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Laura Yeager: A Bipolar Writer Comes Home

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(This originally appeared in BP Magazine.)

I always knew I wanted to be a writer. When I was eight, I used to sit alone in my room and keep records. Prison records, dental records, medical records, school records. I made up stories about people and wrote them down. When I was sixteen, my high school teacher, Mr. Stitt, thought I was good enough to be tutored privately. He set up a private study for me and taught me literally everything he knew about writing. One of the stories I wrote in the private study won a prize in SEVENTEEN’S Fiction Contest.

Then, it was off to college. I went to Oberlin College and majored in Creative Writing. I was a fiction writer. After Oberlin, came Iowa State, where I got my M.A. and studied with Jane Smiley. My last stop in school was The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, where I received my M.F.A. in English.

Then, for 20 years, the shoe was on the other foot. I made my living teaching college students how to write. And for 14 of these years, I lived with severe bipolar disorder. There were certainly days when it was hard to get out of bed and go in, but I can honestly say that my disability never caused me to miss one day of school.

After I was first diagnosed, it got a bit dicey at one school in Pennsylvania because the students found out that I had this mental disorder. I eventually left that school in Pennsylvania. The town was just too small. After that, I made sure that my students never found out. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone about my mental illness. Oh, there were times when I had bipolar students who were suffering with their illnesses. I so wanted to come clean and tell them about mine in order to try to help them. But I maintained a high level of secrecy, and I believe this is what I had to do to survive.

In 2004, I decided to tell my boss at my current university. My boss and I really got along, I felt he was a more of a friend than a boss, and one day, it seemed appropriate to come out. I came out to him. It must not have mattered because shortly after I did, I was promoted from part-time to full-time.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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