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Meet Annmarie Herrera

Today we’d like to introduce you to Annmarie Herrera.

Annmarie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Perseverance. I come from a family that was broken on both sides when I was born and that affected me in a multitude of ways. Despite the journey I have taken to be where I am today, I would never have expected such an experience to happen that has enhanced my strength, drive, and motivation to pursue success for my future, but to give back and touch people in ways that they can continue their fight as well.

My mom is developmentally delayed with epilepsy, and my dad was very controlling to us to the point that I was scared to even leave his site at family functions when I was little.

We lived in Boyle Heights, LA, I was not allowed to see other family members, such as my grandma on my mom’s side and my dad would instruct my mom on the phone what to say when those family members tried to come visit us to even see if we were okay. I never felt a loving close connection with my parents and this, in turn, affected other relationships I had with friends and more.

At three my parents divorced, and my mom’s brother and his wife took us in when no one else wanted us, living in Orange County. I was short changed not being able to see my grandma on my mom’s side who passed from a massive stroke due to my dad being so controlling. Growing up with my mom I did not see her as my mom, but instead as a child, going to my Aunt to “tell on me,” playing with kid toys, and having the mindset of one was hard.

I always asked myself why are my parents different and why am I in this situation as I look around and see normal families. I had court-ordered visits to still see my dad, and he would come visit every two to three years on my birthday, give me $20 then disappear again for another three to four years. I was placed in therapy at age nine and was on Zoloft for some time until they took me off. I did not like talking about myself and did not trust those around me with how I felt.

My fourteenth birthday was what caused the cascade of events to follow. My dad came to visit me, and we were not getting along from the start that he was picked up at the train station. He did not approve where I wanted to go eat, and when my aunt walked away for a few minutes all this frustration came out at me of all the years he did not approve of having supervised visits, what he did not like about me, what he thinks of my family taking care of me, how he felt about me, etc.

I was shattered to hear this, see how angry he was at things I had no control over, and look at him, my biological dad and just feel numb. My mental health deteriorated after this incident and the built up feelings, the confusion I had over the years of where I was with my parents being the way they were, and why I feel so different. I soon became depressed, retracted away from everyone, did not care at all where I went in life and just started to give up on myself. I began cutting myself at 14 on my stomach, legs, shoulders, and thighs.

I wanted to feel physical pain to run away from the overwhelming emotional pain I have had for some time. I took my mom’s anti-convulsant medication to feel something else other than how I originally feel and go to school. I would steal from those close to me and shoplift. There are views on how I felt and how my family felt. I was genuinely depressed and did not care to live. I was not happy being alive and did not think I would amount to anything with how things were going.

I was cutting myself more and more and on one occasion cut myself so deep I could see adipose tissue and my vein, but kept quiet. My family decided I was not safe and placed me at a psych facility. Risperidal, Prozac, Trileptal (mood stabilizer), and naltrexone were my meds that I had to take to not feel how I did prior due to me being a danger to myself.

I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and reactive attachment disorder, it was definitely a challenge to talk about how I feel and why. Being at a psych facility was one of the two lowest moments in my life. After a month of being at the psych facility, my family did not feel comfortable with me coming home which prompted me to enter foster care at Orangewood Children’s home. This was the other lowest moment of my life.

I was alone, I was bullied here around other children, and I hated life still. I felt empty that I had no purpose. I was placed here for two months before going home again, but soon after felt the overwhelming negative emotions I once had and was admitted to a psych facility again and soon after being placed at Orangewood for three months where I turned 16 here.

The experience is something I will never forget, but when at Orangewood for the second time I remember telling myself, and I will never forget this moment, “You’re alone, and you cannot keep going like this, you cannot keep this cycle up. There is already the stigma of foster care and the negative comments that come with it. You need to step up and get yourself together.” And I did just that.

I found education as my drive and motivation to help push me in the opposite direction and use this outlet to spark my future. Shortly after, I was placed in a foster home when I was 16. When I graduated high school at 18, I left to go to school out of state at Northern Arizona University to escape everything all together and because my social worker told me to so why not? I was alone and did not know how to really take care of myself, I was taking out loans and was excessively drinking to the point of alcohol poisoning.

I came back after my first semester and attended a junior college living with my foster parents, but left at 19 due to the negative experience I had not felt welcome, pushed around, and being treated differently. I went back home to live with my family and finally feel more comfortable to talk really helped us see our points of view and why I acted out the way I did and how they felt during that whole time. It was good closure to try to come to terms and how this has all shaped me.

My mental health due to the experiences I had when I was little and up to being a teenager pushed me away from everyone and caused me to close myself off and deal with my own dark thoughts. My drive to go against who I was really helped me in my success. I began taking my pre-reqs for nursing as I wanted to serve others in a more beneficial way and commit to helping those during their most vulnerable times. I graduated from Golden West College in 2015 with honors and a 3.84 GPA.

My AA was in liberal studies with an emphasis in science. I transferred to California State University, Fullerton with a full ride scholarship under Guardian Scholars, a scholarship program that provides full funding to those in foster care to help them pursue their passion alleviating foster youth from stressing about paying for school. From 2015 to now I have and will complete my education in May of 2019 as a double major in nursing and health science with a minor in Asian American Studies graduating with honors, cum laude.

I am looking to work as an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse soon. I have been involved with leadership through on-campus organizations serving as president and other positions. I am involved on the state level serving on California Nursing Students’ Association as the Community Health Director. I have had the opportunity to travel abroad to Vietnam to study abroad and recently received an opportunity funded by the National Institute of Health to do research in Thailand Summer of 2018.

I graduate in May, and as I look back my experiences then were a curse to how I felt and where I was in life and in my head, but now see this experience as a blessing in disguise to succeed not only overcoming the foster youth stigma, but my own mental health, accepting myself and where I am with my situation and move forward to help those that struggle as I once did.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has definitely not been a smooth road. I faced various challenges through this time that has tested me, at the time I wasn’t even sure I would be alive with how I felt. My mental health from the experiences I had as a little kid with my dad was a huge factor in addition to how my mom was being developmentally delayed.

My mental health really deteriorated and caused me to be alone distancing myself from people as I was faced with dealing with my own dark thoughts. Orangewood Children’s Home was another struggle that I experienced. Leaving the psych facility, I was at to go to Orangewood was hard as I felt alone and was placed in a facility surrounded by other foster youth that was going through a hard time. I was continuously bullied and pushed around by others when staff was not looking.

What got me through it was keeping my thought process on a positive path which took a long time at first because I was so use to putting myself down and letting my depression take over. By focusing on my education and enjoying the passion to learn as a distraction to the current situation, I was able to do better and push myself along little by little.

Additionally, being placed in a foster home was a struggle as well. Throughout my stay with my foster family for three years from 16-19 years old, I did not feel welcome or accepted. Whenever they had family functions, I tried to get involved, but I could feel that people did not want to engage with me or get to know me as much.

Former foster children that grew up in the household many years ago gave me the same treatment to the point that I just left and went back with my family.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I currently work at a hospital in Fountain Valley as a surgery scheduler. I am in nursing school currently and have been focused on school and my leadership opportunities while working per diem.

What sets me apart is my involvement, I am involved with my nursing chapter at Cal State Fullerton serving as President as well as serving on the state level for California Nursing Student Association as the Community Health Director.

I love being involved as it really enhances who I am as a person giving back to the community I serve and those around me.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up I was a kid that kept to myself, did not have much friends. I was a socially awkward type. I loved music and was in the band from 5th grade to 12th grade playing the trombone from 6th grade on. I love to swim and watch SpongeBob SquarePants.

I loved Harry Potter and would read and re-read the books as well as read serial killer books that my family opposed me to read but read them anyway. Interest wise I would run, play chess, and read for the most part when not practicing my trombone.

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