Everyone knows the saying that only two things in life are for certain, those being death and taxes, but I like to think there is a third: change. Change is no longer a stranger in my life but more like that friend from high school when seen in public, you do your best to avoid, but eventually, your eyes lock and an awkward, “What have you been up to” conversation ensues. For some, that conversation might leave a bitter taste of disappointment or a sense of achievement; however, change brings me a sense of reflection and defeat that many other former or current foster youths may also face.
My name is Trystan Gangi. Throughout my life, change has been accompanied by feelings of dread, hopelessness and a different version of “rock bottom.” I entered foster care during the transition into high school, had a shaky (at best) relationship with my foster family during the transition into college. I faced many hardships my graduating semester of college causing a transfer and fifth academic year with two semesters of credit overload to keep my seat at my accepted graduate school. I almost started graduate school homeless if not for the hospitality of a friend’s family. Nonetheless, I stand with my master’s degree in social work from New York University, and began working at The New York Foundling doing in-home functional family therapy.
Then 2020 started out as the year to pay off debt and finally afford to take my social work license test, but it hasn’t gone as planned. My living situation hit the fan after a physical altercation with a roommate. Next, the downsizing of my agency’s preventive services left me with a few months before being laid off. At times like these, the feelings of defeat seep in and I begin to question if the hard work ever pays off. I know that it sounds cliché, but I am always taking one step forward and two steps back. It is as if any big break is attached to an even bigger setback. Despite my learned-helplessness response to trauma and change, I followed through with using the little money I had saved to stay on track with paying for, taking, and passing my social work licensure exam.
At the same time, I began apartment-hunting as my landlord was not understanding of the situation and requested for both of us to leave despite being an ideal tenant up until this altercation. I was able to find a semi-affordable one-bedroom apartment, which is an achievement in itself for the five boroughs, and all my savings went toward the first and last month’s rent and security deposit. I continued to apply for jobs and was hired by Mindful Therapy Solutions for individual therapy right before COVID-19 arrived by storm.
The social work field depends on person-to-person contact. Although not fully laid off, my place of employment fell into a gray area of having a job, but few-to-no hours of paid work, due to being a new therapist. On top of it all, I am trying to learn the responsibilities of my new position, but everything is up in the air and constantly being altered to fit the changing crisis. Many of my co-workers are sharing the hardships of doing therapy through FaceTime while I wish I had that opportunity to work or do something during these times.
I have not had the time or chance to create relationships with clients after working for a week before the pandemic hit. With the few clients I have met that were willing to continue services through a screen, I am navigating techniques to calm their worries while silently battling my own. Supervision in these times is hard and scarce. With each passing day, the opportunity to gain therapeutic knowledge and experience is becoming limited. It seems like an uncontrollable and unfortunate series of events always follows after a personal triumph. The little work that I am able to do from home is challenging, but the idle time is far worse.
With nothing to take up the time, the feelings of dread and loneliness creep back in and remind me of the little support I do have in these situations. This can be heartbreaking as many youths in care do not have the family support checking in on them or asking them what they need or how they are doing. These feelings are hard to combat head-on when one doesn’t have a safety net to fall back on. Not everyone is able to call a friend or family member for food or financial assistance for bills, which causes its own worries on top of health risks in these times.
As we ask ourselves “how long” will this pandemic last, I find myself also asking myself “how long” will my money last me, “how long” will I have this roof over my head and “how long” will there be food in my stomach. It is nice to see that the federal government has signed for a stimulus check to be provided in these hard times for some, but when the amount is less than a month’s cost of rent, not to mention other bills and food, it seems more like a tease than actual help. As I remain hopeful for better days to come, former and current foster youth have had uncertainty grip the reins of their lives for the majority of it and this deja-vu of a feeling is all too familiar.
Trystan Gangi, LMSW, is a 26-year-old former foster youth who aged out of the system at 23. He has earned a Masters in Social Work from New York University and is currently working as an individual therapist. He is a longtime advocate for foster youth and mental health issues. He is the definition of a rambunctious underdog doing his best to not become “just another statistic” while spreading resiliency to those he knows. He has two lovable cats and in his spare time enjoys writing poetry.