Family Resilience Project, FCSS Sector “Success Story”
This story was shared recently at the Early Intervention Sector meeting on December 12, 2012. All names are pseudonyms to protect confidentiality of the family.
Katie was referred to our program in early May 2012, via an email that her mother sent to The Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services. Katie’s parents were looking for resources and support for their 13 year-old daughter who felt “different.”
Mom explained that Katie had been suffering from panic attacks, anxiety and depression and that they were worried about their daughter recently coming out to them as “different” (Katie was not able to say accurately how she truly identified). Katie was distraught one evening and presenting with suicidal ideation, so her family rushed her to the emergency to be treated and soon thereafter discovered that Katie was struggling with her sexual identity. Katie was so far from openly admitting her identity that she resorted to writing it out on paper for her mom, in order to avoid speaking the actual words.
During the initial session with Katie and her family, it was obvious that Katie was struggling with being comfortable in her own skin. She was tearful, reserved, and seemed hesitant to share at all. I vividly remember her sitting in a chair in my office, whereby she would shrivel up into a small ball holding her legs so close to her chest as if concealing everything about her being. I was delicate with Katie, and through other non-intrusive topics (e.g., Nancy Drew books, The Hardy Boys books, her puppy, school friends, and her love for Fimo modeling clay) we made positive strides together.
During our first few sessions, Katie was quite hesitant to talk about “feeling different” and would instantly shut down, become quiet and cry when the topic was brought up. It was a delicate balance between bringing up the “elephantin the room” and seeing this poor little person so upset with their struggle.
Our therapeutic goal was to ensure Katie felt comfortable while in sessions, so we would discuss many other topics during our time together, while also leaving those snippets of time for her to work through her “feeling different.” During these latter conversations, Katie and I tried to see the humour in things (e.g., my teasing her that our Kleenex budget was hurting if she continued to built mountains of Kleenex every session). We also started to discuss healthy coping strategies (e.g., playing with her puppy, reading, doing fimo).
Gradually, it was more obvious that Katie was feeling a bit more at ease in sessions (e.g., she shared her fimo with me, and shared more stories pertaining to her school & her winning an award for leadership in her class).
Slowly we made some progress, but of course it was at Katie’s pace. It became readily apparent that she felt debilitated due to societal views, heteronormativity, lack of self-acceptance, and internalized homophobia. Through numerous conversations and counseling sessions, Katie began to see that identifying, as a lesbian was not so bad after all.
At this time, I suggested that mom and dad attend our PFLAG meetings for parents & loved ones of sexual and gender minority youth. This group allows parents and loved ones to process, mourn, grieve, and speak of all of their fears, emotions, and worries that naturally come forth when parents find out that their child identifies as a sexual or gender minority. Katie’s parents were able to spend time with other parents that were dealing with similar issues and through this they did not feel alone.
With the assistance of mom and dad, we began to talk about Camp fYrefly and the possibility of Katie attending camp in 2012. Initially, Katie was extremely hesitant and apprehensive to come to camp. Despite her parents’ encouragement and our discussions about how wonderful camp is, Katie was still digging in her heels. It seemed her anticipatory anxiety (e.g., someone might know me at camp, sleeping away from home) was getting the best of her. In an effort to minimize some of her anxieties, we began to collectively develop a “Camp fYrefly Action Plan” that would alleviate some of Katie’s anxieties (e.g., bringing a picture of her puppy with her to camp, personally greeting her at the door upon arrival, escorting her to her dorm room, introducing her to her dorm mates, sitting with her while she decorated her “Happy Note’s Box”, having an identified night person personally checking in on her at bed time, and finally having a secret code that would signal me if she needed support and we would then meet at a predetermined location on site to talk it through). Despite all of these efforts, Katie was still not convinced that camp would be a good experience and she informed me that “my parents are forcing me to go to camp and I don’t want to.” Here we were, just a few days before camp, and uncertain if Katie would show up at all.
It was at this time in our working relationship that I began to notice physical changes while in sessions with Katie. She began to initiate conversations, she started to look me in the eye, she was more vocal and her posture was changing from a closed off,scared and shriveled up person, with her knees pulled closely to her chest, into an open flower bursting with energy and light.
It was at this time that Katie also began to come out to some of those people that she felt close to (e.g., her neighbors, family friends, and her grandmother).
I was so pleased to see Katie arrive at camp that morning. We diligently followed through with our “Camp fYrefly Action Plan” and although originally she seemed shy and nervous, she persevered. I continued to follow up with her throughout the camp, but it was quite evident early on that I had worked myself out of a job, as Katie was fine by the end of the first day. She was initiating friendships, laughing, conversing, and looking so very confident in her own skin. At times, Katie and I would make eye contact and she would proudly give me a smile, a quick hug, or a thumbs up in order to get back to her friends.
We deliberately scheduled a session the Monday following camp and it was to my surprise that Katie arrived to session in tears. Although Katie seemed sad, mom quickly informed me that she was struggling with camp ending and that she was missing her new found friends so very much. Katie was also upset to see me, since I reminded her of camp. Through her tears we were able to focus on the positives of Camp (e.g., all her new friendships, her taking a risk and it working out, the interesting workshops and what she learned, pod time, talent show, and the happy note’s box filled with compliments and affirmations).
Katie was most happy about the fact that she openly identified as a lesbian while at camp, and that she belonged, and “she fit in and didn’t feel alone.” Katie was quick to confidently inform mom and I that she would be a returnee to camp this coming year in 2013.
During our final sessions in counseling, I could see Katie’s confidence growing. During our second last session, Katie and I were discussing her accomplishments and while her eyes glossed over with tears she appeared for once, happy in her emotion, and I think I may have also seen some pride in her eyes.
Katie and I are now done working together in individual sessions, but I will always be touched by her bravery, persistence, and growing confidence.
After camp, mom sent the following letter:
I just wanted to send a quick thank you for all of your support this weekend… for all your support in general. You have been such an amazing gift to Katie and us. I know you helped advocate for Katie to attend camp and I don’t think THANK YOU even begins to say how much we appreciate you doing that for her!
Camp fYrefly has truly made a difference in not only Katie’s life but ours as well. Please say thank you to everyone who was part of making camp such an amazing event. Also a huge shout out to Bev for helping Katie remember that it’s okay to laugh.
Since we saw you on Monday (after camp and still sad) she has been so incredibly happy and is celebrating who she is. She is not scared to be herself and is no longer mad at both of us for sending her to camp. I honestly didn’t believe that she would come back a different kid but she most certainly has. She even told another friend of ours that she went to camp for sexual minorities and that she identifies as Lesbian. She even shared the story of how one of the guys is fab at walking in high heels. I loved seeing her speaking in such a ”this is not a big deal way”…almost fell of my chair… but kept it together. She then said, “I found a place where I fit in… where I don’t feel different”. Anyways I could keep going on and on but I won’t. I am so happy for Katie and after coming from a place of wanting to end her life she now is celebrating who she is. We have our daughter back… and I am so thankful for that. I know things won’t be perfect but I finally feel like all will be well.
Take care (VPM) very proud mom!