Mean people suck. In my first draft of this blog, that bumper sticker sentiment was all I could type. It’s a natural response to an emotional situation, but I know better. Responding in anger only fuels more intolerance. I have enough to deal with just managing my mental illness. Advocacy is not a license to bully. Leave that to the narrow-minded. Then help them change their mind through peaceful interaction.
I was sitting in the corner of a crowded cafe with my friend Eric The Giant. Our joke is that we’re Gandalf and Bilbo. Eric’s voice is powerful, reminiscent of the great wizard, and appropriate to his height and build. Like the young Hobbit, I am short and soft-spoken, but can project across a room when I need to.
A student and his grandfather were at the table next to us, flipping through a family photo album and enjoying their coffee. Eric needed to talk about his depression and ADHD. He also had questions regarding my diagnosis. I often repeat my answers because his ear just misses them. Eric has some hearing loss due to a preexisting condition, so I raise my voice above the clatter at his request. Friends helping friends.
A middle-aged businesswoman across the room shoots disapproving glances in our direction. Laptop open, indignant, she peppers her workload with outbursts of “Excuse Me!” and “Hello!” At first I thought nothing of it, but then wondered if the topics of psychosis and suicide were beginning to coat everyone’s tea time like cabbage-farty fallout from the paper mill.
Eric’s medication was making him sleepy. We stood up for a hug before he left. Eric hugs you and you know it into yesterday, with a cherry on top that he offers from the bottom of his heart: “I love you, man.” He always means it. A more genuine person I’ve yet to meet.
That post-hug coffee cloud was barely a memory when the businesswoman blustered her way to my table and demanded to know “What the hell is wrong with your friend?” I had to take a beat and catch my breath. She was livid.
“Do you realize that the entire restaurant had to endure his loud, obnoxious voice? What’s wrong with him anyway? Is he retarded or something?”
She was baiting me by insulting my friend. Her aggression was palpable. I didn’t think about my answer because I didn’t have to. As calmly as I could, I told her the truth. “He has a brain tumor.”
She was poised to rip into me again, red-faced, voice quivering. “He – he…what?”
“Has a brain tumor. Behind his eyes. It affects his vision. It impairs his hearing. His auditory nerves are compressed due to the placement and size of the tumor.”
It may have been my honesty or the directness of my answer, but whatever the reason, she suddenly stopped. Her expression seemed to soften. I imagined she was processing the information and considering the rudeness of her actions. I was wrong.
She fussed with her gold necklace. She composed herself. She closed her spreadsheet and turned to face me. Eyes narrowed, lips pursed. She wasn’t finished. There was more. She leaned in close, pushing her index finger to my face, and hissed, “Well then, what’s your problem?”
Mean people suck.
Again, I took a breath. Another beat. An advocate’s response to an emotional situation. Breathe. Be honest. Tell the truth.
“I have schizophrenia.”
The hurricane stopped. The aggressor backed down. She closed her laptop and stared at her breve. I reached into my pocket and handed her my card.
I told her about my blog. I wanted her to understand that I wasn’t hurt or upset. I talked about BringChange2Mind, about fighting the stigma attached to mental illness. I was sincere because it’s important to me. I didn’t pump up the volume or turn it down, but kept things balanced and considerate. I made a conscious choice to offer compassion in a moment of conflict and discomfort. It wasn’t easy because she’d tried to hurt me. I took the high road, she took my card. Her frown stayed put as she packed up to leave.
Moments passed. I considered the woman’s complaint from another angle. Perhaps we’d been too loud or inappropriate. I apologized to the elderly man and the student at the next table over. The grandfather said, “It don’t make no nevermind, son. My sister had The Schizophrenia. She’s dead some time now. God bless.”
His grandson said, “I think it’s awesome you stood up for yourself and your friend. My auntie was the best. We loved her despite her mental illness.” He shook my hand and smiled. “Can I have one of your cards, too?”
Live in harmony. Open the Door.
Awesome story. More power to you Henry and Eric. Way to go!!!
Love your blog!!
my son has had schizophrenia since 16. People are rude reading these stories on this site helps me so much. He is now 32 married and has a child but unable to hold a job. It is hard
Thank you. I needed this. My late father had schizophrenia as well. He was born in 1933, and lived all his life in a VERY small town. I tell you this because I think it will give you some idea of how it was for him- and his family. I was in my early 20’s before I could say out loud that my dad has schizophrenia. I didn’t even know just what my father’s condition was until I was 16 and asked my mother point blank. I have since learned all I could about this disorder and others. My father was the kindest, gentlest and most awesome father, ever. I also have Chronic Major Depression and of my two brother’s – one has bipolar and the other has depression and anxiety. We all have had or continue to have issues with substance abuse. Thanks again – this is really meaningful for me-I sure get it about stigma.
oh thank you, thank you, thank you! For being a positive role model, for standing up for Eric and yourself, for being mindful…thanks many times over…for all of us
I found this really helpful. I have bipolar and I’ve seen my far share of jerks. Would it be ok if I post this to my company facebook? I run a small comic company that is trying to raise awareness for mental illness. I can give you a link if you.
Thank you, very much.
I am so glad your schizophrenia is under control and that you were able to keep a level head when responding to her rudeness. You are right; mean people DO suck.
Your blog brought tears to my eyes. Once in my hometown, I was enjoying an ice cream cone in a popular local ice cream parlor with my sister. Both of us have mental illness. Behind us, an adult talking with a youth, was saying slams against mental health. I can’t remember exactly what they said, because I tend to block some things out that hurt, but I remember thinking, boy are you uneducated or very rude. I think what you did showed extreme strength and I applaud you. You chose a peaceful way to encounter in your face rudeness and stigma. Our world would be better if we all could follow your example. You rock.
You are my guru today Henry….as you have been before
I was the legal guardian for my neighbor, a schizophrenic who’s family would no longer tolerate his illness. Or even admit he had an illness. I also spent most of the first 24 years of life growing up in Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. So, I appreciate this poignant story more than I can express. It’s time to remove the stigma of mental disability and illness. To stop finding “crazy” behaviors as something funny, something to laugh at. Thank you for this blog.
Great story. Sorry you went through that. I’m not so sure I would have remained so composed. Sometimes I wish I were missing an arm or something, not to be callous toward anyone who has lost an arm, I don’t really wish that, but it is so difficult for the world to see our struggle. The great people feel it but the close minded lash out from their own issues. Thank you for what you did.
Great example of a nasty situation that you could have just ignored. So many times people want to stand up but don’t know what to say. Thanks for your meaningful story!
I love you, man.
I think it was totally awesome what you did and I applaud you as I might of been rude to her. You handled it very gracefully. I too had an Aunt with Downs and we loved her to pieces. She was the happiest little person in the world. There are not enough people in the world who have a heart towards the different and that is very sad….God made us all just the way we are…..Blessings to you!
I find your response and advocacy inspiring. Well done. I don’t think I would have responded so gracefully. 🙂
Fantastic story well done to the young man who stood up for himself and his friend and god bless them both if more people talk about mental illness then the stigma will go
Nice work Henry!
What if….the other Woman was the one who was actually mentally ill.
The gift of living is laced with the knowledge some of us have to experience deeply the empathetic lifetime this time. The portals opened by what is labeled. Intolerance and ignorance are the true sicknesses of the human species. Thank you for sharing. Everyone has issues and hers are hidden until the gifters…you and Eric help to expose them. She may or may not have learned from that exchange….my thoughts are she gifted all of us, by showing her true color’s to you, you were.compelled.to write and we realize we are all in this together. Compassion. Much love to our Species..human…One…living on a planet. Hope we get it someday.
Because our loved ones don’t have a ‘casserole diagnosis,’ we tend to slip off grid . As a friend once said, “If our loved ones had any other illness, the community would be holding car washes & bake sales to show support. Now? They just stop calling.
Good for you for speaking up!