Robert Fischer is a 50 year old man who has enjoyed living in his family home his whole life. He lives there with his mother, sister, two dogs, four cats and fish. Robert had a typical childhood playing baseball, taking accordion lessons, and participating in Boy Scouts. At age 10, he started helping clean up at his father’s auto restoration shop on the weekends. This eventually developed into him learning the trade himself:
Robert: I used to work at my—Queen City Alltop, my dad’s shop, and I worked there for 27 years. And I helped my dad out a lot, and I installed stuff for him.
Interviewer: What kinds of things did you install?
Robert: I installed convertible tops and carpets and headliners and door panels and seats and deck shelves and dashes, and I did carpets, convertible tops.
Interviewer: What was that like, to do that kind of work?
Robert: It was nice. I liked talking to the customers and all that, and helping them out, and it was really nice to work there.
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Robert worked in his father’s shop until 2005, when his father’s failing health forced them to close it. Some of Robert’s best memories were of the times he spent with his father, who passed away shortly before this interview:
Robert: He passed away, and he’s in a better place now. He’s up in heaven with God, and he’s probably dancing up there.
Interviewer: Dancing? Why do you say that?
Robert: Well, I just thought, well, he couldn’t walk here so he probably--. He never danced before, but I thought that he’d be dancing now.
Different from many individuals with schizophrenia whose symptoms prevent ongoing employment, Robert has worked most of his life. After his father’s shop closed, Robert took a break and spent some time pursuing one of his great joys: travelling out west. He is proud to report having visited Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, Pike’s Peak, Grand Teton National Park, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Then, in 2007, he began working at Kroger, where he is currently employed:
Robert: I worked at Kroger’s for just about seven years. And I like talking to the customers and greeting them, and I really like working for Kroger’s. They’re a good employer, and they help you out a lot and they supportive and they help out. I’m very happy to work there.
Interviewer: And you work, you told me earlier, 27 hours a week. Is that correct?
Robert: That’s right, 27 hours a week.
Interviewer: Um-hm. And doing what kinds of things?
Robert: I bag groceries. I reshop. I bring the carts in, clean the bathrooms, and I talk to the customers.
Robert graduated high school in the early 1980s and started experiencing visual hallucinations in 1994. These symptoms lasted for a few years, resulting in a two week long hospitalization, until his mother decided to take him home. Although Robert has had to cope with symptoms of schizophrenia for a number of years, he has not suffered from any for the past eight years and reports feeling “normal” now. Robert attends church weekly and identifies his faith as one thing that helps him through the more difficult times:
Robert: I believed in God, Jesus, and I said, “I’m gonna get through this.” And then my case worker was telling me--. This was after that. This was pretty many years later, but he said that I was experiencing kinda hard feelings inside of me. And I was coping through this and he says, “How did you get through it? How come you didn’t go to the hospital?” And I said “Well, I cope with it because I know things will get better.” So I kind of toughed it out.
Interviewer: You know, seeing the scary things that you were seeing and experiencing, I would think that it would be hard to be able to just say to yourself, “It’s gonna get better.”
Robert: Well, I believe in God and Jesus Christ, and I just think things will get better because He told me so.
In addition to his faith, Robert identifies his family as another source of support for him. He cares very much for his mother and three sisters, helping them out whenever he can, but his desire to help others is not limited to family members. Robert has a strong desire to help humanity; it is very important to him to be continuously helping others.
Interviewer: Well, what are some things that are important for you, in your life?
Robert: Helping my family out.
Robert: Helping my pets, helping my friends, helping the people in the community, like when I’m at Kroger’s and bagging their groceries, and even taking it out to the car and putting it in their trunk, the car or van that they got. And I just like helping people out.
During Robert’s interview, he elaborated on the enjoyment he receives from helping others, whether they are family members or members of his local community. When asked why he focuses so much on helping others, Robert replied:
I like helping people out because you give back to the people and God rewards you for it. He rewards you, not in money, but He rewards you in the spiritual gift that you get. And I feel it present inside of me.
In addition to helping people in the community, Robert also wants to educate others about what people with mental illness are really like:
Interviewer: Can you tell me why you decided that you wanted to share your story with our project?
Robert: So we could get out what mentally ill people are like and not like what they say on the news. I think that we’re totally different than what they show on the news.
Interviewer: In what way?
Robert: That we’re good people and we’re just like anybody else.
Interviewer: Yeah, what is it-? How do you feel when you see those kinds of reports on the news that are wrong?
Robert: Well, I just thought that just a low percentage of people are like that. Is it like one percenters, and they make it bad for all the good people.
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Since being interviewed for The Schizophrenia Oral History Project, Robert has become an advocate for people with mental illness in his community, regularly passing out business cards about the project.