The Beginning of…Something
I am the bipolar child of a teen mom, from a family, time and town where teen pregnancies were unprecedented, and no one knew kids could have bipolar disorder.
My 16 or 17 year old bio-dad ditched out when I was a baby and I have no real memories of him as a child. My 15 year old mom and I lived in a 3 bedroom house surrounded by farms, with her parents and her 12-ish year old sister, my Aunt Sandra. Next door, my maternal great grama lived in an apartment above my grama’s furniture store, and my grampa had a carpet store in town. Every morning before she opened her store and sent my mom & grampa off to work and my Aunt Sandra off to school, my grama made everyone bacon and eggs for breakfast.
My mom was an okay mom for being a teenager with little parenting resources in 1979. She took me to the Metro Toronto Zoo and Canada’s Wonderland and Ontario Place and the library and made having experiences a priority in my life. Unfortunately, when I was about 4, someone else I was close with thought it would be a good idea for them to have some sexual experiences with me over a period of time, which I now know, through a lifetime of therapists and over a decade of psychiatric medications, was probably the impetus of my very real bipolar disorder.
My mom married my step-dad, who I call dad, when I was 5, he noticed the abuse soon after he joined our family, and for all intents and purposes quietly put an end to it by explaining to me that I was never allowed to be alone with that person again and giving me the “stranger danger” talk, complete with a picture book on the subject. Admittedly, I did not make the connection between what this trusted person in my life had me do to them, and what strangers were doing to other little girls in the book. Confused, I buried it and wouldn’t remember any of it until I had a child of my own.
My brother was born when I was 6 and my parents were already on the verge of divorce. They stuck it out for about 5 years, and then my mom fell in love with someone else, my parents split, my dad took custody of my brother, and my life got flipped, turned upside down. Mom’s boyfriend moved in and puberty hit me like a tonne of bricks all at once. With it, came the first serious manifestations of bipolar disorder.
“Acting out” wasn’t even the word for what I was doing. I would get manic and finish 2 months worth of school work the week my teacher handed out the syllabus. I was hypergraphic, which meant that I couldn’t stop writing. I realize some people would kill for that, but to me it was a curse because instead of sleeping, I would be writing; instead of going to school, I would be pretending I was sick and writing all day because what was the point of going to school if I already did all my school work? I missed so many days of school in grade 8 that they almost failed me and weren’t going to let me go to high school with my friends.
When my mom’s boyfriend moved in, I lost my fucking mind. I haaaaaaaaaaaated him. He was not my dad. He was the reason my parents split up. The fact that my mom was having sex with him, just down the hall, made my skin crawl. When they kissed in front of me I wanted to throw shit at their stupid fucking faces. I screamed a lot. I swore a lot. I cried a lot. I cut myself a lot. I did throw a lot of shit around. I tore every scrap of wallpaper off my bedroom walls the same day my mom finished decorating it because there was to be an open house the next day as my mom was putting the house on the market and I didn’t want to move. I took a hack saw to a set of encyclopedias. I lit shit on fire. I hit. I bit. I destroyed. I raged. I wanted to die.
At least twice, when I was 12 and 13, my mom took me to the emergency room while I was throwing what I now know were grandiose bipolar fits in response to my current family circumstances. They didn’t know what to do with me at the hospital so they just sent us home after I’d exhausted myself and everyone involved.
What I haven’t mentioned yet, and there’s no delicate way to put this, is that my mom was hitting me. Before she tried hitting me though, she tried hugging me, which was fucking infuriating. She’d be hugging me and holding me down with her whole body while I seethed and screamed how much I hated her and she just screamed back in the most aggravating sing-song voice, “BUT I LOVE YOU!” and I’ve never wanted someone to drop dead so hard in my whole entire life. It’s not right to hit people, especially kids, but when you’re a “no bullshit” kinda person and it seems like your kid is having extreme temper tantrums on the regular, and it’s cramping your 20-something “life” that you never even really got to have, and you get a book thrown at you, yeah, you might end up smacking that little shit. A few times maybe. Maybe with a closed fist. Maybe they make you so mad you try to strangle them. It is precisely the WRONGEST thing you can do to someone who is mentally ill and raging, because guaranteed they’re gonna hit you back, and at that point you’re both out of control and it is almost becomes your duty as the alpha human in the room, to hit harder and maintain control and dominance. My mom and I abused each other because she didn’t know what else to do or how to deal with her frustrations and no one knew how to help us. I saw a few therapists between the ages of 12–14 and when all of them said my mother or her mother was the problem (which was true, but not the only truth), whichever one of them was paying for the sessions would “fire” that doctor. Some of them were beyond whack, like the highly regarded Dr. Tsu, who made me pee in a cup and then, because I had white blood cells in my urine, she accused me of being on drugs and told my mom I was lying when I told her I wasn’t. I was 12. We lived in the middle of nowhere. I got $2/week for allowance and hadn’t even started stealing change from my mom’s boyfriend’s change jug yet. Neither of my parents even drank really, let alone did or had drugs in the house that I ever knew of. I’d never taken anything stronger than a baby Aspirin, it was an asinine suggestion — but the smart doctor suggested it, so my mom had her doubts, which added a layer of suspicion and disregarded privacy that just aggravated the situation further.
I was 12 when the Children’s Aid Society (Canada’s version of Child Protection Services) got involved at the request of my school, and they “strongly suggested” I go live with my grama because things had gotten that violent between me and my mom. My grama and grampa had divorced a little while prior to that, and my Aunt Sandra had gotten married and moved out, so it was just me and my grama with no cable TV.
When I moved in with my grama, my mom changed her phone number and I wasn’t allowed to have it. I wanted to live with my dad, but because he wasn’t my real dad and he never legally adopted me, he couldn’t fight my mom for custody and my mom wasn’t gonna let him raise both of her children. Being honest, he may not have really wanted me and my mom cared about me too much to tell me that. He liked hearing about my antics because he got off on my mom’s grief, so it was also probably for the best that I only saw him and my brother some weekends at that time anyway.
For almost all of grade 7, I drove my grandmother crazy by just being my “elder millennial” self to her “boomer” sensibilities. I didn’t have my mom and her asshole boyfriend, who nicknamed me “Lard”, flaunting their love all over the place and being selfish, insensitive dicks, so I was a lot more chill at grandma’s but the second it seemed like my mom and I might get along, she sent me back. I finished out the school year in my grama’s town, while living with my mom in another town, and my mom drove me to school every morning and after school, I would take a cab to my grama’s furniture store, where my mom’s fuckwad boyfriend would pick me up on his way home from work.
I lived under my mom’s roof for all of grade 8, but the emotional and physical abuse (of each other, if I’m being honest, but let’s acknowledge that one of us was a child) continued, and I had behavioural problems at school with 28 in-school suspensions for things like threatening to burn a teacher’s house down, failing math, and doing dumb shit like using canola oil instead of valve oil on my school-assigned trumpet.
There were social workers upon social workers brought into the school to work with me, to make sure I passed math and made it to high school. Everyone’s consensus at the time was that I was just a sensitive, dramatic kid taking her parents’ separation extra hard and my family was handling things poorly.
I started grade 9 at Port Perry High with my friends, and made some new ones, including my first boyfriend. Our relationship was cut short when things reached a head at home in November and my mom and I got in a fight in front of my best friend, Heather, who witnessed my mom try to strangle me. When I went to school the next day with bruises on my neck, questions were asked, Heather and I were honest, and in swooped the Children’s Aid once again, this time saying it was back to grama’s, or foster care. I had one day to say goodbye to my friends and clean out my locker and back to grama’s I went, where I was enrolled in Stouffville High and excelled in art and English.
My grama couldn’t control me and I refused to be ideal, which drove her bonkers, so she was constantly trying to punish the bipolar out of me by withholding food and affection. She’d stockpile the freezer with teen-friendly foods like TV dinners, frozen pizzas, Pizza Pops, and ice cream, but then lock the freezer so I had no agency over whether or not I could eat those things. Those foods were bought for me, but she took more pleasure in having them available to deny me, than to actually let me have them.
My grama and I had plenty of issues with each other and living with her was like walking on eggshells because you never knew if you were going to get nice grama or mean grama, who was bitter about things beyond my situation. I grew more and more depressed and aggressive, until finally we had a big fight one night in March, to the point where she told me I couldn’t live there anymore and left the house to get away from me while we both cooled off. I did not cool off. I did the opposite of cooling off. I was in fight or flight mode because if I couldn’t live with grama, where the fuck did that leave me? I didn’t want to go to foster care, my family didn’t want me or couldn’t handle me, I thought my options were to run away and be homeless, or kill myself. I decided on the latter and swallowed every pill I could find in the medicine cabinet, and chased it down with a bottle of wine. Then I laid in bed crying, trying to die.
When my grama got back home, she came upstairs with the wine bottle in her hand and a tone in her voice that said she was humoured that I’d get pissed off and drink a whole bottle of wine. She thought it had made me sick and I was now in bed, passed out drunk. She said something from the doorway about natural consequences and left me to go to the bathroom, where all the empty pill bottles and packages were in the sink and on the counter.
“WHAT DID YOU DO? WHAT. DID. YOU. DO?” she shrieked, and as I was in and out of consciousness, she managed to call the neighbour and the two of them carried me to his truck, where they both rushed me to the doctor’s office in town. There was no 911 in our area yet and they thought this was the quickest way to get help. I remember being walked down the hall of my doctor’s office by my grama and the neighbour, and my doctor telling them to get me to a hospital as fast as possible. I don’t remember the ride to the hospital or much of what happened once I got there. I don’t think they pumped my stomach that time, but they did make me drink 2 bottles of this thick, overly sweetened charcoal “milkshake” and told me if I didn’t, they’d force a feeding tube down my throat to get it in me. I complied, then I fell asleep.
When I woke up in the hospital, I was in a room all by myself and felt like shit due to a stomach full of charcoal. I didn’t have an IV and I was wearing the same clothes I went there with, instead of a hospital gown. A nurse came in and told me a social worker would be coming by to talk to me, but after she did, I would be discharged, and there was a phone on the counter to call someone for a ride.
I was 15. I tried to kill myself the night before. None of my legal guardians were at the hospital and the hospital was just going to release me. The social worker never materialized and I called my grama to come get me, who told me to find my own ride to her house, to pick up my belongings, in order to go live somewhere else. She didn’t care where, just not with her. I don’t recall trying to make contact with my mother because I already knew she wasn’t an option.
I ended up calling my best friend Shawna, who lived in Uxbridge with her still-together parents and two younger brothers and who went to a different high school than I did after grade 8, so we were mostly just long distance phone pals. (Even though she was long distance and long distance calling cost money, there was like, this unofficial cheater system in place where you could call a Goodwood phone number, the next town over which wasn’t long distance, then somehow connect to that phone number while also connecting to Shawna’s phone number in Uxbridge and through some kind of phone magic, we could call Uxbridge for free.) Shawna’s mom was horrified that the hospital was just gonna let me walk out without a place to go and equally horrified that my family refused to deal with me, so she said I could come live with them. Shawna and her dad picked me up from the hospital and took me to my grama’s house. Shawna’s dad went to my grama’s store and explained that I would now be living with them, while Shawna and I were at the house next door, packing up all my clothes and important belongings and putting them in Shawna’s minivan. My grama never said goodbye to me or said one word to me while we were there, we just packed my shit and left. I remember that on the way home we had to stop off at a Ford dealership due to something to do with Shawna’s parents’ minivan and I saw a promotional booklet to the newly re-released, 1994 Mustang and asked the salesguy if I could have it. He said I could and I looked at that booklet so much over the next little while that I knew every detail about the car and knew I wanted one when I grew up. After the dealership, we went through the drive-thru of McDonald’s and brought home dinner for everyone. Shawna’s parents gave Shawna and I space, so we ate our dinner sitting on her waterbed, watching TV, and they never asked any questions about my suicide attempt. The next day I was enrolled in Uxbridge High with Shawna and I began attending classes a few days later.
I know I keep saying this, but I was 15 years old, with large, fully developed breasts, and no one had ever taken the time to buy me a bra. The only bra I had was a Calvin Klein sports bra that I shoplifted from Sears, which had no support. Shawna’s mom was very angry that I didn’t have a bra and the very day she found out I didn’t have one, she took Shawna and I bra shopping at The Bay in Pickering Mall. The lady in the store measured me as a 34C and I picked out 2 lace bras, in purple and red. I’d only ever seen my mom wear white or beige bras before and had always just assumed that’s what colour all bras were.I was delighted to find out I was wrong.
During my first month living with Shawna’s parents, I was on my best behaviour and they treated me well. Shawna and I were professional shoplifters, but they didn’t know that, and just thought I was a kid so grateful to be there that I offered to feed the dogs, vacuum, and do the dishes while their own kids never lifted a finger. Every Saturday, Shawna’s dad would drive all of us kids to the Pickering Mall and give us each $60 just to go shopping for a few hours and buy anything with the money that we wanted. Even me! Shawna’s brothers bought hockey cards every week and Shawna and I would get food at the food court, pocket the rest of the money, and then go on a shoplifting spree across the mall. When we got home and were taking the tags off of all our newly stolen goods, we would tally up how much everything was worth, including tax, and every time, we tried to steal more risky and expensive or more prized things to beat our tallies from the previous weekends.
Also during my first month at Uxbridge High, I attracted the attention of the most popular bad boy in our class, who dumped his girlfriend, Barb, to pursue me. His name was Shane and he looked like a cross between Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Ryan Phillipe, with curly blonde hair and a tall, thin frame. Shawna was dating a guy named Jay who was a couple of years older, and who was a habitual cheater, who had slept with or tried to sleep with half the women of Uxbridge under the age of 40. Jay didn’t like Shane, but he really liked me so he put up with him. Jay had a sister in my class named Nicole, who was dating a guy named Pete, and all of us hung out together at the pool hall or we skipped school at Jay and Nicole’s house because their mom was never home and their house was close to the school.
Around the end of March, Shawna had had enough of me getting her share of parental attention and she resented the fact that Jay clearly had a thing for me. She was very competitive with me and she tried to make it a race as to who could do what, sexually, with their boyfriend to one up the other, without getting into dangerous slut territory. When she found out that I’d actually lost my virginity the summer before, due to rape, she called me a liar because I would have told her about that immediately and she got really mad at me. Our friendship started to deteriorate and we didn’t hang out together as often. We weren’t meant to be sisters.
One day in April, shortly after Kurt Cobain killed himself, Shane and I were at Nicole’s house with Nicole, Jay, and Shawna. Jay and Shawna were in Jay’s room presumably fooling around and Nicole, Shane and I were downstairs watching TV in the living room. Nicole was on the phone with Pete and was ignoring us, so Shane and I went upstairs to Jay’s mom’s room and we laid in her bed, fully clothed, just talking. We decided to play a joke on Jay and Shawna to make them think we’d had sex, so we stripped down to our underwear and waited under the covers for Jay and Shawna to eventually bust in. Instead, Jay’s MOM came home and busted us and refused to believe that we did NOT just have sex in her bed instead of being at school. She kicked us all out of the house and drove to Shawna’s mom at work and told her what happened. When we got to Shawna’s mom’s work on foot, Shawna’s mom was livid. She called me a slut and a whore and said she couldn’t believe I’d disrespect someone so much. She said I was a bad influence on her daughter and that she’d heard rumours I was smoking weed. I had never smoked weed in my life at that point, and I suspected these “rumours” were actually sort of a set up by Shawna to tarnish my reputation in her family as a good, but misunderstood kid. I defended myself to no avail. Shawna’s mom angrily told me to go home and await further instructions, so Shane and I started walking home.
The whole way home, my mind was spiralling out of control and catastrophizing. I was sure I was going to be kicked out and Shawna’s parents were my last chance. I knew my next option was foster care and I was so scared by that prospect that I decided I’d rather die. No one wanted me or thought I was good, so why should I stick around? Shane watched as I swallowed every pill I could find, and he was crying, pleading with me to not do this but not making any move to stop me. When I’d taken every pill, I downed 3 mini bottles of Jack Daniels that were in the fridge and went and laid in my bed, listening to Pablo Honey by Radiohead with the covers over my head. I remember being able to peek out of the blankets enough that I could see my Meat Puppets poster and my brass hamster cage.
I remember commotion and fragments after that. “Creep” was the theme song of my suicide and I remember hearing it while the paramedics put me on a stretcher. As they were wheeling me through the house and out the front door, I could see and hear Shane on the phone in the living room, begging Barb to take him back.
At the hospital, they pumped my stomach, which is a very violent experience. They shove a big tube down your throat, into your stomach, and then they pour cold water down the tube until you start barfing everything up. Once they were satisfied that everything was out of my stomach, they had me drink an unsweetened charcoal milkshake, and I still can’t decide which was worse, sweetened or unsweetened. Both are definitely unpleasant.
After I was medically okay, Shawna and my mom came into the room I was in and my mom told me she loved me and that we would get through this. Shawna wasn’t mad at me anymore and promised me she’d make Shane’s life a living hell. Someone informed me that I had been brought in on a “form”, which meant a mandatory 72 hour hospitalization and quickly my mom and Shawna disappeared while the nurses started an IV and moved me to a private room on the 2nd floor.
I was scared, angry, and alone, telling anyone who would listen that they were stupid for saving me because I was just gonna keep trying to kill myself until I eventually succeeded. I had a mean nurse who called me a brat and said she wished she didn’t have to waste her time on people like me, because she was busy enough helping people who actually wanted to live. That same nurse, when applying those sticky heart monitor things to my chest, commented on how “perky” my breasts were and what a waste they were on me because I was blessed and didn’t even know it. I smacked her hand away from my chest because my warped, teenage lizard brain was afraid she was going to fondle me, and she screamed blue murder, deemed me “violent”, and had a large, male nurse put me in leather wrist restraints. When I was alone in the room, I decided to rebel and be Houdini and try to get out of the restraints, which I did, but in the process, I also ripped the tubing out of the IV in my hand, and blood started pouring out of me. I got freaked out and yelled, “HELLO I AM BLEEDING” and no one came, so I yelled again, “OKAY I GUESS I’LL JUST SIT HERE AND BLEED TO DEATH, NOT A BAD WAY TO GO,” and after a few minutes, Bitchy Nurse came into the room and audibly yelped at all the blood, fixed my IV, and the restraints were put back on me, much tighter this time.
What I did not know this whole time, was that the hospital staff were on the phone to Whitby Psychiatric Hospital and arranging for my transfer.
In the middle of the night, I was uncuffed from my hospital bed and my IV removed. Then I was told to stand up and I was cuffed in leather wrist restraints that were tied to each other, as opposed to the bed, given slippers, and was walked by 2 security officers and a doctor or nurse, out to a black, unmarked van in the parking lot. No one told me where I was going. My mom was there and she was crying while talking to the doctor, and the two security guards helped me into the back of the van, where there were no seats, but metal benches on either side. I sat down and someone locked my cuffs to an anchor on the side of the van and then 2 different men got in the front seats and they said to someone on the CB that we were on our way. I started crying and asking where I was going and these guys weren’t telling me. They just told me not to worry and that my mom was following in her truck behind us and I would see her when we arrived at our destination. I could see headlights through the back window and just stared at them, comforted that they were my mom’s.
When the van stopped, the driver and the other guy helped me out of the back and rushed me into the side door of an old, yellow-bricked building. We went up 3 flights of stairs and I was brought into a hallway that had doors with windows all the way down it. At the end was a TV room and an office, and they sat me in the TV room while my mom and the nurses were arranging my stay in the office. There was a male nurse sitting with me the whole time and I was still in restraints. I asked him where I was and he said, “Whitby Psych, cottage 5”.
When my mom was finished in the office, she hugged me and said she’d be back the next day with clothes and toiletries and then she left. I sobbed.
A nurse lead me to a room across the hall from the office and she undid my restraints. She gave me a grey, baggy t-shirt, and a pair of hospital-issued pants and told me to put them on. I was still wearing a hospital gown covered in blood, so I put on the new clothes. The nurse told me it was time to sleep and gestured to the thin mattress pad on the floor with an equally thin, white, waffle-knit blanket and pillow piled on the end of it. The rest of the room was utterly bare of furniture or decorations or anything I could potentially hurt myself with. The nurse watched me get into bed before she flipped the light switch on the outside of the room and closed and locked the door. I was exhausted by that point, it was around 2:30am, and I just wanted to sleep, so I did.
I don’t know what time I woke up, but when I opened my eyes, my room’s door was wide open and there were the sounds of many humans engaging in morning chatter in the hallway. I sat up and listened, afraid to get off my mattress in case the open door was a test that I would fail and eventually the commotion in the hallway faded away. Soon after, a nurse came and took me to the bathroom where she stayed in the room and watched me pee in a cup. I didn’t have a tooth or hair brush so I didn’t brush either one, and after peeing I was lead down 3 flights of stairs again, through a rec room area with a pool table and couches, and into a kitchen. The kitchen was divided into two parts, a prep/cooking area and an eating area. There were kids around my age of all genders, sitting at the tables, pretending to eat their breakfast while staring at me out of the corners of their eyes. The nurse lead me into the kitchen’s prep area, where she poured me Rice Krispies and placed the bowl, along with a small carton of skim milk, on my tray, and she handed me 2 pieces of bread, pointed at the toaster and instructed me to make toast, which I did. She placed 2 individually packaged servings of Kraft peanut butter and cutlery on my tray as I waited for the toast, and she served scrambled eggs onto a small plate from a metal warming dish, placing it and two plastic, pre-sealed cups of both apple and orange juice onto the tray as well. When the toast was finished, I carried my tray with the nurse’s hand on my back, guiding me to a table full of other kids. She introduced us all and then left to get her own breakfast.
Every day, I had group therapy with the other kids, where we got to have “canteen”. Our parents would put some money into our hospital accounts and every day we were allowed to buy one snack and one drink from canteen for 50 cents each, which was usually a bag of chips or a pack of gum and a Mountain Dew. I don’t remember what we talked about in group or if I even talked at all, it was just part of the routine. I saw a psychiatrist a few times in the 3 weeks I was there, as well as an art therapist named Art, several psychologists, we did homeschooling and we had gym class, which I never participated in. I jumped through a million different hoops and did a million different tricks so they could see how smart I was. I wasn’t allowed to shave my legs or armpits or wear makeup, but I was allowed to wear my own clothes, except they took the laces out of our shoes, so most of us just went around in slippers. I learned how to play pool, poorly, and it always struck me as strange that they’d let us have pool cues, which we could of course, beat each other with, and some kids did. I played a LOT of Skip-Bo with the nurses, a card game made by the same company as Uno, only Skip-Bo is less known. I wrote a lot of letters to a lot of people because postage was free and I was still hypergraphic. My mom and grama visited on weekends and brought me cookies, tampons and Burt’s Bees lip balm. To this day, the smell of Burt’s Bees lip balm is super triggering for me and makes me feel sick.
By the time I’d been there 3 weeks, my official diagnosis was “bratty depressive”, which I’ve since been told I should be mad about because I wasn’t bratty, I was mentally ill, and calling me “bratty” is pretty dismissive. I got tired of being there and having no freedom and hating the homeschooling, so I wrote to the hospital’s “patient ombudsman” and petitioned for my own release. I don’t know how I pulled it off, but it worked, and when I was released in May, I went to live with my mom again.
The new rules were that if I was gonna live with my mom, I would go to Uxbridge High every day and do independent study instead of going to classes, and after school, I would work in my mom’s wallpaper store and she’d pay me enough for me to have my own phone line in my room. I was more in control of myself at this point, but still very much depressed and suicidal and now alienated from my friends, who referred to me as “psycho”. There was no aftercare or follow up when I was released from the hospital, we were on our own again, and by the end of the school year I only ended up with 5 grade 9 credits instead of 10 because I bounced around between 3 different schools that year. My mom and I were not getting along, quelle surprise, but we mostly stayed non-violent by staying out of each other’s way.
I went to stay with my dad and brother in Stouffville in July and just decided to not go back to my mom’s again. I was old enough now that if I ran away, the cops wouldn’t look for me because when you’re 16, you can legally live on your own, so you’re not really a runaway, and I was almost 16. My mom could have called the cops but she didn’t because she knew they wouldn’t do anything, so after telling me I was ruining my life, she just let me live at my dad’s.
My dad literally let me do anything I wanted to as long as I looked after my brother all summer and after school when my dad was at work. When I wasn’t looking after my brother, I was hanging out at my dad’s sister’s, my Aunt Heather’s, apartment with her and my cousin Chris, who was only a year younger than me. His sister, Michelle, was 5 or 6 years older than me, and had already moved out of the house with her longtime boyfriend, Adolphus. Down the street from my Aunt Heather was a boy I was keenly interested in and who was interested in me back, and next door to his building, was my grampa’s carpet store. My mom was a 35 minute drive away, in a whole other town, having her own idyllic life, and we rarely crossed paths. I stopped talking to my grama, who tried to encourage me to send her letters by sending me self-addressed, stamped envelopes, which I steamed the stamps off of and used for other things.
By November 1994, grade 10, I had pretty much stopped going to school due to complications from then-undiagnosed endometriosis, and my dad and I were constantly on each other’s tits, mostly because I wasn’t doing anything with mt life, and I was also female and reminded him of my mother, whom he despised with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. We got in a HUUUUUGE fight one night and he threw me out of the house, so I went to live with my Aunt Heather and tried to apply for “student welfare”, which is like, welfare jr. where the government gives you $500/month to live on as long as you stay in school and maintain a 70% average or above. The catch, was that you technically had to be 16 to get it and I was 4 months away from that and needed money to eat now. My Aunt Heather herself was on welfare and barely eking out a mediocre existence, so feeding another kid really was a burden she couldn’t absorb and I needed that money.
Despite not qualifying for student welfare due to my age, I was put in the welfare system and given a social worker. She told me that if my dad wrote her a letter saying that I was unwelcome to live in his home, and my Aunt Heather gave me a rental agreement, the social worker to go to court on my behalf and start the emancipation process so I would get student welfare early. I wasn’t attending school regularly, but I went often enough to get all my work and do it at home, and maintain a 90% average, so I was golden for the school requirement. It is absolutely insane that a suicidal teenager with a history of violence would ever be given legal permission to be left to her own devices, but that is precisely what happened, and it happened quickly enough that I had my first welfare cheque by Christmas.
And that’s really where this blog begins: post-emancipation.
The 4 years between emancipation and the birth of my first child when I was 19 have never really been discussed with anyone other than my husband, Blake, nor documented in writing, even on paper. I’ve never really felt comfortable talking about them because a lot of fucked up shit happened and I was running with an interesting cast of characters, that quite frankly, I didn’t want my daughter knowing about because one of them is her biological father and his family who she’s never met and who she has no interest in, partially, I think, because I’ve never talked about them. The last thing I needed was to create a situation where the absentee father is idealized without merit so when it came time to rebel, she would seek him out. When she was born, he was a bad guy. When she was little, he was still a bad guy. I made him stay away for her benefit and arranged full custody in exchange for him never having to pay child support for the rest of her life and he was a shitty enough person, that he thought that was an excellent deal. At the end of “us”, his family was shattered and at rock bottom due to mental illness, alcoholism, and abuse, and that’s where I left them because I had a little person to shape away from those unhealthy influences. I think they knew that too, although once, that aforementioned friend from grade 9, Nicole, who also happened to be my ex’s cousin, gave me an earful on Facebook about how wrong I was for having taken Madison away from them, but it was clear from what she was saying, that she had ideas of her own and that Rob, my ex, had never given her the full picture, with details of the full, agreed upon arrangement.
Before all that happened, before Madison was born, 4 years worth of good and interesting things and adventures were to be had, without the influence of responsible adults. I was a teen that got to raise herself during the most formative years, with no plan, no goals, and no rules. During those 4 years, my bipolar symptoms were minimal because I was in survival mode 24/7 and very aware of the fact that I was on my own and could only rely on myself. Despite having adult responsibilities though, I was extremely carefree and trusting of the Universe. My mom taught me the phrase “trust and allow” pretty early in life, and I never lived that phrase so fully than between the ages of 15 and 19. I was The Fool in the tarot deck, blindly stepping off a cliff, into the unknown, and totally there for it, excited for what each new day would bring.