BROOKSVILLE – Dawn Bloxsom went back to school with a drive to help others. Along the way, she learned how to help herself and her family cope with the challenges of mental illness.
Bloxsom, 35, makes no secret of her struggles with bipolar disorder. Her battle to overcome the mood swings and depression associated with the disorder has been the driving force behind Bloxsom's four-year climb that will culminate in an educational milestone today.
Bloxsom is one of an estimated 776 Pasco-Hernando Community College graduates earning degrees this spring. About 332 of those graduates will walk across the stage today at the New Port Richey campus. It will be a sweet moment for Bloxsom, who will accept her associate's degree in human services.
Bloxsom had her first child when she was 17 and still in high school. Now she is the married mother of four children: two sons ages 12 and 14, and two daughters ages 18 and 8.
When her children were really young, school seemed to be a far off dream. Raising the kids took precedence.
But by 2008, her children had gotten older and the time seemed right. And her job at Walmart was not fulfilling her. She worked her school schedule around her children's activities, and her husband helped out, too.
"I just decided I wanted to work to help people, not to help a big company make money," Bloxsom said.
Having been diagnosed at 19 with bipolar disorder, Bloxsom gravitated toward mental health studies with an eye toward social work. Her studies helped her recognize how the disorder affected her early life.
Bloxsom is president of the PHCC North Campus Psychology Club, a member of National Alliance on Mental Illness and volunteers for the Hernando Youth Initiative, which is completing a resource guide for parents and children facing mental health issues.
"I discovered that for much of my life I was bipolar but didn't have the tools to understand what was going on, and how to get help," Bloxsom said.
Now that she has helped herself, Bloxsom plans to continue her studies to help others. She will attend Saint Leo University in the fall to seek a four-year degree in social work. Then it's on to a master's to become a licensed mental health technician.
"I had children at a very young age," she said, "but I always knew I wanted to go to college. So it's exciting."