SydneyOn.


Today I took my second trip to the Carlisle House. I had to go alone because other people were busy with finals and work. I was a little apprehensive about going alone. However, as soon as I walked in the door, I was greeted by many people that I met last week. Many of them remembered me and my name, and I felt very welcomed. After I hung up my coat, I was invited by Scott to sit down on the couch and talk with him. He was concerned because I told him that I was very cold. For the next few minutes we talked about his pet dog, a Jack Russell Terrier. He told me how attached he is to her and what he feeds her every morning. Then Chris, who I met last week, came in from outside. He also was very welcoming and said it was a good surprise to see me again. Scott, Chris and I then talked about all of the snow, the cold weather, and the approaching storm. Then I walked over to the Christmas tree where Sam, another man I met last week, showed me the ornaments and lights that they put on it. He was very excited about all of the decorations around the building and told me that he was very excited for Christmas. I asked him if he had any exciting plans, and he said he would be with his family. Then Scott and Chris invited me to go outside with them while they smoked. Even though I don’t smoke, I went with them to talk. Once outside, they asked me a lot of questions about where I was from and school. They were interested in what I was studying and asked me about my tests. At this point we went back inside. Chris and I sat down in the kitchen to talk. He asked when I would be going home for Christmas. I told him, and he said that it must be hard for all of the parents when the Dickinson students go home. I was confused, and asked him why. He said it was probably hard because all of the Dickinson students “mooched money from their parents all the time and never did any work.” This statement struck me as very obvious as to how the Dickinson students are viewed. After this, Chris invited me to play pool. Scott came with us. During this time, Scott told me about living in Georgia, threatening to commit suicide, being put into a mental institution, and then being diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I also found out that he still lives with his parents. After this, I met with a woman named Kathy. She was working at the craft table. I sat down with her and we began talking. She told me about her cats, and how one of them had run away. We then spent a long time talking about our respective pets and love of animals. She then talked about her past—her jobs, relationships, and her childhood. She told me that she liked the Carlisle House a lot. After some more time watching her do crafts, I realized it was time to go. I said goodbye to everyone, and wished them all a Merry Christmas.
The overall mood at the Carlisle House was very pleasant and happy today. Everyone was relaxing and genuinely enjoying themselves. I was very nervous because I had to go alone, but when I walked in and realized that many of the members that I met last week remembered me, I felt completely at ease. It was very apparent that I was establishing worthwhile relationships with the people at the Carlisle House. Last week, I felt that I was desperately trying to make conversation and interact with people. Today, I had members calling me by my first name, asking me to sit and talk with them, and inviting me to do activities. My visit, on the whole, was much more comfortable and I was able to be more personable with people. I was particularly impacted by Chris’s statement about the Dickinson students being mooches off of their parents. This told me that many Carlisle residents think very poorly of the type of students that go to Dickinson. I knew that certain stereotypes of the students existed, but I had never heard anything first hand. When it was time for me to leave, many of the members wished me a Merry Christmas, asking me to return after the holidays. It was very fulfilling to feel that I had established real relationships with some of these people and in doing so, I was able to learn about their backgrounds and dispel some of my own false thoughts.
In her book Extraordinary Bodies, Thompson discusses how the terms “abnormal” and “extraordinary bodies” do not necessary reflect a person with physical flaws. She proposes the idea that “abnormal” is a term that is established and used by a particular sect of society that has raised itself or separated itself and feels that it possess a desirable characteristic. This translates into the idea that stereotypes can permeate into any and all aspects of life, not just physicality. I feel that my experience at the Carlisle House has illustrated this theory first hand. We can assume that individuals like those at the Carlisle House are stereotyped by general society because of their mental disabilities. However, it was proven to me today that this stereotyped group holds their own stereotypes against others. Not only are these stereotypes present, but they have nothing to do with physical flaws or abnormality. Chris’s comment told me that the Dickinson students are looked at as being worthless, rich, and spoiled—quite a strong stereotype. I realized that I had been ignorant enough to think that a stereotyped group of people were unable to hold stereotypes against others. These visits to the Carlisle House have helped me to understand some of the theories and ideas discussed in class, as I was able to see them first hand. I was able to learn about people that had experienced much different things than myself, but also connect with them on other levels.

I went to the Carlisle House with Jason and James. Though it wasn’t admitted, I think we were all slightly apprehensive about spending the next two hours there. As we walked in the front door, I could see many people sitting and standing around in the central common room. As soon as we hit the door, a woman who introduced herself as “Peanut” asked for all of our names. Because Stephanie was expecting us, I first looked for her to let her know that we had arrived. Stephanie then asked Peanut to give us a tour (even though I had already been shown around). Peanut was singing Kareoke, and told us that she would show us around after the song was over. As we stood waiting, she held the microphone up to each of our mouths, asking us to sing along. After the song, she quickly gave us a tour of the facility. It was easy to see that Peanut was in a hurry to get back to the Kareoke machine. Realizing that I would be asked to sing again if I stayed in the common room, I wondered back into the kitchen. There were a few individuals sitting around at various tables. I stood awkwardly for a few moments, unsure of what to do. Finally, I approached a table where a man and a woman were sitting. I introduced myself and asked if it would be okay if I sat down to talk to them. The man, Sam, was very friendly. I asked him about the Carlisle House, where he lived, about his family, etc. Then another man by the name of Chris came in from the outside smoking area. He introduced himself and a few other people in the kitchen, commenting on one woman, “Thats —–. She’s crazy, but she’s nice.” He was very, very talkative. Both men offered me coffee, soup, and cigarettes. I declined all of them. Chris and I talked about many things, including his childhood, his time spent in the Navy, our respective visits to Hawaii, his time spent in San Diego, and his current home in Shippensburgh. Half way through our conversation, Sam excused himself. Throughout all of this time, Jason, James, and Peanut were singing and dancing in the common room. Chris then went back outside to smoke, leaving me at the table with a middle-aged woman. She had very little to say, answering all of my questions with yes or no, and only talking enough to express her annoyance for Peanut’s continuous singing. I then excused myself and sat down at another table with a different woman. I introduced myself and began talking to her. She seemed unhappy and didn’t smile. I carried the conversation and found myself attempting to get her to smile. I was unsuccesful. She told me about her past, but refused to talk about her family. Sam then invited me to play a game of table-top shuffleboard with him. He taught me how to play and laughed at how bad I was. He then suggested that we play pool because I “might be better at that game.” While playing pool, another man (whose name I have forgotten) came into the room. He was also very talkative and told me about his family, his pets, his ex-girlfriend that he had cheated on, and his childhood. He also mentioned that he was bi-polar and schizophrenic. After a few minutes, I realized that it was time for us to leave. The man informed me that he came to the Carlisle House every Thursday and hoped that I would be back next week to see him. We said goodbye to everyone and left. Peanut was still singing.
When I walked into the Carlisle House, I immediately felt awkward and nervous. Most people seemed to be preoccupied either by the kareoke machine or by other activities. I felt more comfortable after speaking to Stephanie. Peanut’s tour of the facility, though rushed, also helped to make me feel less awkward. Because I did not want to participate in the singing, I knew I had to take it upon myself to approach others and begin conversations. Talking to Sam was not hard, though at times he struggled to understand my questions or answer accordingly. Chris’s friendliness finally made me feel at ease. It also helped when he introduced me to others in the room. I found it particularly interesting when he referred to another woman as crazy. Both of the women that I spoke with were not as friendly or talkative. I found myself struggling to keep the conversation going. I was very happy when Sam came and found me to play games with him. He didn’t have a whole lot to say, but he never stopped smiling. I liked the fact that he made fun of me for being so bad at shuffle-board. This made me realize that I had a false pretense that people suffering from mental disabilities were unable to understand or possess a good sense of humor. I felt that I connected best with the last man that I met. He was the most open, telling me all about his life. We talked about dogs for a long time, and I found myself laughing, agreeing with him about having pet dogs (he has 3 dogs, and I have 2). The tone of the conversation was like one that I would have with one of my good friends at school. When the man asked me to come back on the specific day that he would be there, I felt very happy. This also made me feel much less apprehensive about returning because I knew that I would have a friend there to talk to.
The two hours that I spent at the Carlisle House have helped me re-formulate many of the previous ideas, assumptions, and notions that I had in regard to people with mental disabilities. Because of the way society and literature portrays mental disability, it was hard not to assume that the people at the Carlisle House would be volatile, out of control, or uncomprehendable. However, I found myself carrying on very normal conversations, not having to change the way I spoke or acted. My only complaint is that it is difficult to determine the types of problems that these people have. There is no good way to go about asking what someones particular mental disability is, and I feel that most people would rather talk about other things. The situation that was most influential to me was my experience with Sam. As stated earlier, he found it quite amusing how terrible I was at shuffle-board. However when he first made fun of me, I was suprised and taken-back. I then realized that this was so suprising to me because I had assumed that a person like Sam was unable to be funny or understand humour, and was not prepared for his comments. To my own disgust, I had exhibited one of the coping strategies that we discussed in class. I assumed that an abnormality specific to one function or body part was all encompassing. I knew that because Sam was a member at the Carlisle House, he had a mental disability of some kind. But I took this assumption another step too far by convincing myself that someone with a mental disability was incapable of possessing a normal sense of humor. After this realization, my attitude changed. All of the individuals at the Carlisle House had varying degrees of disabilities, however these disabilities did not define them or control every aspect of their lives.

After completing my orientation at the Carlisle House, I have a much clearer idea of what this project involves. As I walked through the front doors of the Carlisle House, I felt very nervous and unsure. When I left, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I was excited to begin what seemed like a very fun, interactive, and beneficial experience. I was also very hesitant about returning. Even though everyone I met and all of the people there were more than welcoming, I still felt slightly uncomfortable in the surroundings. Because I have had such limited experience with anyone with a mental disability, I am not sure what to expect or how to react. I have very high expectations for this project, and see it as a very beneficial opportunity. Throughout the next few weeks I hope that I will learn to be more comfortable around people that have mental disabilities. I know that my comfort level will increase as I spend more time with the people at the Carlisle House, and I personally feel that my initial hesitation is normal, considering my lack of previous exposure. I also see this as a good opportunity to learn more about people of different backgrounds and people who have experienced very different things.
As a double major, one being in Neuroscience, I have some background knowledge of psychology, abnormalities, and cognitive, mental and emotional disorders. I am aware of clinical and scientific information, structure and function abnormalities, etc. On top of my education background, I have had some exposure through a family that I baby-sit for in Carlisle. One of the children, an 8 year old boy, has Tuberous Sclerosis, a genetic disease characterized by seizures, behavioral problems and mental retardation. This rare disease causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and on other vital organs. Most of these tumors are inoperable. One can assume the effects that this disease would have on an individual’s ability to lead a “normal” life. However, to me, my experience with this boy is far different than what I will experience at the Carlisle House. I see his disorder as more of a health issue, while I think of those at the Carlisle House having mental and emotional problems.
I hope that I can have a positive impact on this organization and the people that I will encounter there. In many instances, the most important thing to someone with a mental disability is to know that someone else cares. I feel that I can show my genuine care for a person in many different ways. I also know that many of the people at the Carlisle House will be seeking different things from the Dickinson students. Some may just want a person to listen as they talk about their life, their struggles, or their problems. Others may wish to have someone that they can simply socialize with; play games, watch television, or shoot pool. Whatever activities I may take part in, I feel that the most important thing is to make those at the Carlisle House realize that they are valued, worthwhile, and that someone else cares about them.
The biggest obstacle I see regarding this project is breaking the barrier that exists between the Carlisle community (specifically the members of the Carlisle House) and the students of the college. Because of past experiences, many members of the community do not have a good opinion of the Dickinson students. We are seen as snobby, conceited, rude, and spoiled. I feel that this stigma is amplified even more by people with mental disabilities, simply because in some situations, their ability to understand is altered. I have some reservations about being able to truly connect with the people at the Carlisle House due to these stereotypes and the way that they view us. Hopefully, through this opportunity, I will be able to convince those at the Carlisle House that not all of these stereotypes are true. If I am able to do this, I am sure that I will be able to build genuine, trusting relationships with them.