Obviously, our current COVID-19 crisis brings up a lot of anxiety, even PTSD, for folks living with HIV/AIDS, especially longtime survivors. All the talk of who’s spreading it and how, the daily nationwide sickness and death toll, the dread that oneself or loved ones will suddenly take a turn for the worse, and the frequent examples of government incompetence and apathy amid a crisis—let’s face it, it’s all a little too reminiscent of a certain epidemic many of us remember too well from the 1980s and 1990s.
But the flip side of all that devastation and grief is resilience and grace, and that’s what so many folks living with HIV/AIDS—nationwide and globally—are exhibiting as we hunker down through this pandemic of indefinite length and scope. TheBody spent the past few days talking to 10 people living with HIV nationwide to find out how they’re affected and why they’re scared—but also how they’re coping, adapting, and staying connected in these challenging (and isolating) times. Send your own COVID-19 stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to stay on top of how the community is faring.
Today, we check in with Houston LGBTQ political activist Michael Webb, who says that virtual parties with friends over the Houseparty app, takeout ribs with his housemates, and a Spotify playlist featuring Megan Thee Stallion are getting him through the tough times. He misses the mental-health benefits of daily gym visits but says he’s heartened to see how people are helping each other out and creating online support networks in a time of social distancing.
Michael Webb, president of Houston GLBT Political Caucus, 33
Diagnosed with HIV in 2010
Tim Murphy: How have you been affected by the COVID-19 crisis?
Michael Webb: I’m the president of a political organization, the oldest LGBT civil rights organization in the South, and it’s been a challenge for us to meet on Zoom, especially for older members who aren’t familiar with virtual platforms. I was fearful for a second that the crisis would stop us from being able to work for the next few months, but we’ve had some amazing partners who’ve helped us train our members in accessing and using Zoom.
Personally, it’s very stressful. I know my anxiety has spiked, mostly because of all the news reports of who may be passing away, and me knowing I’m maybe more vulnerable because I’m living with HIV.
TM: How are you getting social interaction and staying connected?
MW: Houston was locked down two weeks ago. But I told my political network that, if we’re changing social norms, we need to recommend new norms for people to be social. A lot of folks are joining the Houseparty video conferencing app, which any Facebook group or text group chat can be converted to. I’m surprised at how well people listen on it. No one has been rude. It gives people an outlet to say what they’re thinking about. It’s a way for people to still engage and have fun. It has group game options.
TM: How are you getting exercise?
MW: That’s been frustrating, because I’ve used the gym as a coping mechanism for so long to manage my depression and anxiety. Even just today, I tried to buy dumbbells online, and they’re sold out. So that’s a struggle. I’m doing a bit of non-weights stuff, but it’s not the same.
TM: What kinds of foods are you eating?
MW: Normal food. I’m ordering in my usual. I’m crashing with two of my best friends—we’re quarantining together. We made a commitment to stay indoors this entire time. We ordered in ribs. I don’t cook. I’m terrible at it.
TM: What books, TV shows, music, etc. have been getting you through?
MW: I’ve caught up on the recent season of Grey’s Anatomy, which has good representation of so many different communities in it. And I’ve watched as much Netflix as possible. I can’t bring myself to watch Tiger King. I like Good Girls. And I just downloaded Hulu today. I have a goal of starting to read more. I listen to a Spotify workout mix of Madonna, Missy Elliott, Lady Gaga, and Megan Thee Stallion. She’s from Houston.
TM: How scared are you, on a scale of one to 10? What specifically are you scared about?
MW: I’d say 7.5 to 8. I’m scared of not just the virus, but also of how radically we’re changing social norms in such an alarming way. It gives me flashbacks to the Patriot Act right after 9/11, because we’re putting so much trust in the government. New York has great representation, but we don’t have the best representation here in Texas. Having our government have all these emergency powers is scary. They’ve already tried to restrict access to abortion. Who knows what other policies they will impose on LGBTQ or other marginalized communities?
TM: What is giving you hope and strength?
MW: How well people are working together. We’re sharing so much information and guidance on when to go shopping for food to allow people on food stamps to have access to food. Seeing people coming together and working together. I’m seeing more compassion on social media.