May is National Foster Care Month. Foster care is more than a label & Foster youth are NOT a statistic.
This month and all through
the year, may we foster strength and humanity by celebrating foster care voices.
Voices of Foster Strength: I am sharing my own journey!🎉
This week, I stepped out of my comfort zone ( I am an intravert) and conversed with a Humanist, someone who believes in the necessity of kindness as an expression of community. I re-learned that within community, we can just be ourselves, hopefully without judgement, too much self-criticism or fear.
Fear of what? Rejection. Isolation. And being less than.
And I suppose that’s why I reached out for conversation in the first place. I thought a conversation would be helpful, so I could better navigate my path in life. I was in search of wisdom and insight. Ultimately, I was curious and hopeful that something could be gained from sharing our stories, because something about his story resonated with mine.
And throughout the conversation, I felt this heaviness being lifted slowly as I realized how much fear I had been holding onto because I had become attached to guilt and uncertainty.
And I finally accepted that my guilt and uncertainty wasn’t necessary. Over the course of my life, I had developed coping mechanisms (with good intentions), which simultaneously made me feel like a constant failure for not measuring up.
So what about the hand I was dealt? No matter how much my cards were valued, I made matters worse, due to my actions or inactions, which only served to increase my anxiety.
Where did my anxiety start? All throughout my life, I was hoping for parents to love me unconditionally. My anxiety showed up in school when I couldn’t focus. It revealed itself when I wouldn’t hug or kiss my own family. I lived in fear for my life and anxiety poured out of my pores in my body. I didn’t trust anyone’, not did I feel loved. Which is why my entrance into foster care at age 14 convinced me that it was up to me to break the cycle. I was going to live my life differently and make better decisions than my parents. They gave me up, and my mother’s mother gave her up. I decided that I would never have kids to prevent myself from making their mistakes.
And at age 33, I was staying the weekend with my HS English teacher (who inspires me to write and share my story) and she asked me if I ever wanted to have kids and I quickly said, “No.”
And ironically, my cards at the time were not visible, but I was most likely pregnant at that very moment. I was also in desperate straits and broken. I was living a facade and lost. I was existing in complete darkness. My remaining shell of a person was blockaded by self loathing, insecurity and fear of disappointing the people who loved me; and frequently wanted to hurt myself, but I was determined to push through the pain anyway. Externally I was a survivor and thriving in a career, but internally, I was undoubtedly failing and crashing into a downward spiral of self-destruction.
Even in the midst of my depression and anxiety, I wouldn’t give up. I didn’t want to become another statistic. I fought through my anxiety everyday but still experienced frequent panic attacks. They were regular episodes in my life. I am being very honest about my mental health because the facade I had carefully built had limits. I had coped by binge-eating and causing self-harm. Taking away all these extra paragraphs, it would be easier to just write that I didn’t love myself.
Despite my worst efforts, I kept holding on, no matter how empty I felt. And deep down, I hated myself.
I thought my fall from “grace” was permanent exile. I didn’t think I was worthy and defaulted to one unhealthy relationship after another.
It hurts so much that my son doesn’t have two parents in his life; I haven been heartbroken for a little boy that wants to know which parts of his biracial identity he got from each of his parents. And the devastation and the weight of making the wrong choices during the darkest point in my life, ultimately brought me my greatest gift. I am not perfect, but my #1 goal is to be attuned to my son and help him develop his strengths and overcome any barriers he may face. I know he hurts because he doesn’t have all the answers- I know that feeling and it’s heart-crushing and unfortunately, creates self-doubt.
And I wondered what everyone else wondered…
Would I even be a good mom? I doubted myself and honestly, I needed an intervention, and that card was handed to me on a day that I was volunteering in Seattle, Washington. Prior to leaving for alternative spring break with 12 female students, I didn’t know the many ways my heart would begin to transform and heal.
However, Abortion was always a choice and I scheduled my appointment and was confident in my choice to end my pregnancy. I am pro-choice and you cannot tell me what I can do with my body.
And back to Spring break, I volunteered with an organization that supported mothers recovering from addiction. A mother walked into the playroom and handed me her child with a full bottle. I never held babies and was never a baby person. Naturally, I was resistant but I looked around the room and all of the other volunteers had tasks. I took her child in my arms and fed her. That moment changed my heart and when I returned from the service trip, I never went to my abortion appointment.
And my pregnancy at 33 became a gift that revealed to me that my purpose could begin with hope. I put my child first and took care of us differently. I started to practice self-care and re-prioritized my goals.And the miraculous wonder of having my son, is that I learned (and still learning) to love and respect myself in ways that I never loved myself before I became a mother.
And my son’s love for me, is a huge bonus. His life affirms my existence. All those times I wanted my mom to wrap her arms around me and whisper she loved me, I make sure that my son knows he is loved. We have a nexus that is celebrated everyday and I make sure to squeeze him and whisper, “I love you.”
The idea that I was dealt some cards that made me feel abandoned, unloved, and disregarded always weighed heavy on my spirit. My parents were asked if they wanted me back, and they passed. My mother actually said, don’t make me choose between my husband and you, because I will always choose my husband. I thought that was her way of telling me that she wished I had never been born.
I never wanted my son to feel the pain of not having both his parents present in his life.
And yet, this past week in a coffee-shop, during a powerful conversation, I recognized I am here for him and how good I am.
And not how bad I am.
I am a product of a heartbreak and hurt, not the best hand, but I am not defined by what cards I have been dealt, but I am held accountable for what I do with them next. I choose healing everyday. I choose love. I choose to forgive. I choose to be the change (Thanks Gandhi).
After all, I had 48% chance of graduating H.S. and despite failing “Transition to College Math,” I graduated as an honor’s student.
I was once held back in third grade, but I went on to earn my B.A and M.A degrees. Not too bad for a foster kid, right?
I am still here. Never perfect, but I am becoming a better version of myself everyday. I am coping and building hope through resilience. Not too bad for an adult with mental illness, right?
I am NOT a statistic. I am a leader, mother, warrior, artist, writer, advocate and so much more.
I recognize that I was “dealt a hand” I didn’t want, but it made me the woman I am today….
And when I met with my new friend, this metaphor hit me harder than I thought possible, which caused tears to cascade down my face. My hurt showed & vulnerability exposed my deepest fears. But it’s okay because I am human and challenging myself to grow. I hope I can help others figure this mess out too.
I know my son doesn’t have the best hand either, but he is going to be okay too. I am giving him my best and he will get better at life as he matures and grows too.
This is the life I want….the life where I don’t live in fear, but rather, accept the hand I have been dealt and figure out another way to bounce back from adversity. This is the hand I am fighting everyday to win for the both of us.
- In your own life, what will you fight for today?
- How will you choose to be resilient and bounce back?
- Will you take a deep breath and forgive (yourself and others)?
- Will you choose to believe your purpose is greater than your imperfections?
You got this. Your life matters. You will recover from trauma, foster care and/or mental illness.
None of these things make you less than someone else. Purposefully leverage the lessons you are cultivating and step into your future!
Kimberly C. Rhyan is a former foster youth and speaker/trainer/consultant who inspires/empowers foster parents, caseworkers, supporters, educators, and foster care youth/alumni to step into their future better prepared to facilitate/achieve foster youth’s successes. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org in regard to booking your next event and/or consulting services.