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Life In First Person: Jacquese Armstrong


Life In First Person: Jacquese Armstrong

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Text: Jacquese Armstrong

After being in a day psychiatric hospital setting for a little more than two months, I resumed my life on August 9, 2018. It was better for me this time when I went in because this time, unlike before, I was not out of reality or extremely paranoid. I was “just” suicidal and extremely depressed.

I could not find the light of day. I had no hope for my future.  I woke up wailing most mornings, not stopping until I slowly got dressed and forced myself out of the door.  I had intermittent crying spells during the day and sobbed myself to sleep. After 36 years of on-again, off-again bouts of depression; flirtations with suicide; enduring other entities gangstering space in my mind; extreme paranoia to the point I thought my mind could be read; and mania that made me feel like I could fly until it and smacked me on the ground like in the wrestling shows, producing another bout of depression, I was used to pushing through it. But this time, knowing my cycles, I didn’t delude myself. I sought help before extreme paranoia set in. I contacted a day hospital program I have frequented in the past.

From age 20 to 44, this was my life cycle. At 44, a new anti-psychotic medication on the market got rid of the voices and once again I could hear my own and know it was mine. Having been diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, a type of schizophrenia, the medication augmented my mood stabilizer. It was a very big deal for me. Can you imagine not knowing who you are for 24 years?  That’s what happens when you don’t know your voice. You can’t trust any of your thoughts. You don’t know who they’re coming from.

For those 24 years and after, I existed in a cell of my own making. The world was too frightening with no one to define it for me. I never trusted anyone else to. People scared me—sometimes taking nightmarish forms.  After I attempted suicide at the end of my 20s, I totally isolated myself. I became almost agoraphobic, not even willing to go out and look for work anymore. I was living with my parents in Pittsburgh at the time.

My father lit a fire under my butt, telling me that if I don’t try— which meant to look for work at least— I’m condemning myself to be his adult child for the duration. It was too much for my vanity. I have always forced myself beyond my perceived limitations. That’s how I made it through—sheer tenacity in the dark depths and snatching myself by the collar when I thought I wanted to cry.

This went on for 24 years. Through three schools until I earned my degree, seven moves and about 100 jobs I started and quit because of voices, meltdowns or hospital stays.  But through all of this, I have learned that no matter how mine feels, life is a precious gift given by the Maker and I should try to hold on to it.

A psychiatrist at the day hospital tweaked my medication, and I got a lot of art therapy, which I love. I was out of isolation during the day and with my history, the employees are like my coworkers or family. I felt safe. But this time, the one thing I hate was my saving grace.

Group therapy handed me two life-defining moments. Usually, I just endure this part of the process. I really bore of hearing the same things hashed over from people every day.  And over 36 years of hospital stays, I’ve been through more than my share of “group wisdom” parties. So, what made it different this time?

God showed up. I believe in God and I know He can use anything to your good and He did for mine. Part of my support is my personal relationship with my Maker. My personal relationship with God has sustained me most of my adult life. I don’t put stock in organized religion. In the 37 years since my first psychotic break, I have only felt welcome in one church. But through all of this, I am thankful for the support of my family and personal Savior. I would not have made it this far without them.

During this stay, I learned two invaluable things about myself  that have allowed me to move forward and closer to a long-awaited meeting with Kairos time,  the time when me and God are in sync and moving together toward my greater good.

I discovered that I had a tremendous amount of guilt. It broke me down into tears, which is something I never let happen in public, because on the surface my life is not insufferable. Thanks to my family, I have everything I need including transportation.

Second, I didn’t realize that I was clinging to the pain I so desperately wanted to escape from. It’s been with me so long it’s sort of like my companion. Something I can always depend on and  know how to deal with, if only to pull the covers over my head and disregard a day.

God encouraged me to let go— I felt that gentle nudge.  Not knowing what direction I was going in, I yielded to Him.  It gave me peace.

I’m still on medication, including the first pill that killed the voices. I still see a psychiatrist and therapist. But somehow, I know I’ll never be in-patient or even a client at a day hospital again.

January 2019 is the continuation of a new day. I’m starting a creative part-time position that I designed for a mental health non-profit. Since August , I have had four presentations, published two short stories and two poems, and my book of poetry is due to be released in February .

I still only have a vague idea of where I’m going, but I trust in my Maker and my courage is now well-directed.