" SpiritofSaltSpring:BC:Canada:GulfIslands:SaltSpring:Salt Spring:

June 01, 2010

Mental Illness and the Employment Graveyard

He comes in almost every day and I've noticed lately that he seems to be getting more and more frustrated.  Even though his usual conversation is pretty much stream of consciousness, I know from his more lucid moments, that he's a really smart guy.

Over the past week I've noticed that he is dirtier than in comparison to the past six months. His clothes - blue sweat pants, red jacket, work boots -  are dirtier. The hair on his face, which has mostly been relatively clean-shaven, is now growing down his neck over his adam's apple.  There's a solid black line of grime under his fingernails. He's talking to himself and it's hard to make out what he's saying but I think today I heard him say something about feeling desperate. I've never heard him say that before.

And, I feel desperate knowing that I can't do anything for him, again. He leaves me speechless. I feel like I have no responses for him that make sense or would be useful. I have no where to refer him to that would work for him.

He really, really  wants to work. Yes, he's on disability but he wants to get off it. He's want to be productive. I can practically feel the yearning in his whole body for something to do to escape the endless searching for solutions that make up his waking hours. Where would he work? Where would he fit? Where would it be okay, (except in the spaces of kindness from someone who has come to know him), for him to be engaged in a non-stop stream of consciousness dialogue at work?If I could think of where, I'd be on the phone to find a way.

Occasionally, he does get an odd job from a good samaritan in the community who always helps out people by giving them work and sometimes a place to live.
He sometimes calls unsuspecting employers off our job board and leaves them messages that would only break his cover, alerting them to the fact that the person on the end of the line is not someone they'd probably want to hire even though, if it was labour, he'd do a great job.

I feel that he must just look at me and think what the hell use are you and what are you doing for me and why are you here and why can't I ever get work from coming in here? I try to give him feedback on his resume. It's perfect. It's okay. Doesn't want help. There's nothing wrong with it even though, much like his way of speaking, it's a run-on paragraph of never ending words that stretches half-way down the page.

When he leaves he's in full blown conversation with himself. He picks up the two bags of food he got from the food bank and I'm always struck by the fact that he never fails to say thank you and in response I use his name and say goodbye to him and I feel like shit and there is a silence of knowing and collective wistfulness and regret in the other people in the room as well.

He leaves and I feel deflated and useless and angry that there is almost no real help to enable people with schizophrenia or other barriers to find employment that would work for them - short hours - and for them to be supported in that work in a structured manner. There's nothing to encourage business  owners to employ those with significant barriers to gain employment and a sense of worth and I know, I know, it's hard enough for those without barriers to find their places.

Forget the H.S.T., why aren't we signing petitions so that people who are solely dependent on the kindness of others to give them hope can feel more hope.

I feel like he's losing hope. It's heartbreaking and frustrating and demoralizing and it's just another day where I work on Salt Spring where American and Canadian flags flap in the breeze off the bows of shiney, long yachts which are undoubtedly mere specks in the view from the telescopes positioned in the living rooms of empty million dollar houses awaiting the next short visit by their off island owners.


harriet glynn said...

The other day I was at a kid's store on Main St and this mentally "disabled?" man with a hearing/speech impediment was loudly reading the same page over and over again in the salesperson's ear. She looked very uncomfortable and I felt totally useless. I see him all the time. He's harmless but I never know what the right approach is. I do see him a lot so he clearly has some kind of routine and he seems happy. Just wish knew how to integrate a bit better.

Gayle Mavor said...

I assume you're not equating those who are mentally challenged (is that the P.C. term now?) with those who live with a mental illness since they are two very different experiences as I know you would know. But, often I think people confuse them.