The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Introduction: Finding Your Well-Being

I’m 21 and I’ve been in the mental health system for 10 years. When I was 11, a doctor told me I had psychosis. I knew something was wrong—I was crying a lot—but I also knew I did not have psychosis—I had never hallucinated and I was not out of touch with reality.

Sure enough, when I went back to the same hospital four years later, a different doctor said, “I don’t know why you got that diagnosis.” When I was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, that made more sense.

Still, it wasn’t until I went into care at age 17 that I realized how important it was to pay attention to how I was feeling and insist that I have a say in what drugs I take. As a little kid, you tend to trust adults. At 15, I was put on lithium, which made me shaky. Going off it actually caused me to hallucinate—for the first time. From that experience I learned how important it is to go off medication only with the help of a doctor.

At 17, I was on five different drugs. That was the first time I told a doctor, “These drugs make me really tired.” That led to my doctor taking me off the five I was taking. Now I’m on only Wellbutrin and Abilify, and I feel balanced. I feel OK.

image by YC-Art Dept

I’ve also learned what makes me feel better—I take long walks, I talk to friends and people in my foster home. Therapy helps me—I like talking to someone who listens to my problems and doesn’t judge and doesn’t tell other people. The therapists I’ve liked best give me advice, but I can take it or leave it, maybe file it away for later. Some therapists and family members suggested that I was blaming other people for problems I would have to work on myself, and it took me a while to really take that in and act on it.

I also realized while moving from foster home to foster home that no one was going to help me but me. That feels a little lonely, but it also makes me more practical and more realistic about how I have to keep myself in control to stay out of trouble and to not push people away. I go out and find the resources I need for myself, and that feels like healthy living.

Youth in care are likelier to have suffered trauma and to be in poverty, and we don’t always have adults advocating for us at the doctor’s, so we especially need to tend to our own health and happiness. In this issue, we explore how self-awareness can lead to good self-care. Victor Tanis-Stoll and Erica Harrigan Orr explain how they deal with anxiety and depression through therapy, mindfulness, and medication. B.L.M. broke the cycle of abuse by opening up to a therapist.

Like many foster youth, A.C. was medicated against her will. She finally got a doctor to agree that she was sad, not depressed, and take her off the meds. To hear from the other side, we interviewed a child psychiatrist about how and why he decides to prescribe drugs.

In other stories, writers describe healthy ways they overcame bulimia and difficulty focusing in school. And because diet is so essential to good functioning, we interviewed a nutritionist about gluten and a doctor about how food affects your mind. We hope the issue helps you move toward the well-being that every person deserves.

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