The other day I was having trouble concentrating at work. I was really sleepy, due mostly, if not entirely, to a new medication I’m taking for anxiety. Like Gabapentin, Clonidine seems to have a million uses, anxiety among them. My anxiety has been a greater issue than my mood recently, and due to my history of addiction (alcohol), I can’t safely take benzodiazepines. Clonidine has been helpful so far, but has caused a lot of sleepiness.
To try refreshing my energy, I decided to take a quick walk. My office is downtown and it was around lunch time, so there were a lot of people walking around. I walked several blocks to a CVS and bought an iced coffee. On my walk back to the office there is a space where the sidewalk splits; one side is between the road and a green area, and the other side is larger and between the green area and an office building. I took the less crowded route, which was the one next to the road. There was a woman a few feet in front of me and I saw a man say something to her, she continued walking. As I was approaching the disheveled homeless man, I started to grab a dollar I had in my pocket, assuming he had asked the woman for money.
As I got closer and started walking past him I noticed he was very agitated and then he yelled at me, “Are you makin’ a movie of me?” I said “no” and continued to talk. He walked after me yelling, “Where are the cameras? Where are the cameras? I’m going to fucking kill you bitch!” he continued to follow behind me.
I knew from my walk to CVS that there were some cops hanging out on the corner in front of me so I just kept walking. I reached the corner with the cops about 10 feet away and I had the “Do Not Walk” sign. The man was still behind me, but when I stopped he walked past me and stood in the middle of the road with oncoming traffic zooming around him.
My first reaction was “holy shit, that was scary”, but more than that, I thought, “what’s going to happen to him? Should I tell the cops of the threat so they’ll have an excuse to talk to him? Should I tell them he needs help?”
I didn’t speak to the officers; I just went back to my office.
Honestly, I didn’t tell the police he appeared to be a danger to himself or others and to please help him because I didn’t want to be responsible if they actually took action. He obviously wouldn’t have gone with them easily, and the Baltimore City Police does not currently have the best reputation with black men. Anyway, would it have done any good? Is an involuntary hospitalization appropriate? Is it my job or even my right as someone who was verbally threatened to then decide that the aggressor needs help?
I have wavered in the past on the idea of involuntary hospitalization, but realize now more than ever that in some cases it really is needed. But the process for that is one that makes it hard to find people like him. Being homeless and appearing to be in a different reality makes him easy for people to ignore. Easy for people to call him crazy and move on. Until he does something actually dangerous I doubt he will get help, but by then it might be too late.
I fully realize that my reaction to this incident is not normal. I have been hesitant until now to tell people about it because I haven’t wanted to hear the well meaning comments that don’t consider the issue of mental illness. Was I scared in the moment? Sure. But my fear was short lived, this man’s fear/paranoia appears to be near constant.
So what could I have done? What should I have done? Was there any way that I could have left this situation not worried about him? Truly, deeply worried? Is there any way I can be someone who doesn’t care? Also, would I be okay with being that kind of person? These are the questions that I am asking myself in the wake of my life being threatened*.
*Please note that I am using the word “threatened” because that is on the face what happened, however it was immediately obvious that I personally was not being being threatened, but rather was nearby when he was experiencing whatever it was he was living with at that moment.