Recently I got my second job working at a grocery store as a cashier. That’s right, I learn to cooperate with those who come through my line that are cranky, happy, and experiencing the in-between mood. It was my second night on the job and I was exhausted from the stress of learning something completely new to me. I was truly hoping for one of those “happy” customers.
A man and a woman who appeared to be a decent couple were my next customers. Luckily for me, I can tell very easily how a customer is feeling before I even talk to them. They were “happy.” I kindly greeted them and began scanning the items on the belt.
After scanning some of their groceries, I noticed the man holding a bag of prescriptions in his hand. Our pharmacy department would normally handle this, but unfortunately we live in a world where people easily take advantage of the system. Making sure he had paid for his prescriptions, I made eye contact with him and waited for a response.
“Oh don’t worry I paid for them!” he said.
I acknowledged him with a smile and “ok” and then saw the receipt stapled to the white paper bag. I continued scanning the remaining items on the belt. I did appreciate his willingness to prove that he had paid for his prescriptions. Some customers aren’t so willing and get easily offended if you think that they are trying to steal from the store.
Then he said something I wasn’t quite prepared for.
“I don’t want you to think I was stealing all of those anti-psychotics I take…because you know, I am crazy like the rest of them.”
I could tell he wasn’t serious, though on the inside I was facing a major moral dilemma on whether or not I should defend not only me, but the others who take anti-psychotic medications as well. There is an incredible amount of stigma regarding anti-psychotic medications and unfortunately, the majority of America would automatically associate these types of medications with what they see in crime movies involving “mad houses.” However, to joke about something like this…to be quite honest, it offended me.
I was facing a hard decision. Should I say something to him? I had to defend myself somehow right? Didn’t he know whom he was talking to? Maybe if he did, he wouldn’t have said it in the first place…these thoughts ran rampant through my mind.
I was thinking very hard about this statement, but I was also trying to not take things too seriously like my mother often tells me. The woman must have noticed me in deep thought and said to me,“Oh, don’t mind him, he doesn’t know what he’s saying!”
It was almost like she knew what I was thinking about but didn’t want to say it because she didn’t know me. Or maybe she too was afraid of being honest about mental illness. I looked at her nodded with a smile and shortly after this comment, they paid for their groceries and off they went out the door.
I would probably never see them again.
Then the realization hit me. I just played the game that many of you play every day- I had just given into the stigma associated with my illness and my conscience was significantly taking a toll on me. I felt like the man had just gotten away with it. Now it wasn’t a crime by any means; however, I felt almost ashamed of myself for “letting it go.” I had missed an opportunity to help someone understand- maybe not completely, but enough to not go around saying those types of things to people.
We, the “mentally ill” have a lot of knowledge about our situations whether you realize it or not. Though, for some reason we don’t share it because we are afraid. In my situation that night, I was afraid I could lose my new job after having worked so hard to get it. And if by chance I had spoken up, I could face discrimination not only from him, but from my co-workers as well. He could have gone to the manager and then what? Besides, what did I know? I was just a young kid being too smart for my own good.
These thoughts then reminded me of a conversation I once had with a dear friend of mine. We were talking about education and she brought up the fact that all she had in her mind was “useless information that no one cares about.”
In my opinion, the only useless knowledge that exists is that which is not shared.
Looking back, maybe I should have said something…then maybe I think I did the right thing by keeping my mouth shut. It is a difficult situation for any of us to be in and in reality I know that both you and I will find ourselves again in a similar circumstance.
The truth is, I should have said something. Not necessarily about me, but maybe I could have helped him understand the stigmas associated with our illness. My advice to all of you is this- if you ever feel like what you know is useless and not worth sharing, think again. You can be the change. Young or old, remember that all “useless knowledge” is only useless when it is not shared. You can go through life having lost everything, but nothing will ever take away your experience and what you can do with it.
Lauren is a college freshman and first became involved with Bring Change 2 Mind as a high school student when she became the youngest walk captain in our national program. Having personal experience with mental illness has helped her to gain a greater perspective on the world around her. Lauren looks at her illness as an opportunity to help others understand those who live with mental illness as well. It is her personal mission as a young person to do all that she can to help eradicate the stigma.