Tumultuous does not begin to describe Patsha’s childhood.“Growing up I was always told, ‘you’re not going to be anything. You’re not going to be anyone.'”She never knew her biological parents, and started her life in an abusive environment. She lived with an adoptive family from 6 months until she was 13 years old, then she entered the foster care system. Transitioning to foster care did not provide her with stability.
“I’ve been in almost every residential facility in St. Louis. I’ve been in Heartland in Nevada, Missouri, Girls and Boys Town in St. James. I’ve been almost everywhere.”
Aging out of the foster care system did little to make things better. At a young age, she was forced to fend for herself.
“When I was 18, I went on my own. I was homeless for a year.” Patsha (pronouced Pa-shay) recalls staying in shelters in downtown St. Louis and couch surfing for much of that year.
While in the hospital in 2012, Patsha was connected with Places for People during a visit by Outreach Coordinator Megan Heeney.
Enrolling in services was not a magic cure-all, as she dealt with an unstable living situation and legal issues.
Patsha reached a crossroads in her young life during a hospital stay when she assaulted a nurse. Staring at an uncertain future, with the possibility of prison time, Patsha faced a life-changing decision.
“That’s when I realized, my life is going down a road I don’t want it to go down … I had to make a decision. If I wanted to continue in self-destruction and live in prison for the rest of my life, or did I really want to live and live a life.”
When Patsha made the decision to turn her life around, “that’s when doors started opening up for me.”
Patsha started with Places for People’s Action Team, but made the transition to the Forensic Assertive Community Team (FACT) after her legal issues began.
The FACT Team provides intensified services with frequent interventions and comprehensive services, featuring a team of community support staff, specialists in substance-abuse treatment and vocational assistance, and nursing staff. What makes FACT unique from other ACT Teams is that a forensic support staff member is on the team to help clients navigate the legal system.
With the help of the FACT Team, a regular medication schedule and a renewed resolve to succeed, Patsha flourished.
“Patsha has become an excellent client,” FACT Team Peer Specialist Lisa Wines said, giving a portion of the credit for the turnaround to a long-acting injection that Patsha started in early 2014. “She was introduced to the injection, and I would say probably a month within her getting the first injection, we would see a turnabout coming.”
The FACT Team has connected Patsha with a psychiatrist, a primary care physician, and provided other support necessary for recovery and success.
The team helped Patsha find her first apartment of her own. Wines said that was an important milestone. “I think that had a lot to do with her history from growing up as a child, moving from place to place to place, and that’s all she knew. We were able to help with those concerns that she had. And now she is doing wonderful.”
Patsha recognizes the changes she has been through in the past year.
“With a lot of emotional barriers come mental barriers as well. Once I became mentally stable, I was able to see the world for what it was. I was looking at the world as everyone’s out to get me, everyone’s out to hurt me. Once I was able to remove those barriers and accept help as it was, I was able to move forward.”
Regardless of what’s been happening in Patsha’s life, she has found salvation at school. Despite attending three high schools, she is proud of the 3.5 grade point average she earned in her high school career. During her time at Webster Groves High School, she received the “Top Hat” medal for her academic excellence. She graduated from Farmington High School. “It wasn’t always easy, but if you really want something, you’re going to do it.”
She has continued to excel in college, where she is currently pursuing an associate’s degree in general transfer studies at St. Louis Community College – Forest Park, with the ultimate goal of earning a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university.
“I love to learn. You can never learn enough in life, period.”
Always a gifted creative writer —Patsha has chronicled her experiences in an unpublished memoir— a friend convinced Patsha to write for the school newspaper, The Scene, this summer. Her first two articles were published at the top of the front page.
She has enjoyed journalism so much, she can envision a bright future as a reporter in print or on TV.
When Patsha started with the FACT Team, she came to Places for People twice a week to meet with the team. She now visits once a week. The FACT Team helps Patsha keep track of medical and legal appointments. They also provide support in other areas. “Since working with us, she’s gotten her own place, she is employed now, and going to school. Those are things that were not part of her life before she started working with us,” Wines explained.
Patsha will continue to work the FACT Team until her probation ends. She enjoys her weekly visits. “I tell them how my week’s going. Talk to my doctor. Get my medication. It’s just like a fun time. I goof off with them, laugh with them, cry with them, smile with them. It’s like my second family.”
One of the most important things Patsha has learned from her team is to communicate, and not allow herself to bottle up her feelings. She can call team members at any time.
Patsha has developed an especially close bond with Wines. Wines said, “She felt like she was a failure because of what she experienced in her childhood. And I let her know that you can be whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do.”
When Patsha looks back at her behavior even a year ago, she looks back in disbelief.
“I can’t believe that that was me. … I regret a lot of things. But I can’t live in that, I just have to improve myself.”
Patsha has advice for teenagers who are reluctant to seek help because of the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“You are who you want to be. Just because you have a mental illness or you’re diagnosed with anything, you don’t have to be that. For awhile I was living in what they were diagnosing me with. You can call me schizophrenic, but I don’t have to act like it. Empower yourself to be better, better than what society labels you as, better than what anybody says about you.”