Stress alters my CD4 count, and the holidays can accelerate its decline. My holidays include: work stress, excess free food, the sun disappearing at 3:30 p.m., holiday parties, gifts, travel, family, friends, fun, and frozen toes and fingertips. Some years, I could feel the anxiety brewing as early as Labor Day weekend. When I felt that I couldn't be everything to everyone during those times, I would wear that defeated feeling like a heavy cloak well into Black History Month.
My naivete kept me from being aware of the impact this defeatist attitude would have on my body. My weight would fluctuate, and that would stress me out. My skin would rebel against me, and that would really stress me out. I carved out a cave of self-inflicted isolation rather than carve turkey with family. I felt undeserving of love because of my HIV diagnosis -- so hide all of the mistletoe. No one wants to know me this Christmas.
During my experience with my Saturn return, I felt my priorities shift and my mindset evolve. I've spent much of my life believing that being wholeheartedly selfless would reap a bountiful harvest of blessings -- not so much. I was taught that being selfish is cold-hearted and arrogant -- not so much. I learned that the road to self-fullness is personal and holistic. I aspire daily to exist in a space where both selflessness and selfishness live in balance within me. This quest has been the most beautiful thing for my CD4 count.
I am not here to help you find ways to maximize your dollar this holiday season. I do not aim to share tricks on dealing with toxic family members at Thanksgiving dinner. Think of this as an emotional flu shot that can potentially get you through. So this holiday season, I share with you the gift of self-fullness.
Self-fullness is a lifestyle choice. I was introduced to this term by my best friend -- the Samurai. Fun fact: He simply overheard the term. I researched the term and quickly learned it was created to help white women take a stand in balancing it all. Great ideas! I even had a couple ah-ha! moments. Then I remembered I'm neither white nor a woman. I am choosing to transpose, adapt, and adjust this term for my black, gay, HIV-positive soul's salvation. I draw inspiration from Sheila Forman, Ph.D., author of Self-Fullness: The Art of Loving and Caring for Your Best "Self." Unlike self-care, which asks us to reflect and change behaviors for the betterment of our being, self-fullness is that reflection of changed behavior and attitude for the betterment of our essence. Think of self-care as an ibuprofen and self-fullness as the vaccination.
It all begins with self-awareness. It seems as if the shorter the day becomes, the more compact the workload appears. Coming from several professions that require me to interact with people all day every day, I began to feel taxed by my work and aware that I was in the profession of servitude. I'd commute through the darkness to return home to tend to my dog, Tenzin, and it would be only 5:30 p.m. Guilt would set in because we could only get out long enough for him to do what he needs to do. I cannot be out and about in the dark as a black man, no matter how long I've resided in any neighborhood -- a lesson I've learned several times over.
Those walks with Tenzin would provide the self-care I needed -- that brief moment to unwind and reset. Snow and darkness in a land where most men would send me messages on the apps informing me how disrespectful it is for me to be a part of their sites because of my disease. Sometimes, I'd contemplate lying or omitting my status online altogether -- which is its own farce. Just as fast as that delusion visits, it leaves. Mainly because before I engaged with these apps, I had already disclosed my status on the world wide web -- so there would be absolutely no point in hiding it on the hookup apps.
The hard part about being honest is having to own it -- and, honestly, sometimes the constant rejection or objectification gets me. I'd convince myself that it was too cold to host or travel for any stranger. So there I was: cold, fertile, lonely. Bring on the wine-and-honey BBQ chicken tenders with a side of blue cheese, extra crispy fries, my DVR, MyVidster, my silicone AstroGlide, and a blizzard.
I began to sweat putting on my sweats. Clearly, that was not OK. Love yourself at any and every size is easier said than done. My quest to become a Pokémon GO master was also stagnant. I had no extra energy to survey the streets for mythical pocket monsters. I was impatient with my students, compassion depleted with my clients, and I disengaged from any and all that came too close to my overly sensitive boundaries. I'd project my sadness onto the nearest grigio.
I didn't check out -- I checked off the grid. I'll be the first to admit I was aware of all of it. As each New Year encroached upon me, I felt less desirable, less formidable, less like myself. I, too, was melting away. I am humbled and grateful to not have slipped so low that one would think I was dancing along suicidal tendencies. I didn't want to die. I wanted to exist in the mirror dimension.
So I'd go the self-care route: take a bath, turn off my phone, take a mental health day (pay period), drink tea, Pinterest. None of it was working. I can only self-care so much before my body yearns for a self-intervention. That moment when everything in me refuses to wallow in reflection, resulting in an impulse to be better for my entire self. This may sound odd to some, but I woke up one autumn morning soon after my 30th birthday with a new lease on life. I knew I'd be spending another holiday alone with Tenzin. I wasn't flying to visit any family, and no family was coming to see me. This process called life taught me that "No" is a complete sentence with no remorse.
I refreshed my empathy and restructured my boundaries with everyone. Some folks fizzled out and others were given new nouns. We aren't friends. We're not a couple. We aren't besties. We're associates. We're peers. We're colleagues. We're engaging in a mutually beneficial rendezvous. We aren't friends with benefits. I am not emergency services. We're cordial. Everyone and everything in my life must be intentional. I will not spare any of my time, energy, or CD4 count on anyone who encroaches upon my self-fullness. Self-intervention encourages boundary setting in so many arenas. I am responsible for the dash between my sunrise and sunset. With my one life to live, I have no choice but to cherish it like I can be gone with the wind fabulous tomorrow.
I love my family, both blood and chosen. I accept that the trauma and anxiety that accompanies holiday travel is too much for me. I do not enjoy it. I love my family and I love me. Both of these statements are true. I've learned to make my own family holiday. I've paid my dues with the nor'easters, the freezing winds, and seasonal depression coupled with toxic family members, pies, macaroni and cheese, yams, potato salad, and shame.
Today, I am grateful for my disappointments. They taught me to forgive. They taught me to dress for the rain. Today, I am humbled by my scars. They teach me humility. They teach me the art of accessorizing -- because for every scar I crown, I walk forward and upright. Today, I am thankful for the night. In its stillness I've learned the difference between hope and faith. I have to do more than imagine that this too shall pass, I have to keep pressing on and pass it. This year's Autumnal equinox hinted to the wonders of a powerful winter solstice. As winter whispers upon the horizon, I prepare thanks for life -- no matter how loud the winds howl. I can hear them. I can feel them. So I implore you to breathe this holiday season. Look inward and begin to think on what fills you. Own it and cherish it at all costs.