Recorded: June 2nd, 2022
Snap Out of It! is pleased to speak with award-winning podcaster and mental health advocate Gabe Howard. Gabe has lived with bipolar and anxiety disorders since 2003. Gabe has a harrowing tale of when he was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Not only can he speak to what it was like to work with bipolar disorder before being diagnosed, he can also speak to what it was like to “come out” at work and, finally, be fired because of his bipolar disorder.
This is an interview you can’t miss.
Live video recordings are available on:
The transcript and recordings will be linked here after the air date.
Gabe Howard hosts the weekly Inside Mental Health podcast for Healthline Media and is the author of Mental Illness is an Asshole and Other Observations. He has appeared in numerous publications, including bipolar magazine, WebMD, Healthline.com, and the Stanford Online Medical Journal. He’s been a guest on several podcasts, including The One You Feed, The Savvy Psychologist, and Out of Patients.
Among his many awards, he is the recipient of Mental Health America’s Norman Guitry Award and received a resolution from the Governor of Ohio naming him an “Everyday Hero.” The Inside Mental Health podcast has been honored by both NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and WEGO Health.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive and patient wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
(This transcript is auto-generated. Please excuse the mistakes.)
Natasha Tracy (00:00):
That’s the beauty of going live? My apologies. So we are here at Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace podcast. And we are speaking today with Gabe Howard, a mental health advocate speaker, and award-winning podcaster of inside mental health at Healthline. Gabe is also the author of Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations. He also lives with bipolar disorder today. Gabe is going to talk to us about his time working with bipolar disorder and what it was like to be fired because of his mental illness. I just wanna remind our audience, this is a live show, pretty clear at this point. So pop your questions for Gabe into the comment box, and they might just get answered during the podcast. But before we get to Gabe, I just wanna remind people of a couple of things. First off, like I say, mental health is very important in the workplace.
Natasha Tracy (00:53):
That’s because a hundred percent of people have mental health. Everyone from the janitor to the CEO can improve their mental health. But a group that often gets left out of the conversation is those with mental illness, about 20% of people, that’s about one in five. People have a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. So from ADHD to anxiety, to bipolar disorder, these range from mild to severe, and these 20% of people need to be involved in any mental health conversation. And that’s what we’re doing here. We are making those people, the center of the conversation, and because we have a guest with bipolar disorder today, I just wanna share a couple of facts. According to the American psychiatric association, the lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder is about 3% in adults and 82% of people with bipolar disorder experience, serious impairment while 17% have moderate impairment. However, I would be remiss if I did not also mention that those with bipolar disorder tend to have superior levels of creativity and can absolutely be productive in the workplace. Gabe here is the perfect example. And he’s gonna tell us more about that.
Natasha Tracy (02:04):
Hi, Gabe, welcome to Snap Out of It!
Gabe Howard (02:06):
Hey Natasha. Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Natasha Tracy (02:10):
We’re so glad to have you today. So tell me a little bit about yourself.
Gabe Howard (02:15):
Well, my name is Gabe Howard and I, I live with bipolar disorder and as you said, I, I work as a speaker and a podcast host and, and I did write a book with a swear word in the title. because, you know, you, you, you gotta be a little, you got, you gotta stand out. Right. I mean, everybody already wrote the book like bipolar in its symptoms, managing bipolar. So I was like, all right, well, I’m just gonna swear. That was, that was my whole goal right there.
Natasha Tracy (02:41):
Okay. Well, you met that goal. wasn’t that? And I, I said it online and, and everybody’s, everybody’s heard it and it’s okay. Now so tell me what you were like as an employee before you had bipolar disorder.
Gabe Howard (02:57):
So the, the first thing is I, I wanna alter the, the question then a little bit. It would really be before I knew I had bipolar disorder. Right. But, but here’s the thing. I, I was great. I, I was fantastic. I I’m, I’m not, I, I am looking backwards. So this isn’t like, oh, I, you had mania and grandiosity and you thought you were great and you were actually a train wreck. No, I, I have actual physical, unbiased evidence. I, I still have, you know, as many records as I could get my hands on, on my way out the door. Mm-Hmm I had excellent reviews. I know the raises that I got, I know the bonuses that I got, the bonuses were based on your performance. They they’re literally called performance bonuses. And I got top bonuses every year until I was diagnosed. And, and then suddenly things started to change.
Gabe Howard (03:44):
And it there’s a lot of factors in those changes. And I, I want to be like very, very clear. Obviously I was sick. I did miss work. I wasn’t a hundred percent, right. I’m not, I I’m, I’m not blind to that fact. But the, the simplest answer is I was an excellent employee who understood the business and was good at it and was hired for a reason and had lasted four years at that company for a reason. And it wasn’t on anybody’s radar that I was anything but a rock star in, in until, until the diagnosis.
Natasha Tracy (04:21):
And so if I may ask at that time, what did you actually know about bipolar disorder? If anything,
Gabe Howard (04:26):
Nothing I knew. I knew, I knew that Kurt Cobain from, from Nirvana, right, nineties, nineties, rock, band, Nirvana. I knew that that Kurt Cobain had it. And I knew that he died by suicide. And that would be the extent of my, I also knew that lithium treated it again because Kurt Cobain who had bipolar disorder wrote a song called lithium that, that, that was it. I knew nothing. I knew absolutely nothing.
Natasha Tracy (04:54):
So apparently your education came from nineties alternative rock.
Gabe Howard (04:58):
I mean, yeah, up until that point, my, my education came from pop culture. So you, you can, you can imagine how helpful that was upon being diagnosed with, with, with, by disorder and just referencing television show and movies. And yeah, it was bad. It was, it was bad, Natasha, very bad.
Natasha Tracy (05:17):
very bad. Well, okay. I’m sorry to hear that. Well, here’s here’s a question for you. So you said that oh, you said that things were, you started to have to take some time off when you started to get sick. Is that the extent of what happened when you started to get sick?
Gabe Howard (05:42):
So as far as work was concerned, you, you, I don’t know. I, I was perfect at work. I, I know that’s a weird, but, but even in my own life, I prioritized work. I, I don’t know if it was my upbringing, my age, my desire for money, my arrogance, I don’t know. But up until the point where I was diagnosed and hospitalized, all of my symptoms of bipolar were outside of work. I, I would, I would leave work and then stay up all night. Right. But I I’d still survive in the workplace without anybody really noticing what happened was, is eventually I crashed and I, I crashed outside of work and I, I ended up in the emergency room. The emergency room led to an inpatient commitment. Obviously I couldn’t go to work cuz I was committed to a psychiatric hospital. So I had to inform my employer, Hey, I’m in the hospital, which I did. And then I was written off work for a few weeks after that. And, and I would say that that was the beginning. I, I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of the end for me at that, at that, at that job.
Natasha Tracy (06:50):
Yeah. I mean, I’ve been hospitalized as well. And I know that it absolutely can end careers and jobs and careers, I guess I should say. So for you, I mean, I don’t know what that was like, but it, it must have been yeah. So scary to think that this thing that happened to you, that wasn’t your fault might be like hampering your career. That’s a pretty scary thing.
Natasha Tracy (07:18):
So, you are tuned to Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast. We are talking to Gabe Howard, an award-winning podcaster with bipolar disorder. And don’t forget if you have any questions, please pop them in the comment box. And we may just answer them on air.
Natasha Tracy (07:35):
Now tell us a little bit about, so you told us that you were, you you were having some issues outside of work that led to hospitalization. Would you say that there were issues inside of work as well, or just know you hit it completely?
Gabe Howard (07:50):
I was able to hide it completely. The, I I really thought. And here’s why, because I didn’t realize that the things that I was doing outside of work were symptoms of bipolar disorder. And, and so let’s take a, like a, a real hard look, let let’s, let’s move away. The, the, the BS, I don’t know if we can swear on your show and let’s talk about what the symptoms were, right? The, the, the symptoms were hypersexuality, something that you don’t bring into the workplace, right? The, the, the symptoms were parting drinking drug use the, the symptoms were drama, really, you know, getting in fights and arguments and, and, you know, contests for lack of a better word. I’m better than you. I’m better than that’s not the kind of thing that you bring it for. Forget about bipolar disorder. I, I was trained from a very young age by my father that you leave that at home.
Gabe Howard (08:36):
I I’ve decided I can swear on your podcast now. I don’t know why. Thanks. thank you. Thank you, Natasha. You didn’t correct me. So I thought we were good. That’s okay. So yeah, those were, those were some very, very serious symptoms. And if somebody would’ve been, I don’t know, maybe paying attention, they’ve been like, why is this guy angry? Why is he happy? Why does he think he’s garbage? Why does he think that he’s God? Why does he think what is up with that? But all of those things are checked in a political corporate environment. It’s well, Gabe, why did you hold your tongue? Yeah, because you don’t scream at your boss in the same way that you scream at your buddy, your friend, your mom, your sister, the woman that you’re dating, the, the, the guy at the end of the bar who thinks his cigarettes are better than yours.
Gabe Howard (09:15):
It just, that’s why it was all outside because the, the behavior to me, sincerely, I just thought I was an. And, and I mean that, like really sincerely people had talked to me before. It’s like, Gabe, your behavior is wrong. And I would look at it and I’d be like, yeah, yeah, it is kind of wrong that that’s not the kind of person I want to be. I’d make myself a promise that I was gonna change. I’d make my dad a promise that I was gonna change. I’d make my wife a problem. I was gonna change. And, and I’d be good for a while. This is, this is the bipolar story, right? Yeah. And then I’d cycle, and then it would all be gone. That didn’t happen at work because work has boundaries and guard, rails, and immediate consequences. You raise your voice at work. You’re fired the end. So it kept it in check.
Natasha Tracy (09:58):
Okay. Well, I think that’s actually a really good point that a person can be so sick that they’re going to end up in the hospital. And yet actually hide that in an, an environment for, you know, for you, it was at work, but for other people, it might have been at home, you know, for other people, it might have been other environments where they can hide their illness completely. And I think that’s actually really important to point out because people often think that people with bipolar disorder are running around, you know, with their heads on fire. And that’s just not true. Even people who are very, very ill can be, can function in certain situations. So that’s important. And so how did you feel about getting back to work after the hospitalization
Gabe Howard (10:39):
In, in one ways it was relief, right? Cause I, I was off work for about five weeks. So I did, you know, everybody likes to talk about, you know, you were committed to a psychiatric hospital and that that’s very scary. And I, and I, and I was, I was absolutely committed to a psychiatric hospital, but I was, I was only in that hospital for, for about four days. And then I was released to a step down unit. So a, a step down unit looks all kinds of different ways for me. It was, I showed up at eight o’clock in the morning and I left at five o’clock and I slept at home. So I was, you know, intensive outpatient treatment was what it was called in here in Ohio. So I spent eight hours a day getting therapy, but then I would go home.
Gabe Howard (11:13):
And that just sort of became my job for the next month when all of that was over and I was ready to get back to work again. Remember when we said I got all of my information about bipolar disorder from pop culture. I was somewhat disavowed of, of this belief that, that, that this knowledge is good. But one thing that I didn’t understand was how long it took. I believed a lot of the talking points that many people believe like if you are just med compliant, you will be fine. If you follow your doctor’s orders, you will be fine. If you want to get better and you work hard, you will be fine. I believed all of those things. I also believed that bipolar disorder was something that could be treated in a month with no, I don’t know, no side effects, I guess, no, no relapse, no issues.
Gabe Howard (11:57):
No. So, so I honestly, when they were like, Hey, you’re going back to work. I had been taking my medication perfectly. I had shown up at all of my therapy appointments. I never missed a single day of the outpatient treatment. All eight hours. I participated in group. I did all of the things that I was told to do. So in my mind, this insulated me from any problems because I did what I was told and Natasha, you know, that they don’t say be med compliant and you have the best chance at getting better. They literally say, be me compliant and you’ll be fine. It is a hundred percent statement of fact, they look you in the eyes and say it well, I believed them. So I, I, to, to answer your question, when I went back to work, I honestly thought it was over. I thought it was like every other illness that I had been off work for. Right. You, you get sick, you get off work, you get better. The doctor’s like, Hey, you’re better now go back to work. It’s over. And you never care about your tonsils being taken out ever again, because life goes on. That’s what I thought was gonna happen.
Natasha Tracy (12:58):
Yeah. I I guess what what your story shows and what I personally have experienced is that doctors lie. Yeah. Like hard, like hard. And it does happen exactly. As you said, particularly when you’ve just been diagnosed. I don’t know exactly why they do it, but they tell you you’re going to get better. They tell you it in an absolute fashion, as you said, they don’t equivocate. They don’t say you’re gonna be better sometimes. And worse. Sometimes they don’t say it’s gonna be a long road. They don’t say anything like that. You know, it takes on average two years for someone to stabilize on medication with bipolar disorder. And if a doctor ever said that to a patient, I’d be like, knocked over with shock because that’s just not a thing they say. Yeah. So it’s very much, yeah. So I’m sorry you got that message. But I mean, in some respects, compartmentalizing, it like that. And going back to work almost is a benefit because you know, you’re not thinking about it at work. I mean, I’m just gonna play, you know, that that’s as good as it gets, I guess. So
Natasha Tracy (14:06):
So how did you handle going back to work when it came time to talk to people about why you had been away?
Gabe Howard (14:12):
So the, the, I wanna remind everybody that you’re not dealing with 45 year old Gabe, right? You’re you’re not dealing with middle-aged Gabe. You’re not dealing with been around the block a time or two Gabe you’re and you’re also dealing with still a compromised Gabe, right? I’m still sick there. There’s still some of that mania, hypomania, grandiosity, ego, whatever, you know, the symptoms of bipolar disorder, they’re still floating around. They haven’t been completely removed or, or I didn’t completely understand them yet. However you want to phrase it. So youth is confusion, right? I’m inexperienced. I don’t understand politics. And, and not for nothing. I was also a white man, right? I was a middle class, white man. So up until that point, I was treated like a God. And that’s not bipolar disorder talking. I understood computers at the beginning of the internet. And they were desperate for people that understood computers at the beginning of the internet.
Gabe Howard (15:11):
It’s funny now because my, my seven year old niece can do every single thing that I could do back in 1996 and 2000 and 2003, that made me worth, you know, tens of thousands of dollars. She, she can do it like from her crib. Not that seven year olds are in cribs, but you understand what I’m saying? It’s just, it, it, it’s so common now to have this knowledge, this was not the case. I understood how networks and internets and TCP I P stacks and, and packets and all of these words that nobody knew existed. I knew they existed. I knew how they worked and I could fix ’em fast. And this made me very, very valuable. So obviously I got all of the rockstar, ego stroking that you could get. So I walked into work and they were like, Hey, where were you?
Gabe Howard (16:02):
And here’s what I thought. Well, let’s see when Mary had a baby, she told everybody that she was out and she had a baby and they sent her presence and she got a potluck when she got back. when, when Bob needed a hip replacement Bob told everybody that he was having a hip replacement. And when Bob came back, Bob got a hip replacement and a gift card and, and, and, you know, just birthdays. And remember, I’d worked there for four years. That’s a lot of birthdays. That’s a lot of potluck, potlucks in the corporate environment are just everywhere. So I walked back in, I’m like, Gabe, where were you? And I was like, I was in the psychiatric hospital, just like that. It’s an illness. Just like all the other illnesses. Yeah. That’s the other thing that they tell you a lot. This is an illness, just like any other illness and you need to take it seriously. It’s just like your physical health. You much pay attention to it. Oh, it’s exactly like my physical health. Yes. Well, if I had a physical health problem, I would tell people. So if it’s exactly like physical health and I have a mental health problem, I will tell them. So I told them, hi, I have bipolar disorder with psychotic features.
Natasha Tracy (16:56):
Oh my that’s a scary, scary word. Yeah. So bipolar is a scary word. They asked, they asked and you’re a guy who apparently doesn’t keep things to himself.
Gabe Howard (17:11):
Yeah. I told them I, I listen. The, it is a, it ridiculous 45 year old. Gabe just wants to just, just smack 25 year old Gabe, but 25 year old, Gabe believed that everybody at work was my friend. Oh, not that we were friendly. Not that we got along. I honestly thought that the office was, was real. Right. You know how in the, in the TV show the office, they’re all genuinely friends. They’re not just friendly at work. They’re all genuinely friends. That’s fantasy. You’re, you’re not friends with the people you work with. You you’re, you’re friendly. You like people, maybe you meet a, a friend, but I had it in my idea that the 50 people that I work with were all my buddies. Right. They were just my buddies. I loved their children. I loved them. Some of that is bipolar disorder. Right.
Gabe Howard (18:01):
You get these real strong emotions that you attach on people. And, and I didn’t understand that at the time, some of it is also youth. Right. I, I thought we were friends. We’re not friends. They many people made, many people were scared. Right? Yeah. Some people were just straight up scared. Some people were straight up confused and some people, and it’s impossible to know which one each person was, but some people saw it as a political opportunity. Well, let’s see, there is one promotion and we can knock out Gabe. We’ll just point out that people with bipolar disorder with psychotic features, shouldn’t be in charge of networks. So that’s gonna, that’s gonna, that’s gonna remove Gabe and open up a spot. You can’t be a supervisor. How can we put somebody that’s out of their mind in front? So there’s
Natasha Tracy (18:49):
All that. So, right. So you, you have this whole thing happen to you. It’s huge. You go back to work and you tell everyone about it because you’re an open and honest guy and 25. And you know, there you go. Yeah. And obviously there are some repercussions for that, but what kind of employee were you just in terms of your job when you got back?
Gabe Howard (19:10):
I was a great employee. I, I went, I went pretty much right back to normal. That was the good thing the, I did miss more work. Right. I, I, I really, really work very hard to tell the story, honestly. So the, the two things that I wanna say is after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I missed more work because I had more doctor’s appointments. Right. Mm-hmm that? So, so I was not at work as much. There were it was advised to me by the, by my psychiatrist. I, I used to work the overnight shift a lot and, and my psychiatrist was like, look, that’s not a good idea. Don’t, don’t, don’t mess up your sleep schedule. So if, if you have the seniority to get out of that shift, don’t do it. So that did change. I, I so missed more work, took more time off, slowed down, took more breaks.
Gabe Howard (19:58):
All of those things I did do that, that is, that is 100% accurate and fair and true. I, I also, again, to tell the whole story, this is all well within the, he took more time off. Well, did he, did he have time off? Yeah. Yeah. I had time off. Of course I did. I worked there for four years. I had all kinds of sick time buildup. I had all kinds of vacation time buildup. I didn’t, I didn’t just disappear. I, I scheduled more and then I, I took more breaks. I went four years without taking any breaks. I, I just, the, the 15 minutes just kind of seemed stupid. I was at work. I didn’t care. I like my job. I just, I just kept working. Well, the, the psychiatrist was like, look, you need to take more breaks. I, anybody with bipolar disorder who has managed a, a, a, a severe and persistent mental illness is, is probably aware of the listen.
Gabe Howard (20:44):
You have to take care of yourself. And that means like, work an hour, walk around for five minutes, right? Like work life balance. Don’t stress yourself out. So I, I became much more conscientious of stressing myself out or putting myself in a bad place. So, you know, I started work at, you know, my, my start time. And then an hour later, I take a five minute break. And then an hour after that, I take my 15 minute break. Once again, all things that I was allowed to do that other people had been doing for years, but it was different for me. And, but my, my stats cuz here’s the nice thing about computers. Everything’s monitored.
Natasha Tracy (21:18):
Gabe Howard (21:19):
Still off the charts. They, they hated me until they needed me. You know, there was lots of whispers until something broke and then I’d hear my name being yelled and, and I’d go over and fix it because just because I had bipolar disorder. And just because I was in treatment for bipolar disorder doesn’t mean that I still can’t fix it. And and I still fix it. That was my job. It was fine
Natasha Tracy (21:42):
Folks. This is Snap Out of It! And we are talking to Gabe Howard, an award-winning podcaster who lives with bipolar disorder. We are still taking your questions. I know a couple have come in and we’ll talk about those at the end. So just pop any questions that you have in the comment box when wherever you’re watching and we may just answer them on air.
Natasha Tracy (22:02):
So once this happened to you, and even though your stats were off the charts, like you said, do you feel there was retaliation against you because of the illness and your openness about it?
Gabe Howard (22:13):
Yes. So a, a few things started to happen first grumbling, right? I’m I’m I I’ve really thought about this a lot as you can imagine, this was a big trauma in my life. So I’ve given it just a lot of thought. And as a mental health advocate, I’ve also given it thought even in the ways that aren’t favorable to me. Right. Because I wanna make sure that what I’m putting out in the world is not just, you know, Gabe’s revenge tour, right? Because that doesn’t help anybody. I, I want to make sure that people understand just because you have bipolar disorder, it, there, there are certain accommodations that you can get, but you’re not special. Right? You don’t just get to mess up and say, oh, it’s bipolar. I am not allowed to screw up. No, you’re, you’re, you’re still held accountable for your actions.
Gabe Howard (22:47):
Bipolar disorder might be a reason, but the accountability still has to be there. And I, I believe that so strongly. So I did handle some things poorly, right. People started to say things that I didn’t like. And I said things back, right? I, there, there was, I, they were wrong. The, the, the comments they made were wrong. The, the, the biggest example of this is a few weeks after I was gone, somebody came up to me, looked me right in the eyes and said, you were off work for six weeks. And I said, yeah. And, and they, they said, yeah, I, I heard that you pretended to want to die. And I said, what are you talking about? And he said, look, all you have to do is say that you’re suicidal and you get a six week paid vacation. And it really hurt my feelings.
Gabe Howard (23:39):
And, and sincerely, here’s why it hurt my feelings. Cuz he called me a liar. It had nothing to do with mental illness, had nothing to do with mental health had had nothing to do with the six weeks. This man impugned my character. He, he, he said that I was, I was being dishonest and stealing from my workplace. I remember 26 this meant something. I was honor. So, so he provoked me. I, I yelled at him and by yell, I mean like we got into words. Oh. And he said mean things. I said mean things, no, there was no physical altercation and nobody actually raised their voice. I mean, yelling, like we exchanged tense words. Well obviously you can’t exchange tense words in the workplace. We got called into the office and this should have been my first clue that the world was different. I got in trouble and he didn’t.
Natasha Tracy (24:28):
Gabe Howard (24:29):
And it, I felt at the time I felt at the time like, oh, okay, well, I, I, I trust my supervisors. I trust my management. I believe that they had my best interest in mind. So when they told me that I did something wrong, I believed them. Okay. I, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. I, I didn’t approach me. I didn’t accuse me, but they were just like, look Gabe, while you were gone, he had to do your work. And you gotta look at it from his perspective. You know, when you’re not here, other people gotta pick up your slack on one hand. That sounds very reasonable. Except that when, when all of them go on vacation, the, that that’s just that that’s that’s, that’s what work is. Right. You know, people go on vacations, right? They take days off, they have birthdays, they get sick.
Gabe Howard (25:15):
They go to Hawaii. Well then everybody has to do the work then too. Remember the babies and the hip replacements. Could you imagine if somebody walked up and said, Hey, you want a six week for paid vacation? Just get yourself pregnant. nobody would think, oh, well that, that man has every right to say that no, they think that man was an. But for some reason, they’re like, well, you have to look at it from his point of view. Well, I, I, I did try. And in that moment I succeeded. I was like, that’s a good point. I, I put everybody through a lot. I’m sorry, because I, I thought they had my best interest at heart. It was bad advice that they gave me. And it was bad advice that I took it. And I didn’t realize that I should have started documenting everything immediately.
Natasha Tracy (25:55):
The that’s such a hard story, cuz I’m sure that this was not a one time occasion. I’m sure this is indicative of an environment in which you existed at that point. So you went from an environment where you thought everyone was your friend to an environment where it was kind of the opposite. Everyone was basically your enemy. So once you were in that environment and it was so difficult, what did you do?
Gabe Howard (26:20):
I handled it poorly. Right? I, I was now essentially again, let, let’s put bipolar disorder aside for a moment. I was now essentially in a hostile work environment. Yes. Right. And whether it’s because I have bipolar disorder, whether it’s because I’m a gender, they don’t like a race. They don’t like a sexual orientation that I don’t like I’m I am now the target of everybody. Else’s fear, animosity, rage, small mindedness, whatever words you wanna put on it. And I thought I could win.
Gabe Howard (26:50):
I, I just, I thought that this was once again, I thought everybody was acting in good faith. Right? I, again, I, I go back to that. Remember I’m a middle class, white male. I’ve never been discriminated against before. I I’d, I’d never been told I couldn’t do something because of my gender, my color, my sexual orientation, my rate, nothing. So this, this was all new to me. This was all new. I honestly believe that this was just a misunderstanding that all I had to do is explain it to these calm and rational people whom I have loved for the last four years. And that would get me to the promise land. Yeah. That was stupid. Again, I, I should have started documenting everything immediately and gone immediately to HR and said, look, my supervisors have taken the masses side and not the side of the discriminated against person, but, but I had, I had no reference point for any of this.
Gabe Howard (27:41):
I, I, again, I just, you know, Natasha, you and I have known each other for a long time. I find you to be a perfectly reasonable person. If you started yelling at me immediately, the first thing that would pop in my mind is, okay, I did something wrong. Natasha is a reasonable person. She is my friend. And then if you ended it by telling me that I did something wrong, even if I kind of disagreed with I’d be, look, look from, from her perception that bothered her. I need to really think about this. I’ve known Natasha for years. She, and, and, but it would take me some time to figure out that, no, yeah, you’re just, you’re just gunning for my house job, whatever you, you know what I mean? I didn’t. Yeah. And that’s what happened. That’s what happened to me. And by the time I realized it, the, the entire department had somehow magically aligned against me. And this, this gave the supervisors and the HRS again, looking at it, this, this presented them with a problem. Yeah. If they got rid of me, the problem was solved. Yeah. If they fired everybody else, the problem was solved.
Natasha Tracy (28:42):
Gabe Howard (28:42):
Yeah. Well, there’s, there’s just, especially back in 2003, 2004, there was just no repercussions for firing somebody with mental illness.
Natasha Tracy (28:52):
Yeah. I, I was once in a hostile work environment myself and went through a whole process with HR. And I learned this saying, which is HR is not your friend. They seem like they’re your friend. They talk to you like, they’re your friend, but they are not your friend. And the reason is exactly what you said. They protect the company, they do the math for the company. So for you, it was either fire everyone or fire you. Well, that’s some pretty easy math for an HR person. I’ll fire the one guy rather than the whole department. And the, and HRS job is to do that because it protects the company. Not cuz they care about Gabe, not cuz they care about Natasha, not cuz they care about anyone else. It’s just because their job is to protect the company. So it’s yeah. HR is not your friend in a lot of cases. And I can’t say it’s always the case because people can work through HR, certain issues. But I did learn that HR looks out for the company and not for you.
Gabe Howard (29:55):
I think the thing that I just want people to understand is that a HR is not your friend or your enemy. They’re, they’re just sort of there, right? It’s it’s like deciding if a tree is your friend or your enemy. Well, if you need shade, the tree is your friend. I I, if you’re driving your car in the yard, the tree is your enemy. I’m sure I could have come up with a better analogy than that. But trees have certainly caused damage, expensive, expensive damage, but trees are also beautiful and wonderful and we love them and we’ve picnic under them. So trees aren’t good or bad. HR is not good or bad. But the problem is, is that we’re taught that HR is good.
Natasha Tracy (30:35):
We’re taught that, that’s the issue.
Gabe Howard (30:36):
To listen to them, to follow them blindly. And it 26 year old Gabe did, I followed them blindly and, and it, it was yeah, it’s fish in a barrel. I, I wasn’t even aware that I was in danger.
Natasha Tracy (30:51):
So what did you do after being fired from this job?
Gabe Howard (30:55):
Freaked out. Just, just complete freak out. The, the, I, I first off my, my health insurance was tied to them, right? Yes. So this is problem. Number one, my money was tied to them. So this is problem. Number two, the, my sense of self worth was tied to my job. So this was problem number three, this was also the most amount of money that I had ever made in my life. So it’s, it was, it was a big job and, and, and four, the reason they were able to fire me is because they had an independent review decide that I did not have bipolar disorder and that I was faking. So I was also reeling from that because there, there there’s a little small part of like I was, what do we say? Believe doctors, believe doctors believe doctors. Well, I had this whole set of doctors that told me that I had bipolar disorder, but then I had their doctor tell me that I didn’t.
Gabe Howard (31:44):
Okay. Wow. So believe doctors. Okay. Which one? They’re they’re disagreeing. And I, I gotta be honest. I, I, I like what their doctor said. Their doctor told me that I didn’t have this horrible disease. Yeah. That was really awesome. Like I didn’t have to take medication for the rest of my life. It turns out that I didn’t need to be hospitalized. I didn’t have to manage bipolar disorder or I was cured. But I, I knew that that, that it was, it was a scam. I really did know that it was a scam. And, but, but I had a lot of stuff to deal with real quick, like getting health insurance. Yeah. And I am very fortunate. Right. I, I could buy health insurance. Right. I could just, I could just pay the money, even though I just lost my job, still have the money to buy health insurance still had the money for the copays. Still had all the money to take time off work. And, and on and on and on this is, this is a privileged position of which I was fortunate enough to be in. I had good family. I had good friends. I had a healthy bank account. And it, but, but, but to, to answer the question in, in, I, I scrambled, I, I, I scrambled. Yeah.
Gabe Howard (32:54):
Natasha Tracy (32:57):
I think that’s a completely understandable and reasonable thing to do when you’re hit with something that is so incredibly shocking. I, you know, you were sort of doing all the right things and somehow you came, some something came along and smacked you anyway. That’s a really tough thing to deal with.
Gabe Howard (33:18):
I also like to, I, I wanna point out to everybody cuz the number one question that I got asked at the time was you can Sue that’s illegal. Mm-Hmm the first thing I wanna say is that is correct. It is illegal. What they did was illegal. It was illegal. It was illegal. It was illegal and then everybody says, why didn’t you go to a lawyer? Aha. I did mm-hmm I did. I went to a lawyer. I I said, Hey, here’s what’s happened. And the lawyer looked me right in the eyes and said, you’ll never win. You’re you’re as far as the world is concerned, you’re an able bodied white male go to work. Right. Right. And I said, but, but they did this. It doesn’t matter. They, they have proof that they’re going to say that they relied on their doctor, that you did not have it.
Gabe Howard (33:53):
You’re going to say that you relied on your doctor. The jury is going to decide that it’s a different of opinion. And by the way, you don’t look sick. And that will be the end of it. No, lawyer’s gonna take this case. There’s no money here. No insurance claim is gonna settle it. Just, just, just go away. Just, just, just get better and get a job. And I was like, but it’s illegal. And they’re like, ah, yeah. You’re so young. so young. Would you like another list of things that are illegal, that happen all the time in the workplace and it yeah. Yeah. So naive. So,
Natasha Tracy (34:25):
And I think that’s actually a really critical point, which is that while certain things are illegal and while certain protections are offered to people with mental illness, that doesn’t mean that all laws are followed and it doesn’t mean that laws are enforced. And it doesn’t mean that just because you have a protection, the protection is enforced. You know, what happened to you was particularly egregious, but this kind of thing I think can happen in really small ways in workplaces all the time. And so, you know, people often ask, should you tell your coworkers that you have bipolar disorder? And I always say, how badly do you need the job? because you saying that you have bipolar disorder might be the end of that job. It shouldn’t be, as Gabe said, he came back and he said, you know, this was just an illness. And I was gonna tell people and I, you know, whatever it, but it could be the, the, the end of your job. So yeah. How much do you need that job? You know, that’s the question that you need to ask yourself and it, because it’s, it’s not easy and it’s not fair and people don’t necessarily do what you expect. So I’m sorry that happened. It’s awful. But on a positive note, how do you feel about working with bipolar disorder now?
Gabe Howard (35:45):
So the, it, it’s such a funny question, right? I mean, I learned so much, like, let, let’s take working with, I, I know it’s a point of the show. I promise I’ll get back there, but how do I feel about having bipolar disorder now? Right. Like that’s, that’s the first change that has to happen? Well, I, I like to say from the time I got outta the hospital, the time that I reached recovery took four years, right. It took four years to get all of the coping skills, gain the experience, trial and error up and down, back and forth. Good days, bad days, just, just medication, side effects, fixing those. Right. So that took like a long time. Well, when I got to the end of it, I, I felt dare. I say normal. I, I, I, I, I, I, you learn your life, right?
Gabe Howard (36:28):
Yeah. And, and, and you manage it and you get through it. I, I have a really good friend with Ms. And for most of his li he, he was this really active guy. I mean, he was a mountain climber and a marathon runner. And then he gets Ms. And, and he gets confined to a wheelchair and he started a group called active MSRs because he wants to be active. Right. He wants, he was a mountain climber. He was a bike rider. He just like disgusting amount of physical activity still to this day, just, but he’s like, look, I had to find a way. So at first it was awful. He’s like, I, I had to accept that I could never climb a mountain again. Right. Cause wheelchairs don’t go up mountains. There’s nothing I can do about it. But then he said, he figured out all these other things that he could do and, and found all these other ways.
Gabe Howard (37:10):
And the reason that he started his, his nonprofit is because he, he figured out all these ways to do these activities with the wheelchair that maybe other people couldn’t think of on their own, or didn’t have the time to explore. And then they could start up all these leagues in their area and expand it out because he said, you know, look, I, I can’t be the only person who found myself confined to a wheelchair who wants to be active, and this was super important to him. So now if you ask him, Hey, how do you feel about being in a wheelchair? He’s like, whatever, I, I know how to do everything. I mean, plus I, I can, I can bench press 400 pounds, which is disgusting. I, I just, I still I’m like, dude, I ire when I stand up and you’re bench pressing 400 pounds and, and you’re in a wheelchair, but, but his point is, is he just, it just became his life.
Gabe Howard (37:54):
Yeah. And I, I respect that so much. And he’s, he, I, I use him as an example because there’s like, you can see it, right. You can see the wheelchair, you can see that he can’t walk. You can see the physical limitations. I, I feel like with bipolar disorder, I have a lot of those same limitations. You, you just can’t see them. So they’re harder to articulate, but I just had to find ways around them, you know, can I climb the mountain? No, absolutely not. That’s not available to me anymore, but I, I, I can do this other thing. I’m playing basketball in a wheelchair because I got the custom wheelchair with the thing. And, and I love it. And I love my friends and all the people that I’ve met. And I, I, you know, I got to do all of these things. And after a while, it’s no longer Gabe, how do you feel about working with bipolar disorder?
Gabe Howard (38:35):
It’s just, how do you feel about working and underneath all of that is bipolar disorder. You know, I had to get married with bipolar disorder. I had to buy a house with bipolar disorder. I had to work with bipolar disorder. I had to make friends with bipolar disorder. I have to sleep with bipolar disorder. I have to drive a car with bipolar disorder. And after a while, it just became second nature, but it took a long, ridiculous amount of time. So I feel fine. It feels normal to me. But Natasha sincerely, there, there is an element of that trauma. I, I do now feel much more vulnerable in the world that somebody can just look at me and be like, we don’t trust you. And I say, why don’t you trust me? Because you have bipolar disorder. Well, that’s ridiculous. But then the people standing around ’em say, well, is it, is it Gabe like, yes. Yes. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s undeniably ridiculous. Yes. Are you sure? I thought you were my friend that’s I, I keep waiting for that to happen again. And, and unfortunately it, it, it has happened again. Yeah. And Natasha sure. As I’m sitting here, it will happen again. So that part kind of sucks.
Natasha Tracy (39:49):
Well well we did get a couple of questions come in for you, Gabe. So I’d like to ask those of you now.
Gabe Howard (39:56):
The speed round,
Natasha Tracy (39:57):
The speed round. Yes. Okay. Except this is a long question, so it’s not so speedy. Okay. What was it like being so extremely elevated and valued in the workplace for the skills that you brought to the company while internally wrestling with a diagnosed mental illness at the same time, how did you navigate and balance that duality in a time when mental illness was often misunderstood?
Gabe Howard (40:19):
It, it was extraordinarily difficult because still to this day, right. Still to this day, I go back and forth between thinking that I am the greatest whatever ever. Right. Okay. Or I am the worst, whatever ever it it’s black and white thinking. It’s very common for people, right. Mm-Hmm, , let’s, let’s not talk about bipolar disorder for a minute. I, I know people that have no signs of mental illness and it’s just, they’re very black and white. They either had a good day or a bad day. That’s it? The end. Yeah. It’s just like, but, okay. But yeah, you had a bad day at work, but you have a good drive home. Did all your songs come on the radio, did you have a good lunch? Are you excited to be home with your cats? Nope. All day bad, really? Like that doesn’t even make sense.
Gabe Howard (40:55):
But I believed it and they believed it. So I, I went back and forth, of course, between thinking that I was the, the, the, the savior of the company or the savior of people or the savior of my parents or the savior of my grandparents or the savior of the world, depending on where it was to thinking that I was garbage and that my mother would celebrate my death. Right. And, and I think that anybody who is experienced by polar disorder can, can probably really feel that statement. It, the same thing happened at work. Some days I felt like, yeah, these people would be fools to get rid of me and I’d have all the confidence in the world. And then other days I’d feel like these people would be fooled not to fire me. And I had zero confidence. And some of it, unfortunately, even to this day is a waiting game.
Gabe Howard (41:41):
I sincerely hope if anybody comes after my job and I need to defend myself, they, they get me on a day that I’m normal or maybe slightly elevated because I work hard and I prepare and I’m ready because I’m good at my job. It has nothing to do with ego. I’m just, I work hard to be good at it, but I do live in constant fear that, you know, the, the night that I couldn’t sleep, the, the, you know, I’ve been depressed for three days. I think I’m garbage. And somebody’s like, you know what we’re thinking about canceling your podcast cuz you suck. And I know that if that happens in that moment with the right around of things, I’ll just look at him and be like, yeah, yeah, I’m garbage. And then they’ll be like, oh, well, if he thinks that we should cancel it, we absolutely should. So it’s difficult. And all that was happening in the moment. Except right now I’ve given like a lot of context, a lot of understanding, like I really know what’s going on and I’ve got guardrails in place right. To, to prevent that. I’m, I’m hoping if I feel like garbage and somebody says, Hey, Gabe, we need to talk to you about canceling your show. I say, look, I don’t have time today. Right. Right. Yeah. Whereas I wouldn’t have done that. So that’s what’s going on. It’s it? It’s whiplash.
Natasha Tracy (42:46):
Gabe Howard (42:46):
It’s it’s just it’s I, I, I don’t know. You ever seen one of those tire swings on a tree in, in, in the thunderstorm, you’re just like, what is that thing doing? It doesn’t seem to have any like, like pattern or it’s just, it’s just whipping around. That’s, that’s what I felt like. That’s what it was like. And it’s no way to live and, and it’s very hard to control and that’s been the focus of my work since I was diagnosed. And it’s something that I still work on to this day and will for the rest of my life.
Natasha Tracy (43:16):
Thank you. So question number two, how did the sudden jarring realities of discrimination for the first time in your career inform your worldview, even as you began to view yourself. And I think you just answered that. I think you said, you know that discrimination has affected you even to this day, even though, you know, it was discriminatory, right. So even though, you know, it was wrong and you know, it was not fair, it’s affected you to this day.
Gabe Howard (43:43):
It, it really, really has. And especially as, as you know, the world’s moved forward a lot since 2003, right. That, that was, that was almost 20 years ago. So I, I, I remember so vividly one time I was, I was talking to, and this was, this was like 15 years ago, just, just to, just to place it in time. And, and it was a female friend and I was, I was telling her everything that happened to me and I was complaining about it and I was venting about it and I was crying about it and I was upset about it and just, you know, and she’s a really, really good friend. I, I always leave that part out, but I want people to know she is a super good friend and this is the way she and I communicate and talk to each other.
Gabe Howard (44:26):
And I love her with every fiber of my being. This is important to her next statement because when I got done, she looked at me and she said, welcome to life as a woman, that’s it? Mm that’s exactly what she said. She’s like women have had to deal with this and we are taught to deal with it before we can walk. We are taught to handle being looked down upon, told that we can’t do things said that spaces aren’t for us and, and my friend, she she’s really, really super cool. She’s a physicist. And at the, at the time that we were having this conversation, she had graduated a couple of years before and she went to this super large college. Right. And there were two female physics major. Yeah. There was like 1500 physics majors and there were two, yeah. Two women. So you can see where this she’s like, yeah, look, crimee river buddy.
Gabe Howard (45:18):
You were discriminated against at work, big deal. I I’ve got, you know, 1,498 people that don’t think that I should allow to be, I should be allowed to, to have this major just, just, I’m not even allowed to study this because of my genitals. So she really understood it in a way that I had never had to prepare for. So on one hand, I’m, I’m glad on one hand, I, I am glad when I, when I see the social justice reform and I, I hear, you know, feminist writings and, and women talk about being discriminated against. And, and I watch elections in America where, you know, nobody talks about what the men wore to the debate, but there’s this whole article on what women wear to the debate. I am now aware of that. Yeah. And that is both good and bad, right?
Gabe Howard (46:01):
It is good because I don’t say stupid. Right. I don’t say stuff like, well, they’re just interested in what she’s wearing. I say, no, that’s. That has nothing to do with her job or politics. And we’re the end of conversation. Stop being a misogynist. Right. That’s good. Yay. But on the other hand, now that I’m aware of it, it makes me sad. Again, I, I try to be, it’s it, it’s a bummer to be aware of how much hatred and privilege and systemic issues we have in our country. And I am glad that I can be aware of it, but it is depressing that I can’t contribute to any sort of meaningful resolution, because I don’t know that anybody can, because our, you know, America’s just so backwards. We just really are. So, so far behind when it comes to treating people with dignity and respect.
Natasha Tracy (46:51):
Well I think that we in north America might be somewhat behind, but I like to think we’re making strides every day. Right? So you had this experience that was awful. And it was 15 years ago, maybe just maybe, and maybe not, it would be different today at different workplaces, at different cultures and different environments. And so you’re absolutely right that there is market discrimination against many groups of people in north America. But I like to think that we are inching forward and in the mental illness sphere, I like to think that we are inching forward and I will be the first one to say mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorders still have a very bad rap to this absolute day, 100%. But we have moved forward a bit on issues like ADHD and anxiety. We’re not getting there all at once, but we are inching forward. I didn’t mean to take over there,
Gabe Howard (47:51):
Look like, like yours, Natasha. I mean, sincerely. And it’s because of podcasts like this it’s I, I, I wanna point it out too, because I, I don’t want every single advocate to believe, oh my God, Gabe said nothing has changed in 20 years. Right. Have we seen the significant strides with severe and persistent mental illness that, that you and I, I I’ve decided to bring you into this rant, Natasha, that we want no. Right. Have, have we gotten everything that we need? No, but, but there, there, there is movement. It it’s
Natasha Tracy (48:21):
Gabe Howard (48:21):
Margin and it’s around the edges, but we have had an impact and an effect and we need more people. And it’s very, very difficult of course, to get more people because when people are like, Hey, should I tell people at work, I have bipolar disorder. I’m in, I’m in your camp, Natasha. I’m like for the cause yes. For advocacy. Yes. To live the best life possible. Free of stigma discrimination. Shut your mouth. Yeah. I, I just, I lay awake to this day and wonder how much easier would my life be. Right. Because I’m stable on medication. I have access to care. I, I could have just gone and been a lawyer or, or, and just, Hey, Gabe, what do you do? Eh, I like sports. Do you have bipolar? Of course not whatever. And nobody would know. Yeah, I don’t, I don’t look bipolar. You, you know what I mean? I could, I, all of this discrimination and stigma and hatred that comes my way, mostly on the internet, so please stop it. I could avoid, I could avoid entirely that, that, that whole chapter could be closed tomorrow if I would just keep my mouth shut. So, yeah, I’m probably stupid, but I I’m, I feel that it’s helpful to the cause. And, and I’m in a privileged and fortunate place that I can be so outspoken. And, and I, I hope that that has value.
Natasha Tracy (49:36):
And I, we actually have some more questions that have come in, but we are out of time. So what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna bug Gabe here, after we’re done to answer the questions and I’m gonna post those on social media so that people can get their questions answered. But for now, I would like to say, thank you so much, Gabe Howard for sharing your insights with us. I know others are watching it and they are nodding along with you. I was getting there. You can find Gabe You can find Gabe at Gabehoward.com and on the Inside Mental Health podcast at healthline.com. And you can find his book and you can, there you go. And you can find his book right in front of, you know, the camera on Amazon and on Gabehoward.com.
Natasha Tracy (50:23):
Join us the same time next week. So that’s 2:00 PM Eastern for a live stream with Christina McCarthy of One Mind at Work. Christina is going to help us understand the business case for making your workplace accessible to those with mental illness. She’s also going to talk about the unique gifts those with mental illness, give their employers. Drop by the podcast website, Snap-Out-of-It-Podcast.com for more information, and don’t forget, these recordings are available on your favorite podcast platform. So check us out and rate us there.
Natasha Tracy (50:54):
And if you’d like to be a guest on Snap Out of It!, check out the website and fill out the guest application form. Again, that’s Snap-Out-of-it-Podcast.com.
Natasha Tracy (51:04):
My name is Natasha Tracy. I hope you have a great week with great mental health.
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