This morning my eldest brother, Dan, came over to mow our lawn as he does every week.
I’m going to digress from my point here, but, as many of you know, Dan has Schizophrenia and is on government Disability because he has such terrible anxiety that he can’t work. This is a direct result of doctors plying him with medications back when he was a teenager and was first diagnosed. Rather than work with professionals right away to teach him coping methods for dealing with the voices in his head (in conjunction with his regular meds) and dealing with his anxiety attacks, his doctors just threw a bazillion meds his way and taught him exactly nothing about coping with his mental illness. My parents didn’t know at the time that Schizophrenia can be helped significantly with a healthy diet and by being taught healthy and productive ways to cope with a mental illness, so they went along with the doctors’ recommendations that he be medicated and treated him just like another one of their kids. This was not helpful to him in the least as he wasn’t just like any other kid and all it did was actually make him feel even more different than the rest of us. My parents were just doing what they thought was right and it’s not something to blame on them. It just is what it is. Due to this fact, my bro has never learned how to deal with conflict, confrontation, or any other of the day to day social aspects of life. It is a bit heartbreaking, but if he thinks people are at all angry or upset or disappointed in him, he retreats into his apartment and ups his dose of Clonazepam (which, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is highly addictive, causes permanent brain damage when used over a long period of time and can actually worsen symptoms of depression, which is rampant among people with Schizophrenia). He has zero ability to deal with what the world throws at him without being heavily medicated and a person just can’t function optimally in a job while they are heavily medicated, so he is on disability.
The problem with living in Canada and being on Disability is that it really doesn’t pay well enough to sustain a person and my brother lives well below the poverty line. To help this, he volunteers with different charities whenever he can and, whenever he completes a certain amount of hours (I think it’s something like 20?), he gets an additional $100 toward living. Well, you can imagine that if a person is riddled with anxiety and sometimes can’t even leave his house because he can’t wrestle with the voices both inside and outside of his head, it takes a long time to accumulate the extra volunteer hours to make a bit of extra money. In addition, if a person can’t hold down a job because of a mental illness, it inevitably steers him toward feeling very unproductive and compounds the feeling of worthlessness that many people with mental illnesses face on a daily basis. I try to help his self-esteem by “employing” him once a week to come over and mow our lawn. He comes, whenever he is having a good day, to mow both the front and back and I give him $20 for his time and effort. The entire lawn only takes about 25 minutes, so he’s actually making fairly good money for a guy who is dirt poor. He is a hard worker and often does a bit extra by pulling weeds if I ask him to or watering Cora’s trees if they look like they are getting a bit dry and he always leaves happy and feeling as though he’s a contributing member of society. It’s win/win really – our lawn stays pretty and he feels like he’s accomplished something good!
Today he came over and I could see right away that he was NOT having a good day. I was both happy and sad that he made the effort to come anyway because he usually doesn’t if he’s not feeling up to snuff, but I also realized immediately that by coming when he wasn’t feeling great meant that he was hurting for money. He set to work mowing and I went to the bank and grabbed some money for him and, just because, I threw in an extra $5. I knew he must need it, but would never ask for it and we can spare an extra $5, so it is not a big deal. Had I given him more than the $5, he would have refused it because he has pride issues and would have thought I was treating him like a charity case, so I kept it to a mere $5.
When he was finished, I handed him the money and, when he noticed the extra $5, his face lit up like it was Christmas and a giant smile spread across his face. “Hey!” he cried. “You gave me a tip!” When I told him that I thought he’d done a great job today and that the extra money was for working so hard, he literally beamed with pride. I gave him a hug and he walked away standing up straight and tall, with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. All I felt was sadness.
Imagine if your life was such a struggle all the time that a mere $5 made all the difference in your day? I do my best to help him out, with money or extra groceries, on a regular basis, but it’s still only enough to live on. He doesn’t get to do the things that so many of us take for granted and don’t really appreciate. Even going to a movie once in awhile is a giant treat for him, but he usually can’t afford it. On the one hand, it makes his life very simple – if you don’t have the money to fill your life up with useless items, you just don’t – but on the other, he misses out on so many things that would make keep him happy, entertained and integrated in society so much better.
I guess my point in all of this is that next time you spend $5 on a cup of coffee and don’t think twice about it, try to remember that there are a bazillion people out there who you could help with that mere $5 – people who would be grateful and really benefit from it. If everyone gave a little more time, money, food, etc. to the people (and animals) who need it the most, we would all be playing a huge part in contributing to the greater good of society’s well-being. It really takes so little to make people happy and so many of us have more than enough means to facilitate a little happiness.
Have a good weekend, my friends! I wish you all enough…
And Charlie says, “Enjoy the sun!”