Jacquilynne Gray: Lost in plain viewWednesday, October 09, 2013 by: Steffanie Petroni
Jacquilynne (Jac) Gray (seen on the left at age 4) lived the majority of her life in Sault Ste. Marie. A personality disorder went undiagnosed until the end of her life and like many she sought escape through substance abuse. Jac’s story captures her courage living with the co-occurrence of mental illness in all of its tragedies and triumphs.
SooToday.com's Steffanie Petroni sat down with Jac's mother, Donna, and brings you Jac's story as told by her mother over the course of many hours of interviews.
Three days earlier Jac had presented in emergency with an infection that was rotting her flesh.
She was rushed into surgery with the prospect of losing both of her legs at the groin.
Doctors felt that it would be the only way that they could save her life.
But it was too late.
Flesh eating disease -necrotizing fasciitis, had spread into the trunk of her body.
Instead of amputating doctors hacked hunks of flesh out of Jac’s feet, legs and buttocks in a final attempt to stop the spread of infection.
And it did for the time being.
But a confirmation of Jac having the dual diagnosis of two blood diseases, agranulocytosis and cryoglobulinemia, meant a death sentence for Jac anyway.
Turning her head to her mother she said, “Mom, I know I’m dying. I don’t believe that it’s going to be right now. But it’s going to be soon.”
Donna was grateful that Jac’s understanding about the gravity of her situation took away the burden of having to tell her child that she had just months to live.
She looked at her daughter lying on the hospital bed, rigged up with tubes.
“Well,” she paused. “With such a little bit amount of time left what is it that you want to do?”
Jac’s response surprised Donna.
She was expecting her daughter to express a need to make amends with people, spend time with her children - the typical items on any standard to-do-before-I-die-in-a-few-months checklist.
Donna was living with her husband and children in the residential part of the west end in Sault Ste. Marie.
Donna was a young mother and an intuitive one.
She loved her only daughter and sensed that something was not quite right with Jacquilynne.
As a toddler Jac demonstrated a mature ability to be able to manipulate any situation to her benefit. “And she took great pleasure out of it,” chuckled Donna.
“It was comical in a lot of ways. She could make her father and everyone smile and laugh at her antics. But there was a part of me resented it.”
It wasn’t jealousy that drove Donna’s resentment. It was sadness.
“I was always labeled the disciplinarian. I was calling the consequences for her misbehaviours rather than being the one who could laugh at it. It put a separation between me and Jac that I didn’t really want there.”
(Shown above, Donna in her early twenties.)
When Jac grew older so did Donna’s concern grow for her daughter’s unusual behaviour. “I struggled to portray to doctors that Jac could say the right words, the right phrases and give the right emotion at the proper time but knew that it was acted out. I knew that Jac wasn’t really feeling it.”
Donna sought the support of local social workers but got nowhere.
It wasn’t until she had left the Sault and her marriage that she was finally able to have her five year old daughter referred to a psychologist.
However, Donna was told that her expectations of Jac were unrealistic and in fact she was the problem.
Being the young mother that she was the doctor advised that she should learn some new parenting techniques.
The finger pointing at her twenty-two year old mother shifted the focus from the little girl’s need for a diagnosis and early intervention.
Donna’s observation of her daughter’s lack of ability to show remorse, her ability to charm, feigning of emotions and indifference to the consequences of her behaviour were all early indications of a personality disorder.
(Shown right is Jac at her grade 8 graduation)
However, this life changing diagnosis didn’t come for Jac until she was just weeks away from her death.
Though Jac was at the end of her life the diagnosis provided some comfort in understanding why she was always so conflicted when trying to not do the wrong thing.
For Donna the diagnosis was a confirmation of what she had always suspected.
But the knowledge was bittersweet.
Instead, entering puberty, Jac turned to a popular option amongst the ‘missed’ or undiagnosed of those with co-occuring disorders of mental illness and addiction - self-medication.
Not understanding why she was different and why it was so difficult for her to live within societies expectations served to provide Jac with bouts of depression and anxiety which led her to seek relief through intravenous substance abuse.
More so, the loneliness she felt in a world that she didn’t understand and that didn’t understand her back drove her to the bosom of a sub-culture that offered her a redefined code of conduct.
Her inability to feel remorse, to not be swayed by popular conscience and a physical addiction to opioids plagued her until her sun set, one final time a year ago in late August.
She was thirty-four years old.