Turning 18 in The Foster Care System.

My birthday is awesomely one week away!!!  Vacation has ended for me and I've returned to work for my au-pair family, so posts have been sparse and I apologize.  With my birthday coming up and the recent foster care work I've been doing, I wanted to share another experience I've never really delved into on this blog, despite the fact that it's the part of foster care I'm most passionate about as well as the part I have been most involved in and want to continue to be involved in: aging out of foster care. 

To introduce the concept: foster children who have been unable to be placed with their bio family or adopted and thus become a member of another family, really have nothing to do when they turn eighteen.  They have nowhere to go.  The state offers foster care for children, not adults.  (Although I think we can all agree, having been 18, that 18 is nowhere near "adult" in reality.)  Foster youth such as myself were often given two choices: we could sign on to continue receiving care while in college or trade school, or we could throw a big middle finger up to the system and be free of it.

A Bright Future with State Assistance
The latter option is enticing.  So tempting.  But as someone who had so little opportunity in life, I knew I would take help for college if I could get it.  The State of Tennessee had a lot of conditions to meet: you had to be in school full time, or school part time with a part time job, or a trade school, you had to maintain a C average, and so on: pell grants were given to cover part of tuition and dormitories were paid for.  They also gave an allowance, something ridiculously low like $150 a month, but it was food at least.  They would continue this care until I was 24 years old. That sounded amazing to my ears.  I straightened my shit up senior year and finished ahead, with a lot of scholarships from a lot of different organizations who were intrigued by my story.

Graduating high school was a fun time in my life, despite changing foster homes three times my senior year.  I had the scholarships, I was going to college, people were proud of me.  They showered compliments and praise and told me how great things would be.  They took me out to eat and got my hair done and bought me bookbags and pens and shampoo for awesome college life. My parents showed up for my graduation, and so did Brice, and Mrs. Montgomery (if you read my foster care series or my ebook then you know who they are) and I was sure that things were going to continue to be this amazing.

They didn't.  No one even helped me get a ride to the college campus.  Ironically, when all other people failed to notice me, my parents stepped up and offered to take me part of the way.  My friend Nate took me the rest of the way and there I was: a few meager belongings and no bed sheets, with a roommate whose parents were buying her way and had given her not only bed sheets, but a computer.  Fuck.  It sucks being poor.

Here it is, my good ol' college library. 

College Is Hard When You Don't Have Food
I had been given a "meal card" which gave me a precious 10 meals per week in the school's cafeteria.  This meant I got to eat exactly ten meals a week.  And that's exactly how much I ate.  I had a caseworker who was supposed to get the paperwork for my $150 a month groceries, and also drive up and check on me from time to time.  I never saw her.  I never saw any foster parents either.  I had no cellphone or anything like that, just an email address, but received zero emails asking how I was doing, from anyone.  Things were very silent.  I ate my ten meals a week, lost a lot of weight, applied for every job in a twenty mile radius (as did every other college student on campus) and did my thing.

Things weren't going so well.  I think the part that was so painful wasn't just being up there without anyone, watching other kids go home and do laundry on the weekends, or take their cars to their part-time jobs.  The part that hurt was that people left me after being so proud of me, supposedly.  People who were "so impressed" by my story that they couldn't even email to check up on me, or at least answer my emails.  I just wanted to be cared about.  I was in choir and no one came to hear me sing, I was doing well in English and nobody saw my A+ papers.  I pretty quickly became depressed.  I suffered several UTI's and was bedridden, I got so sick with anxiety that I ended up stuck in campus restrooms for hours, puking up one of my precious ten meals a week. 

My Caseworker Was The Biggest Cunt Ever
I don't say this lightly.  It took this woman literally A YEAR to notice that I was failing college, that I hadn't been in contact with anyone and I basically could have died and nobody would have noticed except my friends at school.  I had long given up on that food money.  I had given up on everything actually.  I didn't even register for a second year.  I had also been promised about 1,000 USD from an old Pell Grant but never received that, either.  With at least 50 job applications rejected and no car, I was sure that life was over.

I went back to East Tennessee at the end of the semester and stayed with friends.  I ran across one of my old caseworkers who looked at me skeptically and asked how I was doing, if I had a place to stay.  She reminded me that if I was suddenly homeless it was my caseworker's job to find me housing.  I had gotten a cellphone (paid for by my boyfriend) finally, so I called that bitch of a caseworker and told her that I was essentially homeless and needed a place to stay and had never gotten my food money.

When she showed up to help me, she acted like I was the biggest most horrible burden ever.  She stopped at McDonald's to get me lunch and then afterward, told me I was fat and needed to lose weight.  (I was 5'6'' and about 140 at the time, but who the hell cares that's besides the point) Then she took me to the city's seediest, nastiest motel and called a coworker to get a stay set up for me.  A hotel.  She snapped that was "all there was" and as the coworker went through ten pages of legal paperwork with the hotel staff my caseworker said loudly to me, "See all the trouble you cause?"

dfsdöflasdfölj. If someone said that to me nowdays they'd either have a black eye, no teeth, or both.  Let alone if they said it to someone as helpless as a fucking teenager from foster care trying to put her damn ass through college. But back then I was a meek little tard who let people boss her around because I saw what happened to the bad foster kids: group homes, institutions, and the dreaded holding until age 19.  I had no desire for any of those things.

But after a nightmarish stay in that roach motel and realizing that things were falling apart; in my relationships, in school, in my sanity, with the State, with everything.  It wouldn't be much longer before I walked over 300 miles from east Tennessee back to college for another semester.  It wouldn't be long after that trek that I packed my bags a final time in that miserable disgusting state and stepped on a plane to leave Nashville behind for the superior Salt Lake City.

Had I not made that move, I don't know how my life would have turned out.  But it doesn't matter.  I made the move.  I endured it.  A lot of the decisions I made as a stupid 18 year old were, no surprise, stupid.  But it doesn't matter about that either, because that was literally a different life and a different person.  They were my weakest years and if I am ashamed of who I am at any point in my life, it was then.  I guess I am pretty awesome because despite my great stupidity and lack of perseverance I still got my shit together and did something drastic to make my life better.

I could go on and on about the dangers of youth exiting foster care and the challenges they face, but hopefully this story highlights some from a personal point of view.  I know I probably had it easy compared to a lot of teens in foster care.  I don't claim to have the worst or most profound story.  What I want everyone to know is that youth exiting foster care have it difficult and their small, puny support networks need some serious revamping.  Please, if you can, go volunteer.  Make a difference.  There are tons of programs out there that help youth with adjusting to "adult" life.  We deserve love and support and friendship and people who believe in us just as much as other young people. 


Living In The Past? Rainy Stockholm

It's been rainy in Stockholm and I have been feeling great for a few reasons: I'm finally off the meds and feeling kind of normal, I'm feeling HAPPY and I never take those times for granted, I'm still celebrating my little ebook victory (which just hit 12 copies, thank you guys!!! omg!!) I'm in the talks of another foster care project, and life is just better when it's rainy!!!  Also, hey guys guess what.

16 days until my birthday.


So anyway I've been pondering on this digging back into your past versus living in your past concept since writing that book.  Or rather finishing it, as most of it was written months ago and I just gave up because the subject material was too deep and disturbing for me.  The thing is, foster youth who grow up and become "normal" all have to do the same thing...they have to take their past and put it in a black box and put it on a shelf.  Kind of like all the people in the M. Night Shamamalalhahaya movie The Village.  And that's how we get through the days....being fundamentally weird, but hiding that part and fitting in, becoming normal.

If I decide to take this further, to work or volunteer with foster children, I am going to be digging up that crap on a daily basis.  Just the smidgen it took to write that book or to write my blog series on foster care was so taxing I needed a week long coffee break and detox and a mountain of chocolate.  But isn't that the good thing to do, the right thing to do?  Bust down the wall of the past and be comfortable with it?  I don't know how serious I can make it to people who haven't gone through this....we would literally not be functioning adults if it wasn't for our ability to block stuff like this out.  Even people who didn't go through foster care can relate to this, for sure.  We all have our little black boxes.  Some are just reeeeally dangerous to open.

But maybe it's because I'm in a good mood...I think I can allow this to happen and I think I can deal with it.  I realize that I have a lot of good in my life and a lot of accomplishments to draw on if I feel like my past is too sickeningly depressing.  And my will to help others in my situation and similar situations is strong, so I can cope.  Maybe this step is the next step I should take and maybe I'm ready for it.  I feel like it's that way.

Also, Madi gave me a good strategy: instead of pulling the box down and tearing it open and letting demons run rampant, maybe I "keep the bad stuff filed away in ziplock plastic bags and then when it's needed, pull it out and show it and look at it through the plastic, but then put it back in the box when time is up."  Certainly gives me more control of the situation to think like that.

I don't remember anymore how many foster homes I've been in...
I realize that the faces and times I went through have faded away.
Even the dark times of my childhood, most of the time, are hazy and painful
only every so often, when I'm emotional anyway.

If I need to remember something, I can do so and I think I can do it
in a way that will allow me to forget about it afterward. Or not let the
memory control my emotional state.  I'm ready to move forward and
use my past to help kids who need a brighter outlook on the future.  


About Alex, By Madi.

Happy August, readers!!!
I have some pretty heavy and revealing and important stuff coming this month, stuff I am pretty excited and happy about.  But before that....I asked Madi, my bff, to write something for me for my 2012 Self Love project.

It's no secret by now that we are usually our own worst critic, but I had the idea that I should ask people close to me, who know me, and whose opinions I trust, how they would describe me to an outside source.  People I know wouldn't sugarcoat my traits or flaws and would tell the truth.  Madi tops the list of people who fit the bill, so here is her "about Alex." Also, thanks Madi, for finding THE most beautiful photos of me ever for this piece........

Alex is a beautiful, creative, and strong human being. She is my best friend, and completely worthy of that title. As a narcissist with a large ego, I have incredibly high standards for people, and I don't let just anybody into my life so deeply and extensively as I have Alex. So, obviously, she is of premium character.

The amount of shit and emotional turmoil Alex has been through in life is mind blowing, and almost impossible to comprehend to the outside observer. She has somehow, amazingly, and completely on her own overcome a long and harsh past of abuse.

However, as difficult as Alex's past has been and continues to be in her life, this is not what defines her. One of the biggest reasons I admire Alex so much is that she so effortlessly gives a big “fuck you” to societies norms and preconceived notions. She loves the things she loves, and does the things she does because she wants to, it doesn't matter what anyone in the whole world might think about it. She doesn't second guess her actions or worry about the validity of her emotions. She just is. And that is beautiful and amazing and enviable. 

A question she pulled from Reddit and answered here recently, “What is the biggest misconception people have about you?” (you can see her answer in this blog post), I disagreed with her answer because I felt that anyone who had even a slight understanding of her family life should understand why she feels the way she does about them. I think the biggest misconception might be that she isn't a super friendly and open person, that she might be difficult to get to know, and intimidating. It's a misconception because she simply has a strong personality and sense of self. She also doesn't waste her time with complete doofus's, or people she can't respect. Which, is an amazing quality, and if you are anyone worth knowing, Alex will be able to tell right away.

Even though it doesn't happen nearly as much as I'd like it to, seeing Alex is always amazing. It's as though I am living this life outside of myself, and once I come in contact with her, I regain my sense of self. I feel complete and like I don't have to second guess my actions, or worry about the way I will be perceived. It's always incredibly refreshing, and like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I will leave you with several more photographs. (you have no idea how hard it was to find any picture that was just normal and lovely.)