Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." *

About seven years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I don't remember exactly when, but sometime before Thanksgiving of 2005. I remember because I was in the hospital, again, on Thanksgiving of that year eating beef and noodles for dinner. I have spent an Easter in the hospital for depression, and Thanksgiving as an inpatient for bipolar. They are odd holidays to be hospitalized for feeling so down you want to die: a holiday of hope and new beginnings, and a holiday of reflection and gratitude.

Just over six years ago, I moved home to Texas from Indiana. I couldn't hold a full-time job there, my husband was leaving me to come to Texas for marital counseling, and being up there alone to figure things out didn't seem to make sense. My parents said, "Come home." And I did.

Five years ago, I started a part-time job at Cracker Barrel. It's part-time not just because they don't really offer full time positions much, but also because some weeks working too much can trigger bipolar symptoms and some months I need time off to deal with med changes or other issues from the bipolar. Still, I've worked there for five full years and have received my first pin -- given at 5, 10, 15 and 20 years. Much as I like my coworkers and like my job, though, I don't want to get my 10-year pin.

Three and a half years ago, a friend challenged me with the question: "What are your passions? Do you have still have any anymore? What is it you really want to do with your life?"

My most fulfilling and rewarding job, of all that I have had over the past 17 years, has been writing. I loved being a newspaper editor, reporter and columnist. It was a small town paper, published three days a week, but I loved almost all of it. I got burned out because I was manic and didn't know it (pre-diagnosis), was having severe marital and family problems, and quit to do something I thought would make more money but couldn't do well as it turned out. I've always been a writer of some kind, though. I loved English and essays and research papers in school. I loved some of the freelance articles I did on the side at the paper. I am prolific in emails, online support boards, in blogs, and in Facebook. I spend so much of my time communicating with others via the written word.

To be questioned about my passion reminded me of all of that. Writing is my passion. It is the thing I find most challenging, most interesting, most rewarding even now.

So three years ago, I went back to school. I enrolled in the online program at Southern New Hampshire University. I started out as an English Language and Literature major, then switched to a Creative Writing with a Non-Fiction Specialty major. I have enough hours that I will have my minor still in English.

What will I do with a degree? I will write. I will write for myself. I will write to be published. I will continue with what I've been doing on the side. I may go back to working for a newspaper. Some say that newspapers are dying, which is true. But news is not. And someone has to write what you read about online or hear about on television. Maybe I will write for a magazine. Those are as much online as in print now, too, but people are still reading them. And I will write to continue to educate people about bipolar and other mental health issues.

Seven years ago, I thought I was worthless and beyond redemption as far as any meaningful contribution to society was concerned. Six yeas ago, I was in a safe place and working on recovering from all that my mind and emotions had put me through in the ten years previous. Five years ago, I was finally able to re-enter the workforce and start contributing to my family. Three years ago, I started planning a future.

Now, with only four and a half classes left to take for my Bachelor's, I'm setting my sights on a Master's degree...also in Creative Writing. Never before have I even considered such a thing and now it sounds not only possible, but plausible. I have talked with my advisor, met the new Master's advisor via phone, and have all the information I need to start planning for 2014 and beyond.

Will I get a job at a paper? Will I work for one of my favorite magazines? Will I be a freelancer and get my work published all over the place in different venues? Will I end up teaching other writers as they start their own education and careers?

That part remains to be seen. But I'm pretty much determined that I will be off disability, out of Cracker Barrel (though it has been very good to me and for me), and working in my degree field before 2016.

* Nelson Mandela

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