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One of the top award winners of the CIA Medical 2021 Scholarship honoring healthcare heroes is Denzer Foster, a graduate student studying towards his Mental Health Clinical Counselor licensure at Central Michigan University.
Denzer writes about his mental health school pyschologist, Mr. Jardin, who provided the support he needed in his elementary school years to manage the different challenges he faced.
We appreciate Denzer for sharing his story and wish him all the best as he pursues a career that advances mental health and wellness.
CIA Medical is proud to present Denzer’s essay on Mr. Jardin.
Denzer Foster’s Essay
I was ten years old, in elementary school, angry, afraid, confused and alone. Never mind that I had a mother who loved me and two brothers. I was alone. Nobody could understand what it was like to be abandoned by a father. All three of us, myself and two brothers were glad he was gone on the one hand because now we were safe. But on the other hand, abandonment is often worse than abuse. At least there was some value to being abused. I remember families dropping deer at our front door to feed us and I remember the Red Cliff Reservation bringing us Christmas presents and Christmas dinner. But I was alone, left to find my way, to navigate bullies (including teachers) and to deal with the loneliness that never stopped. Why is it that we feel alone even when we are not? Why is it?
When I was ten years old and in elementary school, I spent more time in the time out room than I did in class. I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD), something my mother told me was not a disorder but warrior wiring from days when taking in what was going on all around us allowed us to survive. But in elementary school it was a disability and those of us with ADHA were put into special education. We were reminded that we were not the same as others. Families of other students didn’t want their children to be friends with special education students. I was alone. When I was ten, and in elementary school, kids with ADHD were problems and staff didn’t know how to deal with, teach or encourage brilliance. We were treated like delinquents that didn’t want to learn. There were many misconceptions and our strengths were not considered. My strengths were math, science and music but my label was “trouble”.
When I was ten and in elementary school, I was walked down the long cold hall where I was to meet with the school psychologist, Mr. Jardin. I was terrified. Another meeting with an adult in control that would call me “trouble” and tell me that I was the problem and that I must stop being trouble and must change to fit in. Another reminder that I was also abandoned by the school system. I was alone. I was escorted to the office, to Mr. Jardin’s office but an office none the less. Mr. Jardin was a mental health school psychologist and therapist. I took one look at him and felt less afraid. He was not too tall. He was no too thin. He wore glasses and he smiled. I spent eight years meeting with Mr. Jardin, the health professional that helped me to chart my path through elementary school, junior high, high school and college. He allowed me to change my life. He believed in me when I did not know how to believe in myself.
To begin with Mr. Jardin built a rapport with me. He listened to me, a ten-year-old with ADHD. He listened, really listened. He was kind when most adults were not. He didn’t scold, berate me or blame me. Sometimes we would walk and talk. He understood that the school was a rough environment for me and my anger and hyper vigilance in the school building faded once outside. He was wise enough to say, “This is obviously not a comfortable space for you. Let’s go for a walk in the yard.” One day, he brought homemade chicken and dumplings for me because our meeting was over lunch. Sometimes, I forgot his name and so I grew to call him Mr. Chicken and Dumplings. Names are abstract but actions are concrete. I connected with the fact that he took the time to make HOMEMADE chicken and dumplings for ME!! It’s not that he just did something to be kind and benefit me; it meant the most to me when I was ten that he put in effort for me and for my future and my happiness. He invested effort.
Mr. Jardin allowed for disconnections and allowed me to be freer to talk about problems and to allow me to voice my opinion without judging or correcting me. He allowed me to find my true voice. My voice was more than anger. My voice was pain, hurt confusion and sadness. In those days if you had ADHD and came from a divorced home you really were worthless. So many worthless kids and only one Mr. Jardin. He had a way to separate the kid from the problem. He understood that I was acting out of pain and acting out of conflict. He didn’t ask me to deny my feelings or say that I should just straighten up, follow the rules and I’d be fine. Rather than saying that I was the problem, his goal was to help me cope with really rough circumstances in a better way so that I could be who I was meant to be. I learned that I had value and purpose. And the really incredible thing about Mr. Jardin is that while I felt that I was one in a million, so did every student he interfaced with. He saw the good, the brilliance, the future in each of us. He was always professional, always a role model.
Mr. Jardin changed my ability and my future. I was no longer isolated. Sometimes understanding that you have someone in your court is enough. Sometimes, when you are ten, having someone to talk to is enough. Understand that as I navigated elementary school, special education meant that you were hated by other kids, you weren’t in the right social groups or clicks so nobody wanted anything to do with you at school or outside of school. All I knew is that I was disliked and had no voice. When you are alone struggling and you have everyone beating you down, all you see is that there is something intrinsically wrong with you. When Mr. Jardin listened to me and gave me guidance and encouragement to power through the difficult circumstances it lifted me up because he didn’t offer pat answers, he offered choices and believed I had in me what it took. He focused on what I was struggling with and how to deal with that more appropriately. Mr. Jardin helped me to realize and affirm that what the teachers were saying were problems and that what others thought were problems were not. The problem was that I was hurting. The problem was that something was triggering these behaviors. I grew to believe in self. Mr. Jardin helped me understand that my behavior wasn’t the problem, my behavior was a symptom or sign of the problem and that was HUGE.
When I was a freshman in college, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My dream job was no longer possible because my coordination and physical self was now unreliable. The day I was diagnosed with M.S. my older brother died in a car accident. He was a well-respected wildland firefighter returning home from two long days on the fire line and fell asleep behind the wheel. Again, I had a lot to handle, to navigate. And in a similar manner to when I was ten and in elementary school, the circumstances were huge and beyond my control. But there was a difference this time. This time, I had the skills to honestly navigate a seemingly impossible situation. I had a voice and I knew my feelings were relevant. And I knew I had choices. I would go on to make the Dean’s list several times and be successful in my academic pursuits.
Fifteen years later, as I was considering applying to graduate school, I knew that I wanted to help people who felt their circumstances were impossible and I knew that I was interested in psychology. It wasn’t a huge leap to once again consider the many things Mr. Jardin taught me. My professional goal was to become a clinical mental health professional. I called Mr. Jardin because I consider him a success and a good therapist in a world in which that can be hit or miss. I called him because I knew he would answer me honestly. We talked through the process and the notion that I too, could inspire and point the way to hope. I applied and have been accepted to graduate studies in Clinical Mental Health Counseling/Therapy at Central Michigan University. Mr. Jardin’s influence in my life was incredible not only because he allowed me the confidence to heal but he shaped what to expect and set a standard of what a good clinician is. He built rapport and that is 40% of the battle. He set the schema, the framework, the idea for the clinician I will be. When I think of a true therapist, I think of Mr. Jardin. I think of dealing with truths to try to give people the ability to regain control of their situations. Mr. Jardin took the time to understand me, he really truly understood me. When he would speak, he would hit the nail on the head rather than suggestions based on preconceptions or pat textbook answers. I read sometime later; therapy should be individualized – tailored to the client. His example early in life solidified that. Every person has different experiences even if they are similar.
Mental health is intrinsically vital to overall health. I begin graduate school in August 2021 to become a licensed mental health clinician and to help clients develop skills and tools to regain control and to create environments for clients to explore honestly and without judgement. Fundamentally most therapy goes on because there is a lack of control – over oneself or one’s situation. I learned that to an individual, their reality is the starting point and that I, like Mr. Jardin, am willing help others develop themselves in a way they want to be developed. I will listen and facilitate the discovery.
When I was ten and in elementary school, Mr. Jardin inspired me to take responsibility for my own path forward. He knew that without hope, everything seduces you. Today, I have a voice in part because Mr. Jardin, a mental health clinician, influenced the ten-year-old in me to a bright and healthy future.
About the Author: Denzer Foster
Denzer Foster has been accepted to graduate studies at Central Michigan University where he will obtain licensure to practice in the Mental Health field as a Mental Health Clinical Counselor. During his undergraduate studies at Ferris State University, he interned working with children on the autism spectrum and extended the required three-month internship to ten months. His undergraduate degree is in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice. Denzer was on the Dean’s List at Ferris State University on two occasions, one being during his senior year. He is fully committed to work in fields of PTSD, Adverse Childhood Experience and overall mental health advancements.
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