Self Care & QPOC Students

Academia can be a very complicated thing for many people, but especially for QPOC. The influx of new knowledge and ideas can help grow and shape communities. Unfortunately, QPOC students can often feel that their needs are not being met, or that they are being asked to deny certain parts of themselves in order to succeed. Often many of these institutions can replicate and emulate systems of oppression through their policies, and structures. That is why many marginalized communities came together to create spaces, in forms such as HBCUs and Women’s Colleges and Universities, where we can expand our knowledge but leave behind many oppressive policies and structures.

It can be easy for QPOC in academia to begin to determine their worth based on how well they are able to exist in, achieve, and meet the demands of these spaces. They are often expected to give all of themselves, while forsaking self-care, family and friends, and community in order to achieve. It is important to remember that our worth, our value, and the light and power within us is not determined by how much of ourselves we give up; that we can succeed, and even thrive in these spaces without having to wear ourselves out. Not existing in these spaces as oppressors expect us to is not a sign of weakness or fault, it is a sign of power — even our presence in many of these spaces is revolutionary.

So, in order to support QPOC students in our communities maintain the light and power within them during the time they spend in academia, we have gathered this list of resources. This is not by any means an exhaustive list. It is a starting point and a place for us to begin to think critically about QPOC self-care in academia.

Don’t Hurt Yourself: A Survival Guide for Graduate Students of Color in Their First Year.

This article by Shaunda Brown talks about the needs of graduate students of color and some ways to practice self-care during a time where many people, especially POC, feel as though there is not the time, energy, or ability to look after your personal well-being.

Self-care List: How to take care of yourself while learning about oppression (with unaware people)

This list by Fabian Romero has shown up in our blog before. It’s a great resource to learn about some ways to practice self-care when you are around people with little-to-no world analysis.

Self-care Tips for Radical Social Media Users

While this list by Dom Chatterjee is not specifically about students, it does offer some pretty great ideas around social media. At a time where study groups, professors, and classmates use Facebook and other social media sites to stay in contact and share class information, it can be difficult to try to disconnect from the internet. While the internet can be a place of recuperative care for some, it can also be a place of violence and trauma for QPOC. It’s important that we be able to participate within these spaces while practicing self-care and minimizing the amount of violence you experience online.

Saving Your Grades from a Mental Health Crisis

This post is not specifically about POC, but can help some people know where to start when experiencing a mental health crisis and worried about trying to maintain their grades.

This is not an exhaustive list. It’s important to recognize that your self-care and wellbeing are important. Let’s make time to allow ourselves to heal from the spaces we occupy.

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Dealing With Allergies

It’s almost that time of year again, where the leaves begin to change color, the weather gets colder, and where fall allergies come back to haunt us. Some people spend all year waiting and wishing for this time of year, while others look to this time of year with displeasure. I think we can all agree that allergies are not fun. They can give you headaches, stuffy noses, and make it difficult to breathe, which can complicate existing conditions. Studies have shown that POC are not only at higher risk for having conditions that lead to difficult breathing such as asthma and COPD, but that those chances are increasing. It’s important to know how we might reduce the effects allergies have on us so that we do not complicate existing conditions and so that we can live more comfortably.

Here are some things you can do this season to help reduce the effect these allergens have on you. These things can be done year-round to help with other seasonal allergies as well.

Know what you are allergic to:

The first place to start is to know what allergies are affecting you. Some allergens are seasonal, some are year round. It’s a good idea to know what is in the air and what you are sensitive to. Of course, there are always outliers, but a quick breakdown looks something like this: trees tend to be spring, grasses in the summer, weeds in the fall, and mold is pretty much all year. But as leaves fall and decompose, the amount of mold in the air increases. Other year-round allergies can be caused by dust mites, pets, and bugs.

By knowing what you are allergic to, we can better focus on what might help alleviate your symptoms. First, recognize when you are experiencing the worst allergies. Then, you can check local news sources to see what allergens are particularly high at that time or if there is a new allergen in the air.

Bed, clothes, and pets:

Change your pillowcase and your bedsheets often! Many places recommend that you change your sheets and pillowcases at least once a week. And if you are someone with particularly strong allergies it might be a good idea to change your pillowcase more often than that, depending on what allergens are around. Think of your bed and pillow as large sponges that hold onto the things they come into contact with. It might be worthwhile to get a pillow cover that will go between your pillow and pillowcase to keep your pillow from absorbing as much while you sleep. If possible don’t hang bedsheets and pillowcases outside to dry where they will be covered in allergens.

Take off clothes you wore outside and, if possible, rinse your body or shower before laying in bed. This will help remove some of the allergens off your skin and ensure that you are not transferring those allergens onto your bed from your clothes and body.

As much as we may love sleeping next to our fur friends, their fur is like an allergen magnet. If we take our pets outside and they run around, then come in and jump on the bed, they are covering your bed in not just allergens, but all types of things they might have picked up outside. It may not be possible or recommended to wash your pets too often, but it might be a good idea to give your pet a quick brushing after coming home from being outside, just to knock off all the things that might be stuck in their fur. By keeping our beds as allergen-free as possible, we allow our bodies to take better advantage of the time we are asleep or resting.

Food:

It is important when we are talking about allergies that we also talk about food. There are some foods that can increase your bodies response to allergens such as processed sugar, dairy products, gluten, and trans fats/partially hydrogenated oils. Many people think that if they are not feeling discomfort after eating these items then that means that they do not have an allergy or reaction to these foods. But often times these foods can cause slight inflammation within the body, that can be exacerbated and be attributed to other allergens. It may be a good idea when trying to look at reducing symptoms of allergies to also look into the types of foods that you are eating.

There are some foods that might help with relieving allergies.

Local honey and bee pollen can help your body build up immunities and may reduce your reaction to local allergens. You can use honey as a sweetener, and bee pollen can be added to smoothies or shakes. Be aware that if you have severe allergies, eating honey and bee pollen can cause you to have an allergic reaction. Also, people who are pregnant, or breastfeeding, should not consume bee pollen, and children under the age of 1 should not be given honey. It is best to check with your local healer or health care provider beforehand and to begin with a small amount first.

Peppers, onions, and garlic can help you open the sinuses and provide some relief from symptoms. Garlic and peppers especially have been shown to assist in relieving symptoms of allergies. And foods high in Vitamin C, such as peppers, pineapple, and kiwi, can help your body to better deal with allergies.

These are just a few things that we can do to help alleviate some allergies. Hopefully, these things will help you! Do you have any suggestions about how to help with allergies? Let us know! To read more content like this, and to hear about what we are doing follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Breaking Down the Language of HIV & PrEP

New HIV infections in the US continue to be on the rise, and like many other things, our QPOC communities continue to be disproportionately affected. With gay, bi, and queer men of color, and trans women of color being the most impacted by new infections.

Recently, there have been an increasing amount of conversations about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), currently the daily pill regimen of the medication Truvada that can reduce a person’s risk of contracting HIV. Those conversations will, more often than not, focus on why PrEP is effective and only rarely discuss HOW it is effective, and often those conversations are full of language that is hard to follow. In response to this, we have created a quick, hopefully easily understandable, breakdown of the language that is often used when talking about HIV (which can be found below), as well as how Truvada, when used for PrEP, protects our cells from HIV replication.

So let’s break down how Truvada works in our bodies, this part may be filled with that language that is hard to follow that we were talking about. If you would like to know how Truvada works in the body, but aren’t interested in knowing the science behind it, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. Truvada works the same way in our bodies to prevent HIV as PrEP as it does when used to treat HIV. The major difference being that, when used to treat HIV, it is paired with other medications, as Truvada, by itself, is not a treatment for HIV. Both medications in Truvada, Emtricitabine and Tenofovir Disoproxil are nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI). When the reverse transcriptase enzyme, released by the HIV virus into our cells, is converting viral RNA into viral DNA it is using building blocks from inside the helper T-cell. NRTIs work by being very similar to, and taking the place of, those building blocks, except that NRTIs do not allow other building blocks to be connected to them. What this means is that, after they have been added into the viral DNA chain, the process cannot continue. This, in turn, forces the reverse transcriptase enzyme to stop converting viral RNA into viral DNA, keeping the new viral DNA from being created. HIV, as a result, is kept from replicating within your cells.

Another way to think about this is by thinking about the RNA and DNA compounds as building blocks like those in the picture above. When reverse transcriptase, released by HIV into our cells, is turning HIV RNA into HIV DNA, it is using the building blocks found in our cells. Each building block has ridges on its top that allows the next block to attach. The medications in Truvada work by being just like those building blocks, except that they do not have the ridges on top for the next block to attach. That means that reverse transcriptase can not continue to add additional building blocks to the chain causing it to stop production.

By taking the medication every day, a person ensures that their cells have enough of those NRTIs building blocks around to stop new HIV from replicating. It can take up to 7 days for NRTIs to build up in your system to offer the best protection during anal and vaginal sex, though some studies are showing that a higher dose of the medication over a longer period of time may be needed for vaginal sex to be as effective.

After learning about PrEP many people ask “How much does it cost?”

The answer to that is… It depends. Depending on where you live the full price of Truvada, without insurance or assistance, can be over $1,300, though very few people pay that. Some insurance companies cover the cost, and Gilead Sciences, Inc has an Insurance Assistance program which can help you navigate working with your insurance company and provider, as well as a Co-Pay Assistance Program that can help offset the cost. There are also organizations in Austin that can assist you in the process. The Center for Health Empowerment  and the Kind Clinic both have their own providers and staff available to assist people who wish to access PrEP for low to no cost, as well as a number of other health services.

The next question many people have is “Is PrEP right for me?”

The answer to that is again, it depends. PrEP isn’t right for everyone. Like every medication some people experience side effects and some people experience these side effects more than others. Common side effects are some nausea and stomach discomfort, diarrhea, tiredness, headache, dizziness, depression, problems sleeping, abnormal dreams, and rash. For many people these side effects are temporary, but you should tell your healthcare provider if you have any side effects that causes you discomfort or do not go away. For some people there have been a reduction in kidney function and a loss of bone density, both of these are reversible should be noticed by your provider at your regular check up. and Your provider should also schedule regular check ups with you to discuss how the medication is working for you, as well at to run tests to check your kidney function and bone density and to make sure you have not contracted HIV while taking Truvada.

Truvada can also interact with other medications. It is important that you tell your provider about any medication you are taking before starting a new medication. It is also most effective if you remember to take it every day and pair it with other sexual health strategies. People should talk with their healthcare provider to discuss the pros and cons of starting and taking a medication. Remember, PrEP is not 100% effective, but by combining it with other sexual health strategies, people can significantly reduce their chances of contracting HIV. If you are interested in talking to a provider about PrEP, and how to you may be able to access it for low to no cost, contact Center for Health Empowerment  or the Kind Clinic to schedule an appointment.

In order to better understand how HIV and medications like Truvada work we created this list with some definitions:

ARV (AntiRetroViral) – the name of a group of medications that interrupt the replication cycle of a retrovirus. Taking ARVs to treat a virus is called being on ART (AntiRetroviral Therapy)

Retrovirus – a virus that contains single stranded RNA (genetic material) inside of it, instead of double stranded DNA. RNA and DNA are used by our cells as a set of instructions about how to build more cells. Below is a picture that shows the difference in how RNA and DNA look

PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) – a medicine you take before exposure to a virus to reduce your chances of contracting that virus. In reference to HIV it is, currently, a daily pill regimen that, if taken correctly, may reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 92%.

PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) – a medicine regimen that begins after exposure to a virus to reduce the chance that the virus will be able to cause new infection. In reference to HIV is it a month long daily pill regimen that must be started within 72 hours of exposure, and may reduce your risk of HIV infection by up to 72%

 

Truvada – an antiretroviral, made by the company Gilead Sciences, Inc. that is used in combination with other medications to treat HIV. Also, it is, currently, the only medication approved for PrEP.

TasP (Treatment as Prevention) – the use of antiretroviral medication to help people living with HIV to achieve an undetectable viral load, which will lower the chances of HIV transmission to their sexual partners.

Undetectable – through the use of antiretroviral medications a person living with HIV may reach an undetectable level of the virus in their system. Studies have shown that people living with HIV who reach an undetectable viral load have much better health outcomes than those who do not. Reaching an undetectable viral load may also reduce the chances of passing the virus to others by up to 95%. Achieving an undetectable viral load status does not mean that a person is cured of HIV, as there is currently no cure for HIV.

Viral Load – is the amount of virus within a person’s body. Can also be used in a larger context such as community viral load, which is in reference to the impact of HIV on specific communities.

Adherence – in reference to medication, it is the ability of a person to take medication as prescribed.

Helper T-Cell – also known as CD4 cells, CD4+, or T-cells, are white blood cells that search out infectious or cancerous agents in our bodies and send a signal to other white blood cells that a response is needed.

Enzyme – A protein that helps start or speed up a chemical or biological process.

Now that we are all on the same page with definitions, let’s learn a little bit about the HIV replication cycle, which we will need to understand if we want to know how medications work.

There are 7 steps in the HIV replication cycle

Step 1: Entry – HIV attaches to the outside of a helper T-cell and merges with the cell, releasing its two single stranded viral RNA and three enzymes (reverse transcriptase, integrase, and protease) into the host cell.

Step 2: Reverse transcriptase – the enzyme reverse transcriptase takes the single strand viral RNA and converts it to double stranded viral DNA.

Step 3: Integration– the enzyme integrase takes the viral DNA and connects it to the DNA of the helper T-cell.

Step 4: Transcription – The helper T-cell’s own processes are used to read the new viral DNA and begin the process of creating more viral RNA.

Step 5: Translation – The new viral RNA once again uses the helper T-cell’s own processes to create the rest of the components needed to create new virus particles.

Step 6: Assembly – The new viral components begin to assemble at the edge of the helper T-cell, using the cell’s proteins to create a bud that will become the new HIV virus. The enzyme protease separates each of the viral components into individual proteins.

Step 7: Release – the new HIV particle is released from the host cell, where it will go on to infect a new helper T-cell and create more virus. Each infected helper T-cell can make millions of new virus particles before eventually being destroyed.

We hope you’ve found this information to be informative and will share it with your loved ones. Please follow us onFacebookTwitter, and Instagram to stay connected and informed!