Foster Teen: 'I Needed Emotional Support, Not Medication'
This is a youth-written article from our friends at Represent Magazine, a platform for and by young people in foster care.
It all started when I said something stupid in school. A girl was ignoring me, and I got mad and said, “F-ck this sh-t. I’m gonna do some Virginia Tech sh-t.” I only said it so the girl would pay attention to me. But I shocked all my classmates and teachers, and the school said I’d made a “terrorist threat.”
I was in the 9th grade, and I had recently moved out of an abusive situation with my mom and into a foster home I knew nothing about. I needed someone to listen so I could get my feelings out. But there was no one I could really trust.
My caseworker came to my foster mom’s house and told me that he would take me to KFC and then to a “nice place to get help.” I thought, “OK, that sounds cool. I get my favorite food and I go to a center to feel better.”
The next stop we made was a psychiatric hospital for kids. We went through door after door, and it dawned on me that every door had a lock. Once the door shut you couldn’t open it. The doors locked you in. They intended to keep me here. That realization gave me a panic attack. I started running and the security tackled me. I was forcibly dragged in.
What Was I Signing?
When I got inside, the kids peeked out of their rooms to see who was coming. I was so scared I thought I would pee on myself. I had never been to a place like this. When I entered a dayroom, a place where the kids hang out, they slowly introduced themselves. I shook my head in fright. I wasn’t like these kids. Some were twitching and others drooled. I kept to myself and didn’t speak a word to anyone.
I felt forced into signing a bunch of papers. I didn’t realize I was signing consent to take medication.
The first things they prescribed were Depakote and Risperdal. I didn’t get a say in what I wanted, and that made me feel powerless.
At the hospital, staff joked about it in a perverse way. “Hey kids, come and get your happy pills!” “Come right up for your Skittles, it makes the world a better place!” I was disgusted that the staff were making light of my situation. I wondered how they’d feel if they were forced to take pills in a lockdown facility.
The meds made me feel bad. Sometimes I over-ate, ate too little, or had trouble sleeping. I hated the fake smile the nurses gave me after I took my medication.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially my therapist, because I believed that my depressing stories about my mom’s abuse might make the doctors prescribe more medication.
I was afraid if I kept taking medication I would be just like every kid in the hospital. I wanted to be the kid who stood out, the kid who didn’t take medication. There were kids already looking up to me but I wanted them to think, “Wow, Anthony doesn’t take medication. I want to follow his lead.”
I tried hiding the pills in my hand. I learned how to put pills deep in my throat and spit them out later. It worked for a while but then one pill got stuck there. The staff helped get it out. After that they checked me carefully.
Another way I avoided pills was simply putting them under my tongue. I would hide them in a soap bar box until my roommate saw it and told the nurse. Then I was forced to take liquid medication, which was disgusting.
The Depakote was supposed to make me feel “calmer” and “happy.” Instead I gained over 30 pounds, and that brought my self-esteem down. I felt fat and I wasn’t comfortable with myself. Some of the kids and even staff called me names like fat ass or b-tch tits. I went off on one staff once because he said, “I know the perfect birthday present for you—a training bra!”
I really wanted to do well, and I tried to behave and present myself in a mature manner. But it didn’t seem to make a difference. And the uncontrollable and unpredictable behavior around me started to affect me.
The one and only time I truly flipped out, though, was when the whole unit tried to jump me. “Yo, let’s f-ck up this p-ssy n-gga Anthony,” said one kid. Suddenly everyone turned to me grinning sinisterly, like they’d just found their new target.
“Nah, come on guys, let’s play some board games or something,” I suggested.
“You ain’t gonna get out this, b-tch,” said a fat kid with squinty eyes. “You think you Mr. Goody Two Shoes. We gonna straighten you out.”
I ended up getting chased down by 12 guys. One person caught me and then they stomped me out. I thought I would beg for them to leave me alone, but suddenly I felt myself becoming so enraged that I no longer felt the pain. I got up and screamed, “LEAVE ME ALONE!!!”
I was surprised at my sudden outburst, but most of the guys just laughed. Then everything turned red and my surroundings became a blur. I didn’t gain full consciousness until I was near the dayroom area. I noticed some of the guys holding their lip or arm. “Did I do this?” was the only thought that came to mind.
I was shocked that I’d stood up to them, much less beaten them up. A weird feeling came over me then. I wondered for the first time in the hospital if I was losing my sanity and just becoming one of maybe thousands of nut jobs who end up staying in hospitals.