Absolutely, Positively Fearless
Self-Care in Times of a Pandemic Is Crucial
by Hank Trout

Living your best life while HIV-positive requires a huge amount of self-care—learning your status and evaluating treatment options; staying on treatment; maintaining a healthy diet; exercising when possible; nurturing friendships in the HIV community to combat isolation; and monitoring your mental and emotional health. Living your best life while HIV-positive during a rampaging pandemic requires even more conscientious self-care, especially as full or partial lockdowns continue to keep us away from each other and our support systems. Finding information to enable you to plot and maintain a self-care regimen in the face of COVID-19 can be very difficult.

Positively Fearless aims to make your self-care easier and more productive. Originally formed as a campaign funded by pharmaceutical company Janssen Therapeutics to empower Latinx and Black gay and bi men and MSMs to get tested, speak up and seek appropriate care, Positively Fearless in 2020 relaunched the campaign with a focus on empowering people living with HIV to live their best lives, focused on promoting the importance of mental health and self-care. Positively Fearless works with five experienced HIV advocates who serve as campaign ambassadors—Kamaria Laffrey, Guy Anthony, Robert Breining, Daniel G. Garza, and Jahlove Serrano—who embody what it means to live positively fearless. These ambassadors inspire others across the HIV community to accept, love and care for their full selves—mind, body and spirit. They have collaborated with advocates and experts in the mental health and HIV community to create a variety of educational resources.

For instance, in November 2020, Positively Fearless sponsored a session at the Virtual 2020 USCHA Conference, titled, “Fearlessly Forward: Journaling to Fuel Mind, Body and Spirit.” The session featured a conversation between the Positively Fearless ambassadors, led by teaching artist and poet Natalie Patterson, about living with HIV and being an advocate amidst the events of 2020. Natalie closed the session with a workshop on how to use journaling techniques to promote self-care during times of stress and uncertainty.
Additionally, in July, Positively Fearless launched the #FearlessAtHome series to create space for members of the HIV community to reflect on feelings, experiences and challenges experienced in the current climate of social isolation due to COVID-19 and racial injustice. The video series features the Positively Fearless ambassadors having discussions with one another, and a bonus “episode” featuring activist, actress, and former America’s Next Top Model contestant Isis King. You can watch the entire series at https://www.instagram.com/positivelyfearless/channel/.

Ambassadors (left to right) Daniel G. Garza, Kamaria Laffrey, Guy Anthony, Robert Breining, and Jahlove Serrano

As part of their efforts to create a space for reflection and self-care with #FearlessAtHome, Positively Fearless partnered with Yolo from BEAM (The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective) to develop a series of wellness videos. In this series, Yolo shares tips with the community on journaling, meditation, and processing feelings using The Feelings Wheel. These videos can also be viewed on the Positively Fearless Instagram channel.

They have also prepared a flyer with self-care tips for diet and exercise, available at https://bit.ly/3oVA5JC for download. Just as importantly, they have prepared an informative, downloadable flyer about having fearless, open conversations with your healthcare provider, at https://bit.ly/3qYzpFh.

Altogether, Positively Fearless’ programs have reached thousands of people, helping them to set up and adhere to a self-care regimen. A&U asked the Positively Fearless Ambassadors a couple of questions regarding self-care.

Now that we have endured the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year, what is the one most important act of self-care that you can recommend our readers take to endure the remainder of the pandemic?
Jahlove Serrano: The most important act of self-care is to make sure your mental health and your physical health match. You shouldn’t work on one without the other.

Kamaria Laffrey: The one thing that I can recommend to people to focus on for the remainder of the pandemic is to be gentle with what information or how much you take in. The news is there to inform; but be sure that you are affirming yourself with the information you absorb in ways that will help you maintain balance and peace in your mental health. If the news is bleak, remind yourself that you have survived your past worse days before and you can do it again; journal to remind yourself how. If the news is alarming, remember to breathe, focus on touching things that are real, buy a plant, look up at the sky, touch water, smell your favorite fragrance. These things help us in the cabin-fever feeling that this year has brought us and can prevent us from feeling stir-crazy. Those are multiple methods, but the main focus is to be gentle with yourself. We are all having this human experience together that is impacting us in ways that are bringing growth, revelation, and reconciliation.

Robert Breining: The most important act of self-care that I recommend is find a way to be creative. It doesn’t matter if it’s writing poems, dancing in the mirror, running or a D.I.Y. project at home. Creative self-care feeds the soul. I know during this past year my own mental health has been tested. I’ve discovered that when I was creative, I was not only happier, I was smiling.

Daniel C. Garza: Now that we’ve been in lockdown for almost a year, one of the most important things that I have learned to do for myself is meditation. As a Spiritual Mentor, I have made the suggestion to my clients that they find a way to go within themselves to find the peace they are seeking outside. It was a ‘do as I say’ situation. When the lockdown orders came out in Southern California and I gave myself the time to sit, or lay down, and look around for other mentors and coaches that I liked I was able to relax and get grounded, centered, and balanced.

In this time of social distancing, what has been the biggest obstacle in your own self-care regimen?
Serrano: The greatest obstacle I’ve endured in my self-care regimen during the pandemic, was not working out at the gym, because I love working out. Another challenge I faced was allowing my thoughts to keep me up at night.

Laffrey: The biggest obstacle in my personal self-care regimen has been not being able to spontaneously have a girls’ night out to help with my grief of losing my husband before COVID-19 hit. Being able to escape for just a moment to regroup and recenter has been a challenge, but not impossible. This year has just taught me new ways to do the things I need. I am thankful to have access to technology to Zoom chat or FaceTime with friends and laugh or cry.

Breining: In this odd time of social distancing the biggest obstacle to my self-care regimen has been not being able to attend conferences. It’s not just the conferences but the small intimate conversations with fellow advocates. That’s what I really miss. Those moments recharge me not only as an advocate but as a human. I’m a people person and there is nothing more I miss than a good hug from someone I love. I suffer from anxiety, so part of my treatment is to utilize the tools I have learned through counseling to go out. Social distancing and being on lockdown put my therapy back a bit so I had to learn new tools to overcome my phobias.

Garza: My biggest self-care regimen obstacle during the lockdown has been getting outside. I have been working from home long before social distancing but would visit with folks to interview them for my “Put It Together Conversations” podcast.

One of the insidious aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that, while it has made self-care even more important for the HIV community, it has cruelly made self-care even more difficult than in pre-pandemic times. If you are struggling with self-care nowadays, you can turn to Positively Fearless for information and inspiration to maintain your self-care regimen. Now more than ever, we need all the self-care tools we can grab.

For more information, log on to https://www.PositivelyFearless.com.

Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-one-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his husband Rick Greathouse. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.