Lindsay’s Blog

Hiv Support

I would like to say that I became involved in HIV care services and advocacy because I was a concerned community member, but that is not the whole truth. The real story is that like most uninformed people, I was terrified of HIV. I was paranoid about contracting the virus (from situations I now know was impossible to contract it from) and would go for HIV testing more than was necessary. When I began volunteering for the GLBT Community Center on Mills Avenue, I learned about their volunteer based HIV counselor program. I was in school for mental health counseling and decided then and there I was going to get educated and overcome this fear. That decision changed my personal and professional life and I am so grateful I took that step from ignorance to knowledge.

I know that there are many others, both HIV positive and HIV negative individuals who are carrying around a great deal of misconceptions about HIV. Our schools fail us by not educating youth about the reality of HIV. It has become a passion of mine to help shed light on the dark corners of this issue. I’d like to talk about two initiatives I am most excited about.

In the summer of 2015, I was the Director of Clinical Services for the GLBT Center and running the HIV/STI/Hep C testing programs. I was alarmed by the number of young gay men (under 30) being diagnosed with HIV at The Center each and every month. There was no break. Every few days we were telling a person in his teens and early twenties that he was HIV positive. Many of these young men were scared. They weren’t out to parents, they didn’t have jobs or health insurance. They worried that no one could love them and they would be alone for the rest of their lives. It was heartbreaking and something needed to be done. I sat down with the mental health counselors at The Center and shared with them my idea of a 6-week support and educational group for young gay/bi men under the age of 30 recently diagnosed with HIV. They were on board and at that moment A.W.A.R.E was born. The acronym, created by Nicole Elinoff, means Achieving Wellness and Reaching Excellence. It perfectly exemplifies what A.W.A.R.E is and has grown to become. Impulse Group Orlando took A.W.A.R.E. under its wing and has been providing much needed support, such as advertising, free transportation to members who need a ride, and an amazing dinner for the participants at the end of each group. Now based out of Two Spirit Health Services, A.W.A.R.E will begin its 5th group on September 12th. This program has changed people’s lives by giving them the hope and knowledge they so desperately need to move forward after a HIV diagnosis. The group is free and a lot of fun. If you or someone you know would like to enroll in the September group, please email me (Lindsay) at aware@impulsegrp.org.

A.W.A.R.E. was definitely a “ah-ha” moment and I had another one like it when I was presenting about HIV to a group of mental health counseling students at Stetson University. At the end of the presentation they asked me where they could go to find all of the information I had presented in one place. I couldn’t answer that question because such a place didn’t exist. There wasn’t a clearing house of information about HIV for mental health clinicians that was specific to our local area. As a result of this problem, I decided to create a website called Red Ribbon Counseling (http://lindsaykincaide.wixsite.com/redribboncounseling) for my Capstone project that is a part of my master’s degree. The site features HIV facts, treatment guidelines, information about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and community referrals specifically directed towards mental health clinicians in East Central Florida. If every mental health professional assessed for HIV knowledge with their clients and shared information with them we would have a much better handle on the HIV epidemic. I hope this site empowers clinicians to become HIV advocates in their practices and daily lives.

What I have learned over the last couple of years is that you just never know when an experience is going to transform your life. For me, one of my greatest fears became one of my greatest passions. What about your fears? Take a look. You might be surprised what you find…….

 

Mindfulness

Mindfulness. The word used to make me cringe! As a counselor in training, everywhere I went and every book I opened wanted to tell me that I needed to be more mindful. But what the heck did that mean? Hot yoga? No thanks! Hours of meditation? I’d be lucky if I could get through 5 minutes. It felt like a bunch of academic types who didn’t know what it was like working two jobs, going to school, or living pay check to pay check. This doesn’t apply to my life, I thought. And it won’t to most of my clients. So I actively ignored it.

Little did I know, however, that the real principles behind mindfulness were sinking in without my awareness as a result of my training at Stetson University. I was tolerating stress better. I was more in-tuned with my body. I was happier and healthier. So what was I doing differently?

Firstly, I was exercising. I had made a commitment in the spring of 2014 to begin a consistent exercise routine. I hadn’t had much success with gyms so I decided to try something different. I joined a boot camp where I could go for 30 minutes group sessions. I felt that 30 minutes was something I could fit into my hectic schedule and that my peers and coach would challenge me to maximize my work out. I was right. Not only was I able to stay committed to weekly exercise but for the first time I actually enjoyed working out. I didn’t lose a bunch of weight but after the very first workout I noticed something interesting – I was less stressed and my mind felt more clear. The more I continued to work out the less stressed I felt. Now, when I’m having a tough week, I know that I have that time to sweat off the stress. No, it doesn’t have to be hot yoga. Take a walk around the block. Stroll around the mall. Exercise triggers neurotransmitters, such as endorphins and serotonin, which are associated with feelings of happiness and well being. It’s not just your heart and lungs that are impacted by exercise, it’s your mind as well.

I learned to breathe. Yes, I’ve been breathing for 31 years, but now I am aware of how breathing with intention can lower physical arousal in my body. Air is a life source and when we focus on our breathing amazing things happen – our heart beat slows, tension begins to subside, and we feel calmer. It’s simple and you can literally do it anywhere: the office, your car, a doctor’s waiting room, in bed, on the couch. Sit comfortably with your feet on the ground. Place your hands on your lap or beside you. Close your eyes. Breathe in for 5 counts, hold the breathe for 5 counts, and slowly exhale for 5 counts. Some will say to breathe in, hold, and exhale for longer than 5 counts, but personally I’ve never had much success with that. Do what works for you. Make it a practice to breath intentionally when you are stressed, anxious, or feeling emotionally aroused. Once you get in the habit it will feel like having a therapist in your pocket.

I started cooking dinner and eating with my partner (without the TV on!) A few months ago, my partner and I began cooking a healthy meal three times a week and would sit down at the table to eat together. The TV is off and the phones are put away. This one-on-one time has enhanced our relationship and lowered our collective stress as a couple. We now have the opportunity to talk out our daily stresses and when we do the conversation soon gravitates to our hopes for the future. There are a few ways you can do this without the process of cooking become another stressor. If it works for your budget, meal delivery programs, such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, deliver everything you need right to your door. On the weekend, you can plan out a couple of meals and go grocery shopping so the items are in your fridge and ready to go. This works wonders for families as well. You’ll find yourself feeling more connected and less prone to arguments.

I cut out the black and white thinking. I was not either completely perfect or a total failure. Life was no longer absolutely wonderful or completely horrible. Living in the gray space freed me from the prison of absolutist thinking. In the gray space there is nothing but endless possibility. I could mess up and still be an amazing student and employee. I could be frustrated with my community and also in awe of how far we have come. Struggle became an opportunity for growth and disappointments transformed into new dreams. Black and white thinking is toxic and it makes us miserable. Increasing mindfulness enables us to see these unhelpful thinking styles, maybe for the first time. We can then decide if we are going to do something about them. The first step, of course, is awareness.
So much to my surprise, I can now say that I am on the mindfulness bandwagon. It all changed for me when I began to identify and adjust the black and white thinking. There is no right or wrong way to “do mindfulness.” If you are not a tea-drinking yoga guy or gal, that’s ok. Mindfulness isn’t about gym memberships or incense or expensive stuff. It’s about connecting to our own minds and bodies. It’s about realizing that what we are looking for to make our lives happier, healthier, and more peaceful has been inside of us all along.