I’m a teacher so a good, supportive environment is essential to my success in the classroom. This is doubly so for anyone with a mental illness. Support for a person with a mental illness diagnosis is crucial for their success in the workplace and they CAN be successful!
Before I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, I never had any issues working. I even worked full-time while I was going to school full-time at the University. Balancing things in my life was effortless and I tackled every task with ease. Once my Bipolar kicked in during my mid 20s, it was a struggle to even accomplish one thing. I really tried to be the type A person I was before but I just ended up crashing and burning. I had to learn to do one thing at a time. Then, once I accomplished that one thing, I could add one more thing. Now, with more experience with my Bipolar disorder and time (it didn’t happen overnight or even within a year), I am able to balance many things. I am doing more than I ever thought possible because I have taken my time to establish each thing before adding a new one. It is a delicate balance and sometimes it is disrupted but I can rebalance it pretty quickly.
Quite a few things happened this year which made me question my decision to be open with my coworkers about my mental illness as well as made me question my decision to continue to be an elementary school teacher. There were a few points this year where I thought about changing my career for a variety of reasons but one of the main ones was the change in the environment. In a healthy environment, anyone can flourish and tackle things they thought that previously were impossible. However, in an unhealthy environment, even the strongest person is affected.
The first two schools I had taught at had extremely unhealthy environments without any support for the teachers, let alone new teachers. People talk about the attrition rates of teachers and this is why; there is no support for the profession anymore. As a new teacher, this is difficult. Throw in a mental illness and it’s darn near impossible. After the schools I had taught at before, I really didn’t think a healthy teaching environment existed so when I got the job at the school I teach at now, I was prepared for failure. Little did I know that this would be the best place for me and help me become the successful teacher I am now.
Four years ago, I started my teaching position at a school I had never even heard of before. I was timid and a little scared because I had taken a year off from teaching and had exceedingly bad self-esteem because of my bipolar diagnosis. I had very little confidence left in myself and this was my last test to see if I really could be a teacher or even hold a full-time job. Fast forward to today. I am a happy, effective teacher despite my diagnosis. In the past four years, I have grown as a teacher because I have had such great examples of who and what a teacher is. My team and the rest of the staff took me under their wing and eventually helped me fly. The keys to helping me were simple; listening, giving advice, taking over things when I was overwhelmed, constructive criticism, and sharing tips about what they did in the classroom. Anytime I needed to talk, their doors and arms were open. They took a person who had a lot of heart and a little knowledge and paved the way for her to succeed. For that I will be eternally grateful.
This year was a little different as the environment changed. I won’t go into details about how but for me it was particularly challenging as I was already feeling lost since my sister passed away. Throw in some other circumstances I wasn’t prepared for and I felt isolated for the first time since I started working at the school. Instead of approaching the issues head on, I distanced myself and thought that maybe it would be for the best if I changed careers. However, this past month, I have discovered that there is no other place I would rather work. I remind myself that I can’t continue to try to tackle problems on my own and that my fellow teachers will always have my back. A healthy environment is full of love, trust, and support. That is what we have and no one can take that away if we don’t let them. So find that healthy work environment. Don’t give up on your success because there could be a place for you to flourish too.