Tag Archives: ASK JANICE

Power & Control: My Night Of Terror – JANICE

The first hit woke me out of a deep sleep. Stunned, it took me a few seconds to register what was happening. Beyond the ringing in my ears, I could hear a familiar voice, shouting angry words I couldn’t quite understand. Then he dragged me out of bed and slapped me, knocking me to the floor. I finally opened my eyes.

The only light came from the adjacent bathroom. Even in the semi-darkness of our bedroom and not fully awake, I could see how dangerous he looked with his clenched fists and raging eyes. I was terrified. And then it got worse.

That night, more than 27 years ago, the man I loved beat me for the first time. We’d been living together for about a year and half at that point, in a one-bedroom apartment near one of the city’s prettiest parks.

I don’t remember when I came to understand that jealousy was at the root of his rage, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. An ugly, twisted jealousy had lurked beneath the surface of our relationship from the beginning. In hindsight, there were several red flags throughout the relationship that foretold that beating. I just didn’t see them for what they were. Or I ignored them.

We met when I was in my mid-20s, and my self-esteem was at an all-time low because I’d stopped getting treatment for my depression. I was also lonely and tired of having one failed relationship after another. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a textbook target for an abusive personality.

Then I met HIM. We were set up by his cousin, who was dating one of my best friends at the time. He immediately stood apart from the other guys because he was really into me right away. That was the first red flag I ignored.

He fell fast and hard, and took me right along with him. At last, here was a man who made me his only priority from the start. With him, I was the smartest, coolest, most beautiful woman in the world! He was sweet and charming, and no one had ever treated me better.
His over-attentiveness was the opposite of what I was used to. In my previous relationships, I’d always felt like more of an option than a priority. That’s why, when more red flags popped up, I ignored them.

It’s sweet that he’s so possessive, I told myself. He must really love me!

The first major incident occurred a few weeks after we started dating. He flew into a rage just because I had a phone conversation with an ex-boyfriend. He ripped the phone out of the wall and flung it across the room. I know it’s crazy, but at the time I was more worried about my roommate’s phone than my own safety.

It shames me to admit this, but I actually liked his over-the-top reaction! I thought it proved he loved me, and so I happily promised to cut all ties with my ex. I know now that his behavior and my reaction to it were the genesis of the sickness that would consume our relationship. And it led to one of the worst nights of my life.

The night he beat me, his face was twisted with a rage I’d never seen. I almost didn’t recognize him, he looked so deranged.
Somehow, I got to my feet. He hit me again, which surprised me because I honestly thought he was done. I tried to get away from him, but he was too fast. Plus, he had the advantage of surprise. He grabbed me and hit me again, even harder.

I’d never been hit like that in my life, by my parents or anyone. I’d never even been in a real fight! For the first time in my life, I felt real terror and pain.

I fought back, though. All these years later, I’m still proud of how hard I fought back that night. Once I knew he was really trying to hurt me, I hit back. I kicked back. I even hit him over the head with an empty liquor bottle like they do in the movies!

It’s funny what we remember about traumatic events. While parts of that night are blurry, I still clearly remember that empty bottle. It was a gin bottle, and it was useless against his rage.

He got more vicious. He punched and kicked me all over the apartment, forcing me into survivor mode. I remember protecting my face and head.

Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence, or IPV) is abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetuated by one intimate partner against another. It’s not just physical assault and battery, but also includes sexual assault/rape and psychological, emotional, verbal, and financial abuse.

IPV is so pervasive, a woman is beaten every 9 seconds in the United States. While men are often targets, 85% of abuse sufferers are women. It can happen to anyone, regardless of race, color, age, class, religion, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, socio-economic status, education, gender identification or geography. Still, nobody ever thinks it’ll happen to them.

I certainly never thought it would happen to me. I didn’t grow up with domestic violence. My father never raised his voice, much less his hand to my mom, my sister or me. A social worker who spent most of his career advocating for abused and neglected children, my father didn’t even believe in spankings!

On the other hand, my abuser saw his step-father beat his mother often, which was another red flag I ignored. His parents had long been divorced and married to other people by the time we started dating. We spent a lot of time with his father and step-mother, who were always good to me.

I only met his step-father and mother once, though. And that was enough for me, because his step-father was clearly a cruel and bitter man. Unfortunately for me, he was also the man who raised my boyfriend, since his mother got full custody in the divorce. So my abuser spent much of his childhood in their toxic home.

Even though he harbored deep resentment towards his step-father for beating his mom, my abuser still continued the cycle. Many children who grow up in violent households end up becoming abusers or abuse sufferers, themselves.

Anyway, as good as those early days were, the beating that would change me forever wasn’t the beginning of our troubles. Before that first punch ever landed, he’d already established a pattern of power and control that was actually harder to recover from than the bruises he inflicted.

His jealousy soon included all my friends and family. He resented any time I spent with anyone other than him. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I slowly started isolating myself from my loved ones to avoid conflict.

He was really insecure, which manifested itself subtly through emotional bullying and manipulation. For example, he was intimidated by my college-educated family and “bourgie” upbringing. Conversations would turn ugly the moment he felt outmatched intellectually. He’d pout and whine if I read books for any length of time. And he always found ways to disparage higher education, once referring to libraries and colleges as “buildings full of lies”.

I dumbed myself down to protect his ego and avoid conflict. I even stopped talking as much, lest I prompt an argument. Normally a talkative social butterfly, I actually got quiet. I didn’t even recognize myself! He bullied me into dimming my own light so that he could shine, and I let him do it to keep the peace. After all, I loved him.

The isolation was the worst, though. He never explicitly forbade me from seeing my family or friends. But as soon as I returned home from seeing them, he’d pick a fight. He was especially ornery if I came home happy, even admitting that he hated the idea of me having fun with anyone other than him. Eventually, it just got easier to stay home rather than risk his foul moods.

Isolation is an abuser’s primary tool, and another major red flag I ignored. Remember, back then I saw the world through the lens of my low self-esteem and untreated depression, so I couldn’t recognize his manipulation. Besides, it all happened so gradually, I didn’t even notice it.

Between blocking his blows and begging him to stop hitting me, I finally figured out what triggered his violent tirade that night. This was the early ‘90s, before cell phones and the internet made communication effortless. My best friend had moved across the country, from Detroit to Seattle, for a job. Between the time difference and long distance rates (remember those?), we didn’t talk as often as we wanted. Letters were fine, but we missed talking.

I think it was her idea to start making tapes instead of writing letters. One of us would record ourselves for 30 minutes (one side of a cassette), and then send the tape to the other via snail mail. Then that person would listen, flip the tape, record a reply and mail it back.
That night, he found a tape that I’d made but never mailed, where I vividly described sleeping with this really hot guy from my past. As this was for my best friend’s ears only, I got very explicit.

Back then, most of our music was on cassette tapes stored in our entertainment center. Somehow, the tape that never got sent to Seattle made it into our combined music collection. He often went to bed later than I did, and would sit in the living room listening to music through headphones so he wouldn’t disturb me.

That night he heard me describe my night of passion in great detail. It didn’t matter that I’d made the tape long before I even knew him. It was my voice, directly in his ears, talking about having great sex with another man.

I know this because he stopped hitting me long enough to grab me by the hair, throw me onto the couch and force me to listen. Then he started hitting me again.

Why didn’t I run out the door and leave? Why didn’t I scream for help? Why did I stay in that apartment, crying, begging and apologizing?
By this time, I was a mere shell of my former self. Between my untreated depression and months of his bullying and manipulation, I couldn’t think clearly. Besides, it was the middle of the night and I was only wearing a t-shirt and panties.

Anyway I did try to leave, but he caught me and threw me against the wall. Hard. I remember seeing a smudge of my blood on the wall near our front door, and being shocked. I don’t remember what part of my body was bleeding, but it wasn’t my face. Miraculously, my face barely showed signs of the attack.

Things are a blur after that.

I don’t know when the beating ended. The next conscious memory I have is of us lying in bed. I know he cried and apologized. I know we had sex, and that I was both ashamed and relieved that my body still responded to him.

But even as I quietly accepted his touch, I was planning my escape. I still loved him, but I had to go. I left the next day, taking only a few clothes and necessities, and fled to my parents’ house across the border in Canada.

By far, even worse than the beating was the deep shame I felt telling my father what happened. I had to look into the eyes of the man who’d raised me, and tell him that the man he never liked anyway had beaten me. The look on my dad’s face when I lifted my shirt to show him my bruises still breaks my heart to this day.

The only time I felt worse was when, a few months later, I had to tell my father that it happened again.

Yep. After all that, I went back.

I’m not proud of that fact, but I’m not alone. Most survivors leave an average of 7 times before leaving for good. Thankfully, it only took me one more time to leave forever.

After a blissful period the experts call the “honeymoon phase”, he hit me again after flying into a rage about yet another guy from my past. This beating wasn’t as bad, though. For one thing, I was wide awake so I saw it coming. Also, I didn’t really fight back. I didn’t even cry! I just ducked and covered my head. But that was it for me.

This time, I planned my escape more efficiently. Some friends helped me pack up all my stuff while he was at work. Thanks to my boss’ influence, the police were waiting with me when he came home. They couldn’t arrest him for hitting abuse (no witnesses or bruises, this time), but they got him for driving with a suspended license and threw him in jail.

I never talked to or saw him again.

I was lucky. I could easily leave because we weren’t married, we didn’t have kids, and I had my own money and somewhere to go. Far too many women aren’t so lucky.

That’s why I continue to write about IPV and advocate relentlessly for survivors. That’s why I share my story, even though parts of it still fill me with shame. I raise my voice for those silenced by violence, shame and fear. I do it to offer hope and encourage anyone suffering to hang on until they can get help.

And I do it so that I can continue to heal.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 any time, day or night.


“We all got here from different places: some came voluntarily (like me), others came involuntarily. Some came after suicide attempts, some after a ‘really bad day’. Most of my fellow patients’ stories are unknown to me, and that’s ok. Because, in the end, it doesn’t matter how we got here, just that we are here and that we all want to get well enough to leave.” Journal Entry, August 27, 2018, 10:00 P.M.

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

As much as I tried to focus my journal entries on me and my own problems, the writer in me couldn’t help making notes about the different people I met during my stay on 4 East. From the staff to the patients, I met some really interesting and fine people. I could write ten different books on their lives, alone.

Take Gia*, for example, a tiny, white, soft-spoken bundle of energy who struggled with depression and profound loneliness. Her loneliness got so bad she attempted suicide. Gia described her family as fractured and distant. She said she had no friends, beyond a neighbor who was willing to care for pet while she was in the hospital.

To me, Gia seemed smart, funny and engaging. I couldn’t imagine why she didn’t have lots of friends. But she didn’t even have anyone close enough who could bring her more clothes to wear (she only had the clothes she was wearing when she was admitted). She did have a good visit with her brother before I left, so I’m hopeful that her life will change for the better.

Then there was Nigel*, a quiet, 21 year-old Latino with a sweet smile. I felt very maternal towards him, probably because he’s the same age as my son. I have no idea what brought him to 4 East, but he’d already been there two months by the time I arrived. There were rumors about him threatening his brother, but Nigel steadfastly refused to answer any questions about why he was there. He did disclose to me that he’d been a patient on the Unit back when he was 18 years old, so he was very familiar with the place.

There was also sweet Elsie*, the songbird of the Unit. 21 years old and white, Elsie had a pretty, clear, soprano singing voice, and she often walked the hall singing. She usually sang pop songs, but could do any genre justice. She was the first person I met when I arrived on 4 East, and she kindly showed me the ropes. Elsie was a self-proclaimed drug addict and alcoholic. The rumor was that she’d overdosed before being admitted, but I never asked her about it. Elsie was one of my favorite people and I cried a little when she was discharged two days before me.

In a funny twist to the story, there was a romance brewing between Nigel and Elsie. I’m not sure the Behavioral Services Unit is the best place to start a relationship, but they were both so sweet, it could actually work.

One of my favorite patients was a married, Black man in his mid-40s named Mario*. He was insightful and funny, and a great listener. Mario was also a fellow writer, having written a book about his time in prison.

Mario watched a lot of television during our free time, but was always available to just sit around and talk. He disclosed to a few of us in Group that his wife had a fall and miscarried their first child together (she has children from a previous relationship) at seven months while he was on 4 East. He harbored a lot of guilt for not being with her when it happened.

Timmie* was a Black man with blue eyes who arrived on 4 East two days after me. He was in his mid-30s and a transplant from the South. He had that Southern charm going for him that immediately endeared him to everyone. Timmie told us that his attempt to jump off a freeway over pass brought him to our Unit, but he had a lot of medical issues as well. He’d previously been in a horrible car accident and ended up with chronic pain and a lot of metal in his body. His initial struggles on the unit were about the many medications he had to take, not only for his mental health, but for his pain, as well. Seems our doctors had switched his meds against Timmie’s will. Even with his pains and struggles, he was a delight to have around, always so sweet and fun.

One of my favorite nurses was Rachel*, a chocolate, salt & pepper, natural-haired sistah who won my heart the first time we met. She was doing the daily “check-in” with me, asking how I was feeling and if I was having suicidal thoughts, etc. During our all-too-brief chat, she told me that she was intentional in choosing to work on this particular Unit. “I could be doing anything as a nurse, but I chose this. It’s hard work, but worth it. I’m determined to help more people that look like you and me get the help they need. I want to raise awareness in our community so that we can get rid of the stigma of mental illness and treatment.” A woman after my own heart.

My absolute favorite nurse was Jeffrey*, though. Jeffery was a low-key, handsome brotha, with a bald head, goatee and a “panty droppin’” smile. Jeffrey was so smooth, you didn’t hear him coming. One night at snack time, I was trying to finagle an extra granola bar to go with my sugar-free cookie. Jeffrey sidled up to me and said, in that low-key voice of his, “You can’t have that. You’re diabetic.” He then proceeded to coach me through healthier snack choices.

On the day of my discharge, Jeffrey approached me as I was walking the hallway with restless energy. “We’re going to have to delay your release,” he said, looking solemn.

“Oh my God, why?” I asked, tearing up.

Then he smiled slyly and said “I’m just not ready for you to leave me, yet.” We had a hearty laugh and went our separate ways, with me thinking “Lord, if only I were 20 years younger”!

Jeffrey was the nurse who officially discharged me. He wasn’t supposed to be, but I was getting so impatient to find out exactly when I could call my son to come get me because I couldn’t get any answers from anyone else, he simply took over and made it happen. “Go eat lunch,” he said. “And by the time you’re done, I’ll have everything ready for you.” He was true to his word.

Leaving the Behavioral Health Unit was harder than I thought. In a mere seven days, I’d come to care deeply about both my fellow patients and the staff. I deeply respected everyone I encountered on 4 East, because regardless of their role (patient or nurse or tech or doctor), everyone had a place and a purpose.

Inpatient mental health treatment isn’t for everyone. But it was exactly what I needed. I proudly stand by my decision to ask for help because I’d allowed my illness to affect my life for far too long. Before my week on 4 East, I couldn’t even imagine a future for myself. I was waiting for the courage to die, yet I knew I really wanted to live.

Thanks to the doctors, nurses, techs, psychiatrists and therapists who treated me, and thanks to the effective medications I now take, I’m doing better than I have in years. The fog of depression is finally clearing, and I’m filled to the brim with hope.

One day I’ll be on the other side of this thing called mental illness. Until then, I’ll keep working to get better. I’ll also keep doing my part to raise awareness and erase the stigma surrounding mental illness and treatment, especially within the Black community.

If you’re wondering how you can help keep the conversation about mental health going, here are a few simple things you can do:

1. Make sure your church, group, or club includes mental health programming. For example, if your church’s Health Ministry does not include mental health programming, you can lead the charge by inviting mental health professionals to come speak.

2. Use your social media platforms to spread the word and raise awareness. The more we talk about it and post about it, the more we will normalize these discussions. Normalizing this topic will encourage more people to get the help they need.

3. Contact your local hospital to find out how to make donations. Then donate new or gently used board games, books, puzzles, puzzle books, and coloring books. Patients have lots of downtime, and if your hospital’s Unit is anything like 4 East, these items are in short supply.

4. Be gentle and kind to the people you know who struggle with mental illness. I know it’s hard to love someone who’s sick. I know it takes a lot to deal with the mood swings, erratic and even violent behavior, etc. But your kindness and understanding will go a long way, especially if you can convince your loved one to get help.

Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you.

“The souls who pass through this Unit are brave warriors in the fight for mental health and stability. Some of us will make it. Some of us won’t. I pray my fellow travelers on this bleak and harrowing journey come to know peace in whatever form that takes for them. And I hope they find joy. God bless us all. Even the Bully. Especially the Bully. God Bless 4 East.” Journal Entry, August 27, 2018, 10:45 P.M.

*All names (patients and staff) have been changed to protect the privacy of the souls I encountered on 4 East, which is the floor where the Behavioral Health Unit is housed in my local hospital.


How I Sought and Received Inpatient Mental Health Treatment

Click here for Part 1: I’m not okay

Click here for Part 2: I’m just happy to be here

Click here for Part 3: The Bully of 4 East

“Friends keep calling me ‘brave’ for doing this … but I believe I have it easier than most. I have supportive friends and family who made taking this step easier. I’m so blessed to have such a strong support system. Almost makes me wonder how I could even get so low. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? Even someone ‘like me’ with all this love and support, can get so low.” Journal Entry, August 25, 2018, 11:45 P.M.

One night, during our 9:00 P.M. snack time, I started chatting with a really cool nurse named Dino*. He was about my age and we had slightly overlapping backgrounds growing up in Detroit. As we played the “do you know so-and-so” game, I could actually see the shock on his face as he started to put the pieces of my life together: I went to a well-known, all girls, Catholic high school, then to a Big Ten university, where I pledged one of the largest Black sororities in the world. Finally, unable to contain himself, he blurted, “With your background, what the heck are you doing here? This must just be a bump in the road for someone like you”.

“Someone like me”, as if my upbringing somehow protected me from having a mental illness. As if middle-class, college educated, Black sorority women don’t sometimes need inpatient mental health treatment. To Dino, I was an outlier patient. I didn’t fit his idea of who a patient on 4 East should be.

Dino’s response bothered me. When he said pretty much the same thing again a couple nights later, I gently reminded him that even “someone like me” needs help, sometimes. I wasn’t feeling very gentle when I chastised him, though. I was angry.

His response is exactly why more Black people don’t seek treatment when they need it. There’s this notion that Black people don’t have the luxury of having mental health issues because we’re too busy just trying to survive. For Black women in particular, there’s the expectation that we’re “too strong” to need help; we’re too busy taking care of business to be bothered with therapy; or my personal favorite, we turn our problems over to God, so we’re fine.

This archaic attitude is killing us! Our steadfast refusal to face the fact that undiagnosed and untreated mental illness runs rampant in the Black community is literally killing us. So is the notion that therapy is for “other people”. We need to de-stigmatize mental illness and treatment, and start getting the help we need.

Black women need more safe spaces to not be ok. Because sometimes our “not ok” is different from other people’s “not ok”. To quote the late Bebe Moore Campbell, “Your blues ain’t like mine”. Our unique experiences at the crossroads of race and gender aren’t like anyone else’s. That’s why we need to create and sustain more safe spaces just for us.

But, I digress.

The bottom line is the old, tired trope of THE STRONG BLACK WOMAN is dangerous. Yes, we are strong. But contrary to popular belief, we aren’t impervious to pain. To only judge our strength based on the pain we can endure is to deny us our full humanity. To only see us as “strong” is to deny us our full humanity.

That’s exactly the point of my advocacy. Mental illness affects EVERYBODY, regardless of class, education, religion, race, ethnicity, etc. The fact that “someone like me” seems like such an anomaly to a seasoned professional like Dino proves that there’s still a lot to be done in terms of awareness and stigma, particularly among African Americans.

I know I’m not the only Black, college-educated, sorority member who needs mental health treatment. My being such a rarity on the Behavioral Health Unit means there far too many people “like me” out there suffering in silence.

As passionate as I am about erasing the stigma of mental health in the Black community, you’d think I’d be more compassionate about anyone seeking mental health treatment. Sadly, I’m not. This realization was a humbling, yet necessary experience, and it involved Barb the Bully.

Barb acted up and out on a daily basis, sometimes more than once a day. Sometimes, she was so violent and disruptive, security had to be called to the Unit to subdue her. I even saw the police once.

One such incident occurred one morning while we were in Group. There were about six of us meeting that day, and we were in one of the group rooms with our door closed for privacy. We were about ten minutes into our session when we could hear yelling and screaming in the hallway. The only words I could make out were profanity-laden threats to cause someone physical harm.

It was Barb, of course. I don’t know what precipitated her outburst, but it got ugly fast. Through the window on our closed door, we could see other staff and armed security running down the hall towards the nurses’ desk. After a few seconds, the screaming suddenly stopped and all was quiet.

A patient named Jimmy*, who’d been on 4 East, against his will, for almost two weeks by the time I arrived, said “I bet they sedated her and chained her to her bed again”. I didn’t take him seriously, though. Jimmy was given to hyperbole and loved to talk smack about any and everybody. (He was actually much cooler than that description made him sound.)

Anyway, after Group, as I walked down the hall to my room, I passed Barb’s open door and looked inside. Sure enough, she was lying prone on her bed, dead still, with her eyes closed. And to my surprise, her ankles were bound to the bed with what looked like leather straps. Jimmy was right.

The image of my nemesis strapped to her bed shook me to my core. For one thing, it creeped me out in a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” kind of way. I mean, I had no idea this kind of thing happened on this Unit! I was shocked.

Also, I was so busy resenting Barb for her toxic behavior that I failed to recognize not only her humanity, but the fact that she was a patient on 4 East, just like me. For all my “she’s beneath me, so I’ll just ignore her” and my holier-than-thou “a bully is a punk-ass who hasn’t met the right person” attitude, I failed to see the obvious: Barb and I were both mental patients on 4 East.

I further realized that for her to be so toxic and disruptive, she must be in immense psychic pain. Like me, she was sick. Just because my sickness didn’t manifest itself the way hers did doesn’t mean she wasn’t as deserving as I was of care. She deserved healing as much as anyone else on the Unit. And she deserved to be healed with compassion and dignity.

I don’t doubt that the staff took appropriate measures to diffuse the situation with Barb. I trust their expertise and experience, and believe they did the right thing. In fact, she had to be sedated and restrained on two more occasions before I was discharged. But for me, that first time seeing her knocked out and tied down was an eye-opening experience that forced me to face my own hypocrisy.

Here I was, this so-called advocate for mental health awareness, being judgmental and petty when it came to Barb. I actually believed she was beneath me. How hypocritical of me! I wrote in my journal, “I’ve been such a hypocrite – advocating for the mentally ill in my writing, all the while hating on her”.

Facing my own hypocrisy was a revelation. It made me take a long, hard look at how I perceived and reacted to other people, and what I saw wasn’t always pretty. I’d treated Barb as badly as others treat Black women – I’d used her pain against her, and denied her humanity in the face of that pain. I’d deemed her beneath me without any regard to her circumstances.

Someone like me, indeed.

I later journaled, “I am no better than anyone here. We are all sisters and brothers in this mental health fight. May we all prevail.”
*Names of patients and staff have been changed to protect their privacy.



How I Sought and Received Inpatient Mental Health Treatment



“Trying to make these notes just about me and my feelings, but this Barb b**ch is working my f***ing nerves! Every damn day she wants to cut up! She’s a bully and an attention whore and super disruptive. And she loves being so damn disruptive!” Journal Entry, August 24, 2018 3:45 P.M.

“Well, that b**ch tried me! And I was ready. When I stepped to her and said “Well come on wit’ it, then”, she wouldn’t even look at me. The nice nurse Gavin* talked me off the ledge, though. But my heart is still racing and I know my blood pressure is off the charts. Let me do this breathing exercise we learned today before I stroke out. That b**ch really ain’t worth it.” Journal Entry, August 24, 2018 4:15 P.M.

Listen. It’s been decades since I’ve encountered an actual, real life bully. Then I chanced upon Barb*, another patient on 4 East. Barb was impossible to miss because of one fact: she was your garden-variety, after-school special, dyed-in-the-wool bully. She picked on and threatened individuals regularly, including staff. However, her best bullying performances occurred at two specific times: during meals and when the phones were open.

We had our meals in a multi-purpose room equipped with heavy, four-seater tables, and heavy chairs that were nearly impossible to move. It took me a while to figure out that the reason the tables and chairs were so heavy was to prevent people from flipping or throwing them.

During meals, we lined up with our Styrofoam trays, cafeteria-style. Each patient was served a Styrofoam plate of food right where we collected our plastic utensils and napkins. Then you stepped down a little further, where there were Styrofoam bowls of fruit or salad, desserts, condiments and covered Styrofoam cups of coffee and Crystal Light. It was a short, uncomplicated system. There weren’t any real choices, and it only took about two minutes to get through the entire line and be seated.

Barb deliberately took a ridiculously long time to get through the line, holding up anyone who had the misfortune of arriving to the dining room after her. She’d hem and haw about which entre she wanted. There was only one choice of entre, let’s say a hamburger. But Barb would take her sweet time choosing which particular hamburger she wanted. She’d do the same thing choosing her cup of coffee, or salad or whatever.

She’d really hold up the line at the condiments, though. She’d quibble over which packet of ketchup to get, often taking a handful for no reason. By this point, the servers tried to hurry her along, as did whichever staff person was covering the dining room. Even the patients would moan “Come on, Barb! You’re taking forever!”

Barb relished the attention she got during her mealtime hijinks. She had this look of gleeful satisfaction on her face while people complained. And the more people complained, the slower she’d go, until finally, the staff person in charge would threaten to make her eat in her room. Then she’d huff to her seat, usually spouting nasty remarks to whomever she encountered on her way.

Barb was also a bully when it came to the phones. On 4 East, patients only had access to three phones: two that made outgoing calls, and one that took incoming calls. Also, we could only use the phones from 6-9 AM, 11:45 AM-1 PM, and from 3:30-10 PM. Given these parameters, there was a strict, ten-minute time limit for all calls. At any given time, there were between 22 and 26 patients on the Unit. With only three phones available, it was imperative for us to keep our calls to that time limit.

Well, Barb mostly ignored the ten minute rule and hogged the phones. Since both our rooms were on either side of one of the phones, she and I often vied for that particular phone at the same time.

It galled me to watch her sit there, thumbing through her scraps of paper with numbers written on them (remember, we had no access to our cell phones, so we had to either memorize numbers or have them written down), pretending to look for the number of her next call. Sometimes, she’d be on the phone for an hour, or until someone complained loudly enough. Usually, she just sat in the chair “pretending”, getting everyone riled up and enjoying the attention.

I saw Barb for the bully she was my first night on the Unit. She irritated me during meals, and watching her hog the phones bugged me. But, as I’d resolved to mind my own business and focus on my own healing, I tried my best to ignore her.

Until she tried me.

Here’s what happened.

The phone that takes incoming calls was all the way at the end of the hall. The normal protocol was that if you were near when it rang, you answered it. Ideally, if you expected a call, you were already nearby. Usually the caller asked for the patient by name.

On this particular day, I just happened to be the only person in the hall when the phone rang. Now I rarely got incoming calls. That phone was usually occupied, so it was just easier for me to make outgoing calls. So when it rang, I knew it wasn’t for me. Still, as a courtesy to my fellow patients, I answered it.

As I answered, I could hear Barb yell, “It’s for me!”, as she made her way down the hall. She walked with a limp, so it took her a while to get there. In the meantime, the caller simply answered my “Hello”, with “Hello”, herself. So, I did the logical thing and asked who she was calling for. That’s just when Barb reached the phone.

“I said it’s for me,” she huffed. I just looked at her and handed her the receiver. Then, as I started to walk away, Barb continued, “I don’t know why you have to be all up in my business, asking who she’s calling for …”

I should have kept walking. I knew it then and I know it now. But I’d had it with Barb and her bullying. So, against my better judgement and my good home training, I responded with “I was just making sure the call was actually for you. Trust me, I’m not interested in getting into your business.”

Then, I added fuel to the fire by saying “Look, Barb. Don’t start none, won’t be none with me, ok?” And I turned to walk away.

When I turned, my back was to Barb and I was facing the nurse, Gavin*, as he headed our way. I think he knew something was about to happen. He was right.

Barb said, “Oh, I’ll start some, finish some, and do everything in between!”

Yes, she said those exact words.

Now, I’m a 53 year old woman with at least 20 years on Barb. In other words, I’m a grown-ass woman who knows better than to let a playground bully get under my skin.

But she did get under skin. I can’t stand bullies.

From the exact moment Barb’s words registered in my brain, everything seemed to move in slow motion. I could see Gavin heading towards me, calling my name.

Ignoring him, I slowly turned around and asked, “What did you say?”


She had the nerve to repeat herself, verbatim, starting with “I said …” and ending with a neck and an eye roll.
Now I faced Barb, with my arms outspread. And before I could censor myself, I said “Well, come on wit’ it, then!”

Thankfully, Gavin stepped between us, led me to my room and calmed me down. He reminded me that such an encounter was completely out of character for me and beneath me.

I also realized it wasn’t very smart because if things had gotten physical between us, I could’ve got into some real trouble. My being Black and older, and Barb being white probably would have worked against me.

So far, my stay on 4 East was voluntary. Had I molly-whopped Barb like I’d wanted to, that “voluntary” status definitely would have changed.

Barb limped, but she was a big girl. I’m a big girl, so when I say she was bigger (fatter and taller) than me, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve never physically fought another woman in my entire life, so I wouldn’t even know what to do. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure Barb’s mouth had gotten her in some fights, so she surely had more experience than me, too.

I still would’ve kicked her ass, though.

All joking aside, I didn’t know it at the time, but that brief encounter with Barb the Bully prompted a profound change in me. It just took a minute for it to happen.

*Names of patients and staff have been changed to protect their privacy.



How I Sought and Received Inpatient Mental Health Treatment

To Read Part 1: I’m not Ok – CLICK HERE.

“1st Night: Nervous – how long will I be here? I miss Michael (my son). I miss Facebook. I don’t miss Facebook. I’m glad I did this. Nervous/excited about tomorrow. Ready to work. (Also, I weigh 15 pounds less than I thought!)” Journal Entry, August 22, 2018, 9:15 P.M.

When you first arrive on 4 East, the Behavioral Health Unit of my local hospital, there’s an initial intake process which includes a physical inspection of the patient’s entire body. This happens regardless of the time you arrive, even in the middle of the night. Two nurses who are the same gender the patient identifies as conduct the inspection.

In my case, after a series of intake questions, taking of my vital signs, and a thorough inventory of my personal items (most of which were not allowed on the Unit and had to be locked away until my discharge), two perky women nurses conducted my inspection. One of them looked and instructed me on how to move, bend, lift, and shift; while the other took notes and drew my scars and bruises on a silhouette of the human body.

This was uncomfortable for me because I have a lot of scars on my body, most of which are never seen by other people. The scars are old, but very obvious. And at the time, I believed they had absolutely nothing to do with why I was on the Unit. So, I got a little irritated for the first couple of days when I had to explain, again and again to a new person each time, the old scars covering my body.

I even wrote in my journal that I was sick of getting asked about my old scars, but then I wrote “But isn’t that the point of being here? To deal with old scars?” I decided right then that addressing those old scars could only help my healing. So I patiently played along and told, in great detail, how I got each scar. Doing so did help.

During almost every encounter I had with patients and staff during my first two days on 4 East, I would exclaim something along the lines of “Hey, I’m just happy to be here”. I felt like I had to make that distinction because not every patient on the Unit was there voluntarily. Besides, I really was happy to be there, even with all the rules and restrictions.

There are a lot of little things that make living on 4 East a unique experience, not the least of which is why we’re all there. But, for example, every trash can liner was a brown paper bag, not just because of the hospital’s efforts to be “green”, but also because someone could suffocate themselves with plastic liners. Ink pens could be weaponized, so we were only allowed golf pencils. We used plastic utensils and ate off Styrofoam plates. Even the trays we used to carry our food, cafeteria style, was Styrofoam. If we needed to shave, we had to use carefully distributed razors, and only under close supervision.

In the showers, the water only came on for 45 second intervals. You had to push a button to get it going again. We had no control over the water temperature or pressure, just whether or not it actually ran. It was annoying to keep pushing that button to get wet. But, you get used to it and besides, the water pressure was better than I have at home.

I was nervous at first, like the new kid at a school where everyone already knew each other. And like any new kid who wants to get along, I spent those first hours watching everyone and everything around me. But I did so unobtrusively, because I was afraid of making eye contact with the other patients, at first. This was my first time getting inpatient help and I was afraid to engage anyone. So I kept my head down, but remained watchful.

It wasn’t long before I figured out who the most boisterous and outgoing patients and staff were. I also peeped the quiet ones because, frankly, they made me the most nervous. But the loud ones had huge personalities, and my writer brain couldn’t help but be intrigued by them. It took considerable effort on my part not to get “sucked in” to their stories and focus on myself. I’m not sure if I succeeded, either.

I also got a sense of how long some of my fellow patients had been there. One woman left after only two days. Another man was discharged after one day, but he went to another inpatient facility for substance abuse. And one patient had been there two months when I arrived, with no end in sight.

I’ve always known that mental illnesses manifest themselves differently in different people. But this was my first time seeing these differences up close. Again, the writer in me was fascinated by the different personalities, quirks and foibles. It took a lot of discipline to keep my focus on my own healing.

I spent the first two days observing and getting acclimated. I learned that my individual meetings weren’t really therapy sessions, at all. Instead, they were brief meetings with two doctors: an attending psychiatrist and another psychiatrist; two medical students; a resident; and another person whose title I don’t remember. These meetings never lasted more than 10 minutes, and took place randomly in the mornings after breakfast.

I did have a couple of longer, more detailed meetings with one of the medical students, whom I came to like and respect more than the attending psychiatrist. The medical student used the information I provided to guide the meetings with the entire team. At first I was concerned that a student had so much influence over my case. However, he was skilled at getting to the heart of the matter and, like I said, I liked him more than the Attending.

The most regular and consistent meetings were the different types of group therapies. Patients were assigned to a particular group after an assessment by one of the recreational therapists. I had three daily group sessions: Group Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Recreational Therapy.

Group Therapy, or Group, as we called it was my favorite time of day. Group is exactly what you think it is: a small group of patients (no more than eight or nine), led by a therapist, where we each took turns “sharing” our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I loved Group!

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) got better for me as the week progressed. In these sessions, we learned skills and techniques to help us achieve “balance” in our lives. That’s the way we defined dialectical, as behaving in a way where our “emotional” mind and “rational” mind were in balance, so that we used our “wise” mind. It’s actually more fun than it sounds, and I ended up gaining some valuable skills and knowledge.

Recreational Therapy was my least favorite, even though it was fun. It was exactly as its name implies: recreational activities to engage our minds and enjoy ourselves.

We were done with our groups by 2:00 in the afternoon. With the exception of meal/snack times and visiting times (which only lasted one hour each day), we were pretty free until 11:00 p.m. Of course, there were specific times for showering, and meds were dispensed at planned intervals throughout the day and night. But until the televisions were turned off at 11, patients had A LOT of downtime.
As happy as I was to be there, the downtime got to me. The earlier entries in my journal said things like “Time moves so slowly here”, and “I’m kind of bored. I’m kind of cool with it”.

As a writer, I was tempted to write about the staff and even my fellow patients, because they were all interesting and entertaining. But I was determined not to deflect from my own problems, so I turned inward and, for the most part, kept my entries centered on myself.

So, I spent several hours a day writing on the blank, unlined, scrap paper that was so judiciously doled out from the nurses’ desk. Per the rules, of which there were many, in order to get sharper pencils, I had to trade in my dull ones. I used lots of paper and went through lots of those annoying, little golf pencils.

I should note here that I was on anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, as well as a myriad of medications to deal with my high blood pressure and my out-of-control diabetes. I had my blood sugar tested no less than four times a day, and my blood pressure taken so many times, I lost count. Both my glucose levels and my blood pressure were too high during the first several days on the floor. But since the psych meds had me feeling so much better, I didn’t mind.

Don’t get me wrong. The psych meds weren’t a panacea for whatever ailed me. But they did stabilize my mood and helped me focus. Most importantly, they helped clear the fog of depression that had been bogging me down for at least four years. For the first time in far too long, I felt whole, stable and clear-headed.



How I Sought and Received Inpatient Treatment for My Mental Illness

I’ve battled chronic depression since my early twenties. I’m 53, now. Over the past three decades, I’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression; manic-depressive disorder, later referred to as bi-polar disorder; and chronic depression. My current and seemingly most accurate diagnosis is:

Major Depressive Disorder, single episode, severe without psychotic features.

That’s not only a mouthful, it’s a lot to process. I came to receive this diagnosis about four years too late, during my voluntary, inpatient stay on the mental health ward of my local hospital. My mental health had finally deteriorated enough for me to take the drastic step to “check myself in” and get some real, professional help.

2018 has been particularly bad year for me. I’ve spent most of the year battling thoughts of suicide. From the beginning of the year, I’ve been on a downward spiral mentally, and just couldn’t figure out how to stop it.

This was going on despite my public efforts to eliminate the stigma of mental illness and treatment, especially within the Black community. Over the past few years, I’ve published a couple of essays about my decades-long struggle with mental disease, and I’ve used my social media platforms to educate and raise awareness about mental health issues.

But even my armchair activism couldn’t keep my own darkness at bay. I was sick and getting sicker, looking at my reflection in my mirror every day and whispering, “I’m not o.k.” So, I asked for help … finally.

Full disclosure: I was already in the hospital, by way of an ambulance ride to the ER when I asked for help for my depression. I’d been struggling with stomach issues for months, but since I didn’t have health insurance, I didn’t seek medical care. By the way, my lack of health insurance and money were also the reasons my deteriorating mental health had gone untreated for so long.

My most recent “stomach issues” turned out to be a severe diverticulitis flare-up exacerbated by my diabetes, resulting in an awful infection that left me dehydrated and sick enough to remain hospitalized for five days. While I was still in the ER, I told the attending doctor that I was having suicidal thoughts and wanted to be seen by a psychiatrist. My thinking was that, as I was already being treated without insurance for my medical problems, I might as well get the help I so desperately needed for my mental problems, too.

In other words, I saw an opportunity and grabbed it.

In all honesty, I doubt I would have sought help at all if I hadn’t already been so physically sick. Not only was I uninsured, I was also broke. I work part time at a job I love, but my depression has been so severe, I haven’t been able to handle full time work. I simply could not afford therapy or any more meds than I was already barely taking. So my diverticulitis flare-up probably saved my life.

After I’d been admitted to a regular room, a psychiatrist came to talk to me. He asked me how badly I wanted to get better, and I tearfully told him that I was desperate to get better.

“What are you willing to do to get better?” He held my gaze, not allowing me to look away, even I’d wanted to. Which I didn’t.

“I’ll do anything to get better,” I told him. “I don’t want to feel this way, anymore.”

“Would you consider inpatient treatment here, at this hospital, if I can arrange it?”

“Yes, please. But I don’t have any insurance.”

“Don’t worry about that,” he assured me. “Let me take care of it. As long as you’re willing to be admitted once you’re medically cleared from this floor, it will all work out.”

I cried with relief. It actually took that doctor and another mental health professional (I’m not sure of his title) a lot of string pulling and maneuvering for it to “all work out”. 21st century hospital bureaucracy is still a slow-moving beast. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), I wasn’t medically cleared to move for four full days. I was just that sick. And even then, it still took another day for me to get transferred.

The other reason I could be transferred was that I worked with a social worker to complete a new Medicaid application. I’d had Medicaid in the past, but for some reason, it was cancelled. Probably because I’d failed to submit the documents necessary to “renew” it. Again, my depression stopped me from handling a lot of personal business. This was just another example of how my mental illness negatively impacted my life.

However, the hospital came to the rescue and I was getting what I wanted: some intense, professional help to deal with my chronic depression. Knowing help was available and imminent lifted my mood tremendously. Before I was even transferred, I felt better.

I immediately decided to journal about my experience with inpatient care. First because on the Behavioral Health Unit, 4 East at my local hospital, patients can’t have access to any devices, the internet, spiral notebooks, or even pens. As an avid user of social media, the prospect of an undetermined amount of time “off line” was daunting.

At least journaling, even in pencil on the unlined scrap paper stingily doled out at the nurses’ desk, would give me a way to focus my healing, write away my anxiety and fill my downtime with something constructive. I probably would have journaled in my own blood on tree bark, had that been a requirement of the Unit. I was just that ready to get better.

End of Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2.

This Labor Day Take Time For Self-Care: ASK JANICE

The U.S. celebrates Labor Day on Monday, September 3rd, which means that millions of Americans will have the day off work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works about 44 hours per week. What’s more, a report from the nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research, funded by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, states Black women work longer and harder than any other demographic. This means we’re working way too many hours!

Ladies, unless you’re super rich, you’re probably working way too hard (and still not making enough money, but that’s a post for another day). And our labor doesn’t end at 5:00 – we’re also working just as hard in our private lives. Think about it: Black women are often the primary caregivers for both our parents and other older relatives, as well as for our children. Even in two-parent households, the bulk of child-rearing and housework falls on our shoulders.

And Black women, more than any other demographic, spend a lot of time caring for others. Whether it’s through our churches (where, let’s face it, we do the lion’s share of the hands-on work), our community organizations or our clubs, we’re out here doing thangs.

So, if anyone deserves a day free of labor, Black women do!

Why, then, is it so hard for us to take the time we need to care for ourselves? Why is self-care so difficult for us? Why do we feel guilty when we take some of our precious time for ourselves?

Because women in general, and Black women in particular, have been socialized to be caretakers! That’s why they call us the “mules of the world”, because too often, we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. At the very least, we’re carrying the weight of our Black communities. And the moment we turn our attention inward and focus on ourselves, we feel guilty. The minute we start demanding more leisure time, we’re called lazy. When we want someone to take care of us for a change, we’re called gold-diggers.

But, as the late, great Audre Lorde once said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” In other words, in order to be our best selves and thrive, we must care for ourselves, even when doing so seems at odds with our life missions and the needs of those who depend on us. After all, you can’t pour from an empty vessel.

We MUST do a better job of getting taking care of ourselves, Sisters! Mind you, self-care isn’t all mani/pedis, massages, and Caribbean vacations with our girlfriends. Self-care can also mean sticking to a reasonable and attainable health regimen; getting our mental health in order; engaging in more healthy relationships, and ridding our lives of toxic people and situations.

Because it’s so hard for us to come up with ways we can better serve ourselves, I’ve developed a short list for you. Hopefully, you’ll be able to spend at least part of this Labor Day engaging in some kind of self-care practice. You’ve certainly earned the right to radically take care of YOU

1. Sleep In or Better Yet, Stay in Bed All Day: When was the last time you slept past 10 AM? Or had a Pajama Day? Girl, sleep as long as you want, and then spend the day in your nightie watching bad daytime television, catching up on all your DVR’d shows, or binge watching something binge-worthy.

2. Take Some Time to Meal Plan for the Week Ahead: Let’s be honest. Despite your best intentions and your New Year’s Resolution to eat healthier, you’ve been too busy to actually meal plan. You’ve been eating out too often, grabbing the most convenient thing you can find. Which means you’re probably eating fast food or carryout. This Labor Day, take a few hours to actually plan your meals for the week. Stock your fridge with fresh fruits and veggies. Bake a chicken, make a pot of healthy soup, or cook something else that you can nibble on all week. Taking just one day to do this can make a huge difference in your health and your wallet.

3. Say “No” to Anything That Doesn’t Serve You: Sisters, we have got to get better at saying to “no” to things we don’t want to do and things that actually may be harmful to us. Tell that relative that always borrows money “No”. Tell that co-worker you’re always helping “No”. You don’t have to offer any explanations, either. “No” can be a complete sentence all by itself. Get better at saying “No”, and focus only on what serves YOU.

Young black beauty with afro hairstyle

4. Research Mental Health Care for Yourself: As it is a national holiday, most therapists’ and doctors’ offices will be closed. However, Google is always open! Take an hour or two to do some online research on the mental health care options available to you. No matter how happy you may be right now, your mental health requires the same diligent maintenance as your physical health. However, chances are, you already know you could use some help. One barrier to your getting the help you need (besides the stigma and cost) may have been that you just haven’t had time to look into it. Well, now you have an entire day to see what’s out there, see what your insurance will cover, etc. Don’t squander this chance to do what you know you need to do.

5. Exercise: If you’re anything like me, you haven’t exercised enough, lately. A day off of work is the perfect time to get back on track. Keep it simple, though. Don’t over plan or overdo it. That will only set you up for failure. Instead, maybe walk for 20 minutes in the morning, and then another 20 minutes in the evening. Starting on a day when you’re relaxed will help you realize how easy it can be to incorporate exercise into your daily schedule.

6. Catch Up On Your Reading: That book sitting on your nightstand? Take some time to at least start it! Those books pilling up on your E-reader? Go ahead and get started on them. Reading is relaxing and therapeutic, but we’re often too busy to indulge. Use this holiday to read and allow yourself to be transported to another world.

7. Start a Journal: Many women find journaling to be a great way to work through their problems. At the very least, journaling allows you a chance to vent. Keeping all those feelings inside just isn’t healthy, Sis. They need to come out. Starting and keeping a journal may be just the thing you need to help you get through whatever it is you’re going through. And if you’re worried about privacy, you can always buy one of those fancy diaries that lock. Or simply keep it password safe on your computer.

I hope this list helps! However you choose to spend Labor Day, I hope you have a fabulously, healthy good day!

Long Live The Queen – An ASK JANICE Tribute

In the coming days, much will be written and said about the indomitable Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who departed this earthly realm on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at age 76. Though not unexpected in the end because she’d been sick for a while, her passing still leaves an enormous void. Aretha Franklin was truly an American treasure and a musical icon.

I’m no way near qualified to comment on the Queen’s prolific, six decades, genre-crossing musical career. I mean, the woman released her first album in 1956 and her last one in 2017, releasing music during every decade in between. She amassed 112 Billboard hit singles, including 20 #1s, making her the most charted female recording artist in history.

I’m not worthy enough to even comment on all that.

Really, no one is.

But “Rere” was raised in my hometown of Detroit from the time she was little. That makes her my home girl, so I can’t let this moment pass without offering my own small tribute to the Queen in my own way. That’s all this is.

Everyone has their favorite “Aretha” music. Some prefer the gospel music from which she got her start, and to which she returned many times throughout her career. Others prefer her more pop-styled music, including her duets with various pop artists and other hits from the 80s and 90s.

For me personally, I appreciate how her mid-60s, Atlantic Records music gave voice to the heartache, angst and passion of a woman in and out of love. During this era, Aretha Franklin sang about grown folk’s shit in a way that didn’t hide from the ugly parts. This is my favorite “Aretha” music.

Yes, her iconic “RESPECT” is one of those songs from that time. But I’m also talking about songs like “Dr. Feel Good”, “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”, “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)”, “Natural Woman”, and “Ain’t No Way”.

Some of these songs were covers, but Aretha made them her own. I recently read a Tweet that said once Aretha Franklin covered your song, it was no longer your song. Truer words were never said. Just listen to her rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, in addition to “Respect” and “Natural Woman” for proof.

These songs reach deep down into your soul and pull out all of your feelings for you to experience over and over again. Each voice riff and octave change trembles with the emotion of every passionate love affair you’ve ever had, good or bad. Like the Blues greats who paved the way for her, Ms. Franklin’s raw delivery and candid expressions of love and hurt resonate in ways pop artists can never really replicate.
I’ll be honest. When I was a little girl growing up in Detroit in the 70s and 80s, I sang along to Aretha Franklin’s hits as they were released, quickly learning all the words like a pro. But I had absolutely no idea what I was singing. It’s like what elders say to young people when a jam comes on the radio “Y’all don’t know nothin’ ‘bout this”! I really didn’t “know nothin’”.


It wasn’t until the late 80s and early 90s when I re-visited her early music as an adult that I truly appreciated Aretha’s more bluesy songs. I had to become a grown ass woman myself, with a few passionate love affairs and heartbreaks under my belt, before could I really get the Queen’s heartfelt lyrics.

Take 1967’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, for example. It opens with “You’re a no-good heartbreaker. You’re a liar. And you’re a cheat. And I don’t know why I let you do these things to me. My friends keep telling me that you ain’t no good. But, oh, they don’t know that I’d leave you if I could.”

Listen. If you’re a woman who’s made it to a certain age in life, you’ve probably said, or at least felt, some version of these words. You may not want to admit it, but we’ve all been there in some way, shape or form.  And that’s what I came to love about the Aretha Franklin songs from that period, in particular. That raw truth, belted out in that distinctive Aretha Franklin voice, clearly expressed the things I was going through. Singing along with her, at the top of my off-key lungs, was a cathartic experience, releasing all my pain and heartache in a glorious two or three minutes of bluesy bliss.

It wasn’t all heartache and bad love, though. One of my other favorite Aretha Franklin songs from that era is “Dr. Feelgood” from the 1967 “I Never Loved a Man” album. In this song, with its bluesy pacing and double-entendre lyrics, Rere gets real about the good lovin’ she gets from her man. My favorite part of this song is where she sings “Don’t send me no doctor filling me up with all those pills. I got me a man named Dr. Feelgood and oh yeah, that man takes care of all my pains and my ills.” She later ends with “Good God Almighty, that man sure makes me feel real good!”

If you’re lucky, you’ve experienced your own Dr. Feelgood, and you can relate to this song. If you’re lucky, you know exactly what it means to be loved so good you don’t want anyone hanging around you and your man. If you’re lucky, this song resonates with you in ways that make you blush.

And that’s the power of Aretha Franklin’s music. It makes you feel.

I know that Aretha Franklin was so much more than the Detroit preacher’s daughter whose songs gave voice to my every emotion. She was also a valiant fighter for justice, once offering to pay for Angela Davis’ legal fees. She was a high school drop-out with two kids by the time she was 14 years old who went on to receive 10 honorary degrees. She was a recovering alcoholic and domestic violence survivor who went on to command the kind of respect others only dream about, demanding and receiving cash payments UP FRONT for her many performances and appearances. She was a Diva with a capital “D” who was also a doting grandmother who proudly attended her grandchildren’s school programs.

She was my home girl from Detroit. And she was so much more.

Aretha Franklin truly was the Queen of Soul, and she left an indelible mark on this world. I myself feel blessed to have been alive during her earthly reign.

Long live the Queen!

ASK JANICE: Why Didn’t My Boyfriend ‘Put A Ring On It?’

Dear Janice,
Six months ago – my boyfriend ended our relationship. And, I’m still not over him. The worst part is that he’s moved on. He’s now engaged to another woman! We had been together for three years and for me, the breakup came completely out of the blue. One minute, I was in a happy, committed relationship and the next minute, I’m alone.

He said he needed space and that he just wasn’t happy with me anymore. Then the next thing I know, our mutual friends are telling me that he’s engaged to someone else.

That should have been me wearing that ring. I should be planning my wedding with him, not her!

What’s wrong with me? Help me, please! I don’t know how I’ll ever get over him!

Sad and Alone
Dear Sad and Alone,
As you read my response, I want you to imagine Idina Menzel’s voice in your ear, singing “Let it Go” from Disney’s hit film “Frozen”. Because, and you already know this, you really need to let him go, Sis.

One of the first things we women tend to do after a breakup is go over everything we did wrong in the relationship. While post-relationship reflection is necessary and important, we have to be careful not to go on a self-blaming spree. Your breakup wasn’t necessarily about anything you did. It probably had nothing to do with you, at all! It could have been something as simple as: his feelings changed. It happens.
That’s not to minimize your pain, though. Your pain and disappointment are real and completely normal. I just don’t want you to blame yourself, anymore.

No one is perfect within a relationship; everyone makes mistakes. So no matter how often you replay every conversation in your head, and dissect every argument you had during your three years together, you may never know why it ended. Obviously, you weren’t the one for him and he wasn’t the one for you. Obsessing about it won’t change the fact that he’s moved on with his life.
Getting over a relationship isn’t easy, especially when it wasn’t your choice to end it. You were with him for three years, so six months mourning the end isn’t really all that long. But, the fact that you’re seeking help to get past it is a sign that finally, you’re ready to move on with your life. And that’s a good thing.

Some say the best way to get over one man is to get “under” another one. That is, get a new guy. I know, I know! That’s much easier said than done. I know how hard it is in these dating streets. And I’m certainly not going to advocate that you just start jumping into bed with any man that shows an interest in you! However, there is something to be said for getting “out there” and actively dating again.

You’ll want to start slowly, of course. And stick close to home. Put the word out to your close friends that you’re available and interested in dating. Allow yourself to be fixed up by people who know you well. Finally give that one guy you’ve kept in the “friend zone” a chance. Be open to blind dates (in safe, public locations, of course). Consider online dating, even.

Getting out there and dating again just may give your self-confidence the boost it needs. Not that you should seek validation from other men to feel good about yourself, of course. But it wouldn’t hurt. Just be sure to keep it casual, at first. Don’t go looking to give your heart to someone new right away. Play the field, a little.

But the MOST important thing you can do to get over your ex is FORGIVE. Forgiveness is essential to happiness. You can’t really move on until you’ve totally forgiven him. Forgive him for leaving. Forgive him for getting over you so quickly. Forgive him for finding someone new.
Forgiving your ex will bring you the freedom from heartbreak that you seek. Forgiving him will allow your heart to really heal. And it’s definitely time for you to heal, Sis. You’ve been hurting long enough.

And forgive yourself. Whatever you think you did wrong … let it go. Forgive yourself for any perceived mistakes you made. Forgive yourself for “losing” him. Forgive and allow yourself to fully love yourself, again. Because we all know that we can’t fully give or receive love until we love ourselves, first and foremost.

To be honest, I think you dodged a bullet with this one. If he got engaged so quickly, that other woman may have been in the picture before your relationship officially ended. And clearly, he just wasn’t the one for you. It’s a good thing he removed himself from your life before you wasted any more time on him. You should probably even thank him!

Your happiness is out there, Sis. You just have to get out there and grab it.

Good luck!

First published September 6, 2016

ASK JANICE Special: Michelle Williams Seeks Help For Mental Illness

Greetings, SuzyKnew! Readers!

Destiny’s Child singer Michelle Williams made news this week when she reportedly checked herself into a healthcare facility to seek help with her depression. The singer-songwriter, Broadway actor and pop star has spoken publicly about her struggles with depression before, and has also been a vocal advocate for mental health.

That is no small feat for a member of one of the best-selling female singing groups of all time.
The gorgeous Ms. Williams, who turns 38 on July 23rd, took to Twitter this week to explain, saying

“For years I have dedicated myself to increasing awareness of mental health and empowering people to recognize when it’s time to seek help, support and guidance from those that love and care for your wellbeing,” the singer wrote. She “sought help from a great team of healthcare professionals. … Today I proudly, happily and healthily stand here as someone who will continue to always lead by example as I tirelessly advocate for the betterment of those in need.”

Not only do I applaud Ms. Williams for her transparency, I’m in awe of her bravery. I know first-hand how hard it is to publicly talk about struggling with a mental illness. I’m not a celebrity, but I have written and published a few articles about my own battles, and believe me, it ain’t easy. So I can imagine how hard it must be for someone with Michelle Williams’ star power and recognition to be so vulnerable about such a sensitive topic. That’s why I have nothing but high praise and appreciation for her.

Mental illness is as prevalent in the Black community as anywhere else, yet it’s so stigmatized we barely talk about it. And that stigma is literally killing us! While suicide rates in the U.S. among Black people remains lower than our white counterparts, they have increased in recent years (according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). It’s heartbreaking to think about how many lives could’ve been saved had those people sought and received the help they needed. Studies show that one of the biggest barriers to getting help for Black people is the stigma associated with having mental illness or disease.

As I pointed out in an article published here on SuzyKnew a few years ago, many of us rely on platitudes like “Pray on it”, “Take it to Jesus” or “Talk to Pastor about it”, instead of confronting the issue and talking about it with one another, or getting professional help. We tend to sweep those symptoms we see in our loved ones under the rug or pass them off as quirks.

But silence is deadly when it comes to depression, as we’ve seen time and again. Substance abuse, domestic partner violence, rape/sexual assault and other violent crimes are often rooted in untreated mental illnesses. The only way to eliminate the stigma of mental illness in the Black community (and elsewhere) is to talk about it as candidly and as often as possible. We need to normalize the treatment of mental ailments the same way we view treating hypertension, heart disease or diabetes, all of which also plague African Americans in alarmingly high numbers. (You can read the entire piece here: https://suzyknew.com/5425-2/)

That’s why I’m so proud of Michelle Williams and can’t thank her enough for being so open with her struggles. I wish her wholeness and healing, and all good things going forward. I wish that for you as well, Sisters!