Growing up, I couldn’t resist playing like an everyday child. I ended up breaking and fracturing my bones a total of 21 times. I have a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as brittle bone disease. While my doctors made it clear that I was not to be involved in sports or activities that could put me at risk, I still hung from the monkey bars, biked around in my neighborhood, and pretended to be a well-trained gymnast.
It was for these reasons, and other everyday kid stuff, that I would get grounded often. My parents didn’t know how to control me, so they would oftentimes ban me to the corner for hours.
By the time I was in 5th grade, my parents decided to start locking me in my room. My brittle bone disease was partly the reason, but the main reasons were because I got into a lot of trouble. For example, if I accidentally ate food out of the refrigerator that I wasn’t supposed to touch, I’d be banned to a locked bedroom for a few days. If I made a mess in the house, missed an assignment at school, or did poorly on a test, it resulted in two to three days of grounding.
One day while grounded, I peeked outside my window and saw a neighborhood kid next door. I tapped on the window and he noticed me. At the same time, my parents were on our deck enjoying the weather when they saw the boy curiously looking at me. I got grounded for five days straight because I shouldn’t have tried to bring attention to myself.
As I progressed in age, the list of reasons for my groundings continued to grow. I lived with constant anxiety throughout grade school, fearful of my parent's wrath. It got to the point where I was grounded almost all the time. I wavered back and forth, trying to convince myself that my parents loved me. I blamed my dad’s alcoholism as part of the reason for my groundings.
I suspected that my parents treated me poorly because I wasn’t their biological daughter. I had no contact with my biological dad since I was a baby, and my biological mom died when I was three years old. She was driving while intoxicated and got into a fatal car accident. My step-dad adopted me after Mom’s funeral, probably to keep me and my half brother Christian together. Eventually my new mother Brittany – only ten years older than me - moved into our home. I always envied Christian, because he was treated favorably and never got locked into his bedroom.
School was heaven. I would wake up every school morning at 5:00 a.m. eager to be free. I loved learning and being with friends. Sometimes my friends or teachers would ask me if I’d like to stay after school for various activities. I’d candidly reply, “No, my parents are going to lock me in a room when I get home.” This statement mostly confused people who thought I was joking around for attention. But in time, more teachers asked additional questions, which triggered Social Services to look into my home life.
In 6th grade, an investigation of child neglect began. My father was extremely angry with me and refused to comply with Social Services. We had visitors come to evaluate our home a few times, but my parents made me out to be a very naughty child who couldn’t be trusted alone. They explained that I'd hurt myself if I wasn’t locked in my room. As a result of that visit, Social Services made my dad take the lock off my door due to the fire hazard it presented, but they allowed him to replace it with an alarm system.
My isolation continued.
By the time I was in 7th grade, I was on permanent grounding. There was never a period of time I was “ungrounded.” I was required to stay locked up in my bedroom at all times. Every morning, I would wake up and knock on my door from the inside of my bedroom, asking to be let out of my room. For bathroom breaks, I’d beg to let me go. When I got home from school, I'd walk straight to my room.
At times, my parents were gracious to let me join them in the family room with my brother after dinner. I was always grateful for those moments. Another escape for me was my window. I'd occasionally climb out onto my roof and sit under the stars. When my parents found out, an alarm was immediately installed on the window.
One would think my situation couldn’t get worse, but it did. In 8th grade, my parents began to punish me in new ways, such as not feeding me, or feeding me meals I didn’t like. If my behavior warranted it, they'd give me a plate of broccoli for dinner, or give me a bowl of oatmeal, my most disliked food. I chose not to eat on many occasions. Sometimes this food punishment would extend for a full week, and there were many nights they simply did not feed me.
The site of oatmeal still makes me sick.
Another way they'd punish me was to take belongings away from me. It started with small things, like a book or a cherished toy here and there. One day, I came home from school and noticed the 30 Webkinz dolls I received as gifts from my grandmother were gone. They were my favorite toys and I was absolutely distraught! My dad threw them away and never explained why I deserved that punishment.
That was a turning point for me. I had come to accept that my parents would never let me go free. No matter how good I’d try to be, they'd find reasons to lock me up. I decided to purposefully do things to get into trouble. I didn’t care anymore and it was a game for me to see how many items they'd take away from me.
I lost in the end, as everything was eventually removed from my bedroom. I had no bed to sleep on or furniture to sit. The way I passed time was to count the red blinks of light on the fire alarm mounted on my ceiling. The highest number of blinks I counted to without stopping was 2,160.
At around this time, Social Services got involved again. My parents returned the furniture back into my bedroom before the evaluation started and told the authorities additional lies about me. Nothing fundamentally changed after that attempted intervention.
By the time I was in 8th grade, I had fallen into deep depression. I slept for most of the day, and really couldn’t see myself living past the age of 21. I fully believed that I was a terrible child deserving all punishment. I was evil, or God was penalizing me, or I had to pay the Universe back for bad karma from a previous lifetime. My dad knew I was depressed and had me move in with my grandmother, who was a professional health care provider.
Living with my grandparents was a great improvement in my life. I wasn't locked in my room and I had far more freedom. But I still struggled with severe depression and had little hope for my future. Additionally, there was also a lot of tension in the house, as my grandparents were having marital problems at that time, and my being there likely added to the stress.
The only control I felt I had was to take my life into my own hands. During my freshmen year in high school, I attempted suicide and ended up in the hospital.
After my hospital stay, my dad drove me to court. Within a few hours, I was introduced to my new foster parents, Bob and Sue.
I was petrified. He hadn't told me why we were at court, and I had no idea I would be placed with a foster family. I didn't trust Bob and Sue, as my dad had always threatened to punish me even more by handing me over to the foster care system.
I was brought to my new home, a small hobby farm on 40 acres of land. Initially, there was a lot of friction between us, because I was so full of anger and spite. But Bob and Sue were loving, and always treated me with respect. They refused to be manipulated by me, patiently taught me about healthy boundaries, and embraced my extroverted personality. Most importantly, they patiently taught me how to interact harmoniously with the entire household, which included a number of other foster children staying with them at any given time.
I was one of the few foster kids who lived with Bob and Sue for close to two years. I felt very fortunate compared to the other foster children, who came and left within weeks. Their upbringings and home situations were far worse than mine.
Bob and Sue showed me a whole new world full of love, respect, and kindness. Through intense therapy in conjunction with the stability and unconditional love Bob and Sue provided me, my outlook on life improved. I am eternally grateful for Bob and Sue, as they helped me crawl out of the depths of depression.
I’m now 18 years old and have just graduated from high school. I was able to reunite with my grandmother and enjoyed my senior year with her. Grandma describes me as sassy, fun, and smart. My friends say I’m outgoing, friendly, outspoken, and adventurous.
I’m happy, because I make it a point to go out and enjoy life! I like music, playing the flute and piccolo, Japanese culture, anime, cosplay, and video gaming. I like to do things that look fun, like my recent venture of skydiving, or dressing up in cosplay.
J Brianna in Cosplay as Alice in WonderlandI am also excited about my next chapter in life, which is to travel to Gunma, Japan as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. I’ll be living there with a foreign exchange family for one year as a Junior in high school to learn about their culture. Within 12 months, I should be able to speak Japanese fluently!
My goals in life are to be an English teacher in Japan and to eventually work with the United Nations.
I’ve learned that life is definitely worth living! If you’re depressed like I was, seek help from a therapist or someone who can help you sort through your feelings, and make sure to surround yourself with loving people. Your best medicine is to go out and do the things that make you happy! This is how I crawled out of despair. If someone is holding you captive, keep reaching out for help and keep the faith. But if nobody is holding you back, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy life to the fullest!
J Brianna – Mound, MN
Interviewed and written by Alyce Renee, Founder of Real & Inspiring
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Photo Credits: Amiyah Renee