Almost 5 years ago, in 2015, my father suddenly and very unexpectedly passed. In the blur of grief and his absence I began to seek out professional help for the mood swings, insomnia, and other symptoms I had tried my hardest to fend off myself for years. I got one very obvious answer: Bipolar disorder. I also got a very unexpected diagnosis: psychotic symptoms. There was an ever growing list of symptoms I had not even realized were symptoms at all. I would end up packing my stuff and moving to Pittsburgh where my boyfriend (Now husband!) lived and finding a steady psychiatrist and therapist. They would ultimately finalize my diagnosis as Schizoaffective disorder – Bipolar subtype.
Despite having a large variety of symptoms which would affect me from my pre-teen years on, I was unaware that most of them were symptoms at all. Using pop culture as a sounding board for my ever changing emotions and even my psychotic symptoms, I found my own ways to cope. Many hours spent listening to Avril Lavigne, Blink 182, and My Chemical Romance – music that helped me to understand that other people struggled with vast and deep emotions like I did. In high school, my symptoms worsened and on a manic week I would snap at my best friends and lash out, unaware that there were even services in the world to help with these things.
It wasn’t until I got into college and made it a year before the internal war between the mania and depression swallowed me whole. I called my mom one night after a week of looking at apartments and discussing the following year of school. I told her how bad I had been struggling and opened up about some situations that had ultimately exacerbated the situation. We agreed that I would move back home and put school on pause while I got my mental health in order. I called someone the next morning and found a place to attend therapy.
All my life, my family had struggled with money and living in rural southern Georgia meant finding good help that was also affordable was not an easy task. The first place I went to therapy wasn’t beneficial to the recovery I needed. I was diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression and put on medications that worsened my mania. I would wean off the medications and stop going to therapy there after less than a year.
I would try a few more doctors and go on and off a few more medications, never getting any closer to a place of recovery. My dad’s death ended up being a catalyst for my recovery as the grief process worsened my psychosis and revealed new symptoms and brought back symptoms I had not dealt with in years. I have grown and learned so much in the last 5 years, and the last year alone has felt like all of the work I’ve done has truly led me to stability.
My goal in Georgia was to get my BA in English Literature and Film and move on to work through grad school and get a PhD in English Literature and Film with a specialization on Southern Gothic Literature and Film. Once I moved to Pittsburgh the cost of returning to school made finishing my BA unrealistic, so I started over. I worked full time at a childcare center as a teacher assistant and took classes online through CCAC. In 2017 with a semester left in school, I left my job at a different child care center due to chronic ear infections and my worsening mental health. I had tubes placed in my ears to regain some of my hearing which had been deteriorating over the last year.
With my graduation date fast approaching, I got a simple retail job for the duration of the last semester of my schooling. In January of 2018, I was scrolling through the job listings I received from an automatic email from CCAC and stumbled across Bender Consulting. I read through their website and discovered their mission to enable those with disabilities to find careers. I knew immediately it was what I was looking for and I submitted an application. Two months after graduation, I began my position at Highmark through the Careers2B program.
I had applied to other places and had a handful of interviews before working with Bender. I was attempting to get my foot in the door before I graduated, but most interviews were unsuccessful in finding a full time position. The Careers2B program was invaluable to my success in the workplace. The support I received from my mentors at Bender and my managers at Highmark allowed me to become a more confident worker. I have set long term career goals and have begun mapping out how to achieve them by utilizing the resources offered by Highmark.
Since transitioning into a full-time Highmark employee, I have been involved with many projects and activities within Highmark. I’ve been working on my own self growth in a stable environment and have found an amazing therapist. I’ve also found an ENT office I’ve been working with to prevent further damage to my ears and I am working towards getting a hearing aid for my right ear which I have lost hearing in over time. In 2020, I hope to continue learning and improving my skills that will help me with my long term goals of working either with Linux or finding a place in Information Security.
I am incredibly grateful to Bender for supporting me and believing in my potential. Navigating the workforce with a disability can be daunting and feel futile at times. Bender allows those of us with disabilities to have a vast support network to work with and alleviates a lot of the stigma that can go alongside self-disclosure at work. I lived and worked in silence about my disability for years and with Bender by my side, I am finally able to be open and honest.