Sunday, August 24, 2014

a messy post about mental illness

I'm going to be all over the place with this post. But I've got to get these thoughts out.

I attend one of the bigger churches in my area. Several thousand people worship there over the course of the weekend. There are three services in English on Saturday and Sunday, and one in Spanish on Sunday afternoons. I have never felt like I belong in this church. We started attending last summer and right when I was trying to get connected, Dude and Dolly left. I grabbed my grief and hid in a corner not wanting to let any of the strangers I had met at this church in. I quit my "life group" and, sadly, they let me without a follow up of any kind. When I attend church I don't know anyone around me. I'm very alone there.

I realize this isn't the healthiest place for me to grow my faith. But this church was good for Dude and Dolly. They learned so much more there than they did at our old church. And the teen group has been amazing for Herman. TT and Bart really enjoy the messages they get in kid church. So, we've stuck it out.

I was crabby this morning as I walked in to church. Everyone was smiling and welcoming me to the service. I absolutely hate being told to "enjoy" the service. To me that's NOT what church is about. It's not about my enjoyment. It's about me and God and my relationship with Him.

Then worship started. They sing a lot of praise songs that I've never heard before. Sometimes I get bratty about this too.

This morning though, as I felt myself tensing up, I prayed. I asked God to take this spirit from me. I asked Him to help me open up and be receptive to the worship and the message.

And then the message started.

And boy did it speak to my heart.

Up in front of a very packed congregation, Miss T stood and talked openly about her own, personal, mental illness. She didn't say that it was sinful. She didn't say that she just found faith and prayed it away. She gave a message of raw honesty that I've never heard in a church before.

Bipolar. Depression. Anxiety.

Mental illness.

The take-away for me in the message was this that Miss T had to say. You can plan and prepare and understand all you want about mental illness. But you still have to DO something about it. Just like you can plan and prepare everything you want to wear to work the next day. You can lay your clothes out in your closet. But the next morning you still have to put those clothes on or else you're going to work naked.

You have to DO something.

Be honest with your friends and family. Ask for help. Seek out professional help. Accept that medication can make a difference.

All this was said in church. In a place that typically tells you YOU'RE not strong enough in your faith if you're depressed or anxious about anything.

Now...to tie all this in to foster care.
(This is where it's probably going to get messy.)

They spoke a lot in church this morning that mental illness affects not only the person directly dealing with it, but also the immediate friends and family members.

As foster parents, we invite mental illness in to our homes.

Maybe I'm wrong. But I think it's safe to say if something has happened to bring a child in to Care, the adult responsible for the neglect or abuse of the child is suffering from mental illness.

Maybe that's too strong. Correct me in the comments if you think so.

Sometimes CPS is called to investigate because the child is living in extreme poverty. I personally pray that when that happens, the appropriate departments in CPS can help that family receive services to get the financial assistance that they need. Families do not need to be separated simply because of poverty.

But for a child to suffer the level of abuse necessary for removal, I think it's safe to say the adult abuser is mentally ill. And for a child to be neglected - truly neglected - there has to be a reason why. A real reason.

I'm not talking about the kind of neglect hoity-toity white people think about from their positions of affluence and fear. You know, like when a parent leaves their 11 year old at home for an hour while they run to the store. Or when a family lets their 6 year old play in the front yard without sitting out their watching them every blasted minute. That's not neglect.

But it is neglect when a nine-month old baby boy is left alone with his 1yo and 2yo brothers for over five hours. When the gas man asked the older boys playing in the alley where their mom was, and they took him to their home where the baby was on the floor covered in filth and feces...that is neglect. Those children needed help and the mother needed major intervention.

It is because of mental illness - self-medicating addiction - that the mother walked out on those kids and left them alone.

And when I welcomed that now almost-grown man, that had been neglected so terribly as an infant, in to my home, I welcomed mental illness in to my home.

I'm not saying that HE is mentally ill.

But mental illness does not only affect the person suffering from it.

Ricky's thought processes have been drastically altered by mental illness. It's a family story, a funny one at that, to say that Ricky ate poop as a baby.

The reality is Ricky was severely neglected to the point of being covered in his own feces.

That is not funny at all.

Mental illness warps reality for the person suffering and the people close to them.

Now...back to church. Tie this all together???

I have never suffered from anxiety. I'm not a horrible worrier. But as my time doing foster care is getting longer, as I've become more "seasoned", I can't say that is true anymore.

I cannot describe how bad my anxiety was last week. It was manageable leading up to court. But by Tuesday? Oh. My. Goodness. It was ALL I could do to function. I felt like a shell of a human being just going through the motions. I was a nervous wreck.

It wasn't rational. My thinking brain knew that. But I couldn't just pray it away.

I was worried for Daisy's long-term safety. I was worried about having to possibly testify in the trial. I was angry because Daisy's lawyer has nothing to do with her between hearings. I was angry in general at how The System works. Swirling thoughts just circled round and round in my mind. Worry. Fear. And just a horrific sense of unrest.

It's not normal to parent other people's children.

This whole business of foster care isn't normal. It's necessary. Kids get hurt. They need safe homes to live in. But it's not normal.

I know I need to DO something about it. I'm personally trying some homeopathic remedies to help with my own anxiety. And I know if this case drags on much longer I'm going to need to seek therapy. I need to word vomit and know that it's OK to feel the way I'm feeling. Validation can go a long way when you feel like you're losing it for no reason.

Sometimes I'll talk with Kori about the most normal of things. Yesterday she messaged me about what kind of car seat would be best for Daisy. I was able to explain to her that rear facing is best and why. It was a normal conversation.

However, as it went on, Kori showed her true colors again and again. She got upset when I answered, truthfully (because she asked) that Daisy isn't handling these overnight visits well. I told Kori that Daisy is crying a lot more and is having problems sleeping. Kori informed me that CPS is completely wrong about her and that she deserves to have Daisy back with her.

This woman is the same person that told me on Tuesday that "this accident" should be a "learning experience" for Bio Dad. He's not an animal.

It's really hard dealing with mental illness all the time.

So if you're out there fostering, or you're in The System in some other capacity, it's not easy. I hope you're able to DO something to help yourself. This journey is so incredibly challenging. It is incredibly rewarding to be a part of the stories that end well. Knowing that I helped keep Pumpkin safe and was a part in getting her settled with her aunt and uncle forever feels good.

It really sucked saying goodbye to Dude and Dolly and leaving them in a precarious position.

It's enough to make me go crazy.

I'm trying to DO something. This blog is a form of therapy for me. I've got friends and family that understand me and what's going on. That helps too. But I recognize I might need more.

What do you DO to help manage the instability of Foster Care Land?


2 comments:

Annie said...

I do not think I COULD manage the instability of foster care long term, because I fall in love with kids (as a teacher I fell in love with my students, and cried when the end of the year came...but I really knew they would be fine in another teacher's class....) They did not NEED me; the attachment they had with me as their teacher would just stretch, not be broken, and as mentally healthy children, they could move on because their chief attachment figures were at home. That's not true of foster children, for the most part. That's why it would really break me down to be part of a system that is destructive to children in the long run....that puts them in harms way because the parental "rights" trump almost everything. It kills me.

I expect people will argue that mental illness is not involved in all foster care situations - neglect and abuse, but I agree with you that it is. And, I also believe that mentally ill parents do pass that on to their children.

My daughter didn't eat poop, but she ate from garbage bins. She didn't play as a preschooler; she sat on strange couches and "waited" while her mom "visited" men..... It all makes a difference. It is all harmful. If she had custody of her daughter it would be passed on.... And, in fact, maybe it will be on some level anyway...because mental illness is all a mix of genetics and experience.

I know why your post was "messy". It's a messy topic.

Foster Mom - R said...

I agree totally about mental illness being the root cause of most foster care cases. And the mental illness goes unchecked and spurns generation after generation of issues.

That's why I wish that mental health services were automatic for all involved in foster care and that foster parents be given similar support.