i went to the grocery store with one of the people i work with. this person has a home. a home with a broken microwave. a small air conditioner. a few plates. some stuffed animals. this person is polite, kind, and shy. he wears the same dirty clothes for weeks at a time. and on some days we tell each other jokes. this person has not and does not use illicit substances. this person does not have family members who are able to help. this person receives food stamps and uses them correctly. this person has a severe and persistent mental illness. and his favorite food is lobster.
this person goes to the grocery store and gets followed around because workers assume he will steal. parents pull their children closer when he reaches to grab the canned soup. this person gets dirty looks for the items he places in his cart. and his worth is judged by the card he holds to pay for his groceries. this person will walk up to the counter and the cashier will look at him and then look over at me, smile and say, “it’s going to be food stamps all day. here i am working to pay for them to eat and these people get to do drugs and hang out all day.”
a mental illness is a brain disease characterized by a disruption of thoughts, feelings, and mood. a mental illness can impact a person’s daily functioning and ability to cope with the basic demands of life. i cannot tell you what the experience was like for him on the inside, because i couldn’t possibly fully understand it. but i do know what it was like for me to watch from the outside. this was one person. one day. one trip to the grocery store. one interaction with another human being. one story.
and sometimes i get simultaneously overwhelmed and overjoyed by all of our individual human experiences. our individual interactions with the world. and on days like today, i look around and think of all the people i’m looking at and taking in without even knowing. i think about all the people i know and all of the people i don’t. and i think about how often our judgements prior to meeting someone color our interactions with them. what i want you to know is that poor does not mean criminal. and mental illnesses are not characteristic of personal failings. what i want you to recognize is that you cannot possibly look at someone standing on the street or walking along the sidewalk from the comfort of your car and know their story. that you cannot dictate how someone spends their money simply because they have less than you. what i want you to know is that in the midst of judgements, you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to have your life shaped by another human being with a different life experience than yours.
i hope that at the end of my life, one of my greatest accomplishments will be that i took advantage of every opportunity to get to know someone before assuming that i already do. i hope that i’ll collect lots of stories and share lots of experiences. and i hope that i’ll become a better person because of all of the people i interact with along the way.
- i know a person who wants to get better.
- i know a person who is stigmatized because of their mental illness and outward appearance.
- i know a person who goes to church every sunday and walks outside to judge the person standing on the street corner.grocery store. gas station.
- i know a person who doesn’t have a home but has a job.
- i know a person who is not homeless but panhandles because she grew up so poor.
- i know a person who wants to work but cannot manage their psychiatric symptoms.
- i know a person who, after paying all of their bills, will have $3 for the rest of the month.
- i know a person who is financially well off that takes advantage of the system for their own financial gain.
- i know a person who never saw a single person work while growing up in her family.
- i know a person who has a mental illness and is a teacher.
- i know a person who is not ready to quit using and sells their food stamps.
- i know a person who is embarrassed to receive government assistance because of the stigma attached to it.
- i know a person who is treated poorly by others but continues to choose to love.
- i know people who have changed my life because they’ve allowed me into theirs.