(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.