Jacquese Armstrong, Survivor Columnist
Being a psychiatric survivor in a success-oriented world and personally having none of the trappings that go with it can cause one to think of themselves as a victim. You become a victim to the illness, because it may keep you from that type of success. You become a victim of society, because stigma may keep you from attaining monetary success and social standing. You become a victim, because maybe your life did not proceed in the way you thought it should.
I have fallen prey to all these negative traps. And they are traps that not only keep you from maintaining wellness, but keep you dissatisfied and unhappy with your life. I had to look for and find my true essence, my God-given right to dignity and the motivation to fight anyone and anything that would try to rob me of this.
Some of us lose so much along the way with psychiatric illnesses. In the 35 years I’ve lived with mine (I no longer say battled), I have started and lost 5 careers, never had children, never married and have lived in poverty most of my adult life. Unfortunately, this is not an exception in the mental health community; especially among those with what they call “severe and chronic” illnesses. For this group of people, it is not uncommon to have been homeless at least once in your lifetime. It is not uncommon to be destitute and at the mercy of social services. It is not uncommon to have government subsidized housing or food stamps. It is not unusual to live in the poverty demographic. It is not unusual to be unemployed.
This is far from what I had envisioned for myself and was working towards when I had my first psychotic episode at 20. I had come from a well-educated, high-achieving, financially successful family. I thought a beautiful future was my right, especially if I worked hard. I was wrong.
My response to this reality, I realize now, has exacerbated my problems because one thought looms before me: If it weren’t for my illness, I would have…It has taken me 35 years to really embrace the fact that life goes on.
The first step that started to turn me around was an obsession with gratitude. I have a gratitude journal, gratitude board and I think in terms of gratitude all day long. There are so many folks in more dire situations than I. I may not have what I wanted. I may live in relative poverty. But, I have what I need. I have enough.
In embracing gratitude thinking, I find that every day I am blessed. I have much more than shelter, food, transportation and clothing; for which I am most grateful. When you start listing things to be grateful for, you learn a lot of positives about your life. I realized it was time to let go of preconceived notions that keep driving me toward a success my emotions evidently won’t let me handle.
After accommodating the need for gratitude in my life, I had to embrace peace; peace within myself. This meant trusting and surrendering to my Higher Power and leaning not to my own understanding.
This was particularly hard for me because I think my theories and thoughts are sound. I came to realize though, that no one wins 100% of the time. If you have no higher purpose than your own gratification and a Higher Power to provide that, you will be set up for a fall sometime, if not continually.
The peace within me came about when I could finally accept the facts my grandparents told me 33 years ago. This is my Higher Power’s will for me; I need to accept it.
This is not something you can just say or decide; you have to feel it from within. And after a long hard journey, I thank my God that I am finally there.
At 55, I haven’t much working time left. Most of my friends are retiring. But, I’m still hopeful. I am restructuring my goals and adjusting my vision once again and I feel great about the prospects.
It’s funny that in the most tumultuous recent times in our nation, I am finding peace. I refuse to be a victim any longer for any reason.