Joseph Aquiline tried to end his obsessions at age 14 by taking 80 tablets of Benadryl. It didn’t kill him, and a doctor’s subsequent prescription of Xanax, for anxiety, backfired badly. A friend suggested that he would feel great if he took a bunch of them at once, and that experiment led him down a path of pills.
Now 38, Mr. Aquiline is still dealing with depression and obsessions — he compulsively counts the bricks in walls or the syllables in sentences, for instance. But he’s also two years clean and applying to colleges, looking to turn his skills with electronics and music into a career, in part because he ended up in Allegheny County Mental Health Court.
Mr. Aquiline, who grew up in Penn Hills, had held jobs for years at a stretch. But he saw his life start to unravel in his mid-20s, after a girlfriend persuaded him to try heroin.
Joseph Aquiline has participated in rehabilitation programs over the years. (Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette)
“It felt amazing. It just took all my anxiety, all my [obsessive compulsive disorder] away,” he said. “I was always a humble person, a quiet person, and it made me completely different. … I had never found a medication that helped that much.”
Unfortunately, it’s addictive, and he had to steal to support the habit. The lows were very low — like the time in 2001 when he urged police to kill him and hurled a knife at them. A series of convictions culminated in 2002 with a maximum sentence of seven years for robbery.
Imprisoned, untreated, anxieties out of control, he eventually managed to calm himself with obsessive reading, focused on religion, music, business, psychiatry. He became a Buddhist.
Mr. Aquiline has participated in a lot of rehab programs over the years, and most have focused on drugs, barely addressing mental health, job training or life skills. When free, he struggled to pay bills and avoid temptation.
He faltered again in 2013, when police responded to a drunken family argument and had to subdue him. He was sentenced to 11½ to 23 months in jail and was released about a year ago, to the supervision of Mental Health Court.
For a year, he has scraped by on a disability check that barely covers rent, utilities and food. Mental Health Court, though, got him into comprehensive programs and connected him to the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which is helping with his bid for college.
“You’re doing so well, and it’s so great to see,” said Judge Beth A. Lazzara, who runs Mental Health Court, at Mr. Aquiline’s Dec. 14 review hearing.
“I’m not going back” to prison, he said in an interview. “I like my life too much now.”
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.