Tag Archives: mental health

ASK JANICE PODCAST SPECIAL: Can We Talk About Mental Health?

July is BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month, formerly known as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month! For those of us a little late to the party, BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, & People of Color.

As you know, here at SuzyKnew! we’re all about TOTAL health and wellness for Black women and women of color all over the world. Obviously, that includes mental health and wellness. A few weeks ago, I joined my dear friend, Monique Guest, on her awesome podcast, Be My Guest, to talk about it. To hear “A Conversation on Battling Mental Illness”, click on this link:

http://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-um5f3-dee3a1#.XyHNP_L5HlM.email

Go easy on me, y’all. It was my first time doing a podcast.

Black people and POC need to talk more openly about mental illness, especially these days with so much going on in the world. I don’t know about you, but between the pandemic, 45’s messy mishandling of the pandemic, as well as his minions’ refusal to follow the CDC’s basic guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, my meds have had to work overtime!

And I know I’m not alone. Months of isolation, fear, and uncertainty would adversely affect even the healthiest of people. But even without COVID-19 being a factor, far too many people suffer in silence because of the stigma associated with mental illness. We all know someone sick who refuses to get professional help or take medicine that could help them lead happier and more fulfilled lives.

Untreated or under-treated mental health issues account for so much of what is wrong in our communities, and result in so many unnecessary deaths. That’s why it’s so important to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. And that starts with having conversations … openly, freely, and without fear of shame. BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month is as good a time as any to get those conversations started.

By the way, Monique and I go waaaay back (maybe one day I’ll tell y’all about a trip to Europe we took as teenagers) and I think she’s awesome. You should check out her other podcasts, which you can find on her website at  https://www.bemyguestllc.org/.

Photo Source: Pixabay

 

 

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: How Will You Celebrate World Mental Health Day?

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a day for all of us to raise awareness of mental health issues and advocate against social stigma. The primary focus for this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families and entire communities, and profoundly impacts those left behind.

Worldwide, every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. That adds up to close to 800,000 people per year, and doesn’t even include all the people who unsuccessfully attempt to end their lives. That is why the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for today to be about “40 seconds of action” devoted to suicide prevention. Experts believe that, with the right intervention and help, many suicides can be stopped before they happen.

You can do your part by using your social media platforms to raise awareness of mental health issues and the importance of suicide prevention. You can also encourage your churches, mosques, clubs and organizations to include mental health awareness programming throughout the year. And most importantly, you can lead by example, and make your own mental wellness as big a priority as you make your physical fitness.

For far too long, mental health issues have been ignored, swept under the rug, and deliberately misinterpreted as weakness of character. This needs to stop. Seeking and accepting professional help for your mental well-being takes real strength. So if you need help, please talk to someone.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, and you live in the United States, the suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. Help is available 24/7/365.

Falling Off A Cliff – By F. N.

Thoughtful woman sitting on bed at home in the bedroom

It would be impossible to convey how many weeks it has taken me to write this article… the wash of anxiety every time I contemplate it; the bubbling in my tummy as I strategize how I will start, where I will start and what I will say.

Let’s start here: That sentence you just read? I’ve rewritten it three times. I took out the words “terror” and “shame” because I don’t want to sound dramatic. I decided against “trembling,” “nauseous” and “dreading” because I don’t want to seem like a weakling. The truth is my tummy isn’t bubbling. It is in knots. Because it’s easy to write about sex, relationships and reproductive health. I don’t have any baggage about what’s between my legs. Just the 500-ton tire iron I carry in my head. And the words I’m always so ashamed to say out loud.

*Deep breath* I suffer from clinical depression. The bad kind. The “can’t get out of your bed for days except to pee and nibble at stale crackers so your stomach doesn’t eat itself” kind. The “don’t answer calls, texts, smoke signals, knocks on the door, messages from Jesus, Beyonce or Maya Angelou” kind. The “don’t brush your teeth or shower till you have to go to therapy” kind (therapy is once a week, so you do the math). The “spend months weighing the most considerate way to commit suicide so you don’t leave the person who finds your body with a lifetime of nightmares” kind.

The kind black people don’t really talk about. Even now, when we say we’ve broken the silence around mental illness.

I’ve realized that we discuss self-care:

     Go to the spa so that the daily wear and tear of being a black woman doesn’t make you lose your mind.
     Go to church and hear the Word when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.
     Get your girls together, light candles, drink wine and lift each other up.
     Do yoga, eat well, get enough sleep, process historical trauma, yada yada yada.

But, somehow, we rarely have an honest dialogue about Clinical Depression, Major Depressive Disorder and the illnesses that make it into the DSM-V. We don’t create the spaces where people can share their truth and we can all acknowledge that sometimes life breaks your brain. And no matter how many Thursdays you spend telling a well-meaning woman with an LCSW about your complicated yet joyful childhood, or how many mornings you shovel a handful of pills into your mouth, your emotions don’t do what you tell them to, your thoughts are thick with darkness and every step you take is like trying to swim in molasses.

Yet, according to the CDC, there are about a million black women with major depression in America. For those who deal with abuse, trauma and PTSD there’s a higher incidence. For those who deal with chronic pain and health issues there’s a higher incidence. And the truth is it is impossible to talk about reproductive health as if it’s separate from mental health; as if the ability to know your body, accept and embrace it, explore your sexuality, make your own reproductive decisions and advocate for your rights doesn’t hinge on being able to function without a cloud of despair surrounding you.

But we try to.

We act as if serious mental illness is a spilt drink which will evaporate if we just ignore it. We overlook major depression because the world tries to kill black women and then tells us how inspirational we are for being strong enough to withstand the assassination attempts. And we buy into it. We don’t have time to be broken; black girl magic doesn’t color-coordinate with being pitiful. A fabulous twist-out can’t carry sadness in it, melanin and melancholy don’t live on the same block. Shit needs to get done.

So we do it.

We don’t receive the tools to recognize a brain when it’s breaking. We just tell ourselves we’re in our feelings, even as shit gets heavier and heavier. Nobody tells us that sadness is tripping off a curb; depression is falling off a cliff. Until there are too many of us at the bottom of the ravine.

So I’m typing this article, between sobs. Dreading the moment when you read it and whoever you pictured me as wilts, into some weaker, pitiable person.

But I have no choice but to write these words. I owe it to all the women who walk among us in silence, backs bent under the heft of stuff they are too scared to reveal…

The sistas whose libidos are so low from the blanket of grief they are wrapped in that their relationships are suffering and their chests are tight with fear…

The ones whose sex drives are suppressed by the antidepressants they are hoping will shake the blanket off — and who now have to reconcile the functionality the drugs are supposed to provide, with the anxiety over what havoc the chemicals might cause…

I write for the sistas who can barely make it to work or pack a lunch bag but who’ve told themselves that what they don’t do for their man another woman will — and who open their legs, burrow somewhere inside themselves and go through the motions because they can’t afford to lose one more thing…

And for the sistas who have every bit of sex they can, and drink desire like a drug, because being touched is the only thing that fights the voice telling them there is nothing to live for…

This is for the sistas who can’t find any way to love their bellies, thighs, stretch marks and saggy boobs right now because they themselves are flattened by pain…

For the sistas who haven’t been on top of their reproductive health because every ounce of their energy is used up by breathing in and out…

Hold on, sis. I see you. I feel you. I am you. The dark is deepest before the dawn.

F.N. is an internationally recognized author of fiction and non-fiction. She alternates between Accra and Washington, DC. 

ASK JANICE MENTAL HEALTH SPECIAL, PART 5 GOD BLESS 4 EAST – HOW YOU CAN HELP

“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.

ASK JANICE MENTAL HEALTH SPECIAL, PART 4: SOMEONE LIKE ME – I’M SUCH A HYPOCRITE

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.

END OF PART 4. STAY TUNED FOR PART 5, THE FINAL INSTALLMENT.

ASK JANICE MENTAL HEALTH SPECIAL, Part 3: THE BULLY OF 4 EAST

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

“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?”

Y’all.

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.

END OF PART 3, STAY TUNED FOR PART 4.