(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. I believe if people with hidden disabilities really analyze it, they know precisely whom they can tell and whom they can’t.
In January of 2005, I quit my teaching job because my husband and I adopted a baby. It was settled. I was going to be a full-time mom.
I missed teaching for the first few months, missed getting fixed up and going some place. But then, I found some freelance writing gigs that allowed me to stay home, work on the net, make money and raise my little boy.
Now, I’m on my second career–this time not exclusively as a teacher of writing but as a full-fledged freelance writer.
I must say, working at home, as a freelancer on the internet, is a much easier career for me as a bipolar person. There are several reasons why:
There is much less stress.
You can name your own hours.
You save money.
You don’t have to own and wear a stuffy work wardrobe.
You can do things like raise children.
Medicine changes become much less problematic.
Staying home cuts down on paranoia.
You can be your own boss.
There’s less social stigma within the confines of your home.
What a difference a year makes
As you can see, I’m a cheerleader for freelance writing done in the home.
Bipolar disorder is not easy. One must work around it at times. My career as a bipolar writer is enhanced by staying home. I would urge anyone with a mental illness to investigate a home business. What makes it all possible is the internet. There are millions of ways to make money, to have a career on the internet. Bipolar disorder shouldn’t hold you back. I never dreamed I’d finally be a working, stay-at-home writer.
Well, actually, I did dream it.