This is the podcast adaptation of the sixteenth episode of The Break Room! This one’s centered around front line workers, particularly relating to their mental health. A huge special thanks to our hosts, Dr. Dixon & Dr. Nikki! Part of the Living Corporate network, The Break Room is focused on mental health, wellness and healing for Black folks at work. You can expect real talk from real experts about the real ways Black folks can protect and heal themselves from racialized trauma at work. Catch a new episode every Thursday at 7PM Central! (Note: The Break Room is currently between seasons. Catch up while you can!)
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Dr. Nikki Coleman (00:00): Welcome to The Break Room, everybody. We have a good time in the green room, which is the space before we log on. So, we’re happy to be back with you all. This is The Break Room. Do you hear an echo? Because I hear myself.
Dr. Brian Dixon (00:29): Nope. I hear you loud and clear.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (00:31): Okay. Maybe I’m just a little too loud.
Dr. Brian Dixon (00:34): You’re excited. That’s awesome.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (00:37): I will introduce myself. I am Dr. Nikki Coleman, a licensed psychologist in the state of Texas. And I am one of four co-hosts and I’m happy to be here this evening with…
Dr. Brian Dixon (00:48): Hi, you all. Dr. Brian Dixon back with president Obama as well. He says, how’d you like me now? Okay. And so, I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist here in the great state of Texas with Dr. Nikki, and I’m super pleased to be back.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (01:05): Yes. So, if you are new to The Break Room, first of all, welcome, we’re excited to have you with us. And The Break Room is a podcast by black mental health professionals for black professionals, with a mission to remind you that you matter, that you are valuable and that your wellness and joy are a priority for liberation. So, we talk about all things black, all things mental health, all things work here in The Break Room. We sort of have a flow that we like to use. So, we’ll kick it over to Brian and just a little bit, and he’s going to get us started off with the tea because you got to have a hot drink in The Break Room.
Dr. Brian Dixon (01:45): You know it. You know it.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (01:48): I’m really excited to have this conversation through today about the tea. And then today’s episode is about frontline workers and mental health. Brian started us off in the conversation last week and talking about frontline workers and sort of how do we think about them, who they are, what are some of the challenges that face they face. And we want to drill down a little bit deeper tonight and talk more about mental health and resources and supports that they can tap into. And then we’ll close up tonight. We always end with the last nerve and sometimes you just got to get it off your chest. I feel like I have been doing a lot of the last nerve.
Dr. Brian Dixon (02:28): You’re so spirited. You always come correct. So, we love your last nerves.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (02:34): So, we’ll wrap up with that at the end. So, that’ll be how we use our time tonight. So, with that, Brian, why don’t you sort of give us the tea.
Dr. Brian Dixon (02:43): So, it’s been a little bit of a time that has passed but I want to set it up for you and then I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this, Dr. Nikki. So, there was a post I think on Facebook a while back, from some of our white friends who said that when they take a shower, they don’t actually wash their legs. And it made its way to black Twitter and black Twitter had its way with it you all. So, then fast forward, the question came up about washcloths and the question was, do white people use washcloths? And black Twitter, being black Twitter, was like, you have to use a washcloth. That is just good hygiene. So, I wanted to bring that because it’s a debate that’s still going on Twitter and I wanted to hear your thoughts on that. Because I think I may be one of the outliers. So, I wanted to hear your thoughts on that, Dr. Nikki.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (03:38): Yes. So, I do remember there’s an online comedian that goes by Kevin on Stage, and I remember him commenting about the post about not washing your legs. Having lots of conversation like the bath, the shower, whatever it is, it’s for the whole body. It’s not just for upfront. I was very confused by that. But this latest development about washcloth, I’m very baffled. It explained some things because I’ve gone to Airbnb’s or stayed with friends or something like that, white friends, and they’ve not given me a washcloth and that is crazy. I got this hand towel and I have used the whole hand towel…
Dr. Brian Dixon (04:31): Oh my gosh. Really?
Dr. Nikki Coleman (04:31): It’s quite cumbersome because what am I going to do? Just put raw soap on my body?
Dr. Brian Dixon (04:39): Yes. This is one time you can raw dog the soap. Just put it down there and just rinse it out. Just rinse it out. That’s all you have to do.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (04:48): No. I will be in there with that whole hand towel. Soapy, heavy and wet, but I’m going to use a cloth on this body otherwise. So, here’s my thinking and everybody knows this or everybody probably over a certain age. There used to be a time that, you and I are of that certain age, where you may go over to someone’s house and we didn’t have liquid soap. We didn’t have pump soap. You had that bar soap when you went to the bathroom to wash your hands, you use the bar soap on the sink. And sometimes that bar soap would be dirty and crusty.
Dr. Brian Dixon (05:23): Yes. That’s true. That’s true.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (05:25): You know that’s true. Why would I not extend the same logic to my body? You see why I need that middle? I need that middle.
Dr. Brian Dixon (05:32): I got you. For me, sometimes my skin gets really dry and I get really ashy really easily. And so, when I use a washcloth or a loofa, it really kind of abrades my skin. I don’t know if I’m just scrubbing too hard and trying to get the dirt off. I don’t know. And so, I talked to a dermatologist friend that was a black dermatologist, which is like a unicorn, and she was like, especially if you are at risk for dry skin or eczema, take it easy on the washcloth. And if you do, you…
Dr. Nikki Coleman (06:05): You should take it easy. Not don’t use. Take it easy.
Dr. Brian Dixon (06:08): True that and then the moisturizer, it’s really funny. She said one of the best, it’s not a moisturizer, but it works as a barrier, which is Vaseline. And so, all these years that your mama was putting Vaseline on your face, that’s actually a very good thing. It keeps the moisture in. So, there you have it.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (06:23): Like a sealant.
Dr. Brian Dixon (06:24): It Is.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (06:25): I just have so many questions that we won’t take up all of today’s time to get into because I could really have a prolonged conversation about this. But what I find fascinating is that there are some spaces I think that get touted more often by white liberals. Where they’re still like this sort of colorblindness or we’re all one people or we’re all humans and that is true. I’m not denying my humanity or that I likely have perhaps more things in common with white Americans born in America that I might have with black folks in the Congo. Because my contemporary experience has been here in the United States.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (07:05): However, there are some cultural pieces that are transmitted generationally, that I think also transcend sort of our history through the transatlantic slave trade that create these long standing well entrenched differences. That this continues to be a whole conversation really is an indicator of how many different Americas there are within this one America.
Dr. Brian Dixon (07:34): That is so true. Everybody has that slightly different lived experience. Sometimes the disparity is really, really broad and sometimes it’s really, really close. So, yes, I’m with you. I grew up in east Texas and so yes. I remember sitting in that bathtub and you scrubbing with ivory soap, which I refused to use for the rest of my life because I’m done.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (07:54): Because your skin will be dry as paper.
Dr. Brian Dixon (07:58): Child… So, yes. We are super happy that you all are here tonight and we hope you appreciated that tea because I don’t know that it’s going to be going anywhere anytime soon. So, if you have white friends, ask them about it. See what they say.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (08:12): To my white friends, get a wash rag. And you know what, I would say this to you, Brian, she said, take it easy. You know you can use baby wipe cloths. Like the towels they make for babies are much softer, they’re gentler. So…
Dr. Brian Dixon (08:29): That’s very pleasant. I like that.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (08:30): It is, it is. So, that would be my interpretation to take it easy. But thank you for that. We know that we live in a time and a context in which there is onslaught after onslaught of violence and tragedy and hate and just heaviness. So, the more that we can bring levity into… Look at this. Thank you, Jennifer. Bamboo washcloths are super soft. Going to Amazon after this. Thank you. I’m going to get me some bamboo washcloths. But I think us being able to do the tea on a regular basis is a wonderful way for us to remember joy is important and levity is important and there’s a space for that. Otherwise sort of what’s the point, right?
Dr. Brian Dixon (09:16): Amen. And that’s one of the primary roles that The Break Room serves at work. It gives you a break from all of the other stuff that’s going on. So, we’re super happy to be here.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (09:26): Yes. So, last week, Brian, you were with us. Thank you. You held it down solo-dolo as they say.
Dr. Brian Dixon (09:34): Okay.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (09:34): So, we appreciate that, to talk about sort of frontline workers. And so, I wonder if you just want to maybe give us a little bit of recap for those folks that maybe weren’t able to see last week’s episode.
Dr. Brian Dixon (09:45): Yes, absolutely. So, last week we talked about the research behind frontline workers, who they were and some of the percentages of what they made up in our workforce. And just to recap, essential workers are those folks who work in industries that are essential to their critical infrastructure viability of a country. So, your food service workers, your farm workers, a lot of your hospital workers, that sort of thing. And so, if those are your essential workers, then your frontline workers are the folks or your essential workers who have to do it in person, meaning they can’t dial in from home. There’s no way to work from home. So, keep in mind that these are the folks who truly, truly are on the first line of defense in hospitals and grocery stores and gas stations, because they help keep our society going.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (10:36): One of the things about the pandemic that I think was a moment or opportunity for us as a country, was to really have a deep reckoning with how important our frontline workers are. So, I work in a hospital setting and I do training, corporate training. And one of the things I’d like to talk about with folks, and we start talking about this idea of inclusion, is that you are among the most well-paid, well-credentialed folks in the institution. However, the minute custodial services stop the minute the CNA stopped working, the minute those people at the cafeteria stop, the cooks stop, the minute the shuttle buses stop, when those folks shut down, the whole thing is shut down. You don’t get to do your higher skilled, elevated sort of work if those folks are not present, showing up and keeping the bus going.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (11:42): And I think that’s sort of a concept that people would agree with, but the pandemic I think helped really bring that to the forefront. I think we actually had missed opportunity to really rethink about how we value, treat, compensate, prepare for, and really reflect value of for those frontline workers. Because we continue to sort of go along with what I would call sort of this toxic capitalistic attitude of like, give it to me now. Figure it out. That’s your job to figure it out, not the fact that we are sort of all in this together. I remember when would we were saying that in the early days of the pandemic.
Dr. Brian Dixon (12:27): Yes. We started off being very collegial in supporting each other with the hero’s thing and so, that was one of the slights of hand that I didn’t even catch at the time. Because I was very much… My heart was open and I was very much let’s be teamwork. And I would hear about the folks in New York walking to the hospital and hearing the pots banging and we call them heroes, healthcare heroes. And then I started to see there are some issues here because these folks weren’t getting raises. Some physicians were even getting laid off because they were speaking out about unsafe work conditions and it was very troubling that all these different layers of protection were just falling away. Before the pandemic the layers were kind of shaky and then the pandemic hit and they just disappeared.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (13:18): Yes, absolutely. I think the other thing is the reason why we wanted to have this conversation too, is recognizing that we assume that most of our audience through this Living Corporate platform are folks that are pretty educated and credentialed and likely in professional level positions. And we know for, I want to probably say the vast majority of black and brown folks in this country, many of us are the one of one, or one of a handful, which means on the other side of that, we are also embedded or come from families and communities in which they are a great representation of frontline workers.
Dr. Brian Dixon (14:04): Absolutely.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (14:04): Like these are people that we know, maybe even our parents or grandparents. I remember I have a cousin that works at a sporting goods store and my mom telling me, what I thought was earlier than was necessary, that she was being called back to go to work. And I remember being like incensed and thinking like there has to be some sort of labor protection in there for her to be able to not go to work. And they were saying, you’re going to get fired. And if you get fired, you can’t claim unemployment. And I was like, this is absolutely insane. Well, who needs sporting goods in the middle of a pandemic?
Dr. Nikki Coleman (14:43): And looking up, this is in Louisiana, trying to look up the Louisiana labor laws and see if there were any exceptions being made and there were none. She had to go to work and this was before we really fully understood how COVID works and I don’t even think we had mask mandates at that time. So, it was really scary. It was scary for me because she’s also diabetic and I was like, she’s high risk. And realizing like she has to eat. She got bills to pay. She’s going to have to go and that sense of hopelessness and frustration was really intense.
Dr. Brian Dixon (15:22): And powerlessness. So many… It felt weird because so many businesses were putting their employees in the role of kind of security enforcer. So, a lot of places started to do mask mandate, wear your masks. And the frontline workers were the ones who were being expected to enforce that. You saw all these videos of people trying to walk into Costco and all these places and there’d be somebody at the front saying, no, ma’am, no, sir, you can’t come in and you don’t have your mask and they were being accosted and beat up and called out their name and the whole nine yards. You didn’t see the managers running out there, you didn’t see the CEO of Costco saying, don’t be treating my people like that. They are here trying to do you a service. You didn’t see that. It’s just very disheartening and disempowering for frontline folks in this situation.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (16:16): So, we wanted to talk a little bit about sort of… I tend to think about the impact of systems on our lives. Because often times, especially in our very individualistic American context, we make things oftentimes more personal than they actually are. We assign blame to the individual more so than is actually there’s to be sort of be culpable for. And so, this is where I start to think about the role of classism and how it is that we have a class structure in our society in which we value, oftentimes implicitly but sometimes explicitly, folks who are higher skilled, or more educated over folks who are lesser skilled or lesser educated. And that’s inherently a system that recreates a systematic economic disadvantage for certain folks.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (17:19): So, said differently, we tell people all the time go to school, get an education, get a good job. Well, there’s all these other caveats that come along with that. So, we could talk about the intersection of sort of the tax space and how our education system is funded. We could talk about the intersection of racism with regard to that. And then that’s when we really started to think about how this classism piece can sometimes be almost like that hamster on a hamster wheel.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (17:48): So, if I come from a lower income background, folks who are frontline workers who are wage earners, who were potentially lower skilled, and that I live in a neighborhood in which there’s a much lower tax base so I go to poorer schools. The opportunity for me to get better education, to exceed those already existing foundational limitations for me are going to be smaller. So, the likelihood that I’m able to sort of exceed or excel, no matter how hard I work is really a set up. It’s really a trap. But then we have this idea around classism which teaches us and all sort of implicit ways that I should have more, I should be more comfortable. I’ve earned more because I have excelled.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (18:38): What I want to offer as a way to sort of think about if that can be true and could it also be true that folks who are willing to do the work that nobody else wants to do should also be valued? So, people should be able to have the ability, regardless of their level of skill, the ability to feel safe at work. Psychologically safe, physically safe, that they should feel respected as human beings. They should still be seen as folks that be given grace and compassion. And oftentimes that’s really not what happens at all.
Dr. Brian Dixon (19:22): Yes. Absolutely. It’s very interesting. You said something and one of my therapists when I was in therapy said this to me and I was like, oh my God, I never thought about this. She said, always be careful what the word should, because you’ll should all over yourself. And I was like, that’s so badass. And so, I was using it in the therapy context, but when you just said that, so we, living in a classist society and you’re a hundred percent correct. Go to school, get an education, you make more money, you should be able to call in when you want to. You should be able to get paid your worth and I would say yes to that part. But we, in that privileged role, when we start to say should, we need to keep in mind the number one, we might be shooting all over ourselves.
Dr. Brian Dixon (20:08): We’re putting ourselves in a position that is not fair for everyone. We’re separating ourselves from the very people who were taking care of us. So, I always think back to when I was working because I started working at 16. I worked at Eckerd Drugs, the defunct pharmacy chain that sold out to Rite Aid and everybody else. But I remember having to go in the bathroom and clean up people’s shit and I’m like how do people shit on the wall? This is insane. And while running the cash register…
Dr. Nikki Coleman (20:45): You see why you need to go home and use a washcloth? You used the washcloth that night.
Dr. Brian Dixon (20:50): You’re right. You’re right. I scrubbed hard too. You’re not lying. Yes, because I didn’t realize… And to go from there, so making $4.25 an hour cleaning up people’s shit, now I make six figures and I get to stay home and work from home during the worst pandemic of the last hundred years. And people like me have to be careful with the word should. Because we may be making things worse if we’re not being thoughtful about what we’re doing.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (21:21): Absolutely. Yes. I think for me, I have a really keen awareness about it because I grew up in a family where there were a lot of frontline workers. My grandmother and my aunt were domestics. My uncle was a… What do you call them, gardener? And they worked for rich white folks, which was a very palpable, real thing being from the south. And my mother is the only one of her siblings to be college educated. So, I have a really close relationship to folks who have to show if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Like you don’t get that check. Your hours are short, your check is short. And so, I think I’ve grown up with a really real awareness of that. I got my first job at age 16. I worked at United Artists, which doesn’t even exist anymore.
Dr. Brian Dixon (22:16): It sounds fancy. Oh yes. I have heard of that.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (22:21): We were fancy. Our uniforms used to be a white buttoned-down bow tie and black vests. It was fancy. So, I’ve been on the receiving end of people believing they can treat you like you are not a human being because you were in a service position. And then I’ve been educated myself and now I live in a very middle-class context. And my child lives in a world where her worldview about class and money is so particularly skewed. I’m like, I have gone very, very wrong in the opposite way. Right. At the same time, I don’t want to have to go show up to work. I don’t want to clean toilets. I don’t know that there are people that genuinely love doing that. But there are people who still have the right and access to their humanity in doing that. So, said differently, if I’m not willing to do it, I don’t get to look down on the people that are.
Dr. Brian Dixon (23:22): I agree. I think that’s perfect. Yes. Everybody, there’s a quote and I’m going to get it wrong, and it’s about Mencius, a very old Chinese philosopher and he basically said that, without countrymen, there would be none to feed the city men. Without city men, there would be none to rule the country men. So, the idea is that everybody is dependent on everyone else. Nobody is better than anybody else. And each side has an obligation to not only do their job, but also to make sure that the other side is cared for. And I love what you said, safety, respect. I think those basic tenants go really, really far.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (24:03): Yes. So, the other piece that comes along with that, that I also think about relevant to The Break Room especially, is around sort of mental health and being a frontline worker or mental health and being a wage earner. You could go to therapy because you schedule it out in your calendar. And you’re like, I’m going to be out for this hour.
Dr. Brian Dixon (24:27): And don’t bother me.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (24:31): And don’t bother me if you work. And this has become, I think for me, it became way more salient for me when I became a single parent. If I were a single parent that was a frontline worker, I don’t know how people make that work. I honestly don’t. As single parent in the way that I am that my extended family or people that I would be able to trust her with, they live four hours away at a minimum. We have family is what I call it. Friends that we’ve made family here, but those are people that come in for me to have a night out or some time here or there when there’s an emergency.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (25:09): But if I worked in the gas station, if I had an overnight shift at the gas station, I can’t bring my baby there. How does that work? And so, we have this really fraught system that’s set up to really limit the opportunity for people to have full sort of balanced whole lives. So, in a time and thinking about being in the pandemic where we all had high anxiety. We were all fearful.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (25:43): Where’s the time for them to be able to say, I’m going to go talk to a therapist about how I’m struggling with this job? I’m going to choose to do that versus stay here and work some overtime or make this extra money. So, their stresses are compounded in different ways than those of us that work in a different sort of proximity to whiteness and sort of racial oppression. The proximity to class oppression though creates a different level of stress, but then you don’t have the resources or time to be able to sort of attend to that.
Dr. Brian Dixon (26:19): And now that I think about it, thinking about you all’s bamboo washcloths from earlier, we actually probably made it even worse because everybody went online at the same time. And we started ordering food and groceries and order everything. And somebody had to deliver those things in a time that we didn’t know where the virus was coming from, if it was aerosolized. I mean, we will be dealing with the fallout of how we treated each other for decades to come.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (26:53): I agree.
Dr. Brian Dixon (26:55): So, then how do we heal all of this? How do we build a better system so that this doesn’t suck so much?
Dr. Nikki Coleman (27:02): So, I think a couple of things come to mind. One is long term and one is; I think we have to continue to have ongoing conversations just about a livable wage for folks and how to compensate people. I think we have to have… There’s sort of this agreed upon perception that the pendulum of history swings far one way and then swings back the other. And I think we have swung really far to a very toxic level of capitalism and classism that is not serving us. And so, at some point, I think that that’s going to have to sort of swing back. I actually am super, really excited about Joe Biden’s America. I don’t know if you know a lot about what he said for his infrastructure plan and sort of a lot of the tension around that, but his framing around infrastructure is really one that is sort of centering some of what we’re talking about.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (28:04): It’s how do you give people, if you recognize that the vast majority of folks in this country are essential workers and frontline workers, how do you create structures and supports that actually give them a life of dignity and life of comfort? So, I think there’s opportunity there. I think that’s going to be a long slog, but I think there’ll be some changes, probably not as grand and vast as what he’s proposed. But I think there will be some changes that come along with that. So, I think there do have to be some sort of structural systemic change.
Dr. Brian Dixon (28:37): Yes. And I totally agree with you. Yes. I remember talking to someone and they were talking about how the middle-class in that when you have a healthy middle class, then everybody benefits. Because you can continue to grow and try to make more money and if you want to reach upper class, you know how that I’m using those terms in that sense, not… Yes. You know what I mean. Whereas, in a healthy middle-class also means that there are people to keep the money flowing, to keep the money moving, exchanging hands, creating businesses, employing people.
Dr. Brian Dixon (29:17): And it’s when you destroy that middle-class and there is nobody having babies, there’s nobody creating businesses that everything just slows down because rich people are getting richer, they have zero connection to the rest of us. And so, they don’t understand the value of a dollar and to put it mildly. And so, as a result, I like pretty much everything that he was saying in his plan, especially with the childcare aspect. Because if you don’t have cared for kids, then you’re going to have screwed up adults. And that keeps me and you and business, but that’s not helping anyone in the long run.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (29:56): It’s really not and not to the level of severity. I think that’s the other thing that’s important to mention. We talked about the stress, the compounded stress that oftentimes folks. In lower SES will experience, or lower SES will experience more chronicity or severe mental health issues because there isn’t access to mental health care. There isn’t in addition to the sort of day in, day out, stressful situation of trying to make ends meet. Try to make a dollar out of 15 cents. So, I think those are the long-term solutions. I think in the short term though, I do think we have an individual responsibility to sort of check our internalized classism. That what you were saying earlier about shooting all of ourselves, that we can talk about that in terms of internalized classes.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (30:44): That you think either that person is better than me because they have a better job sort of simplistically, or I am better than someone else because I have earned this degree. And I really like this framing of being better off, but not better than. And really being able to sort of check our internalized expectations for who deserves what or how. And then I always talk about a practice of gratitude. I think that applies for everyone. There is actual science of the science of happiness. What must it be like to be a Harvard University psych professor? Where you can study happiness? There’s a whole happiness lab at Harvard and their research has… I know. Talk about class privilege.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (31:35): But there is a substantive body of research that talks about when you are in a more positive mind state that you have actually more access to your prefrontal cortex. You have more executive functioning. You are literally thinking brighter and clearer and more creatively when you’re in a happy mindset. So, the practice of gratitude is one way to sort of activate that for yourself. So, I think that that’s something that we can all do across the board.
Dr. Brian Dixon (32:01): Yes. I can dig it. One of the granular things, as a business owner myself, I have learned all of the ways that the government is regulating us. And sometimes I get really irritated because I’m like, oh my God, I just need to get this done. But they do it for a reason and it’s to protect workers, protect people and so, I always encourage folks that you need to know what your employee handbook says. You need to know what your rights are, also your responsibilities.
Dr. Brian Dixon (32:29): So, if you are at work for longer than five hours continuously, you are federally allowed to have a break period. If you’re there for more than either eight to ten, I can’t remember, it’s like an hour break. It’s all written down. If you go and read it, you will see what your rights are. And I always encourage people to do that because business owners, some of them are not very thoughtful. Some of them are assholes, frankly. And they will literally run you over and they will exploit and abuse you and you have the legal right to protect yourself and your family.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (33:05): Yes. So, that brings me to the other side of that. And that thinking about folks that might be listening to us or watching this later, who are in supervisory or managerial roles, leadership roles, is to center your capacity for compassion. Let’s remember we are all human beings. I’ll speak very candidly from my experience. I am well compensated. I am in a mid-level sort of position in the company I work in and you remember, Brian, we were without power here in the great state of Texas in the middle of one of the most frigid ice storms we’ve had in some extensive history and many people were without power and many people were without water. And as that began to come back online, folks that I work with were sort of like, let’s get back to it. Like nothing had happened.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (34:08): Then I was like, I am traumatized. I’m going to be really honest. I am traumatized. It took at least 24 to 36 hours for my body to actually calm down from being so stressed. One, trying to preserve heat. I’m trying to care for me, my daughter, the dog in a home with no electricity. We didn’t have a gas stove; no running water and I needed a minute. But the expectation was this sort of keep rolling with it.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (34:40): I heard today, unfortunately, there was another mass shooting yesterday in San Jose with the transit authority there. And so, I heard part of the press conference this morning or earlier today. And some of the representatives, the upper representatives from the company were saying, if you need a moment, take your time or take a break, take time out to cry when you come to work. And I’m like, how about people just not have to come to work? If there’s been a mass shooting at your place of business, that should be one day.
Dr. Brian Dixon (35:11): At least one day. Lord have mercy.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (35:14): So, I’m saying these are things that could happen most immediately. I don’t know a company with more than 50 employees that doesn’t have some sort of DEI mission or focus. You want to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, treating your employees with compassion, attending to the mental health of folks, recognizing that in acute or crisis situations you actually have a lot of power to give people a moment to breathe. To access people’s humanity and honor that. You would get a lot more out of those employees. There would be a lot stronger sense of engagement and belonging.
Dr. Brian Dixon (35:53): Yes, absolutely. So, managers and supervisors help create the culture at work. And if you want a toxic culture, ignore your employees, run them into the ground. That’s how you create a toxic culture. If you want to create a culture of acceptance and inclusion, then you have to make space for it. I love that. Make space and center your compassion. Amen, Dr. Nikki. Amen.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (36:17): I think that it doesn’t have to be rocket science. It can be little simple things that can really go a very long way. And then the other thing that I wanted to sort of talk about is, it’s not always easy to find. I don’t want to be sort of pollyannish, but there are increasing numbers of foundations that will offer vouchers or help subsidize mental health counseling for folks. I know actually Taraji P Henson has a foundation that is doing that. There’s another one that is not coming to mind right now. And then there are providers that may take a sliding scale. You may be able to get services through your state Medicaid depending on what state you were in. And so, I want to just say that for folks who are our frontline workers, who perhaps are in lower social economic status, that doesn’t mean you don’t have access or rights to mental health care.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (37:15): The sooner you go in for support in therapy, actually the less time you have to actually spend in therapy. So, it is much better to ask for help and figure out ways to get help sooner rather than later. And there’s also a rising increase in sort of these sort of tele-health platforms. I know there’s Better Help and there’s Talkspace, which may be more accessible or affordable for folks. But I want to sort of continue to normalize the acceptability of going to mental health counseling and therapy because of stress. We’ve become so normalized to being in a constant state of stress and overwhelm and disregard and disrespected in our society that I think people take for granted that it does have an impact on your mental wellbeing. I want to encourage you to realize no, that doesn’t actually have to be the case.
Dr. Brian Dixon (38:12): Amen. And one of the most powerful things I’ve done for my mental health because this has just been the most stressful year ever. And one thing that I’ve done is I’ve made sure to vote. Because there’s something about putting my digits in that thing. And then I put that ballot in the computer and it feels like I’ve done something and we had a runoff up here in Fort Worth and I voted again.
Dr. Brian Dixon (38:36): So, I encourage you all to do that because at the end of the day, the reason why we don’t have the funds in the mental health network and the mental health infrastructure is because other people don’t put it as a priority. So, we have to put in the people who put it as a priority. So, you have to vote for those that are saying mental health is important. And before you bring the tea Dr. Nikki, when you were talking about the ice apocalypse thing that happened in Texas, I was thinking about it the other day. And if you’ve ever seen frozen the movie, there’s a part where…
Dr. Nikki Coleman (39:11): Have I? I have a nine-year-old. I have seen it more times than you.
Dr. Brian Dixon (39:20): Don’t know about that because trust me, the cold never bothered me, anyway. It did this time.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (39:27): Yes, it did.
Dr. Brian Dixon (39:29): But in that movie, you were remembered there was a part where Ana got hit with the ice and her heart started freezing, and I kid you not, after that, I don’t even know that I’m still warm enough. That was so traumatic for me, that whole entire thing, and I’m still trying to figure out how to forgive the jerks who caused it. I don’t know if I can, like I need to…
Dr. Nikki Coleman (39:52): I do not. Because there were people that lost their lives.
Dr. Brian Dixon (39:56): I think, I haven’t confirmed this, but I saw a post where they said it is likely that over 700 people died from that, which just blows my mind.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (40:07): In the United States of America. We’re supposed to be the flagship country of the world. We’re supposed to be where any dream is possible. You too can make it. And people die because we don’t invest in the infrastructure to keep the electricity going in a winter storm and it’s really that simple. Somebody with a lot of money has decided I don’t want to give up some of my lot of money to make sure that people don’t die. I just don’t want to. So, you can’t make me.
Dr. Brian Dixon (40:37): Yes. And it just hurts my heart. I just can’t.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (40:42): It does. And so, that’s why I say that I think we are in a state of toxic capitalism. It is swung too far. I do think that folks like Jeff Bezos and what’s the other man’s name?
Dr. Brian Dixon (40:57): Bill Gates?
Dr. Nikki Coleman (40:59): Ian Flux, but I don’t even know how to pronounce the guy’s name.
Dr. Brian Dixon (41:02): Yes, the Tesla guy. Elon Musk.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (41:08): And Bill Gates. To me, it is disgusting that they could have that much money and have been sort of socially sanctioned that they get to hide behind it and not pay taxes. Yet I know that I pay mine.
Dr. Brian Dixon (41:21): Who are you telling? Oh my God, don’t even get me started.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (41:24): Right. So, those are longer term infrastructure sort of things. But I do like to stay in a space of hope and dreaming and imagining of a world where things are more balanced. Because I do think that we could have a greater sense of collective happiness, collective state of wellness, if we had a more balanced structure that allowed people to live lives of dignity and decency. And absolutely had the money to be able to do it.
Dr. Brian Dixon (41:56): Amen. So, apparently your last nerve tonight is going to be flowers and rainbows and happiness and…
Dr. Nikki Coleman (42:02): No. But I want to put that out there so folks would know that I have a balance. And quite honestly, part of why I get so passionate and I get so angry about the things that I get angry about is because I am such a soft-hearted person. I am, this is a moment of vulnerability, I am a child who there was this cartoon movie, no, actually I think it was a made for television movie based on the story of the hunchback of Notre-Dame. That came on when I was a child and I cried so hard. Brian, my mother turned it off. She was like, you are literally making yourself sick. And I was like, why are they so mean to him? He is just a man. And I was like full body heated crying. And she was like, go take a bath. So, I feel things deeply.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (43:01): But I want to get on my last nerve and curse. As we have mentioned, we live in the state of Texas. I can’t call it a great state of Texas. In the United States and a context in which my entire lifetime there has been a fight around women’s bodies and women’s access to autonomy over their bodies and specifically around the notion of abortion. And our governor here in the state of Texas just passed this law that said that women who are over six weeks pregnant are not allowed to get an abortion.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (43:41): And there is no exemption for rape or incest. We want to also acknowledge that here in the state of Texas, a rapist also has access to paternal rights and the level of disrespect, I don’t even know if that’s the word strong enough, but the level of disregard for the autonomy of women and their ability to make their own healthcare choices about their reproductive rights in this state, which is one among many in this country is absolutely disgusting and egregious. And it’s so transparently, patriarchal. There is no other reason to have these laws codified outside of pseudo religious patriarchy.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (44:30): I think they hide behind religion. I really don’t even think it’s about religion, but I think that religion is a very lovely veneer to put on it that makes it hard for people to push back against. What I have a problem with is not so much that it disrespects women’s autonomy, but it is such a hypocrisy because you don’t actually value human life. If you actually valued human life, you would give people a living wage. People would have affordable housing. People would have access to healthcare. Children to be able to go to school and safe places. That was my two-minute timer.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (45:11): So, the other layer here is that what has made this particular bill so interesting is that he’s also empowered private citizens to sue healthcare providers who provide abortions. What that does is create a sequelae of negative health outcomes for the lowest income among most, likely brown and black women, who are already highly susceptible to maternal complications, to low birth weight children, to infant mortality, all of these things. You’ve created now a system that is going to exponentially differentially impact those of us that are most vulnerable and most marginalized just to get elected just so that you can remain in power. And I’m pissed off about it in ways that I cannot fully articulate here.
Dr. Brian Dixon (46:07): I am with you sister. So, Dan, if you cared about kids, if you cared about anybody, you wouldn’t be putting them in cages. You wouldn’t have a CPS system. You would be treating… Yes, Lord. I’m jumping on your last nerve.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (46:22): Yes, because it is enough for us to both get on it. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen with the supreme court. I honestly don’t. Because this is going to go up there. There’s one from Mississippi that’s going up now. I just think it’s absurd that this is even a conversation that we have around federal legislation. There is no other medical procedure that exists that is under legal scrutiny. I don’t what?
Dr. Brian Dixon (46:52): You’re a hundred percent correct.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (46:53): None other. Anyway, you all have got my nerves worked up. It’s been a joy and a pleasure to spend this time with you. I hope whoever listens, whoever has been here with us tonight, I hope you got something out of it. If you take nothing else, I would want to remind people to practice a gratitude practice. Like if you don’t do anything else, take that little nugget away because that’s something we all can do. And join us back here on next Thursday at 7:00 PM, CST, 8:00 PM Eastern, 5:00 PM Pacific. Actually, we’re going to have Dr. LaWanda, I believe, or perhaps Dr. Jide, who are going to be here and we’re going to talk about pride. Because it’s going to be the start of pride month.
Dr. Brian Dixon (47:44): Yes, queen.
Dr. Nikki Coleman (47:44): Bye you all.
Dr. Brian Dixon (47:44): Bye you all.