Dennis Conway Alleviates His Depression By Teaching And Helping Others

Editor’s Note: Ten years ago, four patients entered Atlanta’s Shepherd Center at the same time with Multiple Sclerosis. Three lost their jobs, their families and eventually, their lives. Dennis Conway was the only survivor. How did he make it? Part 3 of a 4-part series.

I moved to Canton,Georgia in 1981. The people I met there were very mobile and loved to hunt, fish and cook. They really helped me get involved in the community. There was an organization called the Cherokee County Advocacy Association, which had two divisions. The first one was Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), an organization that represented children of divorced parents and made sure the child was cared for, and the other division was the Anna Crawford Center. This facility dealt with children during a divorce and allowed them to testify at the center and not the court. I was in charge of personnel and also helped with fundraising.

The safe houses helped Conway feel comfortable around others and confident to move forward in life.

The safe houses helped Conway feel comfortable around others and confident to move forward in life.

When I was a manufacturer’s representative, I made several friendships and felt comfortable meeting and talking to new people, so it was easy for me to become involved at each of these centers. The Anna Crawford Center’s dream was to build a safe house for children. Children had a safe, stable and comfortable place to stay until they were put in foster homes. For four or five years, we tried to raise funds for this safe house.

By helping others, I began to heal mentally, emotionally and socially in terms of coping with Multiple Sclerosis. All I had to do was work for other people and try to help them escape their bad situations. That was the key to alleviate my severe depression.

I also learned that depression was often where someone focused all of his or her energy and thoughts on himself. If you change that process and think about others rather than yourself, you can heal. That is what worked for me.

Since I really enjoyed working with young people, I thought about substitute teaching. Even though I was in a wheelchair, I could drive to and from school. I remember telling someone from the board of education that I was bored and needed to do something different. The gentleman said, “You’ve got a college education, so, why don’t you go take the five hour course required to be a substitute teacher.”

So I did. After I completed the course, I went to Woodstock High School, the school my stepchildren attended. I began working about two days a week. One day, the teacher for the self contained behavior disorderstudents asked me to take over her class for a week while she was out for medical reasons. It was a special-needs class. I gladly accepted this offer and enjoyed it. However, the week ended and the teacher didn’t return, so I finished teaching for the remainder of the school year.

Conway formed many meaningful relationships while substitute teaching. He really enjoyed serving others.

Conway formed many meaningful relationships while substitute teaching. He really enjoyed serving others.

I dealt with two types of students. Some had signs of Asperger Syndrome, and the other children had behavioral problems. Some of the children were very intelligent but did not handle emotional distress well, like loud noises, yelling, and more—which often led to behavior problems. Each child had a “hall pass” which allowed them to come to my class if something upset them in a different class or even when interacting with others. This procedure didn’t create disturbances and was calming for the children. We taught everyday life skills and ways to control their behavior and attitude to avoid getting in trouble. I stayed with the children throughout the day.

The next year, this class had an opening for a paraprofessional. In this department, there had to be a teacher with a degree in special education. However, the government dictated that if that teacher had more than four students, the teacher had to have a helper. The paraprofessional would write on the board, keep records and work with the children. Since I had experience with these children, I was hired for this position.

Conway loves his students and lacrosse players, and they all love him!

Conway loves his students and lacrosse players, and they all love him!

My class was the last stop between jail and the youth detention center. However, we’ve had an excellent success rate on the number of students who’ve graduated. One of the hardest problems for me has been to understand that there are some children we just cannot help. I’ve learned that my wheelchair and my inability to take care of myself in many situations is the great neutralizer.

Our students don’t seem to be intimidated by me because of my wheelchair. These students are my hands. When I come to school, I have a backpack on the back of my wheelchair that has my school supplies, lunch, drinks and homework in it. When my students come to class, they take my backpack off my wheelchair, unpack all my supplies and arrange everything on my desk. Sometimes I have problems with my legs coming off my wheelchair, so they place my feet on the wheelchair for me. The students and I seem to bond because they need me and I need them. They take care of me and I take care of them.

One time I dropped my pen on the floor, and two or three of the kids got in a fight over who would pick up my pen. They take my lunch container out of my backpack and take the top off the container for me so I can comfortably eat my sandwich. When I’m finished eating, my students put the top back on the container and return it to my backpack. I love these kids, and they love me.

Conway's wife supports him and is proud of how far he's come.

Conway's wife supports him and is proud of how far he's come.

I’ve been teaching there now for 16 years. These children generally enter high school with reputations as troublemakers. However, usually within two years, they settle down and we teach them through a reward system. For instance, if they do well, stay out of trouble and behave themselves, they can go to the lunchroom alone or take PE by themselves – those types of rewards. The reward system has helped many of these students graduate, get jobs and have successful and productive lives. My students and the lacrosse team are the reasons I get out of bed every morning and go to work. I’m certainly not shortchanging my wife or my children—they take great care of me. Watching young people with behavioral problems transform into successful, functioning adults and coaching lacrosse are both extremely rewarding.

What I’ve learned through this experience is that the more I strive to help others, the better I feel about myself. The more I learn, the more I can contribute to help the lives of others, especially young people. Teaching and coaching give my life purpose and meaning. I can earn more money staying at home on disability than I can make working for the Cherokee County Board of Education. But I love those kids, they love me, and I believe I am doing what is important in life.

Next: Dennis Conway Will Always Be There For His Students

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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4 Responses to Dennis Conway Alleviates His Depression By Teaching And Helping Others

  1. Pingback: How Dennis Conway, An Avid Athlete and Top Salesman Dealt With His Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis And Depression « UroMed Catheter Health Blog

  2. Richard Conway says:

    You continue to be an inspiration to all of your family and the highest compliment I can pay you is to say that Glen is so proud of you. Dick Conway

  3. William DeFehr says:

    Your e-mail got “lost”, Dennis, so I didn’t read your stories until today. Thanks very much for passing this on to me. Although you are married to my niece I have never had a good opportunity to talk with you and find out more about your background. You are always in great spirits when I see you, making those around you feel good. You are an example to all of us. Thanks for that! I am looking forward to reading the next installment.

    Bill

  4. Pingback: How Dennis Conway, An Avid Athlete and Top Salesman Dealt With His Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis And Depression

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