How Being in Foster Care Affected My Mental Health
The first time I remember meeting my parents was in a McDonald’s when I was 6 years old.
I’m sure for most of you some red flags go up when you hear that. But for me, my family and to anyone who has been adopted, that’s our normal.
I consider myself lucky; I was only in foster care for about a year and a half. I stayed in two foster homes, which both treated me well. I’m pretty sure I didn’t realize how different my situation was at the time. I knew I was different than most kids; I just didn’t comprehend how unusual my story, even at a young age, was.
In April of 2000, I left my foster home to live with my future adoptive family. I had an advantage because my future Aunt Donna had adopted a sibling group of four children prior to my parent’s decision to adopt (which also inspired my parents eventual adopting little old me). Becoming part of the Coleman family was an easy enough transition. I honestly didn’t realize I was different until second grade. The Colemans and I lived in a farm town where my graduating class of 60 was considered large. Don’t get me wrong; I loved growing up in a small town. Still, everybody knew everybody, and being the new adopted kid wasn’t as easy as I think I was expecting. I was a rarity, which wasn’t always a good thing. Kids can be cruel. A lot of comments were probably meant to be harmless, but damn, did they hurt. One question was asked more than others though. “Didn’t your real mom love you?” I remember I had one bully who would love to talk about my biological family, telling me she understood why my biological mother would give me away. Mind you, that’s not the truth. DCF (the Department of Children and Families) intervened, I wasn’t given away.
I didn’t have a negative experience while in foster care. Still, until the age of 7 I experienced a lot of pain, loss and change. I never really thought about the psychological effects, but of course what child does. I developed post-traumatic stress disorder; I would have panic
attacks sometimes in school, in some cases I’d even hide under my desk. This happened a lot when fliers were passed out in school monthly about becoming a foster family. I usually destroyed them and didn’t bring them home.
I think when a child is in foster care one of two things happen; you either stay recluse, and don’t trust anyone, or you attach way too quickly and cling on for dear life. I was the latter. This developed into an attachment disorder. For the majority of my life I would meet
people, and cling on. This frightened most people — because most people don’t go from meeting to being best friends. I would call too much, and I looked like a stalker; of course now I’m humiliated by my actions. But then, I needed that verification that people weren’t going to leave. I was so afraid of my life changing, and being alone.
I related to adults more than I did my peers, and I befriended my teachers. I think it’s because adults could comprehend my story, and talk to me about it. A lot of my peers dismissed my story as fiction. Who could blame them though? My normal was intense; adopted twice, death riddled throughout my story’s chapters, abuse and neglect were mixed into my early years, and then, suddenly, I found a little bit of happiness. It was a lot to take in. And it didn’t really help I was a little over the top. At the time, teachers dismissed it as ADHD. I was a disruption. I would get up in the middle of class to sharpen my pencil, but would stop at everyone’s desk to ask if they needed their pencils sharpened, too. I thought I was being considerate; my red faced teachers would disagree. But it was more than ADHD; if anything ADHD was a precursor to my future diagnosis. I would rapid cycle. One moment I would be extremely happy; like over the top, just got asked to prom kind of happy. And all it would take is one person saying one thing in the hallway (it didn’t even have to be me) and it would affect me through all of class. I was the girl who cried every single day in school; and that’s not an exaggeration. I would literally cry once a day. And not just a tear; it was a full blown breakdown. But by the next class, I was OK.
People would say I was dramatic, and I hated it; I was in drama, but I wasn’t dramatic. I had a lot on my plate, and how could any child, or teenager know how to handle that.
At 17, after my first recognized suicide attempt, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Everything made more sense with this diagnosis.
But it wasn’t until I embraced my shadow, I was finally able to move forward; out of mania, away from depression, and into stability. I moved away from toxic people; literally, by
moving out of state. Slowly, things started to click for me. I finally realized my mental illness isn’t a handicap. And I finally realized my hyperactivity, and my ability to speak, wasn’t a curse; it was a blessing.
I finally have accepted my diagnosis. I know where I am. And believe me, it wasn’t easy. Managing and recognizing a mental illness is the hardest thing I’ve had to do; and I was in labor for two days. I’m not perfect at it. But I try to practice self-soothing techniques, I go to therapy, and I take my meds now. And I try to talk to people about what it’s like to live with a mental illness; because it’s crippling sometimes. I try to give a voice to those who can’t speak out, and I’m trying to break the stigma that comes with mental illness. I am letting people know we are fighting the same war; and although we lose battles, we will win the war. I am a wife, a mom and a friend. I am a daughter. I am a survivor. I live with bipolar. I spend my days raising my son, and making a change in the mental health world.
And that is my normal now.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this. We have no say in the cards we are dealt as children. And yes, it’s awful, and none of us deserved the broken childhood we may have had. But it is up to us to take care of ourselves now, and to change the outcome for the future. Being a foster kid may define us, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad definition. We are adolescent survivors. We have been through hell, and back (some of us not even realizing how bad it was). And we are still here. We can work on ourselves, and fix ourselves. We have learned to be self-sufficient. But we need to help the kids who are without a family now. We need to educate people, and provide these kids with love and support. We will all heal; it just takes support from the rest of our handpicked tribe.
Watch Taylor tell her story at an event for Foster Care Awareness Month below:
Follow this journey on Taylor’s site.
The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.