Headshot of Stability Leader, Susan Johnson

Instructional Teacher Assistant, Author, and Inspirational Speaker
Living with bipolar 1 disorder

Susan Johnson is living her dream as an instructional teacher assistant, an author, and an inspirational speaker. She was first diagnosed with bipolar 1 at the age of 19 and considers it a blessing that her mother was a nurse, and she was diagnosed quickly. After some challenging years in her 20s when she denied her diagnosis, Susan finally got help and achieved stability. Now, she has a passion for helping other people going through mental health challenges. Susan’s advice to others who are also struggling is this: “Fight it with everything you have. Seek help through doctors, friends, and family. Remember there are seasons in life. When things get hard, KEEP GOING!”

Susan’s Story

How has your condition impacted your life?  When were you first aware of it and what was your most difficult time?  

There isn’t a part of my life that hasn’t been impacted. As far as my profession, when I was a little girl, I dreamed of being an elementary school teacher. I went to college and after four and a half turbulent years, I graduated with a BA in Sociology, but it wasn’t the teaching degree I dreamed of. A therapist encouraged me to find another way to work in a school. Since 1999, I have worked in many different capacities in elementary schools and for the past 14 years, I have been a teacher’s assistant for special education students. What do my students call me? Teacher!

As far as my love life, I kissed too many frogs before I met the handsome prince! I met my husband in my early 30s during a time when I had found stability. We have been together 17 years and married for 14.

I was diagnosed at the age of 19 after a high school cruise. Bipolar runs in my family and my mom is a nurse so I got a diagnosis quickly. It was a blessing.

My most difficult times were in my late 20s. I stopped taking my meds and denied my bipolar diagnosis. I tried to get help, but then told the psychiatrist it was just anxiety. I lost nearly 30 pounds, my job, and my boyfriend.

What is your life like now?

I am living my dreams now as an instructional assistant working with children with learning disabilities and supporting students in the classroom. I am a wife, Godmother, aunt, friend to many, teacher, author of my bipolar memoir, Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping, a blogger, and a cat mom.

I am also a mental health advocate, author, and speaker—something I never dreamed I would be—but am over the moon excited about breaking the stigma I live with.

What help or specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability?   

I take my medicine each and every day. I get 8-10 hours of sleep. I exercise, and as a Christian, I pray. I attempt to eat right, but hey, I love my steaks and chocolate.

I am open to therapy. When I go, I am honest with my therapist. I am a sponge and use all strategies given to me. 

I started a support group at my church. I believe that support from my husband, friends, and family is so important.

Are there positives that have come from having a mental health condition?

Yes, I have learned to be resilient—to bounce back no matter what life throws at me. I have learned what it means to be brave. I have learned to be empathetic toward others and the struggles in their lives. People have asked me, if there was a pill to take for bipolar disorder to cure it, would I take it? The answer is no. God made me just the way he wanted. We all have crosses to bear, something heavy we must live with. The thing to remember is we are not alone.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?   

Fight it with everything you have. Take medicine. Seek help through doctors, friends, and family. Remember there are seasons in life. When things get hard KEEP GOING!! What happens after a storm? The sun always appears eventually. NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!

What motivated you to join The Stability Network?  What do you hope to get from it?

I was nominated by a friend. The mission of The Stability Network is exactly what I want to continue to do: help break stigma and show that you can find happiness and stability and success while living with a mental illness. I want to keep sharing my story. I have already connected with new people around the world on the two calls I have been on for The Stability Network. I want to continue to connect with people and encourage them.

Are there any resources that you would recommend to others?

The magazine I write for at www.bphope.com. Also,I am the author of Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping: A Memoir of My Bipolar Journey and I gave a TEDx talk called, “Having a Mental Illness is Not a Death Sentence.”