Mon 18 Apr 2005
After four visits to the Stevens Group, I am not any more familiar with any of the disorders themselves, but I am familiar with the people living with them. I can not explain schizophrenia or depression, but I could talk about people I have met who are living with conditions like these. Of all the people I interacted with at the Stevens Group, I can say that I only knew one person’s disability, which was schizophrenia. The only reason I know is because he told me. The first day, I wanted to know which person had schizophrenia, who had depression, who had multiple personality disorder, but I never asked and no one ever told me. If I had known, it would not have made any difference though, because I do not know what any of the conditions actually do to a person’s brain, emotions, and body. It is strange how I felt compelled, along with my classmates, to want that information even though we would not know what to do with it if we had it.
I think the Stevens Group is an incredible establishment because of its dedication to helping its members regain independency and employment. Individuals who join the Stevens Group come to the group with the desire to work and to learn the skills necessary to live on their own. The center provides opportunities to learn how to do household chores, such as vacuuming and cooking. It also provides opportunities for people to work and receive a salary for growing and preserving plants. In addition to acquiring all of these skills, the center also provides a comfortable environment for all the members to socialize and feel like they can hang out and not have it be in a therapeutical or medical context.
I am uncertain how I personally impacted the people I met while at the Stevens Group. If anything, I think I helped to wipe away some of the stigma that the people there have attached to Dickinson students. The director, Stephanie, always said that she thought it was great we were there because most of the people there hate Dickinson students. They thought Dickinson students were all rude and offensive because of the way some of the students have treated them.
Fair treatment, I think, is the major problem that the people in the Stevens Group encounter on a daily basis. A lot of the members are apprehensive at first when they speak to me and then open up quickly once we start having a conversation. I always got the feeling that they were anticipating for me to judge them and stigmatize them. I realized that I was worried about the same thing when I talked to them too. I was worried they were going to judge me before talking to me and just pass me off as just another student with a stigma attached to me. A lot of people there I met seem content for the majority of the time. When they are not, they are usually untrusting, insecure, or angry. This is understandable because they get taken advantage of by cashiers, they see psychiatrists who try to fix them instead of trying to understand them, and they get prank calls by kids who do not see them as people, but as disabilities.
My experience at the Stevens Group reminded me a lot of Mary Douglas’ concept of “dirt” whenever any of the people I met told me of a time they were treated poorly or when Stephanie would tell me stories. No matter how many times I heard about it, I was shocked at the amount of energy some people expend just to make themselves feel more normal. I found that when I was in the Stevens Group, I arrived not really knowing what to expect. I was expecting not to be able to relax and that I wouldn’t be able to talk to the people there like I would talk to my friends. However, I was corrected by the stimulating conversations I had with the people I met and when I could sit back and forget that I was talking to someone who was living with a mental disability. The first day I was there I also felt sympathy and guilt, but then after I talked to people I didn’t feel that way anymore. I have noticed that most of the authors we have read play on this tendency for the reader to create assumptions about the character with a disability and the plot itself.
The characters with disabilities we have read are developed in such a manner where the reader feels naturally inclined to feel sympathy, guilt, and maybe even to ally ourselves with him or her. However, there is always a twist which plays on those emotions the author knows the reader is having. For example, in “Fat,” I felt really bad for the “fat man” because the waiters were making fun of him and because of the way the author described his polite demeanor. But, at the end of the story we see that the narrator wants to be the fat man instead of being thin, the cultural ideal. In Motherless Brooklyn, Lionel is set up as a victim to the bullying of the other Minna men, but then we soon see that he is smarter than all of them. There is also the girl in “the Fat girl” who loses a lot of weight but is only happy when she gains it all back. Lastly, there is Hulga in “Good Country People,” whom we sympathize with and become happy she is on a date, but the guy turns out to be a sadist, pretty much. No one was expecting that, only because her leg caused us to see her as someone we only wanted good things for.