Kris Wise MSW, LCSW
I completed my bachelor’s in social worker senior practicum working at an agency that at the time was called the AIDS Task Force of Northeast Indiana. I began my full-time employment there a year later at the age of twenty-two. I could never have predicted how the work in HIV care coordination and later director of client services would impact my life and shape who I am. I was professionally raised within HIV and its service delivery. The confidentiality of my profession leaves me carrying stories and moments no one else will know. However, there are some things I can tell you.
I can tell you as I write this on World AIDS Day 2019, I am flooded with memories. Some still so real it is hard to image it wasn’t just yesterday. I will forever feel indebted to this work as I can’t imagine trying to survive this life without everything my clients taught me. Yes, I learned from my clients. There was personal and professional growth everyday and I hold so much gratitude for the gifts they gave me by allowing me into their life.
I learned a powerful sense of urgency building a motor within me that is difficult to shift. When you are surrounded by people cherishing every cup of coffee, springtime, and encounter you learn to do the same. You do it today as it was needed yesterday, and tomorrow is too late. This motor I know has annoyed a few peers since it started. Create it now, do it now, and don’t stop until it works. Yes, it is a motor created out of crisis and the acknowledgement that none of us have a guaranteed tomorrow. When another human being is suffering emotionally or physically, how can we not act urgently and remain ethical?
I learned to lie to nurses who questioned who I was to their patient as visiting hours were over and only immediate family could be present. I would nod my head in agreement to their assumption that he was my uncle. This was the first opportunity his partner had to rest and there were no other family that would visit. I learned how to look pain and suffering square in the eye and not budge, as sometimes our presence as another human being is the only act of dignity we have left to offer.
HIV impacts everyone and over those 13 years I would learn that HIV would often take a back seat to addiction, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, loneliness, and poverty. The stigma of HIV impacted our daily work. I would meet clients in alleys, isolated streets, anywhere no one would question who I was and why we were talking. Prevention and care services offered to those living with HIV is unique. I have yet to find service delivery models created, shaped, and evaluated by those receiving the service. I witnessed empowerment, advocacy, and resilience firsthand when those living with the virus, often clients were given a voice at the table. Where they helped create solutions and seeing this intentional level of inclusiveness and ownership unfold was powerful.
I learned about grief. Anticipatory and active. My own, theirs, and the guilt survivors carried as there was no logic to the death of their friends or partners. I attended funerals. Not as many as they described in the late eighties, but enough bringing me to create the plan for my funeral before the age of twenty-five. I would attend funerals of different faiths, different cultures, and memorial services. I watched parents, partners, and children bury their loved one. I would stand alone by a casket at one funeral as I was the only person in attendance. I have stood guard during displays of the AIDS quilt and held strangers as they wept.
The magnitude of the suffering and trauma experienced was deadly even when you could survive it. Even when they themselves were still alive there is a realness and reality known and experienced drawing new definitions of privilege and oppression in our society. The fate of self, your family, friends, and community was not a political ploy to be debated and voted upon. Fighting HIV coupled with oppression drew me to research, data, and reading medical books. Searching for the right words to explain cryptococcal meningitis to a client’s family. The medical text gave insight to treatment, but literally began its description of the opportunistic infection with: cryptococcal meningitis is very depressing. Doing everything ‘right’ didn’t always mean a person would get better. Science was science, and control was a fallacy.
There have been great strides in treatment and prevention, and for that I am thankful. I still grieve, and I still process the trauma I witnessed. The experience lives in my body now, and I draw upon the wisdom my clients shared with me at every opportunity. I’ve stood witness to great acts of compassion, and inhumane acts of hate. Yet, it pales in comparison to the suffering they endured.
December is a time of the season often filled with red ribbons. May they serve as a reminder as they do today on World AIDS Day. May we remain intentionally aware the possibilities for individuals today would not exist without the lives and deaths of those who came before. Because of how they lived, advocated, protested, voted, and persevered others can live. We have yet to reduce human suffering without equity and human capital. May we never take it for granted.
Mary Aguilar, MSW, LCSW
This song has been haunting me lately.
I find myself silently reciting the lyrics with you, session after session.
Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow” will not leave my consciousness. The lyrics ring so clear and true – a metaphor for your pain, hurt, trauma. My tears well. You don’t yet know that the “storm” is over. Your body doesn’t know. I see the “rainbow.” I watch your beauty, your resilience.
Your pain is so chronic. So normal. You don’t even notice.
Trauma changed your body. It doesn’t know the storm is gone.
You’ve spent so long surviving, you don’t yet know your ability to thrive and grow.
Surviving meant you didn’t get the privilege of growth… but now is your time.
The skies are cleared, it’s over. It’s in the past.
You are here with me now.
But your body thinks the “storm” is raging on.
Your damn survival skills… your coping.
They kept you alive then, but they’re killing you now.
Honor your “umbrella,” thank it for its use.
But the skies are dry now. Put your “umbrella” away.
“If you could see what I see, you’d be blinded by the colors.”
I am humbled by your story. I sit in awe at your healing and growth.
Your resilience is breathtaking.
Please, take a chance. “Take off your coat.” It’s not serving you any longer.
Your past protections keep love out.
The skies are clear. It’s over. It’s in the past.
I am here with you now. You are safe.
We will look at the past from safety.
We will “tie up the boat.”
We will put away your “coat.”
We will “let go of your umbrella.”
Fear keeps you clinging to your useless “umbrella.”
“There’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head.”
You were made perfectly imperfect.
You are worthy. You are valuable. You matter.
You deserve unconditional love. You deserve happiness.
Let the storm fall behind you.
Let’s put down your umbrella.
You can’t see your own rainbow from underneath.
You are good. You matter.
You are beautiful.
Kris Wise MSW, LCSW
If you have ever watched an episode of the television series “Empire”, you probably recognize the image of Jussie Smollett, or remember his smooth vocal performances. He is talented, philanthropic, and since 2015 an openly gay man of color in America. Smollett was this week’s victim of violence in the LGBTQ+ community.
The Chicago Police Department is investigating the incident as “a possible hate crime.” The police report details two unknown offenders approached him yelling racial and homophobic slurs. They began to beat him with their hands, poured an unknown chemical on him, and wrapped a rope around his neck.
They put a rope around his neck. A noose. Are you hearing me?
I realize the political waters are very polarized when it comes to the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. There isn’t a day that goes by in America that doesn’t give note of recent attacks and further marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community. Here are some examples:
Evangelicals sue for the right to deny shelter to homeless transgender people
Gay people can’t get restraining orders against their partners in North Carolina
Mike Pence’s wife works for a school that bans LGBTQ people
Trump’s Attorney General nominee defends his support for religious ‘right’ to discriminate
South Dakota becomes the first state to attack LGBTQ children in 2019
Gay inmate dies of suicide after jail officials allegedly join inmates in month of nonstop torment
A teen was ‘suicidal’ after having sex with a trans woman. Now he’s charged with her murder
All of these headlines have occurred in 2019, and I know there will be more that will follow. Whenever violence like this occurs, I think of the moment I met Mathew Shepherd’s mother. Judy, like so many mothers adored her son. I could feel the pain in her eyes as she shook my hand, and I felt I might fall over from her humble grace. All I could manage to say repeatedly was ‘thank you’. Tonight, I think of my mother, my family, and my tribe, as I know there are times they worry about my safety. I think of those who do not have someone to worry about them. I am again reminded of the wisdom of Dr. Cornel West’s statement “Justice is what love looks like in public”.
I know the wheels of progress will continue to turn, and I will continue to do my part. I just have a couple of questions for you. Could you at least agree to stop killing us? Could you agree violence against us is not okay? Could you notice the nearly 30 trans women of color are murdered yearly in America?
The words of Cookie Lyon a character of the “Empire” series has proven true. “Listen to me. You different. OK? It’s only something mama knows, but it’s gonna make life hard for you sometimes. But I want you to always remember I got you.”
Until it stops, I got you.
Kris Wise MSW, LCSW
Why self-regulation is important to each of us.
One’s ability to practice self-regulation is as predictive in life outcomes as a person’s individual intelligence or their family of origins socioeconomic status. Self-regulation is essentially the ability to focus one’s energy and actions towards a goal. Self-regulation is often learned during childhood, but is also a skill practiced, enhanced, and mastered throughout life. Whether we are facing current adversity in our life or maintaining a healthy mindset, self-regulation is at the core of our daily interactions and existence. Achievement of short-term and long-term goals are heavily influenced by our ability to self-regulate.
Self-regulation plays out in our day to day lives on a regular basis. For example, if the goal is to lose 10 pounds, our ability to manage stress in the moment impacts whether we make healthy food choices when we have a bad day at work. Self-regulation is at the core of whether we reach for a candy bar or an apple. This skill impacts how we effectively overcome adversity, synthesize time management, and achieve an endeavor. In essence it is how we maintain focus on the long-term goal beyond immediate gratification. The ability to persist when the current step towards the goal is difficult, trivial, or ambiguous can impact how we self-regulate. This plays out in the moment with how we talk to ourselves. When we are having a bad day and are tempted to reach for the candy bar what do we tell ourselves? ‘One candy bar won’t hurt?’ or ‘I want chocolate, but I’ll have an apple’. Recognizing the temptation or immediate gratification of relief is key. Validating one’s emotions in the moment of feeling stress is not only affirming, but also allows ourselves to feel the emotion and shift to problem-solving a healthy response. This pause allows us to break out of the automatic pilot existence and into the present. The art of applying delayed gratification isn’t easy and in our technology based world we wired ourselves for the immediate which has its pro’s and con’s.
Teaching Children Self-Regulation
We can teach children delayed gratification by prompting or giving positive descriptive messages to children during natural weight times. For example, you’re in line at the grocery store check-out.
- Acknowledge the difficulty of mastering the skill
- Describe what the child is doing while waiting that is positive self-regulation
- Prompt imagination or end point.
For example: There are two more people in front of us waiting to check out and then we will pay for our groceries and leave. If you could be any animal in the world what would you be? What would be fun about being a giraffe? What food would a giraffe get at the grocery store? I see you’re singing a song to your little sister, that is a great thing to do while waiting.
How can you build further self-regulation as an adult or practice the skill?
Avoid environments or activities that sabotage your goals. For example, place healthy snacks in plain sight, and put candy out of plain sight. When we are exposed to multiple temptations this will drain our reserve of self-regulation. For example, an alcoholic should not choose a home where their street is lined with neighborhood bars. Self-regulation is a muscle we must exercise and strengthen. Just as a bicep will become fatigued during the 4th repetition of weight lifting, it will gain further strength over time. When the muscle of self-regulation is exhausted or attempting to dodge the 4th impulsive choice, our motivation to stay on goal can lessen. HALT- is an acronym that can help us stay on target and recognize the mind body connection.
Ask yourself am I feeling:
Hunger– eat regularly throughout the day and eat well.
Anger- acknowledge that anger is a healthy emotion and reflect on what is causing you to be angry.
Lonely- have you withdrawn yourself, connect with your support system.
Tired- sleep and rest is critical for our bodies. When energy is low and we need rest our physical and emotional ability to think clearly, cope, and stay focused decreases.
- Visualize yourself taking action in a calm manner.
- Affirmations- talk to yourself about being in control of yourself. Choose thoughts over emotions.
I am in control of my reactions
I am in control of my emotions
I am in fully control of myself
I am full of inner strength today
I am making healthy choices
I am working towards my goal
- Create visual reminders throughout your work and home life to remind you of the goal you are working on.
- When your actions waiver from the goal forgive yourself, and build in positive reinforcement of the desired behavior.
- Break long-term goals into short-term more immediate milestones driving towards the long-term goal.
- Create specific goals that are clearly defined. For example, saving a small amount of money out of each paycheck towards the larger amount you’d like to put away.