.It is entirely possible to have your ‘dream job.’ The key lies in establishing an effective wellness plan.
Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a teacher. I loved babysitting and jumped at any chance to help or work with kids.
In high school I saw the movie “Dead Poet’s Society.” My favorite actor, Robin Williams, played John Keating, a charismatic and energetic English teacher. In one scene all the students stand on their desks as a way of honoring how he inspired them. I wanted to be just like Mr. Keating. This is what teaching was all about or so I thought.
At the end of high school, I decided to major in elementary education. Then it hit me. For the first time, I experienced complete darkness, like being in a room with the lights out. I felt alone, scared, without hope as if all the joy had been sucked out of me. That was my first taste of depression. My parents noticed and took me to my first psychologist. I responded well to the therapy and the depression went away.
After graduation a friend celebrated by taking a cruise. Out of nowhere I became high as a kite with rapid speech, irritability, major mood swings, a few sleepless nights, and the feeling I was invincible. That was my first taste of mania. My family recognized it and took me to my first psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 1 and began taking Lithium. I still do.
After several semesters hitting the books, I transferred to my first four-year college. It was my first time living away from home. I found college very hard academically. I understand that my brain is wired differently so my processing is different too, but it seemed to take me forever to memorize things.
Then I hit a bump in the road. When it was time to enter the actual elementary education program, my grade point average was not high enough. I was devastated. In full mommy fight mode, my mom went down to the college to talk to the professor in charge of the program. He wouldn’t budge so I transferred to another four-year school. Unfortunately I could not get in to the program there either.
My dreams were shattered like a dish dropped on cement.
Luckily I had a very special psychologist journeying with me. She told me that being a classroom teacher was very stressful. I had learned throughout the years that stress triggered me either into an extreme high or a desolate low. She assured me that I could still work in a school but in a different capacity. This was not the news I wanted to hear. I cried many salty tears that day. Eventually I had to accept reality.
I quit school all together and for six months worked at a daycare with two-year-olds. They drove me crazy, so I found myself back at school. I was lucky that all my credits transferred. After blood, sweat, tears and triumph, in 1999 I graduated with a BA in Sociology.
I did just what my psychologist recommended and found school jobs in different capacities: one-on-one assistant for a girl with cerebral palsy (a humbling experience I will never forget), kindergarten assistant (where I nearly lost my mind), assistant helping autistic kids (way too much for me), substitute, and P.E. assistant. Currently I assist elementary special education students in the resource program supporting students in their classroom.
My therapist must have had a crystal ball. The pressure on teachers to teach so students can pass standardized tests is unreal. They deal with parents, paper work, difficult students and many meetings. I do still believe they make a difference in the lives of their students.
It was hard for me to learn my limits, but I have the best job at my school.
I may not have my teaching degree, but at the end of the day, students call one thing – teacher. I may never know the impact I have on them, but I know every day I make a difference in a child’s life. This is all I ever wanted.
I have learned you really can have your dream job even with bipolar disorder.
Susan Johnson was diagnosed bipolar 1 in 1995. She graduated from Drake University with a B.A. in Sociology. She is the author of “Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping” A Memoir of My Bipolar Journey. She is an inspirational speaker. Her true passion in life is helping break the stigma of living with a mental illness and bring those living with one hope. She currently works with special education students as an Instructional Assistant for a school district in Nevada. She is proud to be a Christian. She enjoys hiking, baking, traveling, yoga, spending time with her Goddaughter and trips to Cancun. She makes her home in fabulous Las Vegas with her husband Gary and Siberian cat Angel-Ann. Visit her website.
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