many faces surrounded by floating COVID-19 particles

The Blurred Lines of COVID-19 & Stigma

I feel like a hypocrite. I feel afraid. I feel like an imposter.

I wear my mask when making essential runs. I wash my hands. I keep six feet between me and folks the best I can. I order from local stores for household items if needed. I know that none of these things keep me wholly exempt from exposure to coronavirus. I appreciate others that take the measures within their ability to stay healthy and safe.

I appreciate everyone doing their part

I know masks can be a barrier to feeling safe: one, because of lack of access to them and two, because some people cannot wear something over their faces without feeling like they are suffocating. My mother and sister are those individuals. I appreciate everyone doing their part the best that they can.

Gaining perspective during the COVID-19 pandemic

I daydream of the days when I’d attend conferences and hug my fellow advocates. I’d attend church and hug family and friends. I attended my husband’s funeral in December and was embraced and literally held up from fainting.

I traveled heavily for work last year and, while small spaces like planes always gave me pause when it came to cleanliness, I never feared for my health while in an airport.

Gratitude for people who help keep society functioning

I appreciate all the people working tirelessly to ensure the safety of the millions of people that have to get to the store, that have to pick up medications, get their vehicles serviced, order food, manage funeral arrangements, or report on all that is happening in the midst of all that has happened.

Navigating social situations during COVID

It is in the navigation of these scenarios and events that I find myself feeling like a hypocrite.

I have been living with HIV since 2003. I have been advocating for anti-discrimination practices and policies that police people based on their status. I have protested, marched, spoke out, and campaigned for reproductive justice rights, treatment access, and many other issues around patient advocacy.

Seeing an old friend without a mask

But some weeks back, as I was leaving a store, I saw an old friend. Someone I hadn’t seen since before my husband passed. They didn’t see me. They weren’t wearing a mask.

I had to fight my natural urge to call out their name and desire to embrace them in a hug. I wanted to forgo all the precautions about public health measures in that one moment and the only thing that stopped me was my thought of, “Why don’t they have on a mask? What if they have it?”

Fearful thoughts and my human instincts

And at that moment, I felt so small, so fake, so disingenuous to all the work I’ve done and spaces I’ve taken up. I wasn’t judging, but I was allowing fearful thoughts to keep me from my humanistic instinct to just be kind. I could have still called their name and said hello, exchanged pleasantries. I didn’t want to. They didn’t have on a mask.

I wanted to tell myself, "Well maybe they can’t wear one or don’t have access to one." But, that wasn’t enough to justify the thoughts I took action with. I walked to my car, started the engine, and drove home.

How I hope to manage social interactions in the future

I have been thinking about that ever since and have landed on three intentional thoughts that I hope form my decisions moving forward should that happen again.

1. Be kind to yourself.

2. Remember that social media is a place to connect (even if you do avoid it because of political and social toxicity).

3. Carry extra masks in case you run into a friend again. Maybe they left theirs in the car and that walk back would’ve probably made them just go home. (Spoken from experience).

We are all learning day by day

This is a daily learning curve for all of us. Kindness shouldn’t be a radical concept, especially these days. I think I’ll text that friend today and see if they want to FaceTime later.

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