Anna Belle is an 18-year-old girl who lives with her parents; they continue to have a difficult and fairly transient life, mostly within Cottage County. She describes in some detail a failed attempt to improve their lot by relocating, and her perspective on differences in school and social life in rural and urban environments. She describes a congenital condition that required a childhood of medical intervention and left her looking physically odd. She struggles with hypoglycemia and depression, exacerbated by poverty and social exclusion. Her physical appearance becomes significantly less distracting when she becomes animated, as she did in describing her career aspirations. She is finishing high school in a combination of adult ed and regular high school classes.
FM: So start by telling me something about your family, where you were raised, who was in the family, what they did for a living, etc…
I was born in Littletown hospital. First year I lived in [a small village]. Then I moved in Riverville after we lost our house. I have 3 other people in my family. I have my mom, my dad and my older sister. My mom, she does cashier jobs mostly. She’s quit a lot and moved around a lot because a lot of her jobs were very stressful and she got very sick. My dad first worked, when I was born, in the Riverville Township where he got sick. He had three breakdowns and when I was 6, he came home and he wanted to take the car and crash into a tree to kill himself. And then ever since then he’s been on disability.
We moved around Cottage County, like 20 times or more, over my 18 years. What else do you want to know?
FM: Okay… let’s just unpack that a bit. But first your sister, what’s she up to?
She’s on disability. She’s getting married in the spring next year. She – I know it sounds harsh – but she’s mentally retarded. We found out when she was 2. I hate saying that word: it’s just a bad word. She wants to go to college later on and she’s trying to have a baby.
FM: Is her guy mentally with it? To make up for her disability?
For the most part. He had a bad childhood. His mom got in a car accident and she wasn’t mentally with it after that. And her boyfriend was very abusive to him. When his grandmother got back to him, his face was very indented, bruised and bleeding.
FM: And he’s how old, then?
He was 2.
FM: Was CAS involved?
I don’t think so.
FM: Okay, so he’s got his own issues and baggage. There’s a lot of disability, in particular mental health issues in your family. And you indicate that you also suffer from depression?
Severe depression. Yes.
FM: And how has that manifest over the years?
I was diagnosed in grade 9 but we think that it came around a lot sooner. I was bullied for a lot of my life, and most of my time I hated school because my teachers used to say that I wouldn’t become anything, that I would be living with my parents for the rest of my life. So I stayed home and cooked for my dad and took care of my dad.
FM: And are you still living at home?
FM: Did you ever leave home?
I ran away from home a couple of times.
FM: Talk about that a bit.
I was very upset and I’ve been dealing with depression a long time. I’m still in the process of trying to get better, the right medication, finding the right person to talk to. Before, the only way I could deal with it was to run away from home for my problems with my parents.
FM: What were the problems with your parents? You’ve said your dad is very depressed, and sounds like not very able to manage day-to-day life, really. Give me an idea of what that was like for you.
At a very young age, when my dad got angry or was depressed, he would yell at us and swear at us and say bad names toward us, and I just took it. When I got older, I started yelling back. And now I realize that he’s not always mentally there, that either his pain – because he has pain in his back and his chest – or his medication, or his depression, or his own issues that he has to deal with, and that’s what’s talking, and not him.
FM: That’s a very mature perspective on mental illness and on behaviour generally. How did you come to that?
I talked to my mom. And I go through depression myself, and I think a lot so I just started making connections.
FM: Your mom you said had had some difficulties dealing with stress at work. But is she ‘the Rock’ in your family?
Yes, she is. She deals with my dad’s medications, anything to do with paperwork, money, even my sister’s issues too, as well, that my brother-in-law can’t deal with.
FM: Sounds like a lot. And how does the family pay the bills, and is financial difficulty the reason for so much moving around?
My mom works many many hours. One time she worked and I would never see her. And when I did see her, her stress would come out and she would be very very angry. My dad has a cheque that comes every month, and we also have – we used to have – the baby bonus.
FM: You should still be eligible at 18 and in school?
I get $225 now that I’m 18 and fully in school, in my dad’s cheque, but baby bonus I’m not sure if we still get it.
FM: I’m out of touch with that, too. But would you consider that your family is financially pinched?
FM: And was that what the moving was about, or something else?
Moving was about renting off of people isn’t easy. A lot of people – it’s hard to please them. When we moved to Middletown, my sister had rented off of a new couple and they used to treat her like a boarding house. They would kick her out in the middle of the night. And they would come in without her permission or even let her know and unplug something. My parents always had trouble with renting off of people because they would always be breathing down their necks on things. We had our own house 2 years ago, and my dad, he and our neighbor [got into it]; [the neighbor] would always bug us. He called the cops once saying that my sister and I threw our kitty litter on his lawn and killed his fish. But he never had fish, and the cop couldn’t show us where the cat litter is. We’re normal people, we stay to ourselves, we take out our garbage. My sister and I just mostly stay home because we were in the middle of nowhere.
FM: So the places you rented were way out in the country, which left you stranded. And your dad, I guess, because your mom would have the car.
Most times. Sometimes we had 2 vehicles, which we had the payments to pay for. With being so poor and all the payments, even now we sometimes have no food in the house. I have nothing to eat for lunch, which is a problem for me with my hypoglycemia.
FM: How do you handle that – the shortage of food impacting on your health, probably in a fairly dramatic way?
I guess it affects my moods. Definitely it affects my depression. Even though I have an eating problem, I haven’t been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Because even though we do have food, I don’t eat.
FM: Okay, very complicated, because one thing feeds off (no pun intended) the other probably fairly quickly and directly. What help have you had over the years with any of these issues?
In Middletown the school helped with my depression. I’ve seen a doctor here in Lakeville. Now I’m seeing somebody from YMCA and we go to the food bank.
FM: YMCA usually sees women who are victims of violence. Is that your situation?
I was, couple of months ago, sexually not assaulted but harassed.
FM: At school?
FM: Okay, I realize I’ve lost my way a bit. I missed when you, with your family I guess, moved to Middletown. When was that and why?
That was a year ago. We moved for more jobs and more opportunities for me for school. When we got there we came on an apartment where a lot of people moved out a month after because the management was switched. And a lawyer owned it, and put his criminals into spare rooms, apartments. We had Hell’s Angels who beat up a woman in front of the camera and left her for dead. He also beat up a 2-year-old child. And when we were leaving, we had a pedophile, with little kids roaming around the apartment. We had cops everywhere. And the jobs are just as bad down there.
FM: So take me through this a bit slower. Dad became ill when you were 6, no longer able to work, lots of moving around Cottage County, not good places, often in the country, isolated. School sucked, mom was struggling to keep it together. And then when you’re 17, family decided to give Middletown a go, see if you can get better jobs… Talk a bit about your working experience up til then, and there too…
I helped my mom work cleaning the laudromat here and the theatre. In grade 8 I worked for a store that made [sweets]. I didn’t work in Middletown; I couldn’t find a job.
FM: When you did you bail from school, here in Lakeville?
First time I quit school was in grade 10. I had enough of being bullied or having rude comments toward me, so I dropped out. And tried to enroll in Adult Ed. But couldn’t because you needed to go to the Board to okay it and that would take too much time, I would lose my grade 10 credits. And we moved in the beginning of the summer at the end of grade 10.
FM: And that was summer of 2011?
FM: And then what school did you find in Middletown?
I went to [-] Secondary School.
FM: Just a regular school? And how was that?
At first it was very hard. It took me a week to find friends. It was definitely harder, I found; you learn a little bit more in Middletown than you do in Lakeville, I find. I guess I found it enjoyable. I had a class where I got to co-op for [TV] news, the radio, and the newspaper. But the off-side of that was that eventually I almost got into drugs.
FM: Because here, you’re not partying, in fact it sounds like you may not have had much of a social life at all.
I guess you can say that. I had a different kind of social life here.
FM: How ‘different’?
Being far apart, you don’t get to see your friends as much. My friends here, I was more focused on where I was going, and my studies. Did hang out, but it was a different kind of hanging out.
FM: But in Middletown, the social norm was party hard?
In a way. I don’t know how many percentage of the school did drugs, but a lot of the percentage of the school was rich, so they get their money from their parents. And my friends, a couple did drugs. And I know one here who did drugs. So I got influenced, and I opened up to that. It wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it would be, or assumed it would be.
FM: What kind of drugs are we talking here?
Marijuana. And getting stoned. Pot. One friend actually kinda sold drugs. And he would give my other friends drugs for free.
FM: And that got passed on to you?
FM: And sounds like that stage came to an end. How did that come about?
I was getting really depressed again, and so I went to the walk-in clinic and tried more anti-depressants which means I can’t do drugs and can’t drink. And in a lot of ways that kind of saved me.
FM: Gives you an acceptable excuse for not using when others are. Did you like the feelings that drugs gave you?
I never did drugs. I was tempted to do drugs. My friends – well one friend – encouraged it because she wanted a friend to do it with her. And my other one said, I don’t want you to do it, but if you’re going to do it, you’re going to be safe and doing it with me.
FM: Okay. How long have you been on anti-depressants? Was this the beginning?
No, my first time was in grade 9. It made me very angry.
Yeah. Kinda like I get when my blood sugar is low. Then I got on to anti-depressants in Middletown and just before I left, I felt like they weren’t working as well as they should, so I quit those. And now I’m on different ones, which I’m going to talk to my doctor to see if they’re working, because the urge to cut my wrists are growing.
FM: Do you have a history of cutting?
A little bit. I have tried to commit suicide by drugs, any drugs I could get. I would just cry in the bathroom at night wanting to take anything just to take my life away. I had dreams about going into a lake and drowning myself. And this kinda started when I took a knife from the kitchen and held it to my throat, going to slit it, but I was crying, bawling, and then I slit my wrists. And ever since then I started thinking about it. And I tried it once and it felt numb and it felt like I was punishing myself for being a bad person, which I sometimes feel I am, I’m not good enough. I also thought about burning myself, which is like another form of cutting. I haven’t cut myself in months.
FM: And is that because you’re feeling better, or the pain is taking another angle?
I feel like I need to cut. Cutting is very addictive, believe it or not. Kinda like drugs. And I’m trying to not do it. I’ve talked to my mom and we’ve gotten into a heated discussion about it. She doesn’t want me doing it because I will end up in the hospital, it will ruin my skin, and it might screw up my chances of getting into college.
FM: It’s very hard for ‘outsiders’ to understand how cutting could possibly be positive, but I do know from hearing from cutters that it is, and I believe them, but I can’t imagine it. Your mom is maybe in the same boat. Plus worried crazy about you.
Yeah, my mom tries to understand. She tries to understand what I’m going through being sexually assaulted. But honestly, at first I never ever thought of cutting myself, until I actually did it.
FM: So is your therapist working on helping you recognize the feelings and take
The person I’m seeing from the YMCA, I’ve very bubbly with her for some reason. She’s trying to get to know me because this is the third week I’ve known her, and we’re trying to dig into my history and myself. And she’s trying to get me to train my thoughts into become positive. And even though I can’t change the way I see the world, I can change my thoughts so it will help me control my depression.
FM: Is this a new approach to you? Anybody else ever suggested this approach?
My friend used to say Be positive. And it annoyed me. A lot. Until this year when I had a teacher who talked to my class about it, and she’s bubbly and all over the place, she’s funny, and she explained it in a way that I really did understand, and I connected it to Why can’t I do it with my depression?
FM: So the teacher was a breakthrough? And where was this teacher? Take me from the Middletown school – where you said they helped you find a doctor, I think you said...
They helped me find somebody I could talk to. She wasn’t a professional. She just made sure I wasn’t hurting myself and she gave me options whenever I felt like running away to find a safe place to go. But the teacher I was saying just now was, well is, in Lakeville. I have her for creative writing.
FM: And she rings a bell with you? There’s a connection. That’s important. And that’s in the regular school or in Adult Ed?
It’s in the regular school.
FM: So you’re in both schools?
FM: And how’s that?
It’s a little bit difficult. I’m doing grade 11 college math [at Adult Ed] and it’s hard to come here to get help because of their hours and it takes a long time to explain it and practice it, so right now I’m still on unit one, and I have grade 12 math next semester. So I’ll be taking a lot of time off from a lot of relaxing classes where they know what I’m doing, where it’s important.
FM: But it sounds like you’re quite good at figuring out what you need and getting the help?
Yes and no. I feel like I haven’t gotten the help I need with my mental state. It’s hard going to school with this illness and the stress of taking 5 classes each semester. I feel like I should be doing more. I feel stressed out, like there’s no time to relax. Like I’m always running out of time. Or I’m too lazy to do something when I know I should be doing something - which makes me feel really bad.
FM: Which feeds the depression?
FM: Could you slow it down a bit? School, I mean, take a lighter load?
Right now I have a very light semester with the classes I have. But I need 10 classes to graduate this year and 40 hours volunteer. This moving has made it hard to get volunteer hours. I repeated a grade, grade 1. So I just kinda want to get to college.
FM: What’s the plan at college? What are you going to study?
Right now, I’m looking at directing, audio engineering, and maybe in the future animation.
FM: And how will you finance college?
Well, with the income – most of my schooling will be paid for by OSAP and I have to pay back $7000, I think. I’m not really thinking about the financial part. I’m just thinking about taking the school, finding work and paying it off as I go.
FM: It sounded like finding the world of broadcasting was real eye-opener for you, a place where you felt like you fitted in?
Yes, very much. Ever since I was little, I loved to sing, I loved to dance, and I loved movies. At first I wanted to be an actress, but my skills don’t really compare because I’m not very confident. Like I have pictures in my head about what I want to do but it doesn’t come out. I love directing. I have directed before and I love watching those special features of how they do it, and the part where the director just gets to be involved with everything. It seems so fascinating to me. I love to be involved with everything, and I love being in front of audiences even though it doesn’t seem like it
FM: [A local volunteer] does a program where she helps kids begin to make movies. Do you know about that?
I might. Does she co-op? I know there’s this place in Riverville where they co-op and they advertised in Lakeville.
FM: We’ll talk… okay, I’m reviewing my list in my head… we’ve talked about education, employment, mental health – a couple of generations of that, really pervasive in your world – substance use, physical health … let’s explore that a bit more. You’ve said hypoglycemia. And an eating problem. Anything else?
My dad has diabetes, so we’re in a totally different side of things. Eating wise. There’s a huge problem with cancer in my family. I’ve had about 17 surgeries by the time I was 1.
FM: For what?
Tubes in my ears. They had to take my eyes out because they didn’t grow properly. Tumor on my tongue so it was very awkward for my mom to feed me for a very long time until they checked out if it was cancer or not. I had casts on my legs.
FM: You were a mess!
Yes. My mom got a lot of verbal abuse if she ever came out of the house with me, because people thought she abused me. But she had a lot of miscarriages so my sister and I are very lucky to be alive, I think you could say.
FM: Wow. You’ve really drawn the short straw here in a lot of departments. But physically, you’re now fairly okay?
FM: But having to manage lots of things.
We found out that my [pituitary] gland (you have your brain here, and a [pituitary] gland and then the gland that produces melatonin below it). It’s on the borderline between enlarged and normal, which is causing my thyroid to act out and it might be squishing the gland below it that causes me to stay up for days.
FM: Overproduction of melatonin?
Underproduction. It doesn’t really make melatonin. That’s what they think. So I had to go for a MRI recently. That’s about it, I think. Who knows?
FM: But that might also speak a speak to the depression, which is impacted by melatonin production, right?
Sleep definitely has a factor into my depression because I’m very irritable with everybody and everything if I don’t get enough sleep. And I get depressed. My depression isn’t based around my melatonin production.
FM: Okay. Well that’s quite an impressive list of health issues that keeps on going… do you feel like you’re getting good medical care?
Not really. It’s taken 2 or 3 years, no, more, because I went for a CT scan because I had headaches a lot, I used to eat Tylenol a lot, like candy. And they couldn’t find anything and said I was just making it up for attention.
FM: When was that?
It was grade 3, grade 4. Because I was in [a Riverville school], before I transferred to [a Lakeville school].
FM: Okay. So a very long story, that isn’t over yet.
Yes, I feel like I’m 500 years old at times. Like my life is kinda over now, due to my depression. I’ve also been homeless this summer. So it’s been wild.
FM: Talk about the homelessness a bit…
After Middletown, my parents wanted again to have a better life for my sister and myself, as well as for themselves. So we decided to go to the [far north]. That didn’t work out because of the price of renting an apartment is over $1000/month, and getting out there was too costly. So they decided to go to [the East coast]. And our moving truck was messed up, we got one that was way too little. So we put all our stuff in storage which took most of our money, and we headed out for [the East coast], camping along the way. We got there and we had no money at all. A stranger heard my mom on the phone saying to my grandma that we’re going to stay in the car, so [the stranger] told my mom that they were going to pay for a motel for us to stay for the night. And to just – whenever someone else needs help, to do the same thing.
FM: Pay it forward?
FM: When was this?
This summer. So we came back to Lakeville and nice people helped us for a night or two, camping. We had to stay in a park for a night and then head back to Middletown. We stayed in [a park], sleeping in the car for a few days until a friend from our old church said come to our property and you can camp until you can find a place in Lakeville. We stayed a month there until we had help from the church to rent an apartment here in town. Throughout the process, mostly what we got back from the government was staying in shelters and one person would stay in the car with the animals that we had. And to send me alone to a youth shelter. My parents didn’t think it was a good idea because youth shelters, things can get stolen, you can get raped, you can get beaten up, stuff like that. They thought I was safer staying in a car in [the park]. We got a lot of help from the food banks.
FM: Was your sister with you on this escapade?
Yes, for most of it.
FM: And her boyfriend?
Yes, when we were in [the park], his father offered him a job in Quebec, so they took one vehicle and their animals and left until we got to a friend’s who let us stay for a month.
FM: How did Quebec work out for them?
They liked it down there, except for his half-sister’s friend stole money from him. And they came back.
FM: Wow, the story keeps going on and on.
You have no idea.
FM: The only area left is involvement with the legal system. Anything there?
Anything that’s related to the legal system would be the cops were at our apartment [building] every night, so my mom and her friends would go and they would call it free entertainment.
FM: This is in Middletown?
Yeah. As well as, my best friend in Middletown, her boyfriend and his friend would drink in public under age. They never got caught, but they still could have. And one time they actually went into the mall and fought with a kid so we had to run from security.
FM: So a couple close calls during your Middletown phase??
Typical teenage phase, I guess you can call it. I don’t have any regrets for what I did or for anything I was going to do. I guess it was just some things I had to learn, and a phase I had to go through.
FM: By many standards, it was a short phase and you got off without a great deal of
FM: Yeah, or severe harm
We got stopped a couple times from people because we would go out from 4 to 8 at night. Even though it was dark. We went out and saw a guy on a phone who was angry, and my friend said that she had a bad feeling about this guy, and that if we got too close, he would harm us. So we walked quickly from where we came, running, and seeing if he was following us. So we did have a couple of close calls with getting harmed. So it was a surprise that we never did get harmed.
FM: Until you were back here, and there is this episode of sexual harassment. At work you said. Are you comfortable sharing a few more details???
I went to work in the middle of nowhere and my boss was a creep. I was stuck alone with him a lot when he sent this other girl away. He acted differently with her than he did with me. He would call me sexy and say he would be flirting with me all the time if he was single. He said other inappropriate things and told me not to tell my parents. He said the house beside him was his mother’s but recently my aunt told me that it was his house and, thinking back, he told me he would introduce me to his wife which was apparently down the road. I haven’t made a report or anything on him. I’m not protecting him. I’m trying to protect his wife and new-born child. He had a new-born child just before I started working there.
FM: What kind of work?
Preparing and cooking and a little bit of cash. The food was great but I talked to other people who have met him and they’ve said he was ‘off’. I’m recently thinking about going in and making a report, but I don’t like the idea of going on the stand in court and being accused of lying, especially because there’s no evidence.
FM: Yeah, and in a sense, nothing ‘happened’, which may make it difficult for the police to take it seriously.
Yeah. That’s what I’m scared of. But I don’t want it happening to somebody else. We were studying sexual assault in my law class, and I kept on thinking what if I hadn’t told my parents, what if I had gone back and worked 3 days on Thanksgiving weekend, out there all alone with him, and what if his house wasn’t down the road. It just seems fishy to me. And girls had quit on him soon into their jobs. I know one girl who worked for him during the summer. He owes her money apparently but she hasn’t come in contact with him. So… it doesn’t seem right.
FM: Well, your YWCA worker will help you with this one; that’s their area of expertise and if anyone knows how the police might deal with this, it would be them. So you’re in good hands there. But I want to ask, why are you being bubbly with this new worker when she’s trying to get to know you and you’re being ‘not you’??? What’s that about?
I tend to be bubbly with strange people, just happy people. If someone is happy around me, I can be happy with them. I can get very excitable. Something that is me but isn’t me at the same time. When I’m bubbly it’s like a mask, concealing what I’m like a lot of other times. But at the same time I think this is me without my depression.
FM: I had a young friend staying with me after she’d had a really bad go-round with mania that ended her up in jail, and then they put on meds to bring her down and she became desperately depressed, so came to stay with me, and we worried that the meds were encouraging the swings, to some extent, and watching for potential mania. And when she began getting a bit manic, she recognized it, but said she really really really wanted to feel that way again, not the top of the mania, but the just starting part. It’s a seductive feeling. Not that I’m suggesting that your bubbliness is mania, just the idea of wanting to put those two parts together into a balanced whole, very strong, very difficult challenge. I guess. Something that those of us who haven’t experienced depression or mania have a really difficult time understanding. From the outside. So all this to say that you have a significant piece of work that you’re starting on, and good on you for making the start. Wow…
FM: Okay, after blabbing all that much, I have some finish-up questions. Are we there?
FM: But just one more detail comes to mind. Your family now, are they living in the village or in the boonies?
We’re living in the village. My sister and her soon-to-be-husband are living near a church and the rest of us are living near [a long term care facility].
FM: So not isolated.
Not isolated any more.
FM: Okay, so now finish-up. In order for the people who will read this story to understand it in the way that you mean it to be understood, to give it focus and shape, will you say what you think the Most Important Event in the story is, impacting on how it unfolds. Could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen, an absence or a hole or something like that. Whady’a say?
I guess I have to say moving is very hard and dealing with everything that goes along - with mental and physical, everything - takes time to heal and good support from both friends, family, and of course the government as well as the community.
FM: I have the impression that you feel quite supported by the community here, at least, but perhaps also in Middletown?
I do have a good support with people that I do know that are helping me though this, and helping me through my depression and helping me accomplish my goals of helping other people with mental as well as physical disorders.
FM: Could you speak to the differences between ‘old’ communities, places where you’ve been a long while and are a known entity, for better or worse, and a ‘new’ community, as Middletown was to you. Do they work differently?
It did work differently. It’s a matter of if you go somewhere, a different community, it’s always different circumstances, different way of life, just different essence of who people are and how people function. I found people very busy, very – more helpful when it comes to providing for places to go if you run away or have a difficult home life that you want to get away from. And there’s always someplace you can go to get help, and it’s not very far away. Or you can get a bus. Or walk. It may be dangerous.
FM: Because it did seem there was maybe the family running away theme happening last summer, first north, then east, but in the end back home.
Mostly what I was running away from was the school that I go to, because it’s very difficult in high school. There’s not much they can do as resources and courses. But Country County as a whole is very beautiful and very kind. People in Middletown, some were kind and others were very rude. They push, they shove. My dad has a walker and he got pushed around, they were so busy. Some people were rude, just saying things, and at least in Lakeville if you’re working at a store and there’s drama, at least you know who’s gunning for you.
FM: Right. Pluses and minuses on both fronts… okay, next question: The people who read this story will form an opinion about how it will work out, good or not so good? What do you say?
Well, with all the bad things that’ve happened, I think if I keep on fighting, it will be really good and hopefully I will make a difference.
FM: That’s very generous of you. Okay now, two advice questions. What advice would you give your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice, that you think would help this story unfold easier or smoother or have a better outcome, whatever.
If I had to, because mostly I don’t want to change my story because it’s who I am and who I’ve become, but if I had to, it’s just to fight and speak up.
FM: Okay. And secondly: What advice would you give to those of us who would hope to be helpful to young people like yourself, that will allow us to be more useful, more effective?
Be patient. And try to be open and get rid of the stereotypes of mental health, especially around the matter of depression. Because we do think of our loved ones. We think that they would be better off without us. And we are not actually very selfish. It’s just something we cannot help, and possibly something we will never get rid of, something that we can just get better at managing.
FM Right. Well said. Anything else, even though we’re under a bit of a time crunch?