Steve Colori has had schizoaffective disorder since age 19 and is currently 29. He has eight articles published with Oxford Medical Journals and has been authoring essays for Mclean Hospital since 2011. He has also been lecturing Mclean Hospital’s Harvard Residents since 2012, he lectures regularly at Simmons College Graduate School of Social Work, has lectured at Mass General Hospital’s Schizophrenia Day, and has lectured at NAMI GBCAN. He regularly writes for the Health & Wellness and Social Justice Sections of The Good Men’s Project. He also has a memoir titled "Experiencing and Overcoming Schizoaffective Disorder". He has a website with links to all my publications and more info about me @ SteveColori.com.
Who's to Help?
The holidays were always the most difficult time of year for Derrick. SuperShop's shelves were lined with ornamented garland, its workers were wearing green and red, Christmas tree printouts were on the windows, and there were major sales throughout the store. December 25th was three days away and the supermarket was busier than ever because of a major snowstorm that had kept shoppers home the past couple days.
"So we're a bit shorthanded with Kyle injuring his leg yesterday and Demarius being out sick. I know it's your day off but tomorrow is our busiest day of the year so if you wanna come in it would be appreciated. You don't have to but it would be helpful," said George the produce manager.
"I'll come in," Derrick said.
"I knew I could count on you," George replied. He turned to the rest of the crew who were taking a breather. "Derrick is the man, guys. He'll be here tomorrow." They chimed in their gratitude.
Eleven full pallets were on the loading dock and George was driving them one by one to the back room. They each needed to be organized and put into the store and Derrick and the assistant produce manager were responsible for unloading them.
"Aw, man. I've seen some days man but this is just the absolute worst. Doesn't get any worse than this," said Oscar as he put case after case of blueberries onto a dolly.
"We'll get through it," Derrick replied. "It could be worse."
"I don't know about that, guy. I can't imagine things being any more horrible than this. This is my fourth straight day working eleven hours. It's your eighth isn't it?"
"How are you not pissed? I'm ready to rip someone's head off."
"We'll get our Christmas bonuses at least."
"What? That lousy two hundred dollars. It's such bullshit. They have all the friggin money in the world and they give us a measly two hundred. Just absolute garbage."
"Time seems to be moving pretty quickly."
"Pahh. Quickly?. Are you out of your mind? We still have three hours and like a bunch of minutes left."
After unloading the blueberries Derrick rolled the dolly to the cooler by himself. He opened the door and pushed them through the plastic drapes.
"Put them over there," said a muffled voice that sounded like Oscar's.
Derrick looked in the direction of the voice but only saw stacks of fruits and vegetables. The cooler didn't have any windows and the walls were thick. He stepped out and eyed the entire produce back room but Oscar was gone.
"Shit," Derrick said.
He went back in and put the blueberries in a corner. After closing the door he proceeded to unload the rest of the pallet.
"You're too God damn slow," Derrick heard Oscar say. "You're the worst."
Derrick expected to see Oscar laughing by his side but only saw a stack of potatoes. Produce was stacked against the dingy white walls and everything was still. No one was there. The wooden rafters were bare but there were no speakers attached to them. Oscar passed through the swinging store doors which were fifty feet away and walked over to Derrick.
"You look like you've just seen a ghost," Oscar said.
"I'll be fine. Just chipping away at these stacks."
"You're the laziest fucking person in the world," Derrick heard once again.
"What did you just say?" he asked.
"Who, Me? I didn't say a word, guy. You gotta get your ears checked or somethin."
"Oh. Maybe it was the radio or something."
"Probably," Oscar replied. "I can't believe this bullshit. Look at that shit. More God damn pallets. Un-fucking-believable."
Derrick looked at Oscar.
"Well look at the damn things." He put his arms in the air and dropped them at his sides. "George is bringin ova anotha one. Come on, guy. We gotta finish this one to make room."
After watching Oscar speak Derrick knew this last sentence was real.
The rest of the day held more of the same and that night Derrick drove home listening to "The Little Drummer Boy" for the entire twenty minute car ride with the stereo system off.
* * *
The living room was dimly lit and the TV was off. Derrick and Ann were both wearing sweaters with jeans and wool socks. Their neighbors had invited them to a party but they had skipped it on account of Derrick. Every time the door across the street opened music echoed into their apartment. Ann shut the blinds and sat on a chair beside the couch.
"You can't go to work tomorrow," she said.
"I can't lose this job, we need the money." Derrick was hunched over on the couch with his head in his hands.
"You've been there six months and haven't missed a day though, sweetie."
"They're already shorthanded. One guy quit and another's out sick," Derrick said. "I told them I'd be there."
"You're not going to lose your job for not showing up on your day off. They can't fire you for being sick," Ann said. "You know what the doctor told you."
"If I can't support us we're going to miss rent."
"I'm starting my new job on the tenth. I can sell some jewelry and we'll be fine. It's just one day."
"I can't let this control my life," Derrick stated.
"Honey, this is your health we're talking about. Taking one day off for hearing voices isn't going to get you fired."
Derrick looked to his wife and turned to his green produce hat on the shelf. A cold draft chilled his neck and he slid closer to Ann.
"I can't afford to have you back in the hospital. If you just get some rest and take a little more medication you'll be back to work in no time."
"The exact same thing happened at my last job. I was hearing voices and I couldn't do the work."
"But you were able to work today, right?"
"I was. I guess this is different than intellectual work."
"Okay. So just keep plugging then. You can skip one day and go back on Christmas Eve."
"I hate this. I don't even feel that bad. It's just a little disorienting. I can do the work."
"Honey, really?" Ann put her hands to her face and shook her head.
"I don't know. I know I can work but––"
"You went to the hospital the last time this happened. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You've worked nine straight days for them."
"They need my help though. I'm physically capable of working."
"Since when was schizophrenia not a legitimate reason to miss one day of work? I can't have you getting hurt at work because you're disoriented. Think about being hospitalized, just think about it. You've come so far."
A couch coil squeaked as Ann sat next to Derrick. "You're the strongest man I know, honey. You're no less of a person for taking a day off for an illness."
After slowly raising his head from his hands he stared at a picture of a captain standing defiantly at the helm of his ship in the midst of a wild storm.
"I'll sell some jewelry and you get some rest and everything is going to be fine, okay."
Relieving stress Derrick let out a long breath. "I suppose one day off would be acceptable." He sat back and put his arm on the top of the couch. Ann kissed him on the cheek and cuddled next to him.
"I'm just wondering what I'm going to tell them."
"Tell them you weren't feeling well."
"I could but when I show up on Christmas Eve and I'm healthier than ever they'll think I'm lying."
"Why don't you tell George about your illness? He seems like a nice guy."
"I can't lost this job."
"Honey, they can't fire you for having a disability. It's against the law. You've done a great job so far."
"I'll just tell them I was exhausted."
* * *
"Derrick, where were you?" Demarius sniffled, took a tissue from his pocket, and blew his nose.
"I was out of gas, man. Ninth straight day of work caught up to me."
"We all thought you'd be here," Demarius continued. "I came in and I feel like absolute garbage."
"I know, I just wasn't feeling well."
"We were counting on you, Derrick. You really let us down." George looked at Derrick and laughed to show he was joking.
"Hey Derrick, we missed you yesterday," Oscar chimed in. "Busiest day of the year and all." Oscar lifted a box and placed it on a pallet. "We're all pretty tired around here, man. It sucks but we are."
"I'm aware of that," Derrick replied. "I wasn't here for a reason, you stupid bastard," he thought. He sighed and went back to work.
Derrick loaded a cart and took it to the store to stock some shelves. The commentary persisted but so did Derrick. Pushing cart after cart into the store Derrick did his best to ignore the others. Jobs that usually took twenty minutes were taking ten.
"Derrick's a beast. He is absolutely dominating today," George said.
"He's well rested," Oscar replied. "If I had that much energy I'd be doin twice as much as that, guy."
Supershop was a frenzy of last minute shoppers scrambling to buy their ingredients for their Christmas meals. It was noisy and Derrick could barely hear himself think. Music was playing but it was barely audible. He heard a faint melody echoing from the ground. Looking all around Derrick couldn't find anything capable of making any noise.
"Just breathe," he thought. He subtly stepped away from his cart and dropped his hands to his sides. Surprisingly his hand hit his phone. The music was still playing and he listened more intently. After checking the phone he discovered the source of the music.
"Thank God," he mouthed as he turned his phone off.
About mid-day Derrick sat down for a fifteen minute lunch. His cup was filled with hot water and he used it to warm his hands. A toy ship that was supposed to be on the shelves had been left in the break room.
"Just weather the storm," he thought.
The end of the day was approaching and the store had quieted down. A decent amount of people were still shopping but things were manageable. George was in his second floor office. Derrick hesitated at the bottom of the stairs looking towards the produce back room and up towards the office window. He gripped the rail and took the first step. The stairs clanked as his boots pushed down on them. After reaching the landing he knocked on the door.
George waved a hand and said, "Come on in, Derrick."
Derrick took a glance down the stairs and was tempted to turn around but he stepped through the door and shut it.
"How can I help you?"
"I just wanted to let you know I really wasn't feeling well yesterday."
"I was just giving you a hard time, I know you've been working a lot lately."
"So this isn't going to affect my job or anything?"
"No way, man, you kidding me? You're one of our best workers. Number one, I like you Derrick, and number two I can't afford to lose someone who actually listens when I ask them to do something."
They shared a laugh.
"Is there anything else I can help you with?" George asked.
"Nah, I think that's it. Thanks, George."
"You got it, man."
* * *
Derrick stepped through the apartment door and shut it quietly. He put his hat on the shelf, kicked his boots off, and turned into the living room. Ann put her book down and sat next to him.
"How was it?" she asked.
"George wasn't mad. The other guys were but George was fine."
"So you weren't hearing any voices?"
"Just misinformed ones. No hallucinations though,"
Ann kissed him on the cheek. "I'm so proud of you and happy and grateful." She looked at the star on the tree and leaned against him. "Screw the other guys. George is the only one who matters."
"They're still my coworkers though."
"Yeah but you were having a really hard time."
"From their perspective I was just tired and didn't feel like working. And everyone's tired."
"True. You worked today though," she said.
"I felt bad, I think I could have worked yesterday. I didn't hear any voices."
"That's because you weren't stressed. You slept half the day yesterday."
"I wanted to be there."
"If you didn't take care of yourself you wouldn't have been able to help anyone."
Derrick looked again towards the captain weathering the storm in the painting.
"I wish I could just tell people I have a mental illness."
"Maybe that day will come," Ann replied. Derrick held her close and she rested her head on his shoulder.
"I'll always be here for you," she said.
"I'm glad I know this is a real conversation."