Stigma Fighters: Gabe Howard

According to the internet, my friends, and mental health groups all over the world, I am a stigma fighter. I’m an elite, mentally ill stigma fighter looking to change the perception of mental illness in a single bound. I, of course, am not an elite anything, but I am a person with knowledge, lived experience, and knack for getting myself into situations where providing a little context goes a long way. Having the ability to provide such information is the true power of all stigma fighters.

I was born with mental illness, hit my crisis point in my mid-twenties, and was diagnosed while in an inpatient psychiatric ward of a local hospital. When I was diagnosed, what I didn’t know about mental illness greatly outweighed what I did know. Even what I did know was almost entirely wrong – a tidbit of fact wrapped in multiple layers of fear, stereotype, and misinformation.

It took me many years and many setbacks, but eventually I was able to use therapy, medication, experience, and sheer determination to reach stability. After people found out about my diagnoses, I noticed some strange behavior in the people around me, both in how they acted and how they treated me.

People Became Tongue-Tied – They no longer knew how to talk to me. People I had known for years suddenly were unable to communicate with me.

They Treated Me as a Scapegoat – People were now able to blame everything on me! Is there a problem and you are unsure who’s to blame? It must be the man with bipolar!

I Became an Advice Magnet – Before being diagnosed with mental illness, no one felt the need to offer unsolicited advice. Thanks to the magical power of severe and persistent mental illness, all of the advice someone has been holding in is now appropriate for me! Do you have the wrong idea, impression, or love to play on stereotypes? Come find me. I want to sit back and listen to you explain to me what I am going through.

Because of all of the misinformation out there, I honed my ability to explain to people what living with mental illness really means. Replacing their fear with facts. I am a mental illness mythbuster by day and a stigma fighter by night! Or vice versa – I show up when and where I’m most needed.

I have bipolar and anxiety disorders and I freely acknowledge this to anyone who cares to know. Does owning my mental illness and sharing it with others help me as much as it helps others? Absolutely. There is an incredible amount of value in being who I am, and being secure enough to share. There is a subtle confidence boost in being called brave, inspirational, or amazing.

There is a downside, however. Not everyone feels the same. To many people, admitting you have a mental illness is proof your mental illness isn’t “under control.” They let stereotype, fear, and personal bias get in the way of seeing me as a person. They judge me, and often harshly. They see it as something I should be ashamed of.

I know I am changing the way people see mental illness. I see great value in being open and honest and talking to as many people as I can about what my life is like, about what I have been through and what it took to reach the point where I am now.

I am proud to be a stigma fighter and to be on this stigma fighting team!

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Gabe Howard is a keynote speaker, award-winning advocate, mental illness blogger and writer, as well a person living with severe bipolar and anxiety disorders. In the past ten years, he has made it his mission to put a face on mental illness that isn’t stereotypical. Society often sees people living with mental illness at their worst and he works to add a more balanced view to the conversation. Gabe is frequently irreverent, often too loud, and always unpredictable, but anyone who knows him will tell you that life would be so boring without him. You can connect with Gabe on Twitter, Facebook and his website.

  • Cheantelle J

    I Thoroughly enjoy everything you write! You are the perfect example or someone who doesn’t use their illness as an excuse to not be successful in life. You are an inspiration to people like me, who are still struggling to find their voices. Thank you for being a stigma fighter!

    • gabe

      Thank you so, so, so much! I appreciate it. You inspire me, too, and you remind me of why I work so hard for me, my loved ones, and EVERYONE! 🙂

      Thank you for commenting.

      ~Gabe

  • http://RachelintheOC.com/ Rachel Thompson

    Important topic, Gabe, and I applaud you speaking out. As I mentioned on Facebook, when we share our experiences (in my case, childhood sexual abuse survivor), people often see us as experts. I don’t see myself that way — I’m not a therapist, nor trained in helping others deal with trauma, and I’m open about that. I always have resources at the ready to help them find professional help.

    What I can do, and what you do so well, is empathize with others experiencing similar difficulties. People aren’t afraid to approach us and that’s a good thing. So if that makes it easier for people to talk about the hard stuff, fine. Let’s talk about it! It’s time. xx

    • gabe

      Thank you so much and I agree. I tell people all the time — if you want general information talk to a doctor or a researcher — it you want an honest, open conversation from someone that has “walked the walk” … Then i am your guy!

      I agree! We need more open, honest, and judgement free conversations!

      I applaud you as well. I look up to you. You reach a lot of people and that has a LOT of value. Thank you for reading and commenting. It means a lot! 🙂

  • Sarah C

    I feel the same way, Gabe. It feels farcical, almost, to take credit or praise for my writing when it’s just something that I /need/ to do — an itch that has to be scratched. Writing is, in some part, an outlet for my disease. Such as it is, between cutting or obsessive skin picking, I’m much more pleased to see myself seated at a computer for several hours typing and therefore more inclined to let the phase runs its course that way. If people like it, gain something from it, that’s awesome. But I don’t feel a need to promote, really, or gain anything. Until Stigma Fighters, that is. I feel so strongly about our mission, I would gladly stand up to speak about it, if ever I were asked about my own blog or my own writing. It’s not about an individual — not for me — it’s about a community of people trying to make a difference.

    • Gabe Howard

      Thank you so much. We all make a difference! You are awesome. 🙂