Posts Tagged ‘stigmatizing people’

Mental illness, it could be you

shadows of the past may come alive to help us be better people

“Hi,” the woman said shyly.  “I’m calling about a butterfly garden.  I saw your ad in the paper.”

More than a decade has gone by since I received that phone call.  I still remember how I felt.

“I live on a fixed income due to a disability,” the woman added.  “I was wondering if I could get a small butterfly garden and how much that would cost.”

I remember how I felt then, but the way I feel now is much more powerful.  I feel terrible about the way I handled that call.

The woman told me where she lived.  I had heard of the place, but didn’t know much about it.  I knew only that the people who lived there had some type of mental problems.

I talked with my gardening mentor who encouraged me to go see the woman.  I wish I had taken his advice.  I can’t remember who else I consulted with, but I was most certainly influenced in the other direction.

The woman called several times telling me how much she loved butterflies.  I told her the price for a small garden.  She explained that she received her check each month and asked if she could make monthly payments.

People said things like, “those people who live there are crazy,” and I vaguely recall one person telling me that I would be making a mistake to get involved with someone like that.  I concluded that the woman wouldn’t be able to pay like she said she would.  I assumed several things that today I am not proud of.   I chose not to meet with her.

As I write, I really can’t believe that was me.

I wasn’t going to write about this memory when I began this post, which is one of my many challenges in writing.  I’ll start a story or some type of tale and the next thing I know, I’ll be back in time, ten or twenty years into my past.

I wanted to tell you about my dream of creating a healing garden for people fighting and living with mental illness.  A place for healing and community to happen.

I wanted to tell you about an outdoor bed of hay framed with sunflowers and chocolate cosmos laced around the pillow shams.

Sometimes the past meets the present and I get lost somewhere in the middle.

The apartments where the woman lived is a thriving community today, as it was when she called me all those years ago, back when life was much easier for me.  Back when I thought the problems those people had would never be ones I would face.  Oh no!  Not me or my family.

I was terribly wrong and completely ignorant.

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.  It can strike any person, any family and in any place.

Ten years after I turned down the woman’s beautiful and brave request, I found myself at the same apartment building where she had wanted her little butterfly garden.

I was there applying for my adult son to get an apartment in that community.

I had forgotten about that phone call until one day when I went to visit my son there.  Several of his neighbors came outside.  We walked around the building together finding many places where we could plant, of all things, a butterfly garden.  The memory slapped me in the face.

I realized that my son was one of those people.

My bright intelligent son who had superior verbal skills by age three, was a good student other than talking too much from being bored, was in a grand way always enthusiastic about life, winning school awards in science and later in kayaking, was struck with a mental illness.

Today, I am a woman who must sometimes say, “I live on a fixed income due to a disability.”  

Today, I realize, I am one of those people too.

Turns out we are all the same and always were.  The differences I imagined came from cultured misconceptions of immunity derived from ignorance and stigma.

Thank you for visiting my blog,

dogkisses.


“Can you spare some change?” he asked a citizen!

The Vancouver Province's solution to troublema...

Image by sillygwailo via Flickr

How dare he ask for change in this great place we live!  A place where we are full of higher education and very busy living our green worthy lives.  How dare he bother us!

Our bags are filled with organic locally grown produce and righteously so.  Our achievements are certainly worth noting — so how dare he ask us for change!

They say he has schizophrenia so he might well, he might kill us!  You don’t know what he might do.  Did you hear in the news about that guy who…

Dial 911!  Tell them we are being harassed by a schizophrenic who is asking for change.  Put him in jail — that will teach him!

“Can you spare some change for a cup of coffee?”  he asked a citizen near the center of the lovely town considered one of the best places in America to live.

He needed fifty-cents more for a cup of coffee.

Most of the people asking for change are kept in one place and it isn’t near that part of town.

The praised area of the lovely town includes the organic market, which is the center of living green; a gathering place for locals, most of whom have a higher education.

Medical professionals, scientists, students and plenty of people with PhD’s in just about every field you can imagine patronize the market and the surrounding shops.

Students, natural healers, and many professed open-minded free-spirited folks are to be reckoned with in this great place, which is what I love about living here.

Since it isn’t illegal to ask for change then a person who asks can instead be charged with other crimes.  Harassment, trespassing and several others that will land him or her in the same jail that holds violent criminals waiting for a life sentence.  But then, I guess,  all county jails are created equal.

I had been sick and my son was not well during this time.  He was however enjoying tutoring sessions via the local literacy council.   The offices are located on the same property as the organic market.

He and his tutor were studying the Cherokee language, the learning of which is by no means an easy attempt.  The tutor didn’t know anything about the language and nobody there seemed to know about the working memory.

One thing was clear.  My son loved the class.  He absolutely loved it.  He talked about it.  He thought about it in between classes.  He was getting a lot out of the class.

He wasn’t even on the property of the market and was on a public sidewalk when he was seen asking for change, but the private security guard didn’t care.  He hadn’t cared a week earlier when I went there and asked him if we could talk.

I thought that the security guard might have some empathy for our situation if I explained to him that my son was not well and that I was trying to get him some help.  I went to see him.

He was nearly unapproachable and it was clear he wasn’t interested in talking to me.  When he did he was very rude.

“My son would like to talk to you,” I said to him.

With a look of contempt he turned towards my son who was standing by the smoking station.  Arrogantly the guard remarked,  “No he doesn’t.”

“Yes, he does,” I repeated.  “He’s waiting over there because he said you told him he could not smoke anywhere else.”

“Well.  Yes he’s right.  I did tell him that.  I’m surprised he listened.”  What a jerk.

My son walked up and held out his hand to shake the guards hand.  The man stood as still as a robot with his arms behind his back.  I wondered if he had been in the military and maybe he thought he still was!  I looked him in the eyes.  A few seconds later he held out his hand to shake my son’s, but when I held mine out he refused.

I have no idea what that man thought of me.  I dress in clean clothes.  I’m pretty clean cut overall.  I mean I don’t stand out or anything.  So why, I wonder, did that man treat me with fear of contagion,  looking at me with total contempt and only staring at my hand when I held it out as I introduced myself.

Who knows what he thought of me –the mother of a son who would ask a citizen for change?

My son apologized to the guard.  He told him he wouldn’t do it again.

I wanted the guard to care.  I wanted him to care that this young man has a mother.  I wanted him to know that I am trying to get help in this community.  I wanted him to care that we are a part of the community.  He did not care about any of that.

He said if he saw my son ask for change again that he would call the police and have my son arrested.

I was having a terrible episode of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  My son was not well.  His ACT team wouldn’t help so I was doing everything for my son.

A couple of days later, my son made a very poor choice and again, ask someone for change.  I had just talked to him that day and told him I was coming to town to give him some of his money but he didn’t wait.

He was banned for one year from the entire property, which not only includes the market but the grocery store, the drug store, our favorite restaurant where we’ve dined since he was a boy, along with the place where he was being tutored.

I was very angry at him but I also knew he needed professional help and he was not getting any.  None.  No doctor visits.  Nothing.

He was dismissed from the tutoring services a couple of weeks afterward.  The director said they stopped tutoring him because he has memory problems.  I pleaded.  I nearly begged them not too dismiss my son from all services.  I tried to get them to teach him something easier to remember than the Cherokee language.   I asked if it was because of any other reason –(I suspected it was related to him having asked for change) but they said no, that it was because of his memory problems.   I believe they lied.  A memory problem is part of my son’s disability.  The literacy council receives government funding so this doesn’t make sense how they could legally dismiss my son from all services because of his disability.

Why couldn’t his ACT team act?  Why couldn’t we come together and try to solve the issue and help my son?  I asked if we could meet and perhaps go talk to the guard.  Their response was they thought it best to simply leave it alone.  Do nothing.  Not even talk about it.

Why can’t we act like a community who cares not only for people in other countries but about our very own neighbors?

How can we feel so good about living green and doing right by the land and saving all the animals and doing all the zillions of good deeds, while we turn our heads to our own neighbors in need?

We believe, without knowing that someone is helping them.  We believe, without knowing, that our community is set up with services to help people, like my son, who does things we do not find acceptable, such as asking for some spare change.  We believe our tax dollars have secured such services.

I have since made sure that my son has money for coffee, but I do not want to go to that market and shop anymore.

I guess if it was an area where tolerance was not so widely professed then it would be easier to accept the kind of intolerance that seeps out of the pores of the people with power, such as that security guard.

He ought to be keeping his eye out for thieves.  But then, I guess, we often associate a person asking for some change with thieves.  I had told the guard and a friend of his had told him as well that my son is a good guy.  He didn’t care.

I have turned my head plenty times when asked if I could spare some change.  I have judged without knowing anything about the person asking.

I believe this year, in the spirit of Christmas, I will spare some change.