I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder while I was still in foster care. Being in foster care was not easy for me. Living with strangers in unfamiliar environments was especially rough for me. For a time, I barely managed my mental health. I didn’t believe that I mattered enough to take my prescribed psychotropic medication and stay in therapy. Doing both has helped me greatly later in life.
When I was in foster care, I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need help and even fired a therapist to prove this point. I also self-medicated with junk food and drugs. I did everything but follow my treatment and safety plan. I believed I was just fine because I believed that my path to wellness didn’t require any actions on my part. I also didn’t think my illnesses were real, even though they were. I also never felt seen, heard, or validated. I figured that I must just be doomed to be “psycho” for the rest of my life and nothing could change that.
I struggled with building relationships in foster care. I falsely thought that there was something wrong with me. I thought that I was broken and that no one would ever care about me because I didn’t deserve care. I have suffered the damage of toxic and downright abusive relationships with both family members and friends. Sometimes the destruction of past close relationships is all I think about when building new relationships— or, even worse, all that I think I deserve. I ask myself: Is having friends worth my time and effort? What if something bad happens to me? What if they end up hating me anyway, no matter what I do differently?
I struggled to make friends as a result of the negative effects of my unmanaged mental illnesses. I functioned in a little world in my head where the rules didn’t make sense. But, at least in my head, no matter how scary it might have been during those bipolar disorder episodes, I was mostly left alone. Listening to the same songs over and over again helped me manage my bipolar disorder and stay somewhat sane. However, I was still institutionalized at least twice a year.
When I turned 18, I remained in therapy to manage my bipolar disorder as well as my complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I was temporarily in a domestic violence shelter where I was fortunate enough to have a good therapist who listened to me and a psychiatrist who helped me keep my symptoms in check by prescribing much-needed medication. I did have bad days often. During the beginning of the pandemic, I quit work twice and dropped out of school because I was overwhelmed by everything that was going on, including adjusting to a new foster care placement. My employer and school did not offer any mental health resources. I chose to quit and drop out because I was experiencing manic episodes that made work and school a lot harder for me. I felt isolated, doubly so because of the pandemic and because I’ve always had a hard time connecting with people.
It took me a while to finally see that I needed a break. I went to stay with a supportive relative to get back on my feet. One positive thing that dealing with my mental health has taught me is to know my limits, to ask for help when I need it, and to understand that I won’t be okay all the time. There are always people ready to help me when I need help. One thing I’d want to impart to someone else with lived experience is that it’s ok to take a break if that’s what’s needed. I also learned that I need time to recover from everything I’ve been through in the foster care system. To anyone who’s been through a similar experience of not getting the help they needed at times until it was too late, I would tell them to be kind to themselves and that they’re definitely not alone. Although it takes time and support, good mental health is a foundation that is needed for every aspect of a healthy and fulfilling life.