Monday, March 10, 2014

Facing The Boss

Well, I did it. Well, more like we did it, Thomas and I.

Yesterday was the meeting with Thomas' boss. I have to say that I was very nervous about the whole thing because I wanted to be well-spoken and informative all while being respectful of what Thomas wanted to accomplish with the meeting. He and I had gone over what I was going to say so basically I had the ability to lay it all on the table what Thomas deals with.

We found the manager (Richard) in the store and he led us to a back office. My mouth was dry and I was shaking but I reached across the desk and shook his hand and introduced myself. He looked like he didn't know what to expect so I tried to put him at ease because I knew this was a highly unusual situation for him having a parent show up to speak with him about one of his employees. This is something that I had, several times, wondered if I was doing the right thing but honestly, I am tired of hiding behind the stigma. I write so openly here and I had to reach the point that honesty in that office was a good decision.

I began by saying that it was my understanding that he knew that Thomas had schizophrenia. I told him that I was under the impression that he had been told this by the job rehab specialist. I was surprised when he told me that it had been another manager that had been told first and that they had come to him and told him. As it now stood, all of the managers at Thomas' work know that Thomas has schizophrenia. I wasn't sure how I felt about that given that I had understood that Richard was the only one. I moved forward with that knowledge and that understanding that he was going to pass on some or all of what I was about to tell him.

Since Thomas had left early last Wednesday because his symptoms had reached a crisis point, I began with that, launching into telling him that Thomas had paranoia about crowds in the store and that the security cameras caused him a great deal of anxiety. He nodded his head, seemingly unmoved by what I was saying. I didn't quite know what to make of his silence and decided afterwards that the things I was telling him were probably a lot to process. You can never talk about schizophrenia and its symptoms without people who aren't "in the know" needing time to process what they are hearing. There sat Thomas, freshly shaved and showered and mute and appearing pretty normal and I think that Richard couldn't believe that the kid he had in front of him dealt with what he does.

Then I told him about Thomas' voice and what it says. I saw his eyes widen when I mentioned the voice so I quickly let him know that it didn't command Thomas to do anything and that it wasn't critical. I told him that it was essentially a voice that does running commentary on what he's doing and I broke it down for him by taking advantage of what he was doing himself in that moment and I said "It's like this,"

"You are sitting at a desk."
"You are listening to someone explain something to you."
"You are wearing a name tag."

And so on and so forth. He looked at Thomas and looked back at me and I wondered if I had done the right thing even mentioning the voice. I had gotten Thomas' blessing to tell Richard about it but I was rethinking it. I think that is one of the hardest things for an "outsider" to process because it is so foreign to them. It's hard for ME to process in a lot of ways so I know it must have been hard for Richard too. I also explained to him that when Thomas is in a conversation, the voice gets louder making it difficult for him to follow what is being said. I said,

"If you are talking to Thomas for more than about a 3 minute stretch you will see him drift away and appear like he's not listening. It is important you understand that this is not a willful act on his part and that he wants to be able to focus on what you are saying but it's nearly impossible."

He nodded.

I have to say that it is very hard to have such a serious conversation with someone and have them be essentially speechless. You don't know if you are getting through or if they are busy judging you or they are thinking furiously about how sensationalistic this is and they can't wait to tell others about it. All of these thoughts ran through my head but I pushed on.

Next I explained the medications Thomas is on and how they affect him and the side effects that he deals with. I told him about clozaril and proudly threw out the word "agranulocytosis" for effect and explained what that does to Thomas potentially. I explained that it was considered the "big guns" of schizophrenia meds and that it wasn't working for Thomas. I told him that Thomas was currently in a trial of different meds and that it was going to take some time before he was stabilized. He nodded again.

I ended the conversation by telling Richard that stress will make all of this worse. I told him that with the passing of Thomas' grandpa and the fact that the meds aren't working well and that on Wednesday there were crowds and cameras that he was under an immense amount of stress and couldn't work anymore that night. Richard was ok with that and finally began to speak.

He asked if Thomas would prefer different hours (at a different time of day) and Thomas said he liked the hours he worked. He told us that the store is only employed with part time employees who work 25 hours or less so that was why Thomas didn't have the amount of hours that he normally did. He was flexible about Thomas needing Tuesday's and Thursday's off for therapy and he agreed to schedule Thomas just two days a week probably on Wednesday's and Saturday's. I couldn't have asked for better shifts for Thomas.

In the end, Richard admitted that he was surprised by what I told him. He said he had no experience with mental illness like this and that he had learned a lot. Then a smile washed across his face. Thank God! I apologized about having dumped so much on him but that I felt he needed to know and he said he was glad he did now and that he felt he could now better understand what Thomas is dealing with when he's there. I felt better about the whole thing and we all said goodbye and Thomas and I walked out into the parking lot.

Do you know what the best part of all of this is? As we were walking into the parking lot, I turned and looked at Thomas and he was smiling from ear to ear. I asked him if I had done right by him and said everything right, representing him well. He said he was really happy with how that went and I was so relieved.

Ultimately this is Thomas' life, his job, his illness but I think sometimes he needs me to help him get through it all and I felt like, because of that glorious smile, that I had done the right thing.

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