Mary looks and acts much younger than her 23 years. She has a 2 ½ year old son from an on-again off-again relationship spanning five years; the father now works in the West and is home one week out of four. She comes from a family chronically unemployed and on assistance, but did well in school and socially until her grandmother died when she was in grade 10. Her parents had serious addiction problems and have recently gone on Methadone treatment, so her mother, as well as her grandfather, are now able to help her with child care. She dropped out of high school to work in order to not live at home, and has since been very transient. Dedicated staff at a work-preparation course began to turn her life around, but the father of her child re-entered her life and the subsequent upheaval led to severe depression for which she recently was diagnosed and prescribed medication, and is awaiting counseling. Her depression and the complexity of what she calls ‘the mumbo-jumbo of her life’ make this a dark and twisting story.
FM: Let’s start with a bit of background about your family – where were you raised, who was in the family, how did they pay the rent, etc. etc. etc.
I was raised in Eastville. My mom was a single mom for three years of my life. My grandma and grandpa helped her a lot. I was with them a lot of my life.
FM: Can you say, what ages were you with them?
I’d say right up until I was 12 when my grandmother passed away. Like I would always go there weekends and stuff. Like my grandmother was my best friend, so I would go there a lot.
My mom met the man who I call my dad because he’s been around my whole life, when I was three. I was three when they met. My mom was on social assistance most of my life. That’s how she paid the rent. My dad was in school when they met.
When I was six they had my brother. We lived in Westville for a bit, we moved to Westville and I went to public school there until grade 3 and we moved back to Eastville. We’ve pretty much been in Eastville ever since. We’ve moved to a couple different houses but we’ve pretty much lived in Eastville.
FM: Do you still live at home?
Right now I’m living between my grandfather’s and my mom’s. My boyfriend is going out West to work, so I’m going to look for a place around here because I work here.
FM: What work?
I work at the gas station and then a restaurant that is in the process of being changed – just changing the menu and everything.
FM: And you said you have a two-year old son. Who cares for him?
My mom most of the time and when she’s busy, my grandfather, and then his father on the weekends.
FM: Do do you and his father live together?
Yes we do. Not right now because he’s going out West, so I’m at my mom’s right now until we save some money and can get a place.
FM: Is the plan that he’ll make money out West and come back and you’ll get together, or would you go out there?
Well, for now he’s working three weeks out there and comes back for a week, and that’s why he’s doing that, so we can get some money and buy a house.
FM: Where in the West and what kind of work?
I’m not sure where exactly he’s going. His brother is out there and his sister’s fiancé is the foreman – that’s how he got the job. And I believe he’s a general maintenance guy, that’s all I know.
FM: In the oil patch? In the oil business?
I don’t think so, no. Just construction. They fix, like someone needs their deck fixed. The way he explained it, they’re just the people who go around and do all the crappy jobs, I guess.
FM: So he’s making good money but isn’t all that enthused about the work?
Well, he is enthused about it because the work he’s doing here is roofing and he’s making less money. So he’s excited that he’s not doing as much physical work as he’s doing now and he’s making more money. It just kinda sucks because we don’t really get to see each other, and we’ve been through a lot, so…
FM: How long have you two been together?
Roughly around five years.
FM: You’re 23, so since you were 18?
FM: And is he about the same age?
FM: Okay. Let’s explore school and work a bit more. Talk about you and school.
I was actually a straight A student. In public school I was the president of the student council. I was fairly out-going and stuff. I passed out of grade 7 and went on to high school in Westville. I was into sports and stuff when I went into high school, and I did good until about grade 10 when my grandmother died. My grades kinda went down, I hung around with the wrong people, started smoking, started doing drugs, didn’t want to go to school. I did drop out but I kinda got everything together, got a job at Tim Hortons full-time at nights. And I was a supervisor when I did quit. I met my boyfriend through working at TH. Things started going – I didn’t get along with the manager – the manager switched – and I quit. I got a job at a gas station, like they hired me the next day, and I worked there for about a year and I ended up getting pregnant with my son. And when I went to go back after mat leave, they had sold and it was taken over by another company, so no job. I had no choice but to go on social assistance for the meantime.
FM: Were you living with your boyfriend at the time, or what were the financial arrangements around your son?
We did live together and we broke up and I found out I was pregnant, so we weren’t together during the pregnancy. And then I’d say about two months before my due date, I was living with my grandfather, because I had to move back with my grandfather, and he started coming around and he was around up until I had my son. We moved out of my grandfather’s and got a place on our own, which lasted like two months. He moved out and I did stay, and I was still on social assistance, I think I was receiving $922 and my rent was $875, so I was left with less than $100 to get me through to baby bonus and he didn’t pay child support or anything. So for the past 2 ½ years I’d say we were on and off a lot. And then I got this job at [a work preparation program], and I was really thankful for it. They were able to help me get my son in day care and get back into the swing of things. I was really thankful for the job, it got me up every day and looking forward to things. Like they helped us write resumes and stuff, get us ready for the real world.
FM: I realize I’m not following my own rules, which is to number each of the moves, so I’m going to go back over your story and do that, ok?
FM: Okay, that’s not going to work real well. You’ve moved around a lot, almost bouncing between several homes?
Yeah, because when I first left home when I was 16, my parents got into drugs really bad and I moved in with my girlfriend and she got me back into going to school, and then I dropped out for the full-time job at Tim Hortons because I had to pay the rent and stuff, and I was on I guess student assistance. It was enough to pay the rent but I had the job offer at Tim Hortons so I quit school and went to work. I’ve lived at her house a couple of times since then, so I have been bouncing around. When I was pregnant I lived there most of the time until the last little bit when I moved in with my grandfather, because we were butting heads all the time.
FM: Okay, so #1, age 16, from parents’ home to girlfriend’s home #2. Then?
#3 I moved in with my grandfather.
FM: So this was shortly after your grandmother died?
I was 12 when, yeah, so a few years.
FM: So you moved in with him because you needed to, not because he needed you to?
FM: You said you were very close to your grandmother. How was the relationship with your grandfather?
Not so close. It was kinda weird living with him. He’s old and grumpy and set in his old ways so it was kinda hard.
FM: But an affordable roof?
FM: Okay, #4?
#4 I had a boyfriend, we were both living with my grandfather because my grandfather was his assurity because he’d gotten into some trouble.
FM: What kind of trouble and was he still a juvenile?
He - I believe he had some cocaine on him and he just ditched it and ran from the cops so they had a warrant out on him. And he didn’t want to turn himself in so I hid him out at my grandfather’s. I’d have to say for a couple of months, but I broke down. I couldn’t take it any more, like hiding out, he didn’t want to go anywhere. He eventually turned himself in and that’s when my grandfather became his assurity. And we moved out after that was all over. So that was # 4.
And you asked if he was a juvenile; he wasn’t. He was older than me, actually a few years older.
FM: And you were how old then?
I’m going to say 17 at that time and he was 28. I don’t know why my parents – like they were so bad into the drugs that they didn’t care.
FM: And where was your grandfather on this one?
They never really stepped into my business in that way. After we moved out of my grandfather’s, he paid the bills, made sure there was food in my belly, a roof over my head, so they never really interfered. My whole life, they’ve said I’ll figure things out on my own, like the hard way.
FM: Okay, so #4, with the older guy boyfriend, but he provided well for you. And is this when you went back to school?
Like, at that time, I was in school and then I dropped out and took the full-time job at Tim Hortons and then we broke up and I met my son’s father.
FM: Okay, a very jumbled life. I’m getting dizzy following the trajectory. How was it for you to be so much of a tumble-weed and so much on your own, really, at a very young age?
I’m kinda thankful for a lot of the stuff that happened because it made me a stronger, better person. And I’d like to provide better for my son, looking back at all the things my parents did and didn’t do. Like I am angry at some stuff, like them getting into the drugs and not really caring. Like my brother is 16 and he’s not in school and they don’t really care, they just sit at home and do nothing. He just sits at home and does nothing. And I try to say to him, like I’m getting my schooling now at like 23 years old. I regret not going to school.
FM: Is he into drugs?
Yeah, he smokes weed.
FM: Okay. You said you have a history of depression. Can you talk about that a bit?
I’d have to say that just started. It’s a more recent thing. When me and my son’s father got back together this time around, I’d moved to where he was living at [a rural area about 25 km away]. #5 And it was in a – the landlord lived upstairs and we lived in a basement apartment and it was dark and gloomy. He was away at work and I was working at a restaurant and I had lost my job so I was workless for a couple of weeks and I just took a deep fall, being at home in a dark gloomy basement, it was cold, and he had the car and we were fighting all the time. It’s just a history of fighting – we’re trying to work on it.
I ended up going to the doctor’s. I left and went to mom’s for a couple of days, brought the baby…
FM: And how old is the baby at this time?
He’s 2 ½ now. I ended up going to the doctor’s and going on to some anti-depressants and we’re going to go to some counseling and stuff. I have trust issues, I guess.
FM: Yeah, I can see where that came from. Let me ask, was it a surprise to you to find yourself so depressed you couldn’t carry on, or did it feel like it was an old friend that just caught up with you? Like it had been there, waiting, for a long time, and jumped when you were unusually un-busy and alone?
It was kinda a surprise but at the same time, no, because I was going through so much and at the same time had been through so much.
FM: Had anybody every talked to you about your family situation, how you were feeling, when you were younger, in school. Anybody?
No, not really. I kinda kept my home life private as much as possible.
FM: What about when your grades took a nosedive?
No, because my parents were into the drugs because my mom had lost her mom and she was going through a lot. Like I’m mad at my parents for a lot of stuff but at the same time it’s made me a stronger person.
FM: So what made you realize that you needed to see a doctor about your mental health?
Just everything like with my son’s father, I understood that I was the problem, I couldn’t get over our past. Like my mom had a history of depression so she kinda talked to me a little bit. Because now they’re clean, like out of the drugs, so we do have a bit of a relationship, building it back. So she told me to maybe go to the doctor, tell him what was going on, what was happening, see if there was any help. And my son, that was a big thing, I needed to be there for him.
FM: And was [the work preparation program] part of this stage of your life?
No [that] was before the depression and stuff. I went through the [program], I had a job and I was doing good, I had another boyfriend and he was really good with my son. And then all of a sudden his father wanted to be with me again and make things right. And then that’s when the depression and everything came.
FM: Is the counseling limited to the two of you, or are you planning to get some counseling, just you.
It was just for me.
FM: Past tense? Still happening?
It hasn’t even started yet. I’m still waiting for the doctor to refer me to a counselor so that I don’t have to pay for it.
FM: And how long do you think that will take, after he makes the referral?
Like for me to be better?
FM: No, for you to get started with seeing somebody.
I’m hoping not long; it’s already been like forever.
FM: Right. How long ago was this episode of severe depression?
I’d have to say about a month ago. I’ve been on anti-depressants and I can feel that that’s helping, but I don’t want to be on them forever.
FM: Yeah, and drugs are part of the solution, but they need the help of counseling as well. So a month. What did they tell you about what was on offer? Like, no fee, but is it long-term or short-term?
They never really said, I guess.
FM: Who or what agency is the doc making the referral to?
He didn’t tell me that either. He said I’ll get on that and he had to fill out a paper and fax it, and I didn’t hear anything since.
FM: Is there someone or some way you can get some idea of what’s happening?
I’m not sure what you mean.
FM: Is there any way you can think of to speed things along, or at least find out how long you might have to wait, and if there’s any other kind of service available in the meantime, like maybe a group or something other than individual counseling.
I could probably meet with the doctor again because I was supposed to because of the antidepressants but I’m always working so I don’t have time, that’s the big thing.
FM: If the referral did come through, would you have the time to meet, say weekly or bi-weekly? Could you make the time?
Yeah, I would just have to talk to work because they know a bit about what’s going and they would likely work with me.
FM: Okay. So it seems that work has always been important to you, as a respite from home life, maybe? Anything to that?
Yeah, well my parents never really - like my dad did work for a short bit of time, but they’ve never really worked, they’ve always been on social assistance and I really don’t want my life to be like that. That’s why I’m thankful for the [work preparation program] because they did help a lot, like getting back into the work force.
FM: What about the experience at the [work preparation program] was most helpful to you?
I’d have to say the whole thing. Like it was a group thing so I – I’d been a shy person but outgoing at the same time – so you could just talk to everyone and make yourself feel comfortable. Because basically we were all going through the same sort of stuff.
FM: So a peer group, a positive peer group?
Yeah, it was positive and that’s what they were trying to teach us, like a positive healthy life.
FM: And you were saying back a bit they helped you get your license.
Yes, they helped me get my driver’s license. I had my G1 and I just needed to do the road test and [staff] took me out a couple of times and let me use his vehicle to take the test.
FM: That was in the order of over-and-above, in many places. Was that kind of going the extra mile a part of your experience at the [work preparation program]? On the part of staff, I mean.
I don’t understand.
FM: What this brought to my mind was that in some ways [the program or staff person] was doing for you what parents sometimes do for kids. And that family support wasn’t available to you so this filled in that space.
Yeah it did. They were really good here. He did go the extra mile, he didn’t have to do it. Like they were part of the group, they were there to help us do what we needed to do to get back up on our feet and going again.
FM: Clarify for me when you were here at [the program] and help me put that experience into the story. So pregnancy, son’s father comes back into your life, baby born, mat leave, job gone when mat leave over, new job, moved out of town into basement apartment when baby was just under two, then episode of depression about a month ago.
#6 I just moved back into town about a week ago. Like the [work preparation program] was before all of this. I got pregnant, boyfriend was back again, gone again, back again – I basically raised my son for the two years myself, it’s just been serious the last little bit.
FM: Serious, but he’s gone 3 weeks out of 4.
Right, but to help us get by. We need something to get ahead. We’re behind, we both have debt, we don’t want to pay rent any more, we just want to get ahead. Like I’ve been paying rent since I was 16. And he’s basically going out there to help our family.
FM: But maybe the relationship would be off again if he were here more of the time. D’ya think?
Yes, because we fight all the time but we think this is going to help because when he’s just home for the week, we just have time to catch up and stuff.
FM: Okay. And I just wanted to swoop back and catch that [the work preparation program] was when you were not with your boyfriend. And how long a course was it?
I believe it was 6 months. 6 or 8 months. The baby was just old enough to go to day care. I put him in day care; they helped me pay for it.
FM: Is he in day care now?
No. I’d like to enroll him back in but it’s just so expensive.
FM: So your mom takes care of him, or your grandpa, for no money?
Yeah, mostly my mom. I pay her the odd time if I can afford to but she doesn’t make me pay her.
FM: And you’re comfortable with how she cares for him, now that she’s clean?
I am now. I would have never have let her before. That was one of the things I brought to her attention, that I was never going to let her see my son again so she woke up, I guess. She tries – she is a big part of our life now.
FM: Did she get any help getting clean, or did she do it all on her own?
No, she got help. She went on the Methadone program, I guess it would be.
FM: And your dad?
My dad, the same thing, he got help, they’re both on the Methadone program.
FM: What’s your son’s father’s relationship with drugs and alcohol?
He doesn’t drink. We both don’t drink. We both do smoke weed but other than that nothing. We both work and just do our own thing. His parents drink regularly.
FM: So both of you come from families with substance abuse. Was his family as negligent as yours?
No, I’d say they think they’re perfect. They don’t abuse alcohol, they just drink every day. Like not to get drunk, they’re just social people, they’re very very busy.
FM: Not on social assistance?
No, they all work.
FM: Is it an issue with them that you come from a different background? Are they involved with their grandson?
Not so much. Not as much as my parents are. They don’t really have time for my son. And that’s something I used to get mad about. They’d say, like if you want to go out one night on a weekend give us a call and we’ll watch him. The way I felt about it is why should I always be calling you to watch my son when they don’t have a part of his life. Like they don’t call and say how is he or happy birthday or anything, so why should I call them to ask them to help with babysitting or anything. The only time they really saw him was when his father had him and he would take him there.
FM: Okay, so they’re not really embracing the grandparent role. D’you think they don’t think that he’ll be in their lives for long, that maybe his father will not stay with you and the baby?
I made it very clear that I would never take him from them and they’d never not be able to see him. It’s just that they don’t take the initiative to come see him, they want us to drop everything and take him to them. They want to show off what I’ve done rather than help, because none of them are ever around.
FM: Okay. We were never very successful with the numbering bit, but -
I haven’t moved since a week ago. [we both laugh]
FM: Actually, what occurs to me is that you don’t attach the story to where you live. Something else – your son actually I think – or maybe not – is the ‘spine’ of your story, not the roof over your head. Well, let me go to the last part of the interview and that will maybe get us to something…
So, is the story finished enough to do these two-three things that are finish-up things?
I think so, yeah, because I’m going to move again soon but not in seven days or anything. It feels to me like I keep being pulled back to Eastville and I don’t want to be here.
FM: More on that?
There’s just nothing here for my son. I don’t like the schooling here. There’s nothing, just nothing here for anybody. I have work here but it took a long time to get where I am.
FM: And you are still on assistance, you don’t make enough working to support you and your son?
I am not on assistance, no. Because it was the two of us and he was making good money.
FM: But if he left, could you support yourself on what you make?
FM: Even full time?
If it was full time, probably. I’m getting more hours than I was because of the new owners, like it’s between 30 -35 – 40 [hours] so I might be all right. Like it was pennies – I’ve lived – like when I was getting $922 and my rent was $875 I was somehow doing it.
FM: So what’s the next move you referred to, the up-coming one?
Well I’d like to stay in the area because I work here in Eastville but I don’t want to live in Eastville any more. I’d like to live in say Centretown (a larger town 20 km distant) or something. Like we don’t want to live in town, we’d like to live in the country.
FM: Okay. So now the finish-up stuff. First question: To put some shape or focus to your story, for the people who will read it, what would you say is the Most Important Event in this story, the thing that happened, or didn’t happen, that most influenced the way the story is unfolding.
I’d have to say the most important event is me going though the [work preparation] program. It helped with my relationship with my son’s father, I got my driver’s license, like my mom has never drove in her life so that was a big thing for me. They helped me start doing my schooling again, getting back into going to work every day, looking forward to something, not just sitting around the house. I am really thankful for it, for a lot of things. Like we did so many kinds of jobs that I never thought that I’d ever like, or do. It was just a good experience.
FM: Could you come back for another go-around if you needed to, or wanted to?
Yeah. I could. I’d have to be on days when I’m not working.
FM: Maybe to bridge until that counseling support comes through?
What do you mean?
FM: Well, it seems like it may be a while before the referral for counseling happens, and in the meantime, it could be helpful to you, supportive, if you had your buddies at [the program] to be company, while you wait.
Yeah. You can only go through the program once but I keep in touch with [staff], everybody, let him know what’s going on, how I’m doing, he’s always here for me, he’s told me that.
FM: I should just clarify that [staff] isn’t paying you to say all this good stuff?
FM: Okay. The judgment question: In your opinion, what direction do you think this story is heading? Lemme contextualize that a bit. The people who will read this story will want some ‘closure’, some idea about how the story ends. How do you think the story will not end, exactly, but carry forth. Good, or not so good?
I’m hoping for the best. I’m hoping for good. Everything’s kinda been jumbled my whole life so I think it’s going to carry forth. We’re trying our best. We want to get married, we want to do the best for our son.
FM: Okay. Now the advice questions. What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice, that would, in your opinion, make for a better outcome in your story?
Ummm, I probably would have stayed in school. I think everything happens for a reason so what has happened in my life, I don’t know if I’d change anything. I mean stuff hasn’t been for the best, but you can’t have a perfect life. You just have to keep your head high and keep reaching for your goals.
FM: Okay. Second advice question. What advice would you give to those of us who would like to be helpful to young people like yourself?
Umm, I think just be helpful and understanding. Like everybody is their own person and everybody judges. This world is becoming crazy. You just need to be understanding and be there for people more.
FM: So human connection, is that what you mean?
Yeah, instead of being so judgmental and cruel all the time, I don’t know how to explain it. Like the older generations think down on our generation but there’s like, our parents are to blame and stuff, I don’t know. Like if my parents had done things differently, things would be different for me. And if I’d have had them there for me, like with school, they just weren’t there.
FM: That would have made a positive difference, if they’d been there. But also, if other people hadn’t been judgmental of them? Or of you?
I guess all of us. Because like it’s hard when people know what’s going on at home.
FM: Shame? You wearing shame for stuff over which you had no control?
Umm, kind of. But not. I try not to let it get to me but just go on with my life every day
FM: Okay. That is about the end – anything else?
No, that’s pretty much everything. The mumbo-jumbo of my life.