Yesterday turned out to be the MOST UNEXPECTED day. I found my courage to go and talk to Tami and I found it because of Thomas. I asked him to place the call to Tami and request a meeting and he did so by telling her,
"My mom and I want to talk to you about my mental health."
I thought that was so brave of him to do and I thought that if he could place a phone call (something he's often scared to do) and then admit outright to his manager that it concerns his mental health, then I could get my act together and go through with this meeting.
Before going I did contemplate calling Opportunities Unlimited but I fought with the thought that it might come across as threatening to his manager. I felt this because it felt like bringing in the cavalry when perhaps all it would take is an informed discussion about Thomas and about schizophrenia. In the end I decided not to involve Opportunities Unlimited.
Before going I thought it would be wise to print up a fact sheet about schizophrenia and I put that in my purse to be presented to Tami when the time was right. I was incredibly nervous about having this talk and had no idea how it was going to be received. Since Tami had written Thomas up in the past for leaving work early I felt that she might be tough to get through too. I couldn't have been more wrong.
We got to the store, Thomas and I, and I met Tami out by the cash registers. I took one look at her and thought that there was no way that this woman was going to understand what I was about to tell her. We walked back to the office and when we got in there, there was one chair and Thomas plunked down in it leaving me standing there in my high heels teetering and trying to look confident. I think I need to teach Thomas that he should offer the woman the only chair in the room but I had to laugh when he took the seat himself.
I launched into explaining to her that Thomas had come to this job via Opportunities Unlimited. I was setting the stage to let her know that he has a "disability" and that technically they couldn't fire him because of that. I didn't say that directly but I wanted to get my point across. Then I revealed to her that Thomas's "disability" is that he has schizophrenia and I'm telling you, I couldn't have imagined what happened next.
She began by telling us that her sister has schizophrenia. Her sister! You've got to be kidding me. What are the chances of that? Then we talked about Thomas's challenges including that crowds cause him a great deal of paranoia and she told us that she deliberately doesn't schedule Thomas for big sale days because she knows it's hard for him. She said that her sister has some social anxiety also and that crowds do to her what they do to Thomas. Really? Seriously? Her sister is EXACTLY like Thomas? How could this be? She said that she had noticed that Thomas had struggled a couple weeks ago (when I was in Seattle) and because of that she had cut his hours back to give him a break. Since she mentioned that episode I thought I would bring up the fact that I was leaving again in April for the conference and that he'd probably struggle at work through that time. She completely agreed that he probably would so I tentatively asked her if it would be possible for Thomas to have that time off. I prefaced it with saying that we realized he was already pushing his luck because he was taking a vacation just a few days before that but she HAPPILY agreed to give him the time off saying that she felt it was a good idea too.
Then came the tough part of the conversation and that was the subject of Thomas being written up. She said she does that because she is "going to treat Thomas like everyone else there" and that his leaving "leaves them scrambling to fill his vacated space" and sometimes that causes a lot of problems. I wondered to myself,
"Can she seriously treat Thomas "just like everyone else there"? I mean, because he has a "disability", can she legally do that?"
I didn't know and that's something I'm going to have to look into but in the mean time Thomas is still in danger of being written up. That's not to say that I want Thomas treated like he's a pariah and get special treatment but I do think that his leaving early should be allowed because it's not like he's just walking off the job to be defiant. The takeaway, however, was that he will get written up sometimes but she said she will accommodate him as much as she can and she has since she last wrote him up. He will still be in danger of being fired (which I hate) but it seems like they'll do the best they can to keep that from happening. Really, I'm at a point that if they're seriously going to fire him because he's leaving early because of his illness then so be it. If his firing is somehow against the law then I'll cross that bridge when and if we get to it. I'd hate to raise hell in my small town by hiring a lawyer and pushing them to keep him there as an employee but I'm certainly not above doing that if I have to. I just really hope that I never have to take it that far. I think there are a lot of steps between being fired and then bringing out the big guns (lawyers) one of which might be Opportunities Unlimited or Thomas's advocate over at the State of Idaho's Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
So, all in all the meeting was a HUGE relief. Both Thomas and I were visibly relieved and I thanked Tami for sharing her stories about her sister and for understanding. Underneath that thank you was a thank you to God for giving us this most unique situation where we met with a person that already knew the illness and not only knew it but had a close family member with it. All of my preparing for her to recoil at the sound of the word schizophrenia was for nothing and I was so thankful.
The moral of the story is this:
You have to take risks. You HAVE TO. You just never know what's going to come of it by doing so. It might not always turn out like you hoped but if you didn't take the risk in the first place you might never discover that instead of something being a debacle, the result is, in the end, the best possible outcome you could(n't) have imagined.
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