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I sat down in early December 2017 with Keke to listen to her story and documented our conversation.
This is Keke.
I was born in Decatur, Georgia in December 2000. What I remember most from childhood is staying in a lot of shelters. My mother was in an abusive relationship with my father who was a drug addict. We left my Dad and Georgia for Seattle and moved around a lot from shelter to shelter. We finally landed in Everett. My mom had several mental issues she was unaware of for a long time. The doctors knew she had depression and anxiety, but when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade she started experiencing severe forms of paranoia. There were days on end we couldn’t leave the house because she was afraid people were coming after us. I was still able to attend school and have always excelled in my studies, but I felt torn between that and taking care of my mother AND my brother who has special needs. As I child I always felt like the caretaker. In the 4th grade my mom was sent to the hospital and had been sent many times before but this time was suicidal and a friend called 911. We stayed with our friend that night and the next morning CPS came and this was our first time we entered into foster care. This was a time in my life where I felt so lonely, like I was the only one in my school going through foster care and the only one whose mom was struggling with these problems. It was difficult to make friends and I remember acting up because of my frustration about the struggling relationship with my mom. I wanted what other moms and daughters had.
After a year in foster care I moved back in with my mother. She did everything she needed to do for my brother and I to come back with her. She seemed fine. But then…she started collapsing again. We moved back to Georgia for 6 months. Because I was the cornerstone of our family, it was easy for all blame to be placed on me for whatever it might be. We were homeless the entire time and moved from place to place with toxic people who did not treat us kindly. My mom was spiraling into what we now know was schizophrenia. She came to a point where she even thought I was possessed. She would isolate me by not communicating to me at all. I felt like she hated me. We moved to Buffalo, New York next. Her location choices were completely random and without any thought or plan. The shelters we always stayed at were safe. From Buffalo (1 month) we moved to North Carolina (1.5 months). My brother and I hated it. My mother became verbally abusive. I seemed to be the target of her anger and I felt so frustrated and completely done dealing with all of this. I have a distinct memory of my mother being angry with me and telling me she wishes I was dead, to be hit by a car or kidnapped…just dead. I repeated these same words to my brother in my own anger and I regret saying those words to this day. Now that I reflect on those moments, I know that was NOT my mother and who truly she is.
We moved back to Washington state and stayed with a family that has now adopted me and my brother. Eventually we found an apartment. Things seemed ok and then my mom fell apart again. We left the apartment and my mom put us in a hotel and took us out of school for two weeks. At this point she told us either we stay in Washington or go with her. We had no idea where she was going and we knew this could not continue and that we could not go with her. We wanted to be with her but we couldn’t keep up this way of life. Because of our indecisiveness she made the decision for us to stay in Washington. We called a family we knew to come pick us up. We didn’t know where my mom was for 2 months. After 3-4 months my mom called and she was in the hospital in Minneapolis. She had been all over the states and finally came back to Washington and informed me she had been living on the streets and believed she had been seeing demons and that people were coming after her. She had never drank alcohol or did any drugs. She received a placement and was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia. I realized after all of these years she was undiagnosed. We eventually moved in with the family that has now adopted us and began to heal.
I was sent to the hospital in October for depression. I attempted to take my life. At that point of my life I was so low. It was a build up of everything I had gone through. It’s a tendency for me to allow things to build and hold my feelings inside with a fear of burdening others. I’m already too much for my own self so I’ve tended to hold it all in. Through this I found myself changing into a person I didn’t recognize: irritable, unhappy, not as charitable as I had been in the past, wondering what my point is and what this is all about. This led me to a group of people that were steering me in a direction that I realized I did not want to go. High school has been interesting in that are so many different groups, and I felt like I could potentially see myself in many of those groups. I’ve always wanted a sense of belonging so badly, but with so many cliques I found myself lost and willing to change who I was to fit in and meet their standards. This was NOT good as this became toxic and unhealthy for me. When I was at the hospital, they helped me identify my negative thought patterns and how to turn them around to positive and see things from a different perspective. I’ve taken a lot of time to learn to take care of my body. It’s important to take time care for myself, to exercise, eat healthy, self-reflect and breathe and calm down. I realized I haden’t taken time to be with myself. Being hospitalized was a message for me to work on me and battle my demons as a person. Not just as a person but as a teenage African-american woman who has felt unable to meet societal and beauty standards. I had to get off of Instagram when I felt myself going into this downward mental spiral. I know what I need to to now when I need a mental/ spiritual shift.
I feel like mothers and daughters have such a special connection and I felt like ours was completely lost. Today we are still rebuilding this connection and I love her very much, but she is not the same person. She has been through electro shock therapy and medications and has lost a lot of her memory of so much of what has happened. She apologizes to me regularly for what she did and I accept her apologies. As I’ve grown older I have come to realize she was a good mother and loved and cared for us a lot and when she wasn’t experiencing her schizophrenia. I realize she experienced a lot of stress in her own childhood that could have set all of this off.
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One of my biggest fears has been developing schizophrenia. I’ve learned to accept my fear but not let it control me. I understand mental illness and that it is something you cannot control. My mother did not wish harm upon herself or all of us. This is all part of my story but it does not identify me. I want to know how I can turn this into a positive and realize that this is life and so many people go through hard things. I’ve learned that pain is relative and that what might hurt you won’t hurt me, and that what might hurt me won’t hurt you. We will always have to go through pain in life but it doesn’t have to overtake you.
I’ve had a lot of support and people behind me and the family we are with now (for 4 years) have helped me immensely. They have helped build my confidence and been my solid foundation I could land on. They have helped me understand that trying your best is the best you can do even if you don’t succeed every time. I know that I will get through this and I feel positive about my life. It’s ok with me that I take medication and I’m ok to say that. It’s ok with me to talk about all of this openly. We need to have open talks about this and get beyond the negative connotation associated with mental illness. We need to have change in the help available to those who struggle with mental illness.
I’m excited for my future and am currently in running start. I’m still trying to decide where I want to attend college. I’m ambitious, empathetic and vivacious. Before I graduate from high school I would love to fund a program through the Mockingbird society (who advocate for the rights of foster youth in Washington state) for the Oasis Teen Shelter. I work there and would love to showcase the amazingly talented kids that live there.
My story is still being written, and I will continue to serve others and also care for myself. I know the future holds amazing things.
“Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.” Maya Angelou