Now, my bedroom was in the basement, so
Gabe: We should point that out, mom and dad did not put me in the basement. I was in the basement. That’s where my room was.
Debbie: Your room is down there. You were probably just told to go to your room for something, but I could hear you upstairs. I remember turning to Mom and like what’s going on? You know, what’s wrong with Gabe? And she’s like, this doesn’t concern you. Story of my life being divided. Anything that’s not pleasant, we don’t share. So, I was just told to go outside because I couldn’t take the screams and the cries anymore. But I honestly don’t know what happened.
Gabe: And I don’t think anybody else does either. One of the things that I remember from my perspective, of course, is something would happen and the something that would happen, would always be, frankly, uneventful. It’d be stupid, you know, had dessert when I wasn’t supposed to, you know, got into the Little Debbie snacks. Oh, the horror, you know, back talked. It would always be something small. This would always end up in the same place with me feeling dejected, abandoned, alone. I think other people would just bounce back. Other kids would just be like, well, got caught, you know, time to move on and got to be better at this in the future. Other families, I don’t think went through this, but I was always and, Debbie, I can’t even put into words these memories of just being alone, rocking back and forth, screaming. And I felt that nobody was ever going to love me ever again. And from Mom and Dad’s perspective, they were just like, well, this is a temper tantrum. From my perspective, the death of my family occurred because I was, I was now, I don’t know, like excommunicated from the family. And it would take hours for this to work itself out or wind down. And then we’d all just go along like nothing ever happened. That was how I always remembered it. I was abandoned and alone for, you know, four to five hours screaming in the basement. Mom and Dad would ignore me. My mood would eventually cycle and then we’d all pretend nothing happened. What was it like for you? This cycle playing out over and over and over again for you to watch without anybody ever telling you why this was occurring?
Debbie: Well, you begin to think it’s normal, it’s the Leave it to Beaver, we don’t talk about anything that is uncomfortable. We don’t air our dirty laundry to others. You know, it’s.
Gabe: But we don’t even air it to ourselves,
Debbie: Well, yeah.
Gabe: It’s really weird that I find myself here. Like, hey, Gabe, you can discuss all the things that we screwed up in your childhood live on the air on a podcast listened to by tens of thousands of people? No problem. But all the way back then, Debbie would say, hey, what’s wrong with my big brother and Mom and Dad would be like, don’t worry about it. We’re not going to discuss it. That’s a weird dichotomy, right?
Debbie: I think it was more along the lines of you were in trouble, if you don’t want to be in trouble too, then you need to mind your own business. This doesn’t involve you.
Gabe: Yeah, but nobody else behaves this way. When you got in trouble, you didn’t go to your room and scream, cry for six hours.
Debbie: No, no. I might have cried, but that’s normal.
Gabe: Did Billy do this? You’re the baby, you’re the youngest. I have a middle brother. Did Billy ever behave this way when he got in trouble?
Debbie: I remember one time when he got in trouble and Mom went to spank him with the infamous wooden paddle,
Gabe: Yes, the Board of Education.
Debbie: And every time she went to swing, he made this high pitch funny noise and it got her to where she was bursting out laughing and she could not spank him because he would jump up like a cartoon character and make a funny noise. And she was laughing too hard. I remember that. So that’s what you got to do.
Gabe: I’m the oldest, you’re the youngest, there was three of us, and when I looked at the two of you, my younger siblings, you didn’t have these problems with Mom and Dad. And as an adult, looking back, it’s because the two of you knew when to shut up. I could not get out of the feedback loop. Every time I opened my mouth, Dad would ground me for another week and I kept going for so long. Mom pointed out to dad, we’re into years now. Gabe is grounded for years. She was finally able to separate us. But, Debbie, this had to be awful to watch. I mean, me, Mom and Dad, we fought my entire childhood until I finally left home and I left home before I graduated high school because the arguing was so incredible and so pointless and so unproductive. Really was just so unproductive that I had to leave. Why were you told that I left home? All of a sudden your older brother is gone and he’s moving in with grandma and grandpa and now you and Billy are left behind. So, did Mom and Dad ever sit you down and be like, hey, we got rid of Gabe?
Debbie: No, they didn’t. It was just Gabe’s going to move in with Grandma and Grandpa, and I’m sure I asked why, but I don’t have any recollection of an actual answer. It was just Gabe’s going to live with Grandma and Grandpa. I was like, well, I didn’t know that was an option. Grandma gives me spaghetti O’s.
Gabe: Yeah, I’m the favorite it’s only an option for me. Was that ever addressed in the family?
Debbie: I don’t think so.
Gabe: I was gone, did you wonder why?
Debbie: I mean, I did, but, you know, I was given your email address so we could keep in contact.
Gabe: But that wouldn’t even be right away because I didn’t get e-mail until my second year.
Debbie: Trying to think if we wrote letters like physical letters, because, you know, that’s what people did in our olden days.
Gabe: In our olden days? Wow, wow,
Gabe: Gabe and Debbie are so old, we remember when there was no Internet.
Debbie: That’s accurate. We’re older than Google.
Gabe: We’re older than Google. Wow, wow, we’re older than Yahoo!
Gabe: So here’s another interesting thing, let’s talk about that for a moment. So I got the great idea, Mom and Dad, I stole from Mom and Dad. Let’s just open that, like, right up. I want to own that. I would get into Dad’s wallet, Mom’s purse. I would figure out where they kept money. This is a long time ago. There was more of a cash economy back then. So people kept cash on them a lot more than they do now. And I would steal the money and I would use it to buy pizza. Basically, I stole money for food.
Debbie: In your defense, I do remember a time that I looked in coat pockets and found.
Gabe: But that was for like change,
Gabe: Did you ever go in Mom’s purse?
Debbie: No, no, no purse off limits.
Gabe: You ever go in Dad’s wallet?
Gabe: No, no, that was a
Debbie: Didn’t matter whose coat it was, I did look in coat pockets.
Gabe: That was a spare change thing. Thank you for trying to make my. Yeah, it was not a good scam. Mom and dad knew how much money they had in their wallets. And the first time you did it, they were just like I thought I had more. But, hey, maybe I stopped and picked up milk on the way. But eventually they set me up. I got caught. They knew that I was stealing the money. Mom and Dad started locking their bedroom door so that I could not steal the money anymore. OK, no problem. This can be solved by shoving your tiny baby sister through the master bath window and having her unlock the bedroom door. You can steal all the money that you want, then just lock it all back up. And when mom and dad are like, where is this money going? They think, well, it can’t be stolen because after all, we had it locked up in our bedroom. Nobody could get in. Now, this worked perfectly. We never got caught. We confessed to this as adults years later. Perfect plan. But here’s the interesting thing. We did this together
Debbie: Oh, yeah.
Gabe: And we didn’t get caught. So Mom and Dad didn’t have any parenting to do. We were adults when this came out. But they still very much believe that this was an example of me corrupting you. Why is that?
Debbie: Because I was too young to know any better,
Debbie: Hey, if I was small enough to fit through a bathroom window, I was young.
Gabe: First off, you’re tiny, I think you would fit through that window now.
Debbie: Well, maybe not now I’ve got 30 pounds of pandemic weight on.
Gabe: Ok, before the pandemic, I think you would have fit through that window,
Gabe: I know you only have one kid, Debbie, so this is difficult, but, you know, go into the future and pretend you got a second kid and both of them together, break into your room and steal money. Do you just blame one kid and give the other kid a complete pass, or are you mad at both of them?
Debbie: I would be mad at both, but I’d probably be more upset with the older one simply because they’re older and should be providing a good example. Even if the younger one was like, hey, let’s do this, the older one should be like, no, that that’s wrong.
Gabe: See what a mess this is.
Gabe: See how hard it is to be me? Not only did I have a horrible illness that nobody noticed, but I was also responsible for helping raise my siblings. My siblings were a mess because I was their example. And Mom and Dad are like, wow, I can’t believe they had to watch this. You know, Debbie, I think you turned out pretty good. You’re the only college graduate, 10 years in the military. You’ve only been married once. I mean, just. You’re welcome. You’re welcome.
Debbie: Well, I always looked up to you.
Gabe: The example that I set for you was clearly perfect.
Debbie: Well, you know, you learn a lot from others, whether it be what to do or what not to do.
Gabe: Wow. Oh, I, I hate you so much right now,
Debbie: I’m sorry. It’s true, though. I’m not saying that I looked to you and say, OK, I don’t want to do that. No, that’s not true. I actually have always looked up to you. I still look up to you to this day.
Gabe: Well, I appreciate that, but it’s for what not to do, right?
Debbie: Well, no, but there are things that you learn what not to do from others. It was one of the things of when I was in the military, I had gotten some bad leaders and I was like, well, I’m going to learn from this leader. I’m learning that I do not want to do that when I become one. And I think that’s everybody. You know, you learn from your environment regardless.
Gabe: So we’ve established that you’re hanging on to this idea that, yeah, Gabe was kind of screwed up as a kid, our family didn’t handle it very well. Mom and Dad didn’t talk about it. But then you became an adult, I got diagnosed and then our family really embraced it. That is the segue into now adult Debbie. Be honest, before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, did you have any understanding of severe and persistent mental illness whatsoever? Did you know the signs? Did you understand suicidality? Would you have been a good advocate for somebody who was sick before I was diagnosed?
Debbie: No, because my only knowledge was Hollywood.
Gabe: Yeah, and they do, they do a bang-up job,
Debbie: Oh, yeah, well, Hollywood and then when it comes to suicide, my only thing is don’t do it or you’ll go to hell.
Gabe: Oh, yeah, that’s fantastic.
Debbie: The Catholic upbringing, you know.
Gabe: Yeah, yeah, there’s a lot to unpack there, but then I got diagnosed and it became personal. It wasn’t just this nebulous concept of mental illness and suicidality. You weren’t talking about it in the abstract anymore. All of those words now applied to Gabe. They applied to your brother. They applied to somebody that you knew and loved and had a personal relationship. Did this change the way that you investigated and learned about mental health, mental illness and suicide?
Debbie: Oh, absolutely. For starters, when I first learned of your diagnosis, and you’d sent me links, you’re like, go read about it, go attend this class. And I would do that. And I’m like, what is this? It just doesn’t make sense to me. And I learned more actually reading your blogs, maybe because they’re so raw and unfiltered and because there are certain things that you and I, we just don’t talk about. I will admit that I skipped some of the blogs because there’s still some things I don’t need to know when it comes to my big brother. Some stories I know from listening to podcasts, and I can’t burn them out of my head, but.
Gabe: Yes. Hey, listen, if it makes you feel any better, the day that Mom told me about you buying French lingerie and how expensive it was and when Mom told me that, Debbie, tell the French lingerie story.
Debbie: Oh, my gosh, so I was stationed in Germany. Friends came to visit and we decided to do a night overnight trip to Paris because it was a train ride away. And while there, I was like, you know what? I am going to buy some nice French lingerie to have because I can. Because, you know, it just seemed like that was my picture of French people. Anyways.
Gabe: So you spent how much on this lingerie set?
Debbie: I don’t even remember, but it was.
Gabe: A ghastly amount,
Debbie: It was way too much. Yes.
Gabe: And so Mom is telling me this story about my baby sister going to Paris and purchasing French lingerie, and she’s telling the story as, oh, can you believe that your sister paid so much and went to the sale rack? And when Mom was done, I said, why is Debbie buying lingerie? And Mom said, Well, I. And Mom’s like your sister is grown and she is a woman. I’m like, I don’t want to hear that. This is too much, I don’t, and we change the subject. So years later, poor Debbie is listening to a podcast on hypersexuality and starts hearing some of these stories. And she’s like, why did I have to hear this? And when we were talking about it, I said to Debbie, Well, there is that time you bought lingerie. And Debbie is like you think those are equivalent? And I’m like, well, kind of. I think that the trauma might be the same. We’ll be back in a minute after we hear from our sponsor.
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: We’re back talking mental health with my baby sister, Debbie Wyatt. One of the things that you told me is that having this knowledge really allowed you to help many of your students. Now, the average onset of mental illness is 16 to 24. So, Debbie, as a college professor, you are right in line with the average age of symptoms coming out. And you’ve been very helpful to many of your students who, well, frankly, need guidance because there’s just not a lot of guidance out there.
Debbie: Yeah, as a college instructor, I teach a bunch of different classes and I also teach emergency medical response. And some of my classes, they have strict attendance policies. And in the past, when I first started teaching so students might say, oh, well, I had to miss these days, I just wasn’t feeling well. And I’m like, oh, excuses, excuses. I had the military mentality, the army mentality of, you know, just get it done, do what you have to do. Don’t be late. It’s kind of drilled in which was hard to overcome. And especially, you know, I’ve got my own standards, like, well, if I could do it, you can do it.
Debbie: But that’s not the case. Everybody is not the same. Everybody doesn’t test the same. Everybody doesn’t learn the same. I mean, I learned that in college. You know, you’ve got auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, visual learners. Some people can only learn one way, while others can learn all the ways or a variety of which. And I came to learn as I got to know more about mental health and your life. So, whenever students would approach me and be like, look, I couldn’t come to class yesterday, like if they would say, so I just I couldn’t get out of bed, past me would have been like, well, that you missed class then. But now I’m like, OK, talk to me. Of course, if they don’t talk to me, I can’t help them. I can’t work with them if they don’t have a conversation with me. So, I had a student in my current class who emailed me. It was like, I know I have not been in class. I’ve been going through some mental health issues. That’s what the email said. And can I still pass this class to graduate this year? Now, the past may have been like, no, there’s nothing you can do. But now I know it’s like, you know what? Especially during a pandemic, sometimes even me who I do not have a mental illness. But I’ve experienced so much anxiety this year since the shutdown that I can understand it even more than just what I’ve learned from you and from your influence. So I emailed him back. I’m like, absolutely, do what you can, you know, what can I do to help? We’ve got resources on campus. Sent an email saying, contact this person, this person, or if all else fails, you could qualify for a hardship retroactive withdrawal to where having a bad semester due to your mental health will not affect your grades. You shouldn’t have to because you can’t help that.
Gabe: One of the things that many people with mental illness push up against is that we don’t learn about those things, we don’t learn about the retroactive hardship withdrawal. People aren’t racing to help us, whereas we see our peers, they write in and they say, you know, hey, I got in a car accident, I broke my leg or I was diagnosed with anything and any physical illness. And that really threw me through a loop. Or I’ve spent a lot of time with this or even I had a loved one who was moved into hospice in this. And we see all of these things and people are just coming out of the woodwork to help make life better for them. And I firmly support that. Like, I like this about the world. I don’t know when we got so the real world doesn’t give second chances. That’s bullshit. I watch sports all the time. There’s second chances all the time. There’s four downs in football. That’s four chances. Right. The world doesn’t give second, that’s not true. People file bankruptcy all the time and go on to lead great lives. I just people get divorced and remarried. That’s a second chance. Where did we get this idea that the world doesn’t give second chances? But putting that aside for a moment, I am firmly for that for people with mental health issues because it’s a real issue, just like being diagnosed with a physical health condition.
Gabe: But we don’t get it. And what happens, Debbie, of course, is the problem is compounded. We come to you and we say we’re having a mental health issue. Can you help us? And you say, no, this is the real world. Well, you’re our instructor. We believe that what you are saying is now true, that the real world doesn’t care about my condition and will not help me. So, unfortunately, a lot of people in your position have just told me, a vulnerable student looking at an authority figure like, you know, Professor Debbie. And we’re like, well, we might as well not try to get a job. My professor said, the world doesn’t care about me. I might as well not try to graduate because my professor said the world doesn’t care about me. Do you see the difference? And what are your thoughts on that? Because your students do kind of look at you like, you know, doughy, wide eyed and, well, stupid, and you’re guiding them in a much better direction. That’s going to ensure that they’re not just sitting at home saying, well, some professor told me that the real world won’t help me, so I’m not even going to try.
Debbie: You know, and unfortunately, there are professors and teachers out there who, in my opinion, shouldn’t even be in the teaching profession if they have that type of mentality. I know exactly what you mean and especially at the college level, because at universities, the people who are teaching a lot of the classes, especially ones with doctorates, they are experts in the field, whatever it is, you know, psychology, physics, chemistry, whatnot, they’re the experts. This is what they do. But they’ve never been taught how to teach, never been taught how to work with students and their needs. And I know here at my university, we do work on that. Our president has sent out emails, the dean of students has sent out emails, especially now. And I really do think the silver lining of this pandemic is that it has brought more people understanding that mental health is a serious thing and a lot of people are affected by it. And we need to do our part to contribute to the health portion of it, not the illness portion of it. And by laying down those strict guidelines like, no, I’m not going to let you take this test. No, I’m not going to work with you on that. That doesn’t help the student learn. It doesn’t help the student in life. Working with them, doing what you can on your part to help them succeed is what’s important. And I, I know that there are other instructors and professors out there who feel the same way. Unfortunately, it’s not all of them.
Gabe: I obviously understand this concept of the world has to work the same way for people with mental illness as it does for people without mental illness. I certainly wouldn’t want to go to a doctor that the only reason they got their medical license is because they just kept claiming that they had mental illness or legitimately had mental illness. So they kept getting passed over and over again. I just want to take a second and talk about that for a moment, because obviously, just like physical health challenges can prevent you from doing the things that you want to do. Mental health challenges can prevent you from doing the things that you want to do. How do you balance that? Because I know, Debbie, that you don’t want an EMT that just got a pass because they had, you know, bipolar disorder. I don’t and I don’t want anybody listening to this to think, oh, well, I can get anything I want if I just claim that I have bipolar disorder or legitimately have bipolar, just like like
Debbie: It’s not getting what you want, it’s getting the opportunity to be able to learn to the best of your ability. It’s why we have students with disabilities resources here, for instance, you know, and this goes into more cognitive features. But I had a student one time who she could not read a test question and understand what it said. So she did not do well on tests, but because she went to the students with disabilities resources and got registered there, she therefore was given the permission to have somebody read her the questions because she could visualize it if it was read to her and she could understand it. And this goes for lots of things. I had a student one time who because I had a strict attendance policy, she had registered with students with disability services. So they don’t exactly tell you. They just say, please allow for the student to have more absences than normal. And the student came to talk to me is like, look, sometimes I just can’t get out of bed. You don’t have to report me. I promise you I will be here when I can. And I immediately I’m like, I’m here for you. You know, what can we do to make sure that you learn what you need to learn from this class? That’s all it is. It’s about giving the students the opportunity to learn by their best means.
Gabe: There’s a famous Einstein quote that I always butcher, and it basically says that if the test for intelligence was climbing a tree, all fish would believe they were stupid. And, you know, I think about that a lot because, you know, oftentimes the way that we design learning is for the largest common denominator.
Debbie: Mm hmm,
Gabe: Right? We’re designing learning for everybody.
Debbie: You teach to the middle.
Gabe: Yeah, well, but there’s got to be somebody that’s on the margins. There’s got to be somebody that doesn’t learn that way that could still absolutely do incredible things if they were given the opportunity. I appreciate what you’re saying, because I know that there’s a lot of listeners that want to try college. They want to try getting a job. They want to try doing a lot of things. But so many people in their lives have told them that it’s not for them, it’s not for them. They can’t do it. The real world won’t help you. There’s no such thing as accommodations. Nobody’s going to give you a second chance that, you know, then there’s all kinds of other stigma and discrimination that comes into it. You’re too emotional. You’re too whiny. You need to be babied and mocking and on and on and on. And I just feel so bad because at one point all of that stuff applied to Gabe. It all applied to Gabe Howard. And if I wouldn’t have had other people to balance that out and say, no, Gabe, that’s not true, you need to get back on the horse. You need to try again. You need to start over and find where you fit. I would be what? Probably sitting on your couch right now. I mean, it’s always the baby sister that ends up taking in the ne’er do well sibling. But I heard that a lot. And those voices are loud. Those voices are loud and you already feel like garbage. What advice do you have to people listening that are afraid to take that step because they’re afraid of running into the people like you described, the people who are going to be like, look, I’m not helping you. If you can’t do it, screw you, you fail. How do they advocate for themselves? What can they do if they run into the not Debbie, but the opposite of Debbie?
Debbie: I’m really glad that you asked me that, because especially from a university point of view, what I can say is if you’ve got something going, go talk to your teacher, you know, at the beginning of class, introduce yourself, let them know that you really want to learn, that you’re there. Whatever you feel comfortable telling them, you, by all means, do not need to tell them a thing. But I find that I’m more willing to work with somebody who is going to open up a line of communication with me, because if I hear absolutely nothing from a student and they don’t drop me a line to say anything, then it’s like, well, I mean, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know how I can help you. And I do my best to reach out to students as well. It’s hard in the online setting, but if you’ve got something going on, talk to your teacher. Let them know. If you are at a university, look up students with disabilities. It’ll be called something along those lines. At the bare minimum, at all public universities, I would assume private as well. But I don’t know. I don’t work in a private institution.
Debbie: But look that up. You would be surprised how much it can be helpful in your college career, because, for instance, if you get test anxiety, you sit down, you get that time test, 30 minutes. Oh, my goodness, I’m never going to get through this. And by the time you’ve gone through the mental block of dealing with a 30 minute time limit, ten minutes have gone by. So now you have a 20 minute time limit and that can be accommodated for, you know, they can offer a low stimulus environment to where you take your tests, not in the classroom, but at one of their facilities. They can offer time and a half where you get a little bit more time on the test because you’re learning and giving your knowledge the same way. It just might take you a little more time to process it, to deal with anxiety or anything. But just talk to your teachers. University specific, go see the students disabilities resource. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a disability. It just means that you will learn better with some specific accommodations. That’s all that really means.
Gabe: I like how you told people not to get hung up on words, you know, so often we’re like, well, I’m not disabled, I don’t have a disability. I fight this all the time in mental health advocacy where instead of looking to solve the problem, we’re all fighting about what to call it. Let’s not get hung up on the names of things, because once you achieve that goal, you won’t care what the name of the organization, group or department is that you went through to get to where you want to be. Not to take it away from college, Debbie, which is very, very important. But in jobs, careers, et cetera, go to human resources. Go to human resources, sit down and say, hey, look, I need this extra accommodation. There’s all kinds of laws for reasonable accommodations. And, you know, nine times out of ten, your employer is very interested in giving you what you need to be productive. They don’t care that you need something that the other employees don’t if that thing that they give you makes you more productive. At the end of the day, you’re there to accomplish something for them. If you have an open dialog with them and that helps you accomplish it, you know, they’re very good. Now, we understand stigma. Discrimination is a very, very real thing, which is why I recommend going to these services, going to the College Department of Disability, going to Human Resources, you know, bypassing your coworker, supervisor, professors, et cetera, and starting the conversation over there. That way you have an advocate and you have assistance. If you do feel comfortable, and again, it’s a personal choice, you can absolutely talk to your supervisor or to your professor. And hopefully whomever you talk to has a brother with bipolar disorder who’s, like, really learned the ropes.
Debbie: That is helpful. I’m not going to lie.
Gabe: Debbie, you know these are tough questions when we talk about families. But do you think that my behavior traumatized you in any way? Do you ever look back at your childhood and think, you know, that was, that was a lot going through that with my brother? That was a lot.
Debbie: I do not. Of course, I look at my childhood a lot differently than you look at your childhood.
Gabe: Yeah, my childhood was horrific,
Gabe: Like it was awful. You were a bright spot, you were good.
Debbie: We had a great relationship. You were my first word, you
Gabe: That’s true.
Debbie: Got me out of my crib every day.
Gabe: I did. Dropped her right on her head every morning.
Debbie: No, but, you know, we’ve always had a great relationship. Even the few times that we butt heads, I mean, but that’s what siblings do.
Gabe: Debbie, I’m glad that it didn’t affect you. I really, truly am. Of course, it would be perfectly understandable if it did, and it often does in many families, you know, siblings get left behind because all the resources are going to well, the troublemaker, the sick person. It’s not an uncommon story for siblings to be, frankly, traumatized by this. I’m glad that it didn’t impact you, but I guess I am surprised. I would think that just witnessing some of these things would be problematic. Maybe I prepared you for war. I don’t know.
Debbie: Well, you know, the eyes of a child, when you’re at that age that I was, in elementary school, that’s your me time, like everything’s focused on me. You haven’t evolved to the point where you start thinking about we.
Gabe: My behavior was very confusing to Mom and Dad. Yeah. It was just very confusing to them. And I’m really surprised that it didn’t impact you more. Do you think that mom and Dad could have handled it better talking to you? And I know we’re kind of throwing them under the bus because they’re not here to defend themselves, but they told you nothing. I mean, your brother just up and left one day and they told you nothing. It doesn’t seem like it impacted you in any way. And for that, I’m very grateful. But it could have, leaving that kind of thing open. That could be a really big deal.
Debbie: That is our family, though, they never talk about things that are uncomfortable or could make people feel sad. They try to spare everybody’s feelings. Doesn’t matter what it is, somebody is in the hospital. Don’t tell Gabe because he’s up in Ohio. He can’t go anyways. He doesn’t need to know. It’ll just be or don’t tell Debbie she’s over in Germany that Gabe was put in a hospital because he was suicidal. Let’s not tell her. She’s not around. She doesn’t need to know. You know, I do wish they would have had the conversations because maybe I could have been enlightened earlier.
Gabe: Maybe it could have helped.
Debbie: Yeah, maybe, I don’t know, but because we had a special relationship, I don’t know, I do feel that I do wish they would have had more of those difficult conversations with us. Luckily, I still turned out OK for the most part.
Debbie: Yeah, I’ll keep it. Pretty well.
Gabe: Well, you know, Debbie, you turned out great and, you know, people listen to the show and I, Debbie, I talk about my family on the show all the time. And it is funny to hear you say, my family doesn’t talk about anything. We don’t want to make anybody, because you are 100% right. Everything that you said is true. But when I came to them and I was like, hey, I want to tell all the family secrets publicly, they’re like, do it. And I was like, OK, well, we might be embarrassed. And they were like, well, we don’t want other families to have the same problems as us. We’re strangely not shy people. You know, Mom bursts out singing opera in the middle of a department store just like it’s nothing. I just we’ve had public fights that nobody cares about. We’re loud people. But I’m really glad that you got to come on here, because I think sometimes people think that all I do with my family is we just fight, we just fight. And we’ve come up with all these clever ways not to fight, but really it’s just all passive aggressive and we’re ignoring the elephant in the room. And while that is true, that that is how we behaved as children, let’s talk about our adult life for a minute. I don’t think we ignore elephants in the room anymore. I think we’ve matured past that as a family. And while certainly sometimes, you know, Mom’s like, well, Grandma got sick last night, but I called you this morning, so you didn’t worry. OK, OK. But before I would have found out days later.
Debbie: When she was better.
Gabe: Yeah, there’s still a little bit, but I think mostly we pull the Band-Aid off a lot quicker. Do you think we’ve matured as a family compared to how we behaved when we were younger?
Debbie: One hundred percent. I mean, Mom will tell me something I’m like, have you told Gabe yet? Like, yep, he’s either he he’s my next call or I called him first. It’s like all right, don’t hide it.
Gabe: Yeah, I’m really glad that you said that, don’t hide it, you’re right, we figured it out that this was problematic and we say things like don’t hide it, don’t sugarcoat it, let’s get it out of the way. I do think that all families should do this. I am glad that you came on so that people know that we do have the tough conversations. We just, we don’t have them during Thanksgiving dinner.
Gabe: That’s noodle time.
Gabe: That’s noodle time. Debbie, I love you so much.
Debbie: I love you too.
Gabe: I’m glad that you came on the show. How did it feel to be the Lisa? Man, I wish this was a video podcast that look that you gave me, I just oh, I should have taken a picture. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Not Crazy podcast. Special thanks to my sister for pinch hitting for Lisa, who I promise will be back next week. My name is Gabe Howard. I am the author of Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations, which of course is available on Amazon.com. But if you want to get it cheaper, if you want me to sign it and you want Not Crazy podcast swag, then all you have to do is head over to gabehoward.com and buy it right there. It makes a great holiday gift. We’ll see everybody 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 protected] for details.
The post Podcast: Family Perspective on Mental Illness first appeared on World of Psychology.