January 5, 2020

Ep. 3 | Belonging

With Rolande Taylor

“Belonging is a big thing for me. Whether it was being black in a white community, or being the only black person at school, I’ve always kind of felt like the odd one out. Belonging has been a struggle throughout my whole life and I’m still dealing with it now, trying to figure out who I am and where I fit.
~ Rolande Taylor ”

In this episode, award-winning athlete, Rolande, tells the story of her adoption from Haiti and the implications of early separation on her mental health and well being. Through therapy and family support, Rolande’s story demonstrates the power of perseverance and practice, in learning to thrive in the midst of challenge and loss

Episode Guest

Rolande Taylor

Rolande Taylor is 17 years old. She is an award-winning athlete, holds a scholarship to the university of her choice and she runs her own children’s charity. Rolande speaks with maturity beyond her years.

At 18 months, Rolande was adopted from Haiti. Issues with attachment, mental health and belonging weave the fabric of her childhood and adolescence. Now, nearly 18 years old, Rolande has a remarkable story of resilience and growth in the face of adversity and challenge.

Transcript

Ep. 3: Belonging with Rolande Taylor

Rachel Cram – Well Ro, thank you so much for being here at the studio with us. This is a real honor to get to talk to you today.

Rolande Taylor – Thanks for having me.

Rachel Cram – OK. So Roland, I want to go through a list of incredible things that are happening in your life right now, because I know through getting to know your story there is a lot behind all of these things. If you’ll just indulge me in singing your praises for a few moments. You recently won a unique basketball award, which is how I came to know you. You’ve also got a wonderful university scholarship to play basketball. And that must be so exciting to be able to go right from high school into that kind of career opportunity.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah that is a dream come true. Playing university ball, playing at the next level, is pretty exciting.

Rachel Cram – Do you know what else you want to do at university alongside that? It’s not all ball. You’ll be studying as well. Do you have a sense of what you want to study?

Rolande Taylor – Yes. So I want to go into psychology and work with children that have gone through trauma. So how childhood trauma affects brain development in their future life. Pretty exciting.

Rachel Cram – Which is a bit of foreshadowing of what’s to come up. But we’ll hold onto that for a moment. And you have also been nominated for the Terry Fox scholarship, which is so significant.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. So, they’re looking for someone in high school who has gone through some hardships through their life and is in sports. So that was perfectly me. I didn’t think I’d have a very good chance because it’s Canada wide but next thing I know I get an e-mail. They want to meet me in Vancouver. So it’s pretty exciting.

Rachel Cram – Wonderful. And on top of all these things you also run your own charity and it is called Kids Club. Can you tell us what that’s all about?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. So Kids Club is a charity that I have started. I started a couple of years ago because when I was young, going through some you know, childhood trauma, I didn’t really have anybody to look up to during my hard times. And it was pretty tough. But I was like, OK, well now that I’ve come through those times, there are many other girls out there that are like me, who don’t have anybody that is also been adopted and that is black that they can look up to. So I was like, I can be that person for them. So I started this charity.

Rachel Cram – I want to start this interview with listing some of the accomplishments you have achieved at 17 years old. Because as a parent myself, I can look at somebody like you and think, I want a girl just like that. Like, I want a daughter who knows how to push herself hard, in sports in your case but in life. I want a daughter who cares deeply about people and would do something like started charity. I want a daughter who knows how to pursue things like a scholarship. But those things have come from deep struggles and a need to really persevere in life. So, having said that as the stage of who you are. I’m wondering if we can go back to who you’ve been in your 17 years. And what has brought you to be the person that you are now, which I know is still very much information. But Ro, looking at you as a pretty amazing person. So can you tell us your story?

Rolande Taylor – Sounds good.

Rachel Cram – OK.

Rolande Taylor – So, I was adopted from Haiti at 15 months. And I lived in an orphanage. My birth mother was at the orphanage with me. So yes, she looked after me. My father, he left right after I was born. She was only 16, so it’s pretty amazing that she looked after me for that long. So, my lovely parents, Marci and Jamie, from here. They brought me home into this beautiful home. At the time it was just me and my brother. I have, now four siblings.

Rachel Cram – So you came into the Taylor family and you were the second child in the family.

Rolande Taylor – Yes.

Rachel Cram – And so take us from there. Where did life take you?

Rolande Taylor – So, through early elementary, that was, that was a pretty hard time for me.

Rachel Cram – In what way?

Rolande Taylor – I had quite a few friends but I couldn’t connect with anybody. I couldn’t have a bond.

Rachel Cram – What did that feel like inside of you?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah, it was a weird feeling. I could see all of them be super close, having sleepovers, hanging out. I wanted that but I didn’t know how to go about doing that. How to make that connection with them. It’s not that I didn’t want to. I just didn’t know how to. It was very confusing for me, trying to figure that out. I think was confusing for them too. I was almost like I just couldn’t let myself do that. If I let myself do that, then they’d be coming close to me and I don’t like people being close to me. So I’d block them off. So it’s just like I would put up a wall and couldn’t get past that.

Rachel Cram – Would you do that with your family as well?

Rolande Taylor – Oh yes. My mom didn’t know a lot of what was going on with me when I was younger because I wouldn’t let her know. I wouldn’t let her in at all.

Rachel Cram – How would you hide that?

Rolande Taylor – I just act like everything’s fine. I was a very cherry, giggly, young, little girl. And would never cry. Would never have any problems. There was never anything going on. But deep down there was. But I would never let anybody know that. I would never let anybody in.

Rachel Cram – That must have been so confusing because you only have life in your own body to understand what life is about. So you were kind of seeing by comparison, that other people seemed to be able to connect in a way that you couldn’t?

Rolande Taylor – Mm hmm yeah.

Rachel Cram – What were your options that you saw at that point in time?

Rolande Taylor – Well that point in time I just left it that way. I wouldn’t let anybody in. Just kind of kept moving through middle school like that as well. And it wasn’t until there was a couple of incidents at school that happened. Whether it was like, fights with friends and parents would have to get called. But even then, my mom would be like, ‘Rolande I would never do that.’ Like, ‘that would never happen,’ because she really didn’t know. She didn’t know anything that was going on because I would never express that anything was going on. So it was tough for her.

Rachel Cram – So what made that shift. What made it become apparent that there was a disconnect that was happening inside of you?

Rolande Taylor – It wasn’t until I had this incident with this girl in grade 7. I had to be brought down to the office. And it was quite a big incident. It was big enough that, OK, I think there’s something going on here with Rolande that we need to figure out.

Rachel Cram – This is you and your mom? You and your family?

Rolande Taylor – Me my mom. We’re kind of like, OK we’ll move on. We’ll just keep watching you. And then it wasn’t until at home, that I had a big episode. I blew up. I started throwing things. Was super angry. I ran away. It was a big problem. And my parents were like, whoa! OK! There’s something more that is going on with Rolande that we did not know about, that we need to bring attention to. So from there, they called, like the crisis line. And they hook me up with a counselor. So, from there, we start to realize that I quote a few disorders that I was going through that nobody knew about.

Rachel Cram – When you say, “quite a few disorders,” were they actually diagnosed disorders?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. Later on when I saw a psychiatrist, they became diagnosed. I have reactive attachment disorder, which is a big reason why I can never connect with anybody.

Rachel Cram – Can you explain what that is?

Rolande Taylor – Well yeah. So, it’s like a push/pull relationship. I’ll pull you in but only to a certain point, then I’ll push you away. And I can never actually emotionally attached to anybody. I’ll just keep pulling them in until you hit my wall. Soon as you hit my wall, I’m pushing you away again. And that happens with everybody and that comes from

Rachel Cram – That was happening with everybody that you were in relationship with.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah exactly.

Rachel Cram – I’m thinking, there’s multiple reasons why someone would have that disorder. But for you, what do you think caused that?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah

Rachel Cram – at least in essence.

Rolande Taylor – I believe that comes from being adopted. Because the person that I was closest to,

Rachel Cram – Who was your birth mom.

Rolande Taylor – My birth Mom, yeah. She ended up giving me up. So I think that’s where it comes from. Who I was attached to very deeply is gone now. So now, it’s like, anybody else I get attached to, the same thing’s going to happen. So I can’t let myself get attached to anybody. So I can’t be hurt like that again.

Rachel Cram – It’s so incredible that something that happens from a time in your life that you have no memory of, is so significant within your mind and how you go on living. You said that there were other disorders as well and we’ll come back to that in a moment. But with this attachment disorder, how did you begin to address that?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah, that definitely was the hardest one that I’m still to this day dealing with.

Rachel Cram – And do you think you always will?

Rolande Taylor – I definitely think I always will. It’s deep inside me. I don’t think I can ever get rid of that. That is my biggest thing, is that the people that I love are going to leave me. Even to this day, like my mom, she’ll go get some groceries and if she’s gone too long, I’m freaking out. Like, what happened to her? She’s gone! She’s not coming back. I deal with that all the time.

Rachel Cram – I know I’m asking this to a 17 year old but you do have a wisdom beyond your years. How common do you think that is in children, that have been adopted but also children that have experienced separation or loss?

Rolande Taylor – Oh I believe that’s very common. I have a friend whose mother passed away and she experiences the same thing now. She’s like, I can’t attach to anybody because I feel like they’re going to leave me. I feel like it’s a very common thing that happens that people aren’t very aware of. They just don’t know about it.

Rachel Cram – I agree Roland. Separation is a huge issue for children. I want to come back in a moment to talk more about counseling and the techniques that you’ve used because I think that’s really interesting. You mentioned there are other disorders that you discovered. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. Yeah. I also was diagnosed with generalized anxiety so it still affects me quite a bit but it’s gotten a lot better than before. And recently they diagnosed me with bipolar 2. It’s not as extreme when it comes to the manic states but it’s, I still go through the ups and downs.

Rachel Cram – So Ro, these are a lot of things to deal with in one, so far fairly short, lifetime. It is pretty amazing Ro. Like I sit and listen to you and I think, you know as a parent, you never want your child to experience all of that. You know, even as an adoptive parent myself, my youngest 3 children are adopted, you just don’t want that to be their story. Yeah, but it can make us who we are too. Can you tell us a little bit about what that process has looked like for you. And I know in the area of counseling there are just new things that are continually being tried. So can you explain about that processing for you. What’s worked in your experience.?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. So, I went to see quite a few counselors. Actually, most of them it didn’t really work out. Counseling is kind of, it’s tricky trying to find the right counselor because they have so many different techniques. And trying to find the one that works for you, that’s been pretty tricky. So I’ve gone through quite a few. And then finally I came upon Ted, through Family Youth, or Youth And Family Services. And through him, there was lots of talking, lots of strategies we came up with to help me connect with people. And I also met somebody amazing. She does what’s called neurofeedback. They hook up these little connection things to your head and on this computer you play different games. But what is actually doing is it’s training your brain to make new connections and new pathways. So, say one of my pathways was stuck in anger, for example; what it would do is retrain me how to calm myself down and make a new pathway which I didn’t have before. So now, what I can do, is instead of immediately getting triggered and getting angry about something, now I can actually cry about that instead of always being mad.

Rachel Cram – Well, what you’re describing sounds like you were given access to a whole new range of emotion that you hadn’t had before and then you had to figure out what those emotions were.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. Rachel Cram – That must have been amazing.

Rolande Taylor – Oh it was incredible. There’s the fight, flight or freeze. I was always stuck in the fight. I was always angry, trying to fight everything back. But then, realizing, I don’t always have to be angry. I can also be sad or I can be happy about these different things. It opened me up to a whole new world.

Rachel Cram – Ro, you’re talking about this anger that you had inside of you. Do you have any sense of where that was coming from?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. So, most of my anger came from being angry at my birth mother for giving me up.

Rachel Cram – Were you aware of that?

Rolande Taylor – I was. How could you give your one child up? How could you ever do that? I was so mad at her about that. And that’s where most of my anger came from. Anger towards her.

Rachel Cram – So as you’ve gone through this process of counseling and neurofeedback, how has that shifted for you? Or has it?

Rolande Taylor – It has! 100 percent! It’s opened my mind to be able to accept the reason why she gave me up. Because I heard it. I understood it. But I never really accepted it. And now that’s where I am. I realize that, Okay yeah, like, she was 16 when she had me. And she truly loved me and knew she could give me a better opportunity in life, which is why she gave me up. And I really appreciate that now, and respect that. And I can look back and you know, understand that and really see why.

Rachel Cram – That’s such an important shift between being able to hear the words, understand the words, and appreciate the words of why.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah, such a difference.

Rachel Cram – Can you describe any other connections that happened through your experience with neurofeedback? I find that fascinating.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. So, one of the big things is, I started to actually feel things around me. So we were in Palm Springs going through Joshua Tree National Park for a walk and I never was in the moment. I was always outside looking in, making sure that nothing was going on.

Rachel Cram – Can you just even describe that? That’s very interesting. Like you hadn’t understood what it felt like to be present?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. I never knew what it was like to actually be present or be in the moment.

Rachel Cram – Did you maybe not even recognize that was the case?

Rolande Taylor – I had no idea that it was even a thing. Like, I didn’t even know I was like that. I never really took the moment to whoa, like this is actually happening, like through my life.

Rachel Cram – Okay, so your at Joshua Tree, an amazing places to discover something.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah, it’s beautiful it’s beautiful! And we were walking. And I could feel the heat on my skin. I could see the flowers and how beautiful they were. I never had really noticed that. It was almost like I put on some brand new glasses and could see everything and feel everything. And there I was really living in the moment and experiencing everything around me. And I had never really had that before.

Rachel Cram – So would you say those pathways just had not been connected in your brain before? Because I’m not sensing you’re saying it is just a matter of maturity.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah, they were not there before. I’d never built those pathways. I was so stuck in the past, stuck in what had happened to me and couldn’t move past my hardships. I really cannot move past them.

Rachel Cram – I’m going to take this on a whole different tangent right now.

Rolande Taylor – All right.

Rachel Cram – One of the things, when you and I were prepping for this interview, that you mentioned, was the challenge of growing black in a mainly white community. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah, definitely.

Rachel Cram – Is it still hard?

Rolande Taylor – Oh, it’s still very hard trying to figure out who I am. My identity. It’s very difficult. I’m black. It’s who I am. I want to be able to express that. I want to be around people like that. So, it was very hard. And then I’ll go home and the only black people around me are my two sisters,

Rachel Cram – Who were also adopted from Haiti.

Rolande Taylor – Yes, they are also adopted too. So, that was it. It’s just me and my sisters who were black. And I just couldn’t be myself. I felt I had to be a certain way. I feel like I had to dress a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way because of that.

Rachel Cram – Because you were black?

Rolande Taylor – Because I was black. And, but the truth is, I didn’t. Rachel Cram – It’s so complicated though because, you want to think that it doesn’t matter; that the color of your skin doesn’t matter, because it’s what’s inside. Because that’s true.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah yeah

Rachel Cram – but it does matter Rolande Taylor – Oh, it matters 100 percent.

Rachel Cram – Why is that? Ro, answer these deep questions for me! Why is that? Why does it matter?

Rolande Taylor – I feel like, it matters because that is who you are. There’s such a big thing about black culture and expressing your black side, being black.

Rachel Cram – But it seems like you felt that even before you were maybe aware of that kind of culture out there.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah definitely. You, you see the white families doing their traditions, whether that’s their cultural traditions. Or you see Indian families doing their traditions. But there’s no way for me to do black traditions, whatever that is. I don’t even know what that is because I’ve never been exposed to that, right. Or, you see on Instagram some black family is doing this, or, I can’t do that because it’s just me. There’s no other black people like that around me. So, it’s just, that it’s uncomfortable as well, right. So, it’s a weird spot that you get put in. Very weird.

Rachel Cram – So with your Kids Club that you run, I think these are some of the things that you are wanting to help younger children address. Children who are in somewhat a similar situation to you in that they are black kids in a white culture. Is that true?

Rolande Taylor – Yes.

Rachel Cram – And have they all been adopted?

Rolande Taylor – They have. Yes.

Rachel Cram – What are you hoping to give to them? What are you hoping to create for them so that they can move on their own paths of growth and development?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. So I want them to have a sense of community. A sense of family. A little black family. That’s what I consider us, a little black family. But I want them to have that. I want us to all have that connection with each other. We’re all in this together. We all love each other. We have each other’s backs and that’s what I want them to go with. I want them to know that, no matter where they are, we are always gonna be here for each other, no matter what.

Rachel Cram – Are you creating your own black sisterhood culture, or are you reflecting on Haitian culture or,

Rolande Taylor – Well, right now, I want to just focus on the sisterhood. Being sisters. You know, I’m not sure exactly how comfortable everybody is with connecting back to Haiti right now. Cause,that is a sensitive topic for them, is connecting back to where they’re from. Some of them are not comfortable with that yet. They don’t want to look back at that. So,

Rachel Cram – Why would they not want to look back?

Rolande Taylor – For them, it could be a tough place. For me, I didn’t want to look back on Haiti because that’s where I was abandoned. So for them, it’s the same thing. I don’t want to have connection to where I was given up. But what my ultimate goal would be, is to bring everybody back to Haiti one day. Because when I went,

Rachel Cram – Why is that important to do something like that?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. So when I went back to Haiti, there’s so much closure there. I was able to talk with my birth mom on why I was given up. And, from being able to hear that from her, being able to hear that come from her mouth, that was, I can’t even describe. That was everything to me. There was so much closure there. And I was actually able to do that before she passed away. So, that was amazing. I want these girls to be able to go back and have that closure from their families too. Be able to know why, so they don’t feel alone anymore.

Rachel Cram – I think as an adoptive parent, there can be a worry that my child could go back and maybe not here as you heard from your birth mom. Maybe it wasn’t so cut and dry of why they needed to leave. Does that concern you?

Rolande Taylor – That’s a big one. So, if they don’t want to meet their birth families, or don’t want to hear, then they don’t have to. I respect that. That’s OK. You’re not ready for it. That’s OK, right. But, I think it’s very important for them to hear the truth because truth is so empowering. And even if what they hear is negative, they still heard the reason. They have closure that way. But then they also have us to fall back on. Have their sisters to fall back on and we’ll help them through these hard times.

Rachel Cram – I want to affirm you Rolande, for creating community like this for the children that are in your Kid’s Club. We need community like that. We all do. We need a place of belonging.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah.

Rachel Cram – And as I’ve listened to your story, I feel that that’s what you fought for in yourself as well. You have fought to give yourself the ability to belong.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. Belonging is a big thing for me because I’ve always kind of felt like I don’t. Whether I was being black in a white community, or being the only black person in school. I’ve always kind of felt like the odd one out.

Rachel Cram – What about even in your family?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. Even in my family I felt different from everybody. So belonging has been a struggle throughout my whole life. And I’m still struggling with now. Trying to figure out who I am. Where I fit. Yeah, it has been tough but it’s very important to me.

Rachel Cram – I think part of the wisdom of your years is, you acknowledge the difficulty of your belonging both for yourself and for others. And you’re not content to leave it at that. As a struggle. It sounds like your whole family is on a journey of growth and discovery.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah, they are.

Rachel Cram – And that’s how it works isn’t it.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah

Rachel Cram – Life is complex and you are expressing it so well. There are all these things within us, right. But I really appreciate your ability to be able to pick out these items from your life and to be able to hold them up and just say, “I’m struggling with this and I’m not going to settle for it remaining a struggle.” I’m wondering, do you think maybe when you were 13 or 14, would you have pictured yourself being here at 17? Being where you are right now?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. No. There’s no way I pictured myself being where I am today. Honestly, the future was looking pretty dark for me. It came to a point where I didn’t even want to live anymore. I was on such a downward slope and I was lost. I was very lost. My life was kind of up in the air. I didn’t really know what was going to happen to me. It wasn’t until I got help that things started to change. But yeah, I didn’t know where I was going to be. I definitely think I’m going to be here. That’s for sure.

Rachel Cram – We struggle in life. And often as a parent, when you’re watching your young teen or pre-teen struggle, you can become very hopeless and not see that that struggle could be a really important part of who they are to become. And, and I think what your parents may have done, and you can tell me if this is right or not, is they kept believing that there was more.

Rolande Taylor – Yes.

Rachel Cram – Would you be able to talk a little bit about what you saw your parents doing through those really hard years for you.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. Well the fact that they were willing to bring me to all these counseling appointments and the fact that they themselves were even willing to go to some counseling appointments and try to figure out new strategy,

Rachel Cram – Figure out things for themselves?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. Rachel Cram – As parents.

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. That showed so much dedication. That that was amazing. My parents have just been there for me the whole time, showing that they loved me. Even when I had to be brought to the hospital because I had hurt myself and it was pretty bad. Like I’d cut myself.

Rachel Cram – Okay

Rolande Taylor – so yeah they had to bring me there to the psych ward place there. And my parents, right away, as soon as I was out, they were there with me. Brought me home. So many times I’ve been to the hospital. They had been there to pick me up right away. Like, the police could’ve brought me home, but no. They made sure that they were the ones that were there to bring me home and to love me and support me through my whole journey. The whole time.

Rachel Cram – So if you could give one piece of wisdom to parents when their child is struggling with an aspect of their life. What would that be? From your from your profound 17 years of experience.

Rolande Taylor – I’d say, that one piece of wisdom would be love. Show love through the whole thing.

Rachel Cram – That’s a beautiful word. I love that you chose it. Love. I love that you chose love. Can you, can you explain what that looks like a little bit more?

Rolande Taylor – Yeah. Love doesn’t mean to always be hugging them or affection. It can be, ‘do you need to see someone? Do you need some space?’ Space! That is a big thing. Even with love, like, there were so many times when I just was going through something. All I needed was to be alone. I needed space.

Rachel Cram – Well and that is hard as a parent because you’re scared, right. So that space is hard because you want to get in there helping, protecting, supporting. It is a trust I think, to give you that space.

Rolande Taylor – Yes. Oh for sure. If you just show them that you love them, because all I need from my parents is that. All I needed was them to show me that they loved me, no matter what.

Rachel Cram – That ‘no matter what’ is pretty huge. Rolande Taylor – Yeah, that is pretty huge.

Rachel Cram – Well Ro, thank you so much for coming in to talk to me. I am so excited to watch your career as you go into play university ball now.

Rolande Taylor – Thank you for having me. I really appreciated being here. I loved it.

Rachel Cram – I wish you all the best.

Rolande Taylor – Thank you very much.

Episode 1