Madelin is an attractive, thoughtful, quiet 22-year-old woman.  She presented with depression, self-harming and suicidal behavior at a young age, which resulted in extensive psychiatric intervention, time in the mental health, child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and eventually the shelter system.  Her description of the powerlessness and depersonalization she experienced in these systems is haunting.  Her life descended into substance abuse, degradation and abject depression before turning around when she became pregnant; she felt she had something to live for and was able to begin to use the resources made available to her.  Her son is three and was in child welfare care, but has recently been returned to her care after she left an abusive relationship with his father.  Her mother and her son’s father’s family are involved in a plan to support her in her getting on with her life, and in caring for her son should her mental health fail.   

FM:  Let’s start with you telling me a bit about the family you were raised in – who was in the family, where you lived, how you paid the rent, etc., etc..   [We’ll go through] the places you’ve lived after you left your family home, or decided not to, as the kind of backbone for the larger story.  And I will ask questions that help us understand what resources you used, needed, wanted, hated, etc..  So start wherever you want.

I was raised with just a mother and a brother.  I lived just outside of Rapidsville, between Lockville and Rapidsville.  We were not well to do, but my mom was a single working mom.  We had what we needed, things were taken care of in that sense.  

FM: What kind of work did your mom do?

She did social work.  She worked with women and children. 

FM: Okay, so when did you start thinking about leaving home?

Basically I wasn’t the… initially I didn’t think about leaving home.  It wasn’t something…I was an angry child and there were some dysfunctions in my home life, the home life of my family, but I never, before I left the first time, did I think – that wouldn’t be the way I would have wanted things to go. 

FM: So how did you leave the first time?

I was sent by my mother to live with my aunt and uncle in Toronto, only for a short period of time, for six months or so. 

FM: How old were you?

I was 11.  So I stayed there for six months, did well in school, my grades improved, things were going decently.  And then, at the end of that six months, I had the option of staying in Toronto or going back home and I decided to go back home.  I left because of issues between my mother and I and in my family life, basically my mom was having difficulties handling my behaviour. 

FM: And your aunt and uncle didn’t have trouble with you?

No, not like what was going on in my mom’s and my relationship. 

FM: You were young, but what do you recall as being the reason why you decided to go back home, if things were going better with your aunt and uncle?

At the time, I remember thinking a lot about being with my friends back home, but I honestly think it was more than that, too.  It was probably the fact that I missed my family, missed what was familiar. 

FM: And a sense of having ‘done your time’ for being bad for your mom, like being let out of your room after a time out?

What do you mean by that?  Oh yeah, that’s true, I probably did think that.  That’s something I’ve learned to accept now that I’m not so angry about it.  About the way things were and the way things went. 

FM: Okay, so how does the story continue? 

So I was home after the school year and things went a little bit better for a bit and then things started to get out of hand again. The relationship between my mom and myself was going back to normal, if not becoming worse, and things between my brother and I weren’t going well.  And I started, I guess you could say I started to get depressed.  I would come home from school and would stay in my room, I would cry, couldn’t sleep.  So I was depressed and was having some other – a lot of issues started to arise and come up, and anyways I ended up going on medication for depression - my mom took me to the doctor – and then one day after about, maybe - I’m not sure how long, six or eight months -  of being home, there was an incident when my mom ended up taking me to hospital and I was hospitalized for I guess suicidal ideation and things like that.  And then – I stayed in hospital in the paediatric ward for a little bit and then eventually ended up being transferred over to the (adult mental health hospital).  I’m pretty sure when that happened I was 13. 

FM:  I’m resonating with being in a mental health ward at 13 mixed with adults.  That must have been something else!

It was not a very good experience at all.  I was probably there for a little over a month and a half and I guess I was in the high observation section; you’re in a little room with a door, a bubble to look through.  Like I said, it was a pretty difficult time. I was in restraints a lot, strapped to a bed.  There were cameras in your room so you’re monitored.  I remember just not being able to – very limiting. And I didn’t understand a lot of how they dealt with me at the time.  I didn’t understand – what I don’t understand from it now is how they expected me to be placed in a situation like that and act like an adult, or not act like someone who wasn’t struggling. 

And I still think that now.  Sometimes I would be placed in restraints for days at a time, they wouldn’t let me out to go to the washroom, I had to go to the washroom using a bedpan.  And I used to get out of restraints, just my arms, because they’d have a 4 or 5-point restraint system, you’d have them on your arms, your wrists, your legs, and your middle area.  And they’re magnets with Velcro over top so I’d drag my arms against the side of the bed and catch the strap on something and try to wriggle my way out.  I did that occasionally and then once I was found out, they’d press a button and all these nurses would run up and y’know, I’d be held down again and be put back in restraints. And also if I wasn’t cooperative with taking the medication by mouth they’d give me injections. 

It wasn’t very nice.

FM: It sounds like hell.  I’m put in mind of the young woman who suicided in jail after years of being in solitude and under observation – her name won’t come to me, but there’s an inquest happening.  [Ashley Smith] And it was on [the TV documentary program] Fifth Estate.  Was it like that? 

Watching the Fifth Estate, I remember – I can relate to that kind of feeling.  My mom tried – went there and I guess she had asked them to take me out of these restraints, days at a time for how long I was in there.  And I guess at one time they did take me out of the restraints and what I ended up doing was going and self-harming in the washroom.  I just didn’t know how to deal with what was going on, with the situation I was in.  I don’t know how to describe it really.  It didn’t seem like there was much, I guess, help or support from the people who were in a position to help.  I wasn’t provided with a lot of resources at that time to try and help… there was one woman that I remember was very kind, who was a social worker who I spoke to, but … yeah.

FM: So the behaviour that brought about these extreme measures was suicidal or self-harming behaviour, starting at home? 

Yes. 

FM: Looking back, do you think you were in danger of doing yourself in? 

At that time, I think I was depressed but I don’t think that I would have actually succeeded in actually doing myself in.  I think at that point in time it was just not knowing how to deal with everything that was going on inside of me.  And just I guess needing people to listen or be there in ways that they weren’t able to, or just didn’t understand that that was what I needed.  I didn’t know how to ask.  I didn’t know how to…

FM: But if you had known how, you might not have had such self-harming behaviour?  So in order to get help you have to stop doing the thing that is making you do the behaviour.  That’s [a] convoluted [statement]: I just mean that the symptoms seem to have been punished without much effort or much effective means of getting to what was causing the symptoms. 

That’s true.  I agree. 

FM: So how did it go from here?

So basically after that I was very angry, very, very angry with I guess my mother, the situation. I was having an even worse time dealing with everything that had gone on, but I guess I had reached a point where they said I was able to go, I was able to leave the mental health facility.

FM: Did they think you were ‘better’ or were they just giving up on you?

I’m not sure.

FM: Did you feel better? 

I didn’t – it’s hard to recall how I felt at the time but I don’t think I was – I think there may have been a little bit of improvement, I guess, in order for me to leave and go someplace else, not such a secure facility. 

FM: Where did you go?

I ended up going to a group home.  And I remember at the time – I did agree to go, my mom brought it up to me and at that time I do remember saying I’d go, but I remember the agreement was that I would only be there for a month.  I remember before I went in there, there was this big meeting with the psychologist of the group home, all of that kind of thing, had a plan of care.  Now, through everything that had gone on, the psychologist from the group home diagnosed me with bi-polar.  And that’s how I ended up going into the group home.

FM: Were you on meds?

Yes. 

FM: Did they work? 

I can’t really answer that; I don’t know if they did or not.  I still to this day have a very difficult time with medications and with accepting the fact that maybe I need to be taking them. 

FM: Did anyone offer talk treatment, counseling? 

Oh yes, I’ve been through counseling and everything like that, still go to counseling. 

FM: And how did you experience that?

I think that counseling helps for the most part as long as you find someone you trust and you can build a relationship that you can speak about the things that are affecting you.  You have to reach a point where you can trust enough so you can talk to someone and that took a long, long, long, long time.

FM: How long? 

Years.  Years.  Probably I didn’t start – I’m still, up until maybe this past year I didn’t really start to fully open up and start to want to resolve all of my issues so that I could lead a better life and could provide a better life for my son. 

FM: Okay, let’s continue with the trajectory.  We have you going into a group home at about age 13.  And how long did that last?

I was there until I was 15.

FM: Were you a ward [of the child welfare system]?

Not at that time.  At this time I was there because I had agreed and things were very difficult at home and everything.  So I’d agreed to go and once I got there, it became like my new home.  I still had a hard time with things.  I ended up meeting a lot of different people.  It was all girls, so a lot of different girls.  I did get myself into trouble.  I accumulated a bunch of youth charges

FM: What kind of things?

Just petty things, things like mischief and breaches and there were a couple incidents of assaults and things on staff members.  I AWOL’d a lot.  I was pretty bad for AWOLing and would hitchhike all over the place.  Between being at the group home and AWOLing, I ended up in youth detention and was sent away throughout the two years I was there to go to different youth facilities, like lock-down [mental health] facilities like Youthdale, Whitby Psych, places like that.  So basically, looking back I feel like two years of my life were very confined, very – I felt at that point like I was separated from the rest of what I had known before.  It’s almost like I started a new cycle of life, but it wasn’t necessarily a very happy -  y’know – this is new…

FM: But not necessarily good?

Yeah. 

FM: Where was family in all this?  And you didn’t mention if your brother is older or younger. 

My brother is older.  At the time, I didn’t understand – I didn’t think that my behaviour was out of control, I didn’t think that things couldn’t be worked out so that I could come home, or I could get out of the group home and the mental health facilities and stuff like that.  But now looking back, I see that there probably are a lot of reasons why I was in that situation.  But my mom – we spoke on the phone.  With my group home you could go home every other weekend so I did that.  There were times when I had to go to a foster home because my mom didn’t want me to come home, times like that.  My brother – I don’t remember seeing a lot of him.  I didn’t – we really fell out of contact.  We still, to this day, aren’t close at all.  We rarely talk, maybe once every six months, if that, and that’s if we see each other.  Like we won’t make a point of getting ahold of each other.  But I don’t remember my brother being in my life much past that point.  And now I really wonder, looking back, I feel kinda sad for him and I feel a sense of guilt because of how things may have affected him that I may never have realized at the time.  And I feel like I want to talk to him about that at some point in my life.  I remember a time when I was self-harming and it got to a point when it was pretty severe.  I was doing it pretty much every time I needed some kind of emotional release or when I was feeling anxious.  And he took me aside one day when I was on a home visit and told me to stop and was pretty upset.  But I didn’t. 

FM: Probably couldn’t, or you would have. 

Yeah.

FM: That’s the tough thing about self-harming – it seems like you should be able to be nicer to yourself, but the fact that you aren’t increases the risk.  Guilt – harm – guilt / shame, all those things…

Yeah, even now, it took me a long time to get out of it.  Even now there are some times I know in my head I won’t self-harm, but sometimes I almost get that feeling when I used to do it.  And it’s what else can I do instead.  Because a lot of it for me was my anxiety, I just felt like I was suffocating. 

FM: Did they ever diagnosis or treat anxiety?

Yes, right now I’ve been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and panic disorder and some other things too, so I do have diagnoses within the anxiety spectrum. 

FM: And sounds like you have a fairly good treatment regime in place – meds, a counselor.  Yeah?

Yeah.  Yup, I would say so.  I would say I’m doing fairly well.  At this point I’m doing better than I ever was, for the most part. 

FM: Okay, the story got up to age 15 leaving the group home.

During that time I was in and out of facilities.  Basically what happened was I was seeing a counselor at the group home and she ended up passing away, and then I became depressed as well, and after that I ended up being discharged because of the fact I wasn’t cooperating – I wasn’t going to school, I would just stay in my room, wouldn’t get out of bed.  Plus the medications made me so tired I couldn’t – I was taking a lot of medications at that time and I couldn’t function.  That’s another thing that I look back on and it actually still upsets me.  And that’s why I have such a problem taking meds now. 

Like one time I was admitted to hospital and the nurse took a look at the medications I was taking and said Who put you on this much medication?  She basically told me that the amount of medication and the dosages for my age was dangerous and she questioned it.  And I still can’t remember what was done about it, I don’t remember if dosage was lowered or anything, I can’t remember.  And it made it very difficult.  I would wake up in the morning and it would be difficult to get up.  And I would go downstairs and try to participate in the morning program, but I would basically pass out and drool. 

FM: The astonishing thing is that you’re under surveillance and no one is seeing this and posing it as a problem – it’s understood as motivation, refusing to cooperate.  Oh my! From there?

Once I left the group home – how did it happen?  I went back to my mom’s house.  She agreed she would temporarily let me stay there as I was 15 and I didn’t have any other place to go and at this point I wasn’t a ward of the CAS.  [Note: youth who are not wards cannot commence receiving child welfare services after they turn 16.] So things, like always, weren’t going very well.  It wasn’t the same kind of conflict as before.  This time I was severely depressed.  I wouldn’t move off of the couch.  After being in those institutions, I was completely torn down as a person, I didn’t have any sense of identity at all.  I was very depressed.  I almost literally – people say it but how I really felt was I could look in the mirror and not recognize who I was.  I think I was grieving the loss of myself at that point. 

One day, just randomly, my mom was at work and I was on the couch watching a Sara McLauchlin DVD and there were a couple of police officers and a paramedic at the door and they came into my house and my dog was barking.  I wouldn’t move off the couch, I didn’t understand what was happening, so they tethered my feet together and my hands together and hauled me off to the hospital.  I can’t remember all of it, but I ended up in Scarborough Centenary on the psych floor.  I can’t remember how long I was there for.  At that point I just became mute, wouldn’t talk to anyone. I was taking the meds but I was so sick of them – you gain weight, you lose weight, you’re groggy, you lose your reflexes – anyways eventually they decided there was nothing else they could do for me because I wouldn’t cooperate.  I literally became mute.  I was so angry.  So angry.  I just shut down. 

So then my mom came and had a meeting with me and a couple of the workers at the hospital, and she decided that she was going to put me into the care of the CAS because I guess she thought that they could get me the kind of help I needed.  And at that point I felt like I had spent so much time, I felt like I wasn’t being listened to at all, like I hadn’t been [listened to], I was tired of it, I was physically, mentally, emotionally tired and I just shut down, all of that.  And I kinda indicated to her this is not a good idea. 

But she put me in CAS and they took me…went to the CAS building and my mom was there and my uncle, to support my mom I guess.  I was very, very angry and I looked at my mom and smacked her in the face.  The police came but they didn’t charge me or anything, they just made sure everything was under control.  So then I ended up being transferred to a group home in Middletown and I remember them telling me the second day I was there that my mom was going to come and see me. So I was waiting and I’d asked all day, Is she coming? but 5 minutes before she was supposed to be there, they said she wasn’t.  Why not?  They said she couldn’t make it.  I lost it and ended up flipping out, tried to get the phone, they restrained me, then I took off in my sock feet, no jacket, didn’t know Middletown at all.  I just remember running along trails.  I didn’t last very long, I think I got picked up the same night by police and taken to Oakwood house, a juvenile facility, because I’d had other charges so of course I’d breached.  I was there for almost four months, a good chunk of time.  Got out.  When they discharged me, I came to the [youth] shelter, stayed there. 

I had a difficult time.  Again it was very new to me, having so much freedom, going from being so restricted and confined to having basically a lot of freedom I wasn’t used to.  I ended up – I was 15 – I was uncooperative with staff [at the shelter] at first, I didn’t talk to anybody, I wore baggy clothes, big sweaters, hair in front of my face, very, very low self esteem.  At this time the relationship with my mom was not good at all.  I guess she was still fighting to get some form of help and I was pushing away, I was still very, very angry.  At this point there was really nothing she could do.  I think CAS’s stance was that we shouldn’t live together, we shouldn’t have a whole lot of communication because of the conflict it did cause.  So that’s where it was with her and I, and my brother and I didn’t have too much to do with each other.  So I basically just lived at the [youth shelter], had my own room.  It’s hard for me to look at the [youth] shelter as something that was negative in my life because without them, I had nothing.  Like some of the staff here I am very close to, I just adore them. 

FM: So you are now 21; have you been here all that time? 

No, now I live on my own.  And I think I’ve been out of living at [the youth] shelter since I was 19.

FM: Still, four years.

Yeah, but I still – I visit a lot. 

FM: They’re ‘home’?

Yeah, not so much the building anymore but the people here really mean a lot to me. 

FM: And do you go to the [affiliated alternative] school?

I did, yes, I did.  And at that time when I was attending, I wasn’t in the place mentally and emotionally to be able to focus on schooling and I probably would have gotten a lot done.  But at that point in time, I wasn’t ready.  I didn’t know, really, whether or – I’ve always known that I wanted to complete school but it just wasn’t on my top priority list. 

So I moved here when I was 15, still a lot of struggles.  There’s good and bad to things.  Excluding the shelter itself, the life outside, being left to your own, to take care of yourself and do everything for yourself, I had to learn a lot of life skills and a lot of that kind of thing pretty quickly.  Basically you’re on your own.  I went through a lot of ups and downs.  I drank – used to drink a lot when I was younger.  There was a time when I would drink too much and end up in hospital, things like that.  For a long period of time I wasn’t focused on anything but the fact that I had freedom and the fact that these negative emotions from my entire lifetime were still building up inside of me.  And I basically did just whatever.  I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time, not doing too much that was useful or productive or good. 

FM: What I find interesting is that [the shelter] seems to have ‘managed’ you when all sorts of other very resourced institutions weren’t able to.  They may not have protected you from life, but they didn’t kick you out, which most of the other institutions have done. 

That’s true.  I mean, part of that is due to the rapport you build with the people you are around.  But also, I don’t know how many other options there were for me in terms of where I was going to reside.  They’d tried foster homes, mental health -- what I hear is foster homes, that’s a privilege, but when I was that age I wouldn’t have viewed it that way.  If I had to choose I would probably choose a setting like [the youth shelter], because I didn’t want the restrictions, I wanted the freedom.  But now looking back, maybe…

Even to this day, even when I was out of CAS – I became a Crown Ward when I was 16 or 17 and was discharged when I was 18.  When I was 15, I moved [to the shelter] and met a guy and was with him for awhile, a year and a half or so.  So there were positive and negative experiences with this.  I still got myself into trouble – I was in and out of youth detention when I was here.  After that relationship ended – I kinda separate my life in different kinds of ways --  when I was 17 or so, 18, I started to involve myself more in things that weren’t so good, started abusing drugs and stuff like that.  But also when I was 18 years old, I think my last incident of self-harm I did pretty severely.  Cutting and – I stopped cutting when I was 17 or 18 years old -- after a friend sat down with me – I’d had to get staples in both my arms, 44 or something like that, a good friend of mine sat down with me and said one day you’re going to do this and you’re not going to wake up, cried in front of me, showed his emotions, and I think that was the last or one of the last times that I self-harmed.  But I think when I first came to [the youth shelter] my mentality was that I didn’t want to live until I was 18.  I didn’t want to experience any more.  I was pretty much at my limit, I was done.   When I was into drugs, I tried to overdose on pills a couple of times. 

FM: When did your baby come into this? 

I was 18 and I met my son’s father [at the shelter] and I’d known about him before, I’d heard about him but wasn’t closely connected, hadn’t hung out with him at all.  We met, at first I didn’t even like him, but eventually we got together.  The relationship from the first wasn’t a good one.  When we’d been together five months of so, he ended up going to jail for five months.  I waited for him – ended up doing a lot of drugs and drink, just wasting my life.  Decided I was going to move to Littletown -

FM: That’s where he was?

Yes.  That’s when I was discharged from CAS.  Forgot another thing.  I was involved in the ISSP program.  Like an Intensive Support Supervision Program, like a youth and family counseling service here in Middletown.  They helped me get on ODSP so I always had a back-up plan for when I struggled – I have diagnoses now that are clearer than they were before.  They were really helpful.  But what I realize now, when I’m older, when you think about the words ‘mental health’, not a diagnosis but just the words, everyone has mental health, like not just on the shoulders of certain people.  Everybody has to deal with it; it’s just how healthy is your mental state, that’s what it’s about.

FM: Right, but it’s used to mean lack of mental health. Nobody comments when you have good mental health.   That’s really the nub of the stigma.

I think that a lot of kids, even, who were in the same situation as I was, obviously if you go through certain things in your life, you’re likely to have symptoms on a day-to-day basis.  I’m through being in this situation.  It’s had its negatives and stuff but I’ve come to where I’m not the only one to have these kinds of issues.  It gave me a lot of insight and life experience about how things go on in the world.  How to relate to people.  That was an important part of – I needed to learn that for myself.  That was an important part of my journey into street life.  I view that as a positive. 

FM: Just to catch the trajectory, you were in [the youth shelter] from 15 to 18, the whole time that you a Crown Ward?

I moved out on my own into their transitional housing program for about six months – basically you become more independent, like living on your own but they check up on you, you get help with budgeting, etc., but basically you do all your own cooking, cleaning, and you get more than $20/wk.  It’s like renting a room but you have more support.

FM: Was that after or before the baby? 

Before.  That was when I was 17.  I ended up moving to Littletown and staying in a shelter in Littletown.  At that time I was discharged from CAS but my application for ODSP was accepted so that came through.  I ended up finding a house to rent a room in, but it was a pretty bad situation.  At that point I wasn’t doing well at all.  My boyfriend at the time was in jail.  Before he was in jail, we used to do drugs.  When he was in jail, I was doing drugs and I got really, really sick.  Like my body was really worn out.  I was afraid of going to the hospital – but eventually I did, when I’d stopped polluting my body.  I tried to attempt suicide and it wasn’t successful – taking pills.  Then eventually he got out of jail and we were still together but back in Middletown. 

From there we ended up renting a room off one of his friend’s and living like that for about four months.  Tried moving to [a small city to the south], just picking up and going, no real plan or anything.  I found out I was pregnant while we were there, so again we were staying in shelters.  I found it was a lot different.  There were a lot less people in the shelter system there than here.  There was only really one we could go to.  One was for people who were recovering from addictions.  We went to two.  One of them you could only sleep there at night, in rooms with rows of cots, they actually separated you so you had to sleep next to someone you didn’t know.  The other one was the same thing, they wouldn’t let you in during the day. 

I found out I was pregnant and we ended up getting up kicked out of the shelter because of my boyfriend’s behaviour.  So we wasted money on a motel, ran out of money, I went to the hospital to have a pregnancy test.  We ended up getting the help of a police officer while I was in the hospital.

FM: How’d you get out of [that city]?

I ended up going to stay with some friends who lived outside of [the city] and they ended up driving us back.  We left half of our things there and by the time we got back, it was pretty well all gone.  The first place I came to when we got back to Middletown was [the youth shelter].  I told them I was pregnant – I’m pretty close with some of the staff.  Got involved with Partners in Pregnancy which is a good program for someone who doesn’t have a family doctor.  Started the process of pre-natal care.  It’s funny, when I found out I was pregnant I went out and bought folic acid and pre-natal vitamins, even though we had no money. 

Eventually, from here, my boyfriend had to go to another shelter.  Our relationship wasn’t good, kind of abusive.  Ended up getting a place not far from here, just downtown. We were paying so much money for this place, pretty much my whole monthly income.  Lived there for a while, four months – landlord was a bit untrustworthy, pretty sure a couple of times she was in my apartment without my permission, caught her peeking through the window into other people’s places.  I was going to different pre-natal programs – there are so many supports for pregnant women in Middletown, and good ones too, where you just have to fill out a little work sheet and you can pick up things for your baby, things like that.  Supper clubs, you learn a whole lot.  I did those a few times.  Coming into the world of life, become a real person.

I got so excited [about being pregnant] – when I told my mom, her lip quivered and she was saying this is such an f’ing mistake. 

FM: But for you, it was a turn-around moment?

Umhmm. 

FM: And is the boyfriend still in the picture?

We ended up separating when I was 21.  It was a very abusive relationship, lots of domestic violence.  I ended up having to go to women’s shelters a couple of times.  It took me a long time to leave him.  He gets to see him [the baby] once a week supervised.  That was a whole other experience, leaving that relationship. 

I’ve had other involvement with CAS since then.  This is a whole other thing.  Abusive relationship.  Had my son.  My son is my world.  He’s everything. I tried to do everything right, take care of myself, eat right, attend all the programs.  Did all that.  He came out nice and healthy, 8 lbs 14 ounces, perfect.  Continued trying to be in the relationship with my son’s father.  It was very abusive in all ways.  Got to the point where – I breast fed for eight months.  When he was seven months I was in a women’s shelter for three months, moved out to the place where I am now.  Got re-involved with my son’s father.  Things started to escalate.  Incidents happened.  My son’s father ended up calling CAS on me.  My son was taken from me.  There was a long process.  I was very depressed.  I had to get back on medications, that sort of thing.  I had a lot of struggle to do what I had to do.  My son had been well taken care of by me; [he was] very trusting, very content, very healthy.  It was just my mental health they were concerned with, the fact that I wasn’t able to reach out to people for support like I should have.  Before I didn’t really recognize how much support I did have.  Like my son’s father’s family came into play when he was born, and although my son’s father wasn’t very helpful, his family were. 

He [my son] was away from me for eight months and he just came back home in January.  But I worked really, really hard and did everything in my power to make sure he came home.  It was very, very difficult for me.  Very difficult thing to go through.  You can talk about how I was suicidal and used to self-harm, but that didn’t cross my mind when he was there.  My will to try and succeed for my son, there’s no way that I could have given up.  It’s such a tough thing when your son is taken, your credibility is taken from you, everything that you’ve come to live for is taken from you.  That was my focus in life. 

FM: So when did you finally make the break from your son’s father? 

When I was 21, just before my 21st birthday.  So that’s last February.  I actually had to move out of town.  I moved to Porttown for 4 months because I was being told by CAS that I wouldn’t get my son back if I didn’t move.  But then I ended up moving back.

FM: Why’d they want you to move?

To get away from my son’s father. 

FM: So who supervises the visit, the CAS? 

My son’s father’s family. 

FM: And they’re here?  And is CAS cool with you being back here?  Are they still involved?

Yes, and I have a good relationship with my worker.  Somebody finally took a look at the bigger picture and gave me the opportunity to develop my own plan so I would better succeed.  They looked at it as okay, you have mental health issues. If you have them now, chances are they’re going to continue.  We’re not going to give your son back to you and have you carry on — they gave me a chance to put together a family plan, everybody came together and sit in a big room and talk about what needs to be accomplished, who’s willing to offer support.  We sit and resolve family issues.  After last family meeting we resolved some things with my mother and my uncle.  Like before that, they didn’t realize that I wasn’t being listened to, or even what I had to say wasn’t even being considered, it was basically their voice over mine.  And we ended up talking about that and I was able to say to my family this is how I feel; instead of it being dismissed, I’ve actually been listened to.  And since then my mom has been more sensitive to what I say.  So it’s good.

FM: What I want to ask is where this idea of all-family planning came from.  Who suggested that? 

I think – I’ve been going to see my son three times a week through the Access Centre and I think it was through my worker.  [She said] would you be willing to speak to a family mediator because we’d like to set up a plan so everyone knows what’s going on, just in case anything were to go on, we don’t just have to apprehend your son, we know there’s a plan in place.  But this is also similar to a plan through, when I was younger, through the ISSP program, it was the same kind of thing, sitting down with everyone who was involved in my life.  But at that time, I wasn’t able to take advantage of what was offered to me. 

FM: Very interesting.  Not just the service being available, but it being available when you’re ready to consider it.  Makes it important to not reject options because they’ve been tried before and not worked, because maybe this time is the right time.  Particularly, I think, when babies have arrived – there’s a different focus of energy and concern. 

Well, it’s true – you can’t understand what you’re not ready to understand.  There’s no way to comprehend something – too emotionally immature to grasp, for example.  You can’t force yourself to do things, to understand something.

FM: And maybe particularly when you’re struggling with mental health ups and downs, who knows what’s available to you at any given time?  It comes and goes. 

FM: Okay.  What a journey.  And nowhere close to being over yet.  But can we go on to these finish-up questions?   I think they’ll help pull things together.  So….  To help the people who will read this story to get a sense of the shape and focus of it, would you say what you think is the most important event in this story.  Could be something that happened or something that didn’t happen, an absence.  The thing that was most pivotal in determining how this story unfolded or is unfolding.

Well, I guess – there are a lot of things but the most important thing for me was having a balance of my own freedom to make choices as a person but at the same time having the support of people who were willing to take the time to understand and listen and give some form of guidance.  Because you need that as a person.  Otherwise you’re never going to learn. You need room to make mistakes; you can’t be completely alone but you also can’t be completely sheltered from things.  When I was ready, I grew up a little bit and I decided when I was going to take control of my life and the things I needed to make it better. 

FM: How long have you been hooked with your counselor?

I’ve been through counseling for my entire life pretty much.  Right now I just started at a new counseling place, employment planning and family resource centre.

FM: But you said earlier it took a long time to build trust. 

For me, my main life counselors are the people close to me, that’s who I learn from.

FM: Not the professionals, necessarily?

No.  But it is good to talk about your feelings and things.  No one can really answer any questions for you, it’s basically how you internalize things and what you decide for yourself what is right.  Like you can be guided about how to express yourself, but you can chose—like you can’t have angry outbursts but you can decide how else to express yourself and that works in a whole bunch of areas of life. 

FM: The next finish-up question is about judgment.  People who read this story will form an opinion about how it’s going to end up.  How do you think it will unfold?  Good?  Not so good?  Optimistic?  Not so much? 

You know what?  I feel optimistic but the reason why I feel optimistic – there are days when I can’t feel that way – is that I’m choosing to.  There are so many different roads you could go down, anyone, but it’s you who ultimately decides.  And I choose to be optimistic about my life and that influences my decisions.  I don’t always feel this way.  Sometimes I sit in my house and throw pity parties for myself and I cry.  But in the normal day, I may not be everything I wanted to be, have everything I always thought I might, but as long as I’m happy and I don’t have to struggle to get through the day because of emotions or life circumstances, then I’ll be fine.  And if I can provide a life for my son, provide him with a life and help him grow to be a healthy person, that will be an accomplishment

FM: And it sounds like your plan that’s in place now accommodates the possibility that you might have the occasional relapse and end up needing to be taken care of and have your son taken care of. 

And I’m very, very thankful for that, thankful for the plan that’s been put in place, all the supports that I’ve had throughout.  My whole life.  I believe that they’ve made a very significant difference in my life. 

FM: Okay, two advice questions.  What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice… 

One would be to reach out to people who are willing to help you.  That’s a big one.  Let people help you.  And, hmmm, always, whenever you go through something difficult, always remember to hold the things that are important to me, to hold them really close, to protect them, so that you don’t lose – there’s so much influence around, it’s so easy to be influenced…  so for myself, it could be the way you choose to treat people.  Or your basic morals.  Or just little things, something small that’s important to you, it’ll never be taken away.

FM: What I’m hearing is a balance between being open to others and to protecting some core values from others.  So a balance between open and closed?  That’s good. 

FM: So last question: What advice would you give those of us who would wish to be helpful to young people like yourself, what advice would you give to us?

I’d say do like what you’re doing, like taking the time to understand each individual.  Each person is individual, has different needs, we shouldn’t be placed in category after category, cookie-cutter.  Taking the time and having the compassion to take the time to understand to make changes. 

FM: That’s me done.  Anything more? 

I dunno.