Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, p. 19
A funny thing happened on my way to earning a Bachelor of Social Work. I had completed three years of the program when — totally unexpected and without much concern for the rest of my life — mental illness struck.
Some may consider it offensive that I refer to the onset of mental illness as a funny thing happening. Others would recognize that a sense of humour is important when dealing with barriers to higher education.
By all accounts, my onset of mental illness couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time or be such a strong episode. I was three months into what was to have been my final year and was looking forward to graduation which was just months away.
After a month in hospital, I was not prepared to return to classes. I received notes from professors, mostly encouraging, with the most unusual one suggesting I look into a career other than social work since my weight was indicative of other outstanding issues. I remember thinking, ‘Hello, I just spent a month on a psychiatric ward; I guess there are issues.’
I never did get back into school then — in the late 70’s. There was always one hoop or another to jump through. That was then; this is now. I have just finished a social work law course with an 84%, but believe me when I say that it has taken a ‘village’ to get the process underway. From a local and accessible vocational rehabilitation worker, a willing and helpful staff member at the mental health office and an office at the University of Victoria for persons with disabilities, the supports to my education are many and varied. Returning to school has been less overwhelming with all of them in place. Acknowledging my need for the help has been important too.
I am very much on a learning curve with respect to the technology used for the distance education courses, as well as learning where my strengths and weaknesses are, and how best to challenge my weaknesses in learning.
I am encouraged by others who are studying now or who have completed their education goals. Receiving a Lorne Fraser bursary has been a wonderful encouragement. After the Awards Ceremony this past September, I felt like a new man, with dreams intact and goals to look forward to achieving.