Just a few days before Valentine’s Day, I read a heartwarming story on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. In the Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, edition, the story was about a flower shop that employs people with mental health issues. It was an excellent story, but, it has left me with the same feelings of disquiet that follow me like a dark cloud most of the time.
It was a story about hope, encouragement and possibilities for those who need all of that and more. Yet, my heart hurt after reading it.
I have written before about sharing one’s diagnosis with family, friends, co-workers and one’s boss. I have shared my deep feelings regarding secrecy feeding stigma. I have shared the harm that may come from telling all. I have shared the good that may come from telling all.
This particular story about flowers, Valentine’s Day and hope had the courage to reveal both sides of that coin: to tell or not to tell. The manager of the shop stated that his clients “don’t have a clue” about his employees.
“The manager would prefer that the flower shop be known for creativity or service rather than the fact that all but one employee has an illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia,” the story read. The article quoted this wonderful man with a heart full of compassion, saying “People might think they’ll just get some daisies shoved in a vase…”
The truth hit me in the face. It really isn’t anyone’s business who the employees are at this shop. They are real people with real lives who want to be like everyone else. Not telling is the best way to go for this establishment. If his clients “knew” his employees lived with brain disorders they might stop frequenting his shop. They might feel like the bride who was nervous about trusting people with mental illnesses with the centerpieces for her wedding.
I felt like crying. This bride is really no different from any other person who has little understanding of mental illness. She was scared for herself and of “them.” She did not want her wedding ruined by these people.
Further in the story, Mark Williams of Disabilityworks said, “Because of the stigma, job applicants with these diseases have a much harder time than those who are blind or in a wheelchair.” Again, I felt like crying. The truth can hurt.
The manager of the flower shop shows his compassionate understanding of his employees needs by offering them the ability to “call in sick without fear of disciplinary action or pink slips.” While on the job, if symptoms flare up, he will say, “go for a walk … or, tomorrow is another day.”
The truth, as we know, is that pink slips and disciplinary actions are far too frequent in the real world of work. Those who do not understand mental illness can be a harsh judge and jury for those in need of understanding and awareness.
Again, I felt like crying. Why can’t all (or most) employees, managers, colleagues, coworkers, friends and family become educated for the good and welfare of all? Why must people who just want to be like everyone else be stigmatized by ignorance?
The mission and vision of Rebecca’s Dream is to continue to inform and educate the public so that stigma will diminish over time.
As the manager of the flower shop said when he first began working there, he had scant knowledge of mental illness and was a little concerned for his safety. Now he says, “People just don’t understand … that these are just normal people, except with good days and bad days.”
That is the truth. Good days and bad days. We all have good days and bad days, and we all need compassionate understanding.
My wish for the wonderful manager at the flower shop: may all your days be filled with roses. You are a person of great humanity.
My dream for all who live with a mood disorder: may your story no longer be front-page news because you are not newsworthy. You just are living the best life you can while being accepted and understood by all people of great humanity.
Gail W. Cutler