Gabe Howard: Still Fighting & Winning His Battle With Bipolar’s Symptoms

(5-28-21) One of my favorite advocates recently talked on an Ohio television station about his bipolar diagnosis and suicidal thoughts.  Gabe Howard, is a certified peer specialist, dynamic public speaker, and popular podcast host. He recently wrote  Mental Illness Is An Asshole, about incidents in his life.

Gabe is a frequent contributor to this website. Recently, he expressed his frustration when confronted by people who treat him differently because of his diagnosis.  From “I’m Tired”:

For the purposes of understanding and professionalism, I call myself a mental health advocate. That description is not inaccurate, but it’s not the job I actually have.

My actual job is to wake up every morning and attempt to prove to the world that my life has value. That my needs are important. That helping me, and others like me, is a worthwhile thing to do.

His life from suicide to advocacy

 “Society often sees people living with mental illness at their worst,” Gabe says. “I want to balance that out by living openly with mental illness,” Gabe told me.

In 2003, Gabe was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital. Prior to being diagnosed, Gabe suffered the effects of untreated bipolar and anxiety disorders and thought about suicide daily.  Because he and his family knew nothing about mental illness, no one interceded to offer him medical care or support.

In fact, his family believed his behavior to be “acting out,” and tried to punish the behavior out of him. This led to him not only getting sicker, but feeling misunderstood, unlovable, and insignificant. Like his family and society, Gabe also felt what he was going through was a personality flaw and a moral failing.

These unchecked and untreated mental disorders, along with everyone’s lack of understanding, further isolated him and greatly affected his chances of living a stable, healthy, and productive life. Gabe’s chances for wellness improved greatly when he met a woman who understood mental illness. Luckily, she took the time to intercede and saved Gabe’s life by taking him to an emergency room. He has no doubt that, without her, he would have died by suicide.

Committed to hospital

At the time Gabe was committed to the psychiatric hospital, he weighed 550 pounds, was delusional, suicidal, and had just come off a manic phase that had lasted about a year. His first wife had left him and he had rented an apartment to carry out his suicidal plan because, in his words, he “didn’t want to stigmatize the house he owned and lower its resale value.”

Within a few weeks of being discharged from the psychiatric hospital, Gabe had gastric bypass surgery to help control his ballooning weight. He attended two separate outpatient treatment programs (approximately six months apart), and began taking psychiatric medications, all the while living alone in the apartment he’d rented to end his life.

Today, he said, he “spends more time living life than managing bipolar…There were good days, bad days, and lots more bad days, but I always worked to move forward. I describe it as an epic battle.  And it’s one I’m still fighting and still winning.”

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.