Thursday, November 07, 2013

Should He Disclose His Illness?

I read a blog the other day that talked about whether or not someone should disclose the fact that they have schizophrenia to their place of employment. The thought has been running around in the back of my head because I've been thinking about Thomas and that same issue.

While I can't say whether or not he has said anything, I imagine that it's just a
matter of time before he says something to someone. He's very open about having schizophrenia and rolls with the punches if the reaction is negative. Well, he seems to. I know that he's run up against friends when he was in high school that bullied him because he had disclosed that fact but he's also gained amazing support from other friends who do everything from, at the very least, remaining his friend in spite of his diagnosis or like his very best friend Patrick he has someone who will reality check for him helping him to discern between what is real and what is not. I know that a couple of his friends have taken his delusional rants in stride and do tell him he's wrong about those things but they remain his friends and accept him for who he is. I couldn't be happier, especially for Patrick because this kid is nothing short of amazing to me in the day and age of stigma and bullying, because he has stood solidly by Thomas' side.

I have to wonder about work though. I have watched Thomas from outside the store as I have waited for him to get off work and the telltale signs that he's "not like everyone else" are there. You see, for one thing, Thomas stands and walks without moving his upper body at all, not even an inch. It's a very odd looking posture and indicates to me that he's struggling. It is a rare moment when I catch him fully animated like everyone else which makes the difference between "normal" movement and his way of being. I can't help but think that others notice this too.

Also, based on what he's told me about work so far, he is not making friends and is having a hard time relating to people. Luckily he's not in customer service so the public doesn't interact with him much which is the way he wants it. I know when he's hidden inside himself he is stone-faced and speaks very little and I know that in turn that is off-putting to the people around him that don't know him.

I also know that if he does get to know someone that his delusional thinking and lack of ability to tell the difference between what is real and what isn't will become glaringly apparent and since it scares me a little bit, even now to hear, I can't imagine how it might make a co-worker who doesn't know him feel. Which brings me to "the question". Should he disclose that he has schizophrenia?

I worry a lot about this for so many reasons. One is obviously that an employer is in all likelihood going to have a knee jerk reaction like I have seen in the past and that is one of fear. God forbid they have a mentally ill person around let alone one with (the dreaded) schizophrenia. No doubt they will have heard the news stories that we all have and it's not to big of a leap for them to then begin questioning their safety, the safety of the store and of their customers. If he discloses could he find himself without a job?

I get so angry at this thought and often promise myself that this is one issue I won't stay out of. If he loses his job and I can be certain it's because they have discovered that he has schizophrenia I can just about to guarantee that I am hiring a lawyer. You see, I live in a small town and business people across town know each other. My husband works in sales and HE knows most of his customers personal business along with knowing about other business owners drama. It's a bit like a soap opera in this 50,000 people-sized town and word travels fast. With everything in the news, I'm fairly certain that if Thomas tries to find another job and uses previous jobs as references that ex employers will find a way to let it be known that there is something gravely wrong with Thomas. I don't think they can give details about that sort of thing but I know from my own experience in the working world that there are ways to get across to prospective employers that this kid just isn't the right fit. Once this word is out, in a small town this can be a vicious cycle of mouths running off when they shouldn't be.

So, I don't know. There are two things that could come out of this. Inevitably Thomas is either going to tell someone he trusts that he has schizophrenia or he's going to talk too much about his delusions and concerns about things happening that aren't. Either way, people are going to find out and it's that moment that will make all of the difference. We live in a conservative, "good ol' boy" town where differences are not celebrated. Instead people are forced to live quiet, private lives where isolation is the norm for them.

Thomas goes back to work on Friday. Each day that passes feels like a countdown to the end of that job for me. I will tell you, he doesn't like his job very much and while he's flourishing outside of it because he's got his little brother and favorite aunt here visiting, I know once they leave he'll fall back into his usual patterns.

All of what I write are my thoughts and my observations from the outside but I know him pretty well and unfortunately in the past he definitely has a "shelf life" with people who don't understand him or who are afraid of him. So, I have to wonder, is disclosing his illness to his employer a good idea or should he keep his mouth shut and hope they see past his behaviors and words?

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