As an emotional, sexual, and physical abuse survivor that spent five years in the Louisiana foster care system, I have witnessed that mental health is truly a slippery slope for many foster youth. Even when we think we are over all of the pain that we have endured, sometimes those flashbacks, thoughts, and memories of all that we survived come creeping in. Those traumatic memories can shift a whole day, mood or occasion. While I was in foster care, I definitely wish I would’ve received more culturally competent, direct, and uplifting mental health services that aligned with my values, beliefs, and goals.
At 15 years old, I witnessed my foster parent die in front of me. This was an extremely traumatic experience for me, to say the least. I received therapy here and there, but nothing really targeted the root of what I desperately needed to recover from. I harbored these painful emotions and feelings and took them into my education, my relationships, and my peer interactions. Instead, I am just recently beginning a recovery journey of my own that is focused on my actual wants and needs.
Now, I am a child welfare practitioner and registered social worker in the state of Louisiana, serving in the capacity of Statewide Youth Ambassador with the Department of Family and Child Services (DCFS) state office. Many former foster youth avoid any involvement with mental health services because of the low quality care they received while in the system. Many youth that I have served have completely walked away from mental health services and medicinal regimens. Because of this, they do not receive the treatment they desperately need. As practitioners, we know the struggles that our youth face don’t just magically disappear the day they turn 18 and age out of the child welfare system.
Despite my success, I have struggled for a long time to maintain healthy relationships. The domestic violence and substance abuse I witnessed as a child had a severe impact on my mental health and how I viewed the world. I didn’t understand what healthy love looked like. I have anxiety and severe depression, just like most of the women in my family. This has definitely affected my ability to maintain stable connections, even as an adult. Anxiety has caused me to second guess the most genuine connections. Because all I saw growing up was toxicity and pain, I actually thought that these behaviors were ways that a person expresses love. I associated yelling with passion and associated pain with love. All the negative things I heard growing up in the system led me to develop a sense of self loathing where I accepted much less than I deserved in relationships and friendships. When I do have a genuine connection with someone, I run away or self-sabotage out of fear or mistrust. I also battle with memories of everything I dealt with before, during and after foster care. There have been times when I wage war with my own thoughts. I never know when flashbacks will come rushing in like an unexpected cold front and just remind me of what I’ve survived.
I had to remind myself that I have survived and am no longer in that traumatic environment. I don’t have to accept the same tragedy that my parents and grandparents did. I can recover from every obstacle that has been placed in my path and continue to break the generational curses of abuse, neglect, domestic violence and poverty. As I continue to practice self-care, self-love, and good mental health hygiene, I realize that everything I accept from those around me is a reflection of how much I truly care about myself. I want to have that stable family that I didn’t have as a child. As I continue to heal, I know, one day, I will.