Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas for every kid

Hi everyone, remember me?  Long time no blog! :)  I've missed writing, and have a lot to say, but I've been soooo busy with work and school.  I'm back today because I have something I feel needs to be shared.  I've had multiple people come to me lately asking for help and ideas for their kids who struggle with the holiday season.  I struggle big time with holidays, as do most of the kids I work with (residential treatment center).  I'm realizing that what is just a part of life for me is helpful insight for others who are struggling to make the holidays work for their kids.  Since it seems like a useful topic, I thought I would make a list of some ideas that have been beneficial to me and to kids I've worked with.  It's pretty general, and obviously not every suggestion will work for every kid, but maybe it can give you some ideas.  Please feel free to share it with anyone who may find it helpful.  I really do love being able to use my experience to help families and children in need.  Now we no particular ideas and suggestions! :)

1. Give your child a “safe space” that they can go to at any time with the understanding that parents can come check on them/talk to them, but they can stay there as long as they’d like.  I’ve seen many well-meaning parents tell stressed out kids “It’s rude to ignore guests,” or something like that.  This just leads to increased anxiety and feelings of isolation.  For some kids a safe space might just be spending time playing in their room.  For others who are stressed out by crowds, noise, etc. may like a very specific place…like a cozy corner with a comfy chair or a special fort they’ve built with toys that help them calm.  For a child that is not able to express well that they are struggling, this can be an immediate signal that they’re having a hard time and need help.  It also teaches coping skills by recognizing the need for a break and finding a way to take it.  Obviously different kids will need different levels of help and guidance with this (in my experience some love the idea while others don’t understand it’s purpose and need lots of reminders to use the space).

2.  Set a schedule.  Holidays can be hard because they’re a change in routine.  Make sure your child knows what is coming up and what to expect.  Talk to them beforehand about who will be coming, what activities might happen, etc.  You may want to write it for them, or use a picture schedule.  The feeling of predictability will make the lack of routine less scary for them.  Be careful with too much “just hanging out” time.  It might be what seems natural for you, but for some kids it’s scary and overwhelming to fill the time themselves.

3. Be careful with transitions.  Remind your child of plans before they happen.  Give them a chance to ask questions, and then give them “countdown” type reminders as it gets closer.  The amount of time will vary depending on the kid, but things like “We’re going to see grandma in an hour,” “Make sure you have your shoes and coat ready, we’re going to see grandma in a half hour,” etc. will also add to that feeling of security.  Depending on the child’s age, you can add in additional details, i.e. “We’re going to grandma’s in a half hour, and when we get there we’re going to have dinner with her and then play a board game.” 

3.5. These transitions are equally important if not more important after the fun has been had.  There are many reasons why the return from a fun holiday event can be fun.  Kids who have been through trauma and have other mental health issues often lack the ability that others have to calm their emotions.  Most people can get excited about something, but then settle down again once the excitement stops.  But these kids can’t do that.  Think about playing a fun, active, laugh filled game with a 2-year-old.  They’re excited, engaged, and want to keep playing and playing.  Now imagine you were to suddenly stop playing the game, put the child in bed, and tell him to go to sleep.  Probably wouldn’t work too well, right?  In this way, these kids are much more like two year olds.  Though it may be hard to see on the outside, they still have the fun emotions going crazy inside but the fun activities have stopped, leaving them without a way to handle it.  Since it’s hard for them to settle their minds down by themselves, they often end up acting out as a way to get the energy out.  So, make sure activities have a wind-down time afterwards, as well as some sort of re-entry activity into usual routine.  For example, “In 20 minutes our guests are going to leave, and when they do you and me can read a book together just the two of us.”  Focus on something simple and enjoyable that you and your child can do together.  Having a calm presence with them can help them to settle themselves more easily.  

4. Another issue that may cause upset feelings after a fun activity is the let down afterwards.  For someone who does not regulate emotions well, emotions are felt on a roller coaster.  My analogy is that some days I’m a roller coaster, some days I’m a river.  When I’m the river, the good and the bad come together to change the flow slightly and add some bumps here and there, but mostly the river keeps flowing.  When I’m having a roller coaster day I feel super high highs that are almost always followed with super low lows.  I get involved in doing something that makes me feel amazing, which is great, but unfortunately it is almost always followed by the low drop.  So I’m not saying don’t have fun, but make sure some of it is calming fun.  Depending on what your kid likes, maybe some extra cuddle time, a quieter game, etc.  If you’re go go go all the time, you’re bound to have a crash at some point since that’s obviously not sustainable forever.  Also, keep in mind through all of this that being upset after an activity doesn’t mean that they didn’t like it.  In fact it could very well mean the opposite.  They may have had such a great time that it’s confusing to go back to the normal. 

5. Keep expectations small.  This is important for both you and your child.  For you, you probably won’t have that picture perfect Hallmark Christmas that you see on tv or read about online.  That’s something you have to accept.  Of course no one’s holidays are perfect, but when you’re dealing with a child with emotional/behavioral issues, your chances of a flawless day are even less likely.  Focus on making good memories together without worrying too much about the bigger picture.  Don’t miss the beauty that is there because you’re too busy worrying about what isn’t going right.  For your child, helping them understand simple expectations can make the day smoother.  They see the same pressures you do to make the holiday just right.  Most likely, they want to please you and they want to make you happy.  But that puts them in a very scary place.  In their eyes, they have to do everything right for you, and if they don’t they’ll have to wait a whole year before they have a chance to try again.  This is definitely enough to raise the anxiety of an already anxious child, and for some it’s enough for them to sabotage from the start because they can’t handle the stress of trying to be perfect.  This pressure is even more intense for foster kids, who may feel like they have to be good to be accepted by the family (especially if there’s more family around than they’re used to, or if they have traumatic memories connected to the holidays).

6. Keep it simple.  Christmas doesn’t need to be a multi-course meal, or celebrated with every extended family member.  No one needs a giant stack of presents, nor a million different activities or decorations.  Focus on the main goals of togetherness and fun, and be realistic about what your child can handle.  Maybe that means a smaller tree.  Maybe visiting with some relatives on different days.  Who says you can’t have a Christmas dinner in January?  Or maybe it’s as simple as changing the time of an event so there’s more rest time in between.  If you’re not sure just ask yourself: “What’s more important, that my Christmas contain ______ or that my child is able to be successful?”  It’s ok if someone needs to bring that child late, take them home early, etc.  Just do the best you can.  Christmas won’t be ruined if you take out some pieces.

7. Foster/adoptive kids might miss their families, even if they don’t know them.  For some kids, like me, holidays were an extremely traumatic time.  They brought out the worst in my parents, and also gave them a tool to use against me.  Something like Santa is a dream come true for controlling parents.  One year Santa skipped my house.  In hindsight my parents probably got drunk and forgot, but at the time I was crushed.  In my mind, I was such a horrible person that not even this wonderful, loving, caring, mythical man wanted to give me anything.  It’s not that I spend the holidays sitting around thinking of the bad memories, but a lot of different things trigger stress and anxiety…often without me even realizing that that’s what’s going on.  I have less extreme memories with other holidays, but let’s just say anything family focused is tough when you have a family that’s struggling. 

But even for a kid that doesn’t have traumatic memories of the holidays, the holidays are still a reminder of what a family “should” be.  For a kid who is uncertain of his future, the idea of family is painful.  Even kids who were adopted at birth and never knew their biological family may spend time wondering what things would’ve been like with their birth family.  They may not even realize they’re doing it, they may just be feeling a bit of extra emptiness that they’re not sure how to fill or what it’s from.  Unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do on this one, except just to be aware.  Give them time to feel sad if they need to.  Let them help invent new holiday traditions, especially if you know they’ve had trauma around the holidays.  Creating a whole new family tradition that they’re involved with from the start gives them a new focus, helps them create new memories, and best of all gives them a sense of belonging.  It’s possible they’re feeling like your traditions are yours, not theirs, and they’re just floating on the edges no matter how much you try to include them.

8. Give them a break, but not too much of one.  Understand that some of their behaviors are out of their control.  They likely aren’t feeling like themselves, and might be having a hard time with things that are normally easy for them.  Approach this with compassion and understanding, and try to talk it through with them if they are able.  If they’re not already aware, start pointing out to them how their behavior is different during the holidays…not in a punishment way, just helping them to be aware.  Talk to them about what might be causing it, and what they might like to do differently to help them get through the tough times.  Sometimes kids are impressively wise once you help them start to make the connections.  But don’t take away rules/expectations all together.  Be understanding that they might be more likely to slip, but routine is important and they also need to see that you believe in them and their ability to be successful.  Giving them expectations and the focused help they need to get through when they are struggling shows that you believe in them and you are with them through it all. 

9.  Give yourself a break.  If something doesn't work out the way you'd hoped it's not a reflection on you.  Your child is struggling with issues that are outside of your control.  Take a deep breath.  You didn't fail.  It will be ok.  I promise.

10. Have fun!  I don’t want this list to be entirely dreary.  It takes work, but you can have an amazing holiday time with these kids.  It may look different than what you imagined or what you wanted, but it can be done.  Be creative.  My kids at work struggle with understanding giving and the meaning of Christmas, so we go on secret kindness missions.  We make Christmas decorations together and then go on secret missions to decorate the office, classroom, etc. of people who work with the kids and that the kids appreciate.  We go all out with the secret mission, taking back routes along the grounds, tip-toeing strategically and hiding when needed, and decorating as fast as we can while someone acts as lookout.  (Of course, if necessary I will go in as “distraction” first to give the ppl a heads up to not be in their office, but don’t tell the kids that! J  They actually really like coming up with ideas of what to tell the people to get them away from their offices…so I pass that along too with the distraction).  Anyway, that’s just one idea, but so far it’s worked for us.  The same kids that didn’t understand why they should give someone a present are now begging for more missions and suggesting various staff that they’d like to surprise.  And best of all, it’s helping them to feel good about themselves because they’re starting to understand that their actions can have a positive impact on someone else.  Non-traditional, sure, but it works for us.

That's all for now folks!  Please ask questions if you have them, and I'm happy to offer suggestions on specific issues if you think that would be helpful.  I know there are many of you out there working hard every day, and especially over the holidays to be there for these kids and give them positive memories.  In case you haven't heard it in a while, THANK YOU!  Your efforts are appreciated, even if your kids are not able to tell you that right now.  I'm thankful for you, and I believe very strongly that your kids are or will be too.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Blame Game

Wow it's been a long time since I've been here!  Work has been keeping me busy.  There's soooo much I've been wanting to write but haven't had the time or energy.  For those that don't know, my new job is at a residential treatment facility for kids with emotional and behavioral issues, most due to trauma.  As you may imagine, it's an intense place for me to be!

One of the biggest things I've been noticing is the tendency of everyone to find another group to blame.  I'm in a weird spot.  Because of my life experiences, I relate to a lot of different groups...probably all of them in one way or another.  On one of my first days of work, I was surprised to hear my supervisor make a comment about how many foster parents do it for the money.  Some of my best friends are foster parents, so I know this isn't true.  I see the effort, compassion, and funds they put towards their foster and adopted children every day.  I see that same effort at work, so I would've expected them to have a better attitude towards and relationship with foster parents.  But I get it.  A lot of the kids are there because they had crappy foster parents.  One boy was adopted by a pedophile who wanted a little boy to live with him.  One girl had a placement all set up and then last minute the foster parents decided nevermind, they weren't interested.  Many of the kids have had failed adoptions.  Many were abused or neglected in their foster homes.  A lot of the issues the kids have come from being in many different foster placements over a short period of time.  So yeah, I get where they might have a warped view of foster parents.  I don't agree with it, but I get it.  Nevermind the fact that I'm sure none of them would want to take one of the kids home 24/7 and deal with them without all the extra support, structure, and and safety measures.  Nor the fact that most of the foster parents are either uninformed or unsupported, or both.  But I've spent a lot of my time around foster parents, and lived with incredible foster parents who probably saved my life, so I can't look negatively towards foster parents as a whole.  (Of course the abusive ones deserve all the negativity they get, but they're a rarity).

Also because of my experiences, I understand a lot of stuff the kids do that my co-workers don't get.  It's funny, because in my world it's common sense so it catches me by surprise that others would be confused by it.  For example, I was planning an outing with a co-worker and she was talking about how strange it was that the kids get so obsessed with food when we go places.  Makes perfect sense to me...the one who feels like everything is off if I don't have at least one snack in my backpack!  If I'm going somewhere unfamiliar I pack a ton of food because who knows what the food situation there will be and I hate the feeling of being hungry.  Just recently during a training we were doing these activities that were supposed to give us a better sense of how the kids feel and react to situations.  I sorta messed it up because I unintentionally kept skipping over the adult part and going straight to kid.  One of the big ones was about how hard it is for the kids to make eye contact and feel on the spot to answer a a lot of times they listen better if they're fidgeting or doing something else at the same time.      Well that is 100% me, and I started wondering if I'd been offending the ppl doing the training by my constant fidgeting and lack of eye contact! lol  But during the ones where we were supposed to be making good eye contact I was so worried about whether or not I was doing it right that I missed everything that was said...putting me squarely in with the kids.  I joked about it during the training, but it got a little awkward since no one there knows my history.  The point is, I could probably do without a lot of the training since it's what I live every day!

Of course everyone wants to blame the bio parents.  That's the easy target, right?  Wellll....not for me.  I relate to them too.  For one thing, a lot of their issues come from poverty, which I've lived.  The other issues come from addiction, which I've also lived.  I understand how a parent can neglect their child while focusing on their drug.  I don't condone it, but I get it.  I'm lucky I was never able to have kids.  It really just comes down to luck for wasn't from good quality planning ahead.  I've seen first hand how hard it is to get sober...I can't imagine doing it along with the responsibilities of taking care of a child...often a very difficult child with minimal support around you.  I don't understand the sexual abuse stuff, except that often those parents were themselves abused as children.  I can tell you that sexual abuse when you're a kid fucks with your mind more than just about anything out there.  It leaves you with no idea how to relate to people, and no real concept of what love is.  I have no doubt that the parents who have hurt these kids love their children.  They just have no idea how to parent.  I also have no doubt the kids love their parents...even the ones with no desire to be with them.

I guess it goes back to what I said before...I'm grateful for my life experiences because they've given me the perspective to see where so many different people are coming from.  I can't, nor do I want to, hold a whole group of people hostage to a single idea.  Yes, there's bad ones in every bunch...but generally there's a reason why.  There's some kind of pain that's brought a person to where they are.  Judging and blaming isn't going to help them.  I just hope we can find the right path to healing so we can change the course of things rather than continue with the same cycles.


I'm so so grateful for my job, because I love it and I love getting to be a part of truly making a difference for kids who experienced what I did.  I love being a part of (hopefully) making real change for the future.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tico Time

Years ago I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Costa Rica as part of a study abroad class.  I had an amazing time and am so grateful for the experience.  What a beautiful country with genuinely nice people!

Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos.  One of my favorite phrases, which we heard often there, was Tico time.  Basically it meant that nothing really happened "on time".  Things were scheduled at specific times, but if you happened to run in to a friend on your way to some event, you would never say, "Sorry, can't talk, I'm late."  You'd take the time to talk to your friend, and then head on to wherever it was you were going.  You get there when you get there.

Realistically, I probably wouldn't function well on Tico time.  I'm a procrastinator.  I wait until the last minute and then rush to finish everything before the deadline.  When there's no deadlines, I don't do much.  But I love the concept.

Last night I was on my way to a meeting and happened to run into a friend that I hadn't seen in probably a year.  It was a total fluke because I was in an area of town I don't normally go to for said meeting (not one of my regular meetings...not a typical meeting...hard to explain exactly what it, and she had just moved in to that area.  She hadn't lived anywhere close to there the last time we'd talked.  So I was about a block away from the meeting, but I took the time to talk with her.  I found out she's now 8 months sober (she was struggling to string together more than 3 months before), has a new job, and is doing well.  Eventually I decided I'd better head to my meeting, though now 15 minutes late rather than the 5 minutes early that I was.

I'm not a huge fan of walking in late places....especially places like that where the door is right by the front of the meeting room so there's no sneaking in the back...but I'm used to it because time management has never been my specialty.  Later that night I mentioned the encounter to a friend of mine and she was talking about how nice it was of me to stop and talk to this friend, and how it was such a supportive and caring thing to do.  That surprised me because I never really considered doing anything else.  Of course greeting and talking to a friend comes before "business".  Even if it hadn't been someone that I hadn't seen for a year....even if it was someone I see regularly, I'd still want to take the time to catch up and make sure they're doing ok.  That's just the way my mind works...and sometimes it gets me in trouble because so many people value being on time so heavily.  I remember being lectured about how it's disrespectful to show up to a class late.  I understand what they're saying, but if I see someone I care about along the way, aren't they more important than a class?

When I was in Costa Rica we went to this big rodeo event that most of the town was apparently coming to.  It started very late.  The rest of my group, all American, was checking their watches, grumbling, and seeming generally unhappy.  The Costa Ricans around us were talking and laughing with each other, and none seemed bothered at all by the delay.  I asked a man sitting near me about it.  He chuckled at the question and said, "They'll get here when they get here!"  Works for me!  Somehow, the philosophy seems to work and life keeps going there.  What I do know is I felt 100x more peaceful there.  Granted it was like a vacation....the school was not very school like and i wasn't working or anything...but when I got back to the US I remember sitting in the corner of the airport feeling shell-shocked as I watched people rush by me.  Everyone going somewhere, everyone checking their watches, everyone rushing.  I wanted to go back to the land of "we'll get there when we get there," where human interaction always trumps punctuality.  Of course I may disagree if I spent some real time there, but it felt like a breath of fresh air.  So much of the stress of expectation was just gone.  There wasn't the constant push to do more.  I felt like I could breathe...and just be.

I don't know why this is my chosen rambling today.  I've had so many things I wanted to blog about, but when I finally had time to sit down and write I'd forgotten them all! lol  So hopefully you'll be hearing from me again soon.  My internship starts next week.  Eep! :)


I'm grateful for my new perspective on life.  I had some things go on this week that may have done me in stress-wise in my "old life"....but any more I'm able to think through them, find the positive, and keep going with them just being a little glitch along the way.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Little League

Lately I've been spending a lot of time watching the Little League World Series.  It's a rather strange fascination of mine I guess, but I've always loved it.  It's not just the big world series event, I've just always loved youth sports.  Back when my PTSD and anxiety were so bad I could barely function, one of the few things I truly enjoyed was going out to the local little league field.  For some reason I just felt safe there.  It felt like, when I was watching kids play baseball (or whatever other sport happened to be in season), all was right with the world.  Everything was simple, manageable, and understandable.  Maybe it was the simplicity of the game, or the families there to cheer, or the kids just out to have fun.  Whatever it was, it worked.  (It's also helped me to work...over the years I've had jobs coaching kids in many, baseball, tennis, hockey, skiing, etc. :)  So naturally, when youth sports takes over ESPN, it's something I want to watch.  It makes me feel good.

This time around it's gotten me to thinking...many of these kids' dads are out there on the field with them as coaches.  Those parents that aren't coaches are there in the stands watching, even though it's meant traveling across the country or around the world to do so.  The parents talk about the sacrifices they've made....the long hours and many miles getting their kids to practices, games, and tournaments....making sure the kids have the gear they need....paying team dues as well as paying for extra coaching and training....working fundraisers for the team...showing up to cheer at every game, etc.  It got me having involved parents a pre-requisite for success in sports?  Obviously no parent is going to be interviewed on tv and say "meh...I don't do much.  I show up now and then," and if there is a parent that's not there they're obviously not the one that's going to be interviewed.  But I've noticed that with almost every batter that comes up, the camera shows the parents and family members, happily adorned in the team's colors, holding big handmade signs.

This definitely isn't just a baseball thing, or just a little league thing either.  I had the same sort of thoughts during the olympics with the repeated "salute to mom" commercials of athletes thanking their moms for all the behind the scenes work they did.  (Though not their dads...which bothered me...but that's a topic for another post! lol).  In both cases, Olympics and little league, they also generally talk about the years and years of work starting from when the athlete was very young.  They talk about joining their first sports team when they were 4 or 5.  When I was that age I was learning the safest hiding places in my house, and how to read whether or not dad was drunk.  Sports were the furthest thing from my mind!

Of course there's a big range between "hiding from drunk dad" and expensive private coaching.  I know not all kids have what the kids on tv are talking about, even though it sometimes seems that way. Also, I did get to play sports sometimes as a kid.  I was a natural athlete, so I got to join school teams a few times.  I just know that had I ever gotten on a team good enough to travel to another state for a tournament, my mom likely would've pulled me off right then and there, not wanting to put in the money or the work to help me get there.  That's just the way my family was.

It's not that I think I would've been some kind of amazing professional athlete had my parents been different.  No matter who I had been raised by, I don't see myself as someone having that level of drive and commitment.  (Not to mention, the sport I loved was football, and no matter who my parents had been I doubt there was a team anywhere that would've taken me!).  But it's just one of those things that makes me wonder.  It makes me wonder who I would've been had my parents been different....had my childhood been different.

Wondering about those things for too long is not a safe place for me to go.  I have to be careful not to drift too far that way because the answers will never be known.  I am who I am.  I am me.  I only have this one life, and it's entirely possible that what I think would've been a better life for me growing up could've led to somewhere much worse.  After all, as much as times have sucked here and there, life is pretty good now.  I still struggle, but I wouldn't want to give it up.  Anymore I can't think of anyone I'd want to trade with, so there's no reason to think of trying to trade in my past.  (Wow...I don't think I've ever said that "out loud"....that there's no one I would want to trade with...but it's actually true.  There's really no one else I'd rather be today than me. :)

I guess what this all comes down to is it's just one more thing to grieve.  My life has a lot of grief in it right now.  So much that I'm still sometimes crying for no reason.  (Well, I guess there is a reason, but it seems to come out of nowhere).  Mostly I'm grieving for the big things...loss of innocence, loss of a happy childhood, loss of safety and security, loss of the ability to trust people and have genuine relationships, loss of a family I feel like I can fall back on...  It's getting better.  I'm learning to accept these losses.  But every now and then these little things jump up from out of nowhere and they get to me.  They're silly things.  I get that.  I know the world is not going to end because my mom almost never came to sports games I played...and if she did she was sitting in the back looking bored not up front cheering.  I know that's not earth-shattering.  But sometimes the little things hit the hardest.  And it's one more reminder of the cohesive family I wanted more than anything but didn't have.

I did a little reading online today...and came across a website of people (adults) talking about how badly they want a team of theirs....their go to the little league world series.  I realized then, if I ever have kids (which I do still plan to....I really could care less if they ever go to any kind of championship of anything...but I can't wait to be in the front row of whatever they decide to do.  That seriously is a dream of be the coach...or whatever they'll let me be...of some team my kid is on and get to share that with them.  It's just a family moment I really really want.  And no, it doesn't have to be sports, because if I say I want it to be sports that pretty much guarantees my kid will hate sports and be in to chess or something like that, right? lol  It's just a connection I wish I'd had...and one I'm excited to one day give to kids of my own.

It's also one more little thing that's a bit scary when I think about it.  I have yet to find a high-level athlete who didn't start playing their sport when they were very young (except for a few select sports that seem to cater a bit more towards "older" athletes).  So this is just one more example of where decisions made for kids when they're very young, or how even the youngest of kids are raised, can have a HUGE impact on where they end up as adults.  You'd think that when they're that young it doesn't matter too much, but once again you just never know when that moment is going to be that's going to shape the future.  As someone who has coached, I could've been a part of it for a kid and not even known.  I just hope my impact was a positive one. :)

Before I finish up with Little League related stuff I just gotta share one more thing.  A speech from the best coach ever.  Seriously.  After hearing this I want to find a way to nominate this guy for president!  Honestly he was so incredible that when the game ended and his team was eliminated, rather than showing the other team celebrating their win and getting to move on in the tournament...the cameras went straight to this guy to hear this talk.  I've never seen that before in any televised sports events but this speech was worth it.

Coach Belisle for president!  Or at the very least I need to hire him as my life coach! lol


I'm grateful that even in the midst of the worst chaos of my life I've been able to find something somewhere that brings me comfort....even if it seems weird to the outside world.  And frankly, the fact that it's always been as simple as eating a burger at a little league field, even when I can barely eat or think or function a pretty sweet deal for me!  Yay for simple things to bring comfort!  If it's simple, it's always available in one way or another.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I guess it's time for me to blog again.  Losing my last post really took it out of me.  Usually I'm better about saving things as I write.  I guess that one just wasn't meant to be seen.  Anyway...back to today.

I think I have some survivor's guilt when it comes to suicide.  I've been hospitalized twice because I was suicidal, and there are multiple times in my life that I should've died, either from attempted suicide or from indifference.  Many nights I didn't exactly want to die, but I really didn't care if I lived to see the next morning, and I acted accordingly.  It scares me because I don't know why I lived.  It definitely wasn't because of something I did.  Some say it was because my higher power was there.  I think that's probably true, but at the same time what does that say about people who do successfully carry out suicide?  Does god not care for them as much?  No, I can't believe that.  I know I didn't do anything back then that made me "deserve" to be alive.  Not that people should necessarily earn their right to live or anything, but I brought a lot of pain to the world back in my suicidal days, and I hadn't done much of anything to help anyone.  My net impact wasn't positive!

So then you have someone like Robin Williams.  Well loved by so, so many.  It seems like the whole world is in mourning today.  From what I've read and seen he was well loved off screen too.  He admits he did a lot he's not proud of during his active addiction, but it seems like he was a genuinely good guy.  So the response I have inside is hard to put words to.  When I was suicidal, I was some dumb kid living on the streets (or close to it).  Had I been successful, very few people would've noticed me gone, and their thoughts of me would not have lasted long.  So, if there were some sort of world quota for suicide, it would make sense to get rid of me, rather than him.  That said, I was a kid with nothing.  From outside appearances, he had everything.  Money, fame, family, friends, etc.

I know firsthand that it isn't that outside stuff that leads a person to suicide.  It's way bigger than that.  You have to feel so completely empty inside that you can't imagine continuing on.  It is a depth of pain that is truly inexplicable and goes way beyond just whether or not things are going well in your life at the moment.  This last time that I was hospitalized, I knew people cared, and honestly I was angry at them for caring.  In my mind, they were keeping me from reaching that final peace.  I thought often, "Why couldn't I have just died when I was truly unknown?"  There were times when literally no one would've noticed me missing for a long time, if at all.  Also, no matter how much people cared about me, I still genuinely believed they'd be better off without me.  I can't really explain it because it isn't logical.  But I knew I hurt so badly that I couldn't possibly be a benefit to anyone else.  "They'll see, once I'm gone it will be better."  I was so, so blinded by pain.  I wanted the people around me to see that all I could possibly bring to the world was pain.

I tried to get help but was constantly blocked from it...first by pride, then by money and resources.  It amazes me to hear of a celebrity suicide because they literally have access to any resource they could possibly want.  All the therapy, all the inpatient rehab, all the whatever.  It's at their fingertips.  Of course they also have the constant judgment that follows.  It makes national news if they go to any one of those places.  I can't imagine if my life had been so on display when I was in such a dark place.  In the case of Robin Williams, it kills me to know that he was seen by so many, and yet no one could reach out in the way that he needed to bring him out of where he was trapped.  I don't blame anyone around him, nor do I blame him.  Depression is terrifyingly sneaky and stealth.  I just wish, as I know everyone does, that it could've been different.  I wish he could've felt the love that the world has for him.  I guess this all goes to show that even the biggest names are far from immune.  Sometimes I think it's worse for them.  The better you look on the outside, the more you're judged for how you feel inside.  If things are going well in your life, you're expected to be happy.  You're a comedian, you're expected not to be sad.  I imagine it was that much harder for him than it was for me to admit he needed help, even though he had the resources available.

Last thing...he checked himself into rehab just a couple of months ago...not because he was drinking or using again, but because of mental illness.  So even with inpatient treatment, he couldn't defeat whatever it was that was going on in his head.  Obviously no one but him can know for sure...but from what I can see, he did everything right and depression still won!  That's so scary to me!  People want to blame those that kill themselves or attempt to....talking about how selfish they are.  But in my own experience, and with every suicidal or formerly suicidal person i've spoken to, they've lost touch with the ability to feel connected to others.  They can't grasp how their death will impact anyone.  But it's not that they're not thinking of others.  These people who want to blame the depressed person love to say, "Well they should've done ______."  But sometimes I don't think anyone knows the answer to what they should actually do.  He sought intensive inpatient help, so clearly he talked to people and I can only assume (hope) got medication.  He didn't go back to his addictions (as far as I know).  He tried to handle it the right way, and it still got the best of him.

Of course it's sad when the celebrities (or anyone) that have a long history of drug use eventually overdose, but at the same time it's almost expected.  I know how hard it is to get sober....but ultimately it is a choice whether to take action.  And addicts know that choosing to continue to use will eventually lead to death.  But when someone gets sober and stays sober, seeks help for their mental illness, and still can't get through it....that's both terrifying and tragic.  Is there really nothing that can protect one from severe depression?

Had I died when I'd wanted to, obviously I know the reaction wouldn't have been as big as this one is....but I'm feeling so strongly about Robin Williams and I've never actually met him.  I can't imagine what I would've put those who cared about me through.  Even though obviously I didn't succeed, it still pains me to think how close I came to hurting so many.  I wish there was some way that I could take it back, even though many that are close to me have no idea how close I came.  I also think of the people I know now.  Even though I struggle to believe that people actually like me, today I know I have a place in the world and a meaningful impact.  Had I died back then, that impact wouldn't have happened.  It just feels like there's this balance in the world, and something like suicide throws it off so badly.  Maybe it really was just his time to go.  I don't know if it will ever make sense.  But I am so overwhelmed with grief, sadness, and guilt right now that it's hard to even function.  I want it to make sense, and I don't think it ever will.


I really am grateful to be alive, even though lately I at times have been struggling to show it.  I really am trying to live today in a way that shows that gratitude.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


I just wrote out a super emotional post that took a lot out of me to write, and then the stupid website ate it. :(  So frustrating.

Friday, August 1, 2014

It's going to be ok

I'm still struggling a lot.  I can't even really explain why, which is half the frustration.  I'm just grieving, hurt, emotional, overwhelmed, etc.  I'm panicking and really struggling to deal with even the basics.  I've been trying to write about it, but every time I get lost in the words.

A few minutes ago I was sitting online with a close friend of mine.  She's going through some really rough stuff as well.  Way beyond anything I'm facing really.  I feel bad that I can't do much to support her in my "current state" (though we live many states away so not sure I could offer much in this situation anyway).

So tonight we sat there together...both overwhelmed and afraid...both without many words to offer the we just sat.  As we were about to say goodnight this incredible feeling came over me.  It was like nothing I've ever felt before.  All day today I've been overwhelmed looking at the struggle I have ahead of me, and hers is even bigger...but I got this overwhelming feeling of "It's going to be ok" that was so strong it brought me to tears.  Totally out of the blue, while sitting in a dark room in the wee hours of the morning...this moment of power.  It's gone again, but I'm trying to hold on to what's left of it to keep me going.  Deep down I know it will be ok, but it also feels like right now there's a lot of evidence against that.

I'm back to being afraid to sleep again....waaaaay more so than I was before.  I've had WAY more nightmares since going on the meds that were supposed to help keep nightmares away.  :(  And now I'm remembering them more clearly too.  This is especially tough because i've been especially working to convince the scared parts of me that going to sleep is safe.  So now I'm sitting here awake and doing everything I can to keep telling myself it's going to be ok.  Whatever that feeling was, it helped.


I'm grateful for my sponsor.  She took me out to breakfast today and it was just a nice break from all the crazy.  Everything just seems a little calmer when she's around....and I know I sometimes exhaust her with my chaos but she still stays with me!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Well that was depressing...

I had a rather in depth post that I was working on for tonight...but then I got really really wrapped up in reading some very old emails (starting in 2005) that I didn't even know I had saved!  What a fun trip down memory lane!  It was soooo entertaining looking back on now that I know how we've all "grown up".  (It was the email address I created specifically for message boards and such so it's all online friends, though some have become face to face friends as well).  There were some who made a huge deal about how they wanted to be there for me always and never ever leave, who then mysteriously vanished and I haven't heard from them in YEARS!  Others are close friends today who I made repeated but rather pitiful attempts to push away every time I got nervous or anxious.  I had emails from some saying how they were giving up their foster license to focus on the kids they had.  Their family has doubled in size since through foster and adoption.  I came across one woman who rather obsessively told me I needed therapy.  Being the rebellious, drama infused lil brat I was at the time, I felt a need to continuously email her to complain about my life and give her the reasons I wasn't in therapy.  Some of these exchanges were like an on-going freakin soap opera!  Most of the time I was cringing watching my own reaction to things and how self-absorbed I really was back then.  But there were definitely times that even today I agree with me.  I was not the only drama infused brat! lol  Oh and then there was the woman I'd been exchanging emails with when I was going through a rough patch.  At one point she replied, "If only we lived in the same town so I could come be with you in person..."  Turns out, we do! lol  We must have just not asked each other back then.  I only remember getting to know her many years later, so I was really surprised to see a conversation from so long ago!

As I was scrolling through, I found an exchange I'd completely forgotten about with this incredibly kind, sweet woman.  We had met through craigslist of all places.  At the time I was trying to offer myself as a volunteer to help foster families since I wanted to pay it forward for what was given to me by my foster parents.  This woman didn't need my help, but emailed me just to thank me for my kind offer and for acknowledging foster parents.  I told her my reasons behind it and we got to talking.  She wanted to hear all about my experiences in care, and anything I could offer her as far as insights with her kids.  (She had 4 preschoolers at the time!  Way out of my league! lol).  Anyway, for a period of about 9 months she became one of my biggest cheerleaders.  It was while I was in school the first time around, and really struggling to finish.  My memories had just started to become clear to me, my PTSD symptoms were going crazy, and I had no clue how to handle any of it.  Doing homework and focusing in class (or even going to class) took a waaaay backseat.  It was all I could do to get through the day, and this woman was right there with me through it, emailing me and cheering me on, and just offering me the most understanding words ever.  She really wanted more than anything for me to come meet her family and spend time with them.  Easter was coming up, and she wanted to include me in all her family's holiday stuff.  (She's one of those that goes all out with coloring eggs and even leaving traces of "easter bunny fur").  It really upset her that I struggled with holidays so much and felt so alone, and she wanted to do everything she could to give me a safe place to be.

I was torn.  On the one hand I badly wanted that too.  On the other, I'd had mixed experiences with joining other people's families.  I had recently had a very negative experience with a similar situation with another online friend.  (I was already feeling nervous and out of place....always a struggle for me based on all my foster care experience and never really feeling "home"....and one of the relatives that was there said he wanted to get a family picture and was gathering everyone up.  I followed everyone in because it seemed like the thing to do, and he looked at me and said, "No, just the family."  I know he didn't mean anything by it but it was absolutely crushing to me.  I ran out of there and went home sobbing.  Did I mention I was in a very shaky emotional place at that time? lol).  Anyway...I really wanted to meet her...and she was even offering to cook my favorite foods....but I never did get up the courage to meet her.

Re-reading our exchanges just warmed my heart....though it made me sad to watch myself slowly fade away.  Granted I had good reason to fade away.  I was getting ready to graduate and move to a new state for a job.  As I read I started thinking, wouldn't it be cool to find this woman and surprise her?!  I doubt she'd remember me, but how fun would it be to email her, remind her who I am, and tell her about my new successful, sober self....probably even confident enough to meet her in person and hug her and thank her for everything she gave me.  I knew the email address I had for her was no longer current because last year my email address decided to spam everyone and the one to her was denied....(I guess spam can be useful! lol).  I went to google to see what I could find.  I typed in her name, and the first thing that popped up was "obituary".  I thought, "That must be someone else!" but her name is pretty unique.  Not likely that there'd be two in the same area.  She had told me how old she was back when we were talking, so I started trying to use the obit years and do the seemed to match up. Ugh.  I went to the funeral home site where you can leave comments, and sure enough they were all addressed to her husband.  Ugh.  She died in 2012.  I couldn't find anything that said what happened to her.  She was only 47.

As I said, We only talked for about 9 months back in 2006...I'm sure she'd long since forgotten about me.  But she'd told me multiple times in emails, even when I wasn't doing well writing her back, that she was regularly thinking about me and praying for me.  Who knows what she would've said had I had the chance to talk to her again.  But it just goes to show, you just can't wait for things in life.  I'm so bad about putting things off because I'm just not sure if I can handle it.  I put off meeting her, and now I never will.  I wonder what else I've put off because I've sat pacing in insecurity rather than going out and trying.  Maybe this sudden need to read through old emails tonight was a sign for me to stop being afraid and get out and live.  That's definitely what I've been needing to hear.

It's really sad to me to think that the world lost such a caring soul so early.  I also know they were trying so hard to be able to adopt kids, and from what I could gather from the comments on the obit page, they'd finally been able to.  She couldn't have kids of her own, so a big family was what she'd wanted more than anything.

I wish I'd gotten the chance to tell her how much she meant to me...I worry I hurt her by my continual backing out on tentative plans to meet, though I did explain why.  But maybe I can use her influence as inspiration to get through this current rough spot and get back in to life.

Life's short folks....dessert first!  ;)

---------------------- overwhelmed right now.  What I saw in my email box from '05 and '06 (and beyond, but especially then) was person after person ready to be there for hear support me.  It really is amazing to look back on.  I have been so so fortunate to always have people around to support me.  Every time I think I'm alone, someone else appears.  It's always been that way, even as a kid.  Of course now I know that I'll never be truly alone because my higher power is in my corner, but I'm just grateful for this amazing stream of incredible people that have come through my life.  I don't know how I got to be so fortunate.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The right way to heal?

I remember a while back on a support site I used to go to, someone posted that she felt she was healing too slowly or that she wasn't healing "right".  I left her this nice, well thought out message about how everyone heals at their own pace, that needing therapy (or any other help) wasn't a weakness, and that the fact that she was there and talking about it showed that she was making good progress.  That stuff is soooo much easier to say when it's about someone else.

In some ways I know I'm doing ok.  Between what I lived through and then what I did to myself, I shouldn't be alive right now.  There are many people with my same issues who are still out drinking or using drugs...or who have killed themselves...or who just hide away and do nothing and don't get out of bed.  This isn't about demeaning them, but just for comparison's sake...I'm doing ok.  I've made it through school (aside from finishing my internship this fall), I have my own apartment, and I've done decently well providing for myself.

But then I see people who have been through the same stuff as me out doing amazing things.  They're raising kids of their own...sometimes fostering/adopting kids with special needs.  They have incredible jobs and careers.  Some have started their own non-profits.  They've used their pain to do all sorts of amazing things.  I know comparing is never a helpful thing, but it's for perspective.

Some days I feel like I'm doing so well.  I feel happy and peaceful.  I have friends and I enjoy my life.  Then there are other days where I feel like everything is falling apart and there's nothing I can do to hold it together.

I've been having a lot of those falling apart days lately.  In fact, it got so bad I actually called a therapist, which is a big deal for me because I tend to hate everything about therapy.  I hate where I'm stuck even more though.  The problem is, I can't talk to therapists.  I need therapy to learn how to deal with therapists.  So all it did was make my anxiety worse.

My anxiety is so bad right now that I want to check out from the world and not have anything to do with anyone.  It's taken me all day today just to manage to get dressed.  Every time I get a step closer to going anywhere or doing anything my heart starts pounding out of my chest.  My muscles tighten and I can barely breathe.  All I want to do is go back to anywhere that I can hide...usually that means on my computer.  The wonderful world wide web is a blessing and a curse for me.  It gives me the distraction so my anxiety never gets too bad, but it also gives me a long-term escape from the world.  I have no idea what I've done today because I've just zoned out.

The therapist I saw (well kind of saw...I freaked out and couldn't get in the building so she came outside to talk to me for a bit) yesterday told me that these are fight or flight reactions and not my fault.  But that's not exactly comforting when I'm watching my life fall apart in front of me.  I know where I want to be.  I know what I want to do.  I want to finish my errands, go see friends, go to the gym, etc. etc.  Instead I'm hiding inside....even when it's a million degrees inside my little apartment.  I'm laying here sweating because I can't seem to do anything else.  It's HARD to type this because it takes SO much focus just to keep my fingers moving.  Even typing this feels wrong, though I can't explain why.  Everything but retreating further and further inside myself feels wrong, wrong, wrong.

I have nowhere to turn with all this because I can't talk to therapists because therapists make it worse.  Even though the time with the therapist was ok yesterday, I gotta think that that's why this is so bad today.  It's been bad a lot lately, but it hasn't been this bad in a really long time.  To make things even worse I have a lot of friends dealing with a lot of big, heavy shit right now.  I have really good friends and I'm sure they would support me if I brought this to them, but I just feel so stupid.  They're upset over huge life stuff.  I'm upset because even though things are going well in my life, I'm afraid to walk outside.  It's another reason I retreat further.  I don't want to put this on anyone because I don't understand it myself.  It gets more and more painful inside until I want to die because I just want out!  (No, I'm not thinking at all about suicide or anything like that....I'm just thinking about death right now because it hurts and I'm not seeing a good way out.  At times it hurts so much I feel like I must be dying...which is again so stupid when I think that there's nothing even really going on).  I want to tear my hair out.  I feel like I am tearing my hair out without even moving.  If I'm moving I want to be still, if I'm still I want to be moving.

I was supposed to see my doctor today and I skipped it.  That's really not like me.  I had my reasons...I was trying to get my records from my previous doctor because I want to go back on an anxiety med I was on before that worked well but they took me off it for other stupid reasons....but they told me they wouldn't have my records for at least another few days.  So it seemed stupid to go in.  But it was so stupid not to go because my appointments are free unless I no-show, then I have to pay a bunch for it.  And I have basically no money right now.  I need a job but I'm hiding from that too.  Granted I'm waiting for a friend to get back to me on fixing my car so I can drive to a job, but I could call him.  If I weren't hiding from it all cus the littlest things seem so big.  I don't know if I should be reaching out for more help, or allowing myself to hide since help seems to trigger me more.  

I'm sorry...I don't mean to whine.  I just have to put this somewhere and I don't know where.  I'm tired of being me right now.  I wish I could just get out of my head and I have no idea how.  I wish I could just sleep till next month or something. :(  Sorry...I'll try to come back with something more positive later.


Gratitude is hard right now.  I guess, I'm grateful that even though I feel like I'm dying I know I'm really not.  I know I'm safe, and that I have friends and my doctor and others there for support when I'm ready/able to reach out again.  I also have my faith that it will somehow be ok again.

Monday, July 21, 2014

My amazing life

I haven't had the type of life that most people would look at and say, "Oooh, I want that!"  If you were to just read my story, without meeting me, you'd probably think it pretty sad.  You'd probably be surprised to meet me and see that most of the time I'm happy, smiling, and positive.  Of course I have my bad days (like today!! lol), but for the most part I love the life I have.

I've gotten some interesting comments privately from my last entry, and it's made me realize something. One of the things I'm most grateful for is the view I get to have of the world.  I walked into AA with nothing.  I was living on a friend's couch, and had no idea where I was going to go.  I couldn't figure out how to get through a day without drinking, so getting a long-term job hardly seemed in the cards.  I'd only been out of the hospital a couple of months, so I was only half convinced I wanted to live at all.  But I walked into a room full of people who took me in and supported me without judgment.  (Ok we all judge, but they saw through all my crazy messed up exterior and saw me as an individual).

Through my time in AA, and experiences out in the world, I've heard some incredible stories.  I know people who have experienced abuse of all sorts, every level of poverty, homelessness, unbelievable loss, and more.  I have a different view on a lot of political and legal issues because of people I've met.  I know illegal immigrants and consider them some of my closest friends.  I know two different people who have close relatives spending life in prison for horrible crimes.  I spent months writing letters to two different friends as they served their jail for a 3rd DUI and one for causing a horrible accident while driving drunk.  My life was once saved by homeless people that you probably wouldn't even give a second glance.  And I've been homeless myself.  As I've mentioned before...I've lived with friends, I've lived in my car, I've lived on the streets.  I've lived a lot and I've seen a lot, and what I haven't experienced I've learned of through those I've known.

While I sometimes wish I could "un-know" or "un-experience", it really has given me a beautiful gift.  That gift is that I'm no longer able to think of people in giant blanket terms.  I can't think of "Those law-breaking illegal immigrants."  I think of R and her amazing family, and how hard they work....and how her mom would cook for me every time I came over, no matter how many times we insisted we'd just eaten.  I can't think of, "Those lazy poor people."  Instead I think of D, my first sponsor, who has struggled more than any person I've ever met.  Sure she made some bad decisions, but hasn't everyone?  She just had that unfortunate luck where her decisions seemed to blow up in her face in huge ways every time she was starting to get ahead.  I can't think about, "those lousy drug addicts," without thinking of S, who used to cause nothing but pain but has now created a non-profit that has given myself and so many others so much help, support, and safety through our recovery.  I hear about, "Those asshole drunk drivers," and I think of my friend M, who nearly killed herself and others driving drunk, but is also one of the most genuine, amazing, caring people you will ever meet.  I didn't know M while she was drinking, but the M I know now the world is lucky to have.

I'm not defending M's decision to drive drunk, S's decision to use drugs, R's parents decision to cross the border illegally (she was too young to have a say at the time they crossed), or anything else.  But when I hear a story about a drunk driver I don't immediately turn to anger or hate.  I look at the person and I see M.  I hear her story and I know the pain she was in that night that changed her life.  Some people are amazed to learn that I don't hate my parents for what they did to me.  Obviously they made some very bad decisions that I would never defend.  But again I know the pain of addiction and the pain of growing up in an abusive environment.  They lived through both.  I don't know why I was fortunate enough to turn my anger inward and only hurt myself rather than others, but how could I hate them for something I so closely understand?  No, my heart hurts for them.  I wish they could've found some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.  I wish they could've found their way out of their darkness and torment.  I could very easily have stayed trapped in my own darkness of anger, hate, PTSD, addiction, etc. had it not been for certain things happening the way they did.  Honestly it scares me to think too much about that, because I really don't know why I was given what I was while my parents were not.

The stories I mentioned above are all positive ones (well, aside from my  They had good end results, where the people in question overcame whatever issues they faced and found ways to do good for the world.  They are some of the many examples of hope that I hold on to when I'm struggling.  But it's not just the positive stories that are important to hear.  Everyone has a story.  No one is all one thing.  There are a lot of labels that fit me.  I'm an alcoholic.  I'm an abuse survivor.  I have multiple mental illnesses.  I'm a former foster child.  I'm also a soccer coach, a loving aunty, and a self-proclaimed dork that can make almost anyone laugh.  (I was at almost 100% except for the damn parking ticket appeals lady who I could barely even get to smile! lol).  But none of these things ARE me.  I am an individual with a story....with good qualities and bad....with successes and failures.  I think that one of the big problems in the world today is that we're all too quick to generalize....those democrats, those republicans, those poor people, those rich people, those Christians, those atheists, those ______.  We're all human, and we've all become the person we are for a reason.  And we're all doing the best we can to get through life.  (By the way, this is why it's good that I've never been in the army and I'm not in criminal justice....I'd be way too concerned about getting to know the people and working with them! lol  I'm glad there are others out there more able to do those jobs).

I think I lost track of my point a long time ago so I'll just say one is born saying, "I want to hurt others when I grow up," or "I can't wait to become a homeless drug addict when I'm older!"  Something happens to get them there.  I believe children are born idealistic, but their realities are shaped by experience...both internal and external.  No one should get to use past experience as an excuse for bad behavior.  It's not ok that my parents hurt me because they too were hurt.  But, maybe if we sought to understand each other's differences a bit more, rather than accusing, attacking, and belittling, maybe we can understand why people act the way they do.  Think about it.  Even Hitler was once a loving, idealistic little child.  Maybe if we stop the generalizations and work on getting to know each other as individuals, we can make a more peaceful environment for children to grow up in....and those loving, idealistic little children can become loving, idealistic adults.  The first step, in my opinion, is to see people as individuals.  Get to know someone different than you....even if it's just learning their name.  The results may surprise you.

(Ok last thing then I'm done for real!  The other day I was on a plane coming home from my amazing vacation, when right behind me sat this HUGE biker dude and this itty bitty, soft-spoken, woman who worked at an organic produce company.  The two had never met before, but struck up a conversation and it turned out they had a lot in common.  It took just a matter of minutes for them to get through the small talk and the obvious outer differences, and by the end of the flight they were exchanging numbers to meet for coffee.  It reminded me of a couple of years ago when I was on a plane next to a proud stripper who taught me way more than I ever wanted to know about the "art of stripping," but also made the flight so fun for me due to her genuine excitement of being able to see the world from above on her first time ever on a plane.  I'm not suggesting running up to the next huge biker dude or stripper you see and invite them out for coffee, but I bet if you did they'd have a great story to tell!).


This has all pretty much been about gratitude, but I'll say it again here.  I can't say I'm grateful for everything I've been through, but I'm grateful for the life perspective I have today.  I never would've gotten to know the wide assortment of people I have had it not been out of necessity.  Believe me I used to be happy keeping 100% to myself, but reaching out to people has taught me sooooo much about soooo many different "types" of people!

Sunday, July 20, 2014


I've been doing a lot of debating with people on facebook lately (yet another reason I really need a job...too much free time to be spent getting pissed at people who don't agree with me! lol).  I don't want to bring the whole debate over here, but I do want to address an issue that keeps coming up.  Opportunity.

These days in all things political I keep hearing things like, "You get what you put in," "Life is what you make it," "It's all about hard work," etc.  These things are true to an extent, but people seem to miss a big glaring hole in the theory.

If two people are running a mile long race, and they've both trained the same amount and work just as hard as each other, they should finish at about the same time.  But what if one of those people gets to start a half mile into the course?  Clearly, the guy at the regular starting line is going to have to work much, much, much harder to have any kind of a chance!

Like it or not, the same is true in life.  We don't have the same starting line, and it seems like all too often it's the guy starting a half mile in telling the guy who ran the full race, "Well gee if you'd just worked harder you could've gone as fast as me.  Too bad you're so lazy."

Every aspect of life is something that determines how far along the course you get to start.  But often these deciding factors are so a part of us, and so much taken for granted, that we don't even realize what a gigantic boost they are.

I hear many people say that they "came from nothing."  But did they?  Really?  If they went to college, who paid for it?  Who encouraged them to go?  In some families, it is assumed that you will go to college after high school.  For others, it is a practically unheard of pipe dream.  Between the money to pay for it and the work it takes to get there, it's just not considered a possibility.  These things make a difference!  It changes the mindset you go into your adult life with.  It's not the parents' fault.  They're a product of their experiences.  They don't live in a world where going to college is all that realistic.  As far as the expenses go, I hear many say, "Well I worked my way through school."  First off, I say more power to ya.  College tuition is getting so ridiculous that anyone who is creative enough to find a way to work their way through school deserves lots of credit.  But that's another story for another time.  The point for now is, who paid your other expenses?  How much support did your parents offer you?  I have friends who have been working to help support their family from the time they were first old enough to get a job!  If you're working at 13 just to make sure you and your family members get to eat, saving up for college is not happening!

Speaking of food, did you go to school on a full stomach?  Did you have enough to eat at night while you were working on your homework?  Have you ever tried to focus when you didn't?  This is one I can speak to from direct experience.  When you're hungry, you don't care about solving math equations.  You just don't.  And even if you do, it's hard to string together the focus required to do it.  I always used reading as my distraction.  I loved to read and was good at it.  I could go anywhere in a book and be safe and cared for.  I could forget about my reality for a while.  But even then, that was different than being able to focus enough to accomplish homework on time.

And speaking of homework, what were your schools like?  I was fortunate enough to go to a pretty good school, even though I didn't live in the greatest of neighborhoods.  I had amazing teachers who are probably a big part of why I'm still sane today.  In elementary school they genuinely loved me, cared for me, and helped me feel safe...something I didn't have anywhere else.  For that reason I loved going to school.  When I was older and was homeless, teachers and other school employees kindly looked the other way when I'd sneak into the locker room for a shower, get extra food from the cafeteria, and find a corner in the library to sleep.  It wasn't ideal, but it was a good place and they were good, caring people.  Not long ago I read a book about one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City.  The school in this neighborhood had classrooms that were literally overflowing, and not enough teachers for them.  The building itself was infested with rats.  Could you learn in that kind of an environment?  The book was called Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol.  I strongly suggest you read it or some of his other books, and see if you still feel the same way about poverty.

In the neighborhood described in this book, everything is working against the people there.  They get sick more often because of the pollution, especially since the city uses the area as a bit of a dumping ground for toxins, but the hospitals in the area are basically useless.  There are huge waits and unsanitary conditions.  Most of the people don't have health insurance so they generally can't go to the doctor anyway (this was written before Obamacare, so hopefully that is changing now).  The area is extremely violent, so just going outside can be dangerous.  There are no jobs to be had, so many turn to dealing drugs in order to get by.  That increases the crime and makes it harder for kids to follow a healthy path towards highschool graduation, much less college.  Again it's easy to call people stupid or whatever else for using drugs, but try to really put yourself there in their shoes.  What would you do?  How would you handle that reality?  All the hard work in the world may never be enough for these people to get out of this neighborhood.  Yes people can do it, and you hear stories of them on the news...but these stories are newsworthy for a reason!  They're one in a million, and can't be expected to be the norm.  And my question is, in what is supposedly the richest country in the world, why do we have neighborhoods that people need to "get out of" to have any hope at being successful?  But that is also probably an issue for its own post.

I could go on, but hopefully you're getting the idea.  The playing field is far from level.  They say that social programs are meant to be temporary to help a person get back on his feet.  I get that.  But in cases like this I ask get back to what?  Being born in to this type of world is a whole lot different than living in a safe, comfortable neighborhood surrounded by the support of others and falling on temporary hard times through job loss or something like that.  Not to say that isn't also a struggle, but it's different!  It's a different kind of need.  The people in these poverty-filled, drug-ridden neighborhoods need more than just a temporary leg up.  But it has nothing to do with being lazy, unwilling, or looking for a handout.  NOTHING!  Do you really think they would choose that kind of life if they could see a possibility of better?  And on that note, if they really are just looking for a handout, I still don't believe that's the life they want.  Can you imagine being so demoralized that all you see for the future for yourself is taking a government handout?  I struggle to believe that's what anyone truly wants, deep down.  I think they just struggle to believe that something better is possible, so they don't know how to strive for it or work for it.  Being constantly shamed for needing help by being called lazy, by having their benefits reduced, etc. doesn't help.

I'll close with a bit about my personal experience.  As you know if you've read my blog for any length of time, I grew up under extreme abuse.  My parents were both drug addicts who sold me for drugs on multiple occasions.  They had anger issues which I bore the brunt of.  My dad and his friends seemed to have no conscience and used me for sex.  We rarely had money (or, more likely, our money all went to drugs, but I can't be sure as I was young) and we went hungry often.  I ran away at 14 because I couldn't take it anymore.  Hence the homelessness.  I entered foster care at 16, after living with random friends, people I thought were friends, and on the streets.  I had an overall good experience in care.  I lived in 3 different places but was not adopted.  I was lucky that I liked academics, and my foster parents helped me get caught up, so I was able to get into college.  They supported me in the transition as they could, but being a foster kid there was only so much they could offer.  I was pretty much on my own to buy what I needed for my dorm room and such, though I was very fortunate to get a scholarship for tuition and money to help with books.  I have PTSD and multiple other mental health issues, so studying was always a struggle for me.  Many days were just about surviving...just getting through the day without total panic.  It took me 5 years to finally graduate, and I only barely made it.  I guess in that sense i'm a success story, but it was hard and continues to be.  I've always had to look out for myself.  I've had to find the balance between working enough to survive, while also taking care of my mental health issues so I don't go insane.  (And I was hospitalized 3 years ago after nearly killing myself, so the "going insane" is very real).  I've had a nearly impossible time paying for the healthcare that I need as an adult.  Even when I had good insurance, it didn't cover my seeing a psychiatrist or a therapist without a HUGE deductible that I couldn't pay.  The places that offered reduced price help wouldn't take me because I had insurance.  I couldn't go off my insurance because I rely on a daily medication that costs hundreds of dollars a month.  I was left trapped, and that's a big part of why I ended up hospitalized and nearly dead.  I went on state funded assistance, and got what I needed but was also treated horribly.  For the program I was on, I was limited to just a couple of places within my county.  They were always over-crowded, dirty, and it felt like we were being herded around like cows.  One doctor I saw, who was supposed to be helping me get my psych meds straightened out, did nothing but give me a drug test when I'd come in and then send me on my way.  She'd never ask any questions or give me a chance to talk.  No, she wasn't a psychiatrist.  There were no psychiatrists that took the kind of assistance I had, except for one that I was able to see early on.  The point is, all she cared about was if I was abusing my meds.  I do have a history of addiction, but there's a lot more to me than that.  It was amazing how quickly I became lumped in as a good for nothing drug addict because I couldn't get insurance that would cover what I needed.  And yes I was looked down on and I heard some pretty ugly comments just for trying to get help.  I have a friend, also an addict, who when she got in trouble with drugs her parents sent her to multiple fancy, expensive rehabs until she was able to "get it"....seeing many doctors, psychiatrists, etc. along the way.  I'm not saying anything bad about my friend, or trying to do a "poor me" thing, I'm just saying it's different.  Going to these horrible doctors, being yelled at at the pharmacy for being "too lazy to work" if someone saw my insurance (or lack thereof), etc. was my only choice at getting better.  I didn't have parents or anyone else to turn to.  Going back to the running the race example, during those dark times I wasn't just starting behind, I felt like I couldn't even find the course!  And then I'd have to deal with being shamed due to 1.) being an addict, 2.) having mental health issues, 3.) being poor/on assistance.  I've come a long way and I've had to fight for every inch.  I'm proud of my accomplishments, but also well aware that many in the program I was in had it way worse than me.  I had a car, some education, and a few close friends to fall back on (one of whom's couch I was living on at the time).  Many came in off the streets and just couldn't keep up with all the program's requirements, but then they were blamed for it.  They often ended up going back to using, and they are exactly the kind of people that get so much of the blame in the media and in politics for misusing welfare and other assistance.  But I would like to see any one of those people that complain so much live one of their lives, even just for a day.  I'd like to see them get a job and work for their money when they're living on the streets, barely have food to eat, can't get much needed medication and counseling, etc. etc.  I'd like to see these "hard work" folks stay optimistic and keep working and doing the right thing under all that pressure.  It's possible, absolutely...but I'm sick of hearing people who have no idea what it's like saying that their issues are their own fault!  (Even if the original issues are the fault of their addiction...they didn't choose addiction even if they chose to use, and they definitely don't deserve a lifetime of suffering for a few bad decisions!).


I should've known I couldn't take on this topic without big long tangents! lol  I'm so grateful for all the support I have and the progress I've been able to make.  I'm also grateful that I know what it's like to struggle so I can better look to people with compassion rather than blame.

Along with my gratitude, I have a favor to ask of anyone reading this.  The next time you see someone that you want to start judging (don't worry, we all do it sometimes)....whether it's because they're using drugs, begging on the streets, seeming to misuse assistance, etc....say a prayer for them.  Try to turn the angry, judging thoughts into a prayer for what they might need.  Try to let yourself see the pain they might be in, and ask whatever god you pray to to help them find healing.  Maybe, in time, we as a society can start seeing them as individual people with a history, a struggle, and a story to tell, not just some faceless "poor people" or "lazy people" or whatever else we tend to call them.  The easiest way I've found to open your mind and heart to them is through a genuine prayer.  Even if you're not the praying type, just sending good wishes to them can do the same.  I just ask you to give it a try.  We're all human.  Aren't we all worthy of a prayer?