Braving a New World

An HIV diagnosis can change your world; the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world for everyone. Quintin Cammack, who appears on the cover of this issue, says that living with HIV helped prepare him for a new, new normal.

How has living with HIV prepared you in coping with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Being a Black same-gender-loving man living in America prepared me most for COVID-19. I grew up in a small town in Alabama where the environment had been polluted. Monsanto Chemical operated a plant that leaked polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, into the air and water, and a nearby army base incinerated chemical weapons. When I was 12 years old, we were issued ventilators and gas masks, and my family was told to “shelter in place” because of a possible exposure to chemical weapons. From losing my mother to breast cancer in 2014 to getting diagnosed with HIV in 2017, you build this bulletproof-like resilience. Resilience has taught me the importance of cherishing the simplest things. Another day's not promised to any of us, which is why I have “Live to Die Another Day” tatted on my chest. It's helped me to live each day to the fullest.

Being diagnosed with HIV changed so many things for me. I found educating myself about my new-normal helped me to combat the stigma, fear, and isolation that came with my diagnosis. When COVID-19 struck the U.S., there was so much inaccurate and incomplete information floating around, especially in black and brown communities. Educating myself with reliable sources, webinars, and state and community news has helped the most. Also, asking my primary care provider (PCP) questions related to HIV and COVID-19. It's helped me to eliminate worry so I can focus on keeping moving as healthy as possible.

What are you doing as self-care during the pandemic?

Creating and keeping busy has probably been the best self-care for me. I've been cooking from fresh produce and juicing a lot, and I fit cardio and workouts into my remote work schedule. Sticking to a fitness plan at home has been the hardest adjustment since the stay-at-home order was issued in Illinois. I've set some goals, but haven't been as consistent as I would be in an actual gym setting.

Telehealth is still taking me some time to get used to. It has been awesome to check in with my therapist biweekly via phone. I'm grateful as well to have a great relationship with my PCP. The pandemic adds a different type of awareness to my overall health and how I communicate with my doctor. Utilizing community services and resources like Walgreens Community Pharmacy’s delivery service gives me peace of mind in knowing my medication will arrive in the mail when needed.

I'm learning during the pandemic to slow it down a bit and not rush. Waking up early to catch the sunrise with a cup of tea helps to separate the days and plot my next moves. Our enclosed back porch has become my escape from reality.

Is there anything new or different you've been doing—a hobby or activity—since the pandemic?

I started an indoor garden where I spend most of my time meditating and creating. Growing up, we always had a garden, and I found the environment therapeutic. I've planted a few herbs and some succulents to start and plan to add some lettuce, garlic, and peppers soon. Organizing my music has been on my to-do list for a while. I've had the extra time to make some mood playlists—one of many things I’ve marked off my list since the pandemic.

How are you reaching out to other people—family members, friends, other people living with HIV?

Google Duo has been the winner for me in staying connected with everyone. I like that you can talk to both iPhone and Android users. Before social distancing, we’d link with friends at The Sit Down in Hyde Park, so we named our group “The Sit Down.” I also love chatting on iMessage, too.

On Facebook, I manage the Black Men’s Health page and group. We share content to inspire black men to develop and learn new habits around holistic health and wellness. I've been engaging more on my digital platforms as well to speak candidly and transparently about my personal experiences of being black and living with HIV.

There's a required level of vulnerability to open up and share your experiences, especially in a time of uncertainty and misinformation. I think it's essential that we are contributing to accurate information related to COVID-19 to combat stigma and educate those living with HIV/AIDS and other autoimmune diseases.

Follow Quintin on Instagram (@fromwest15th) and check out his work using #fromwest15th.