Today is World AIDS Day, and for this installment of Maine, Thankfully I talked with Frannie Peabody Center case worker Caseylin Darcy. Darcy is also a practitioner and teacher of yoga. She operates Rebel Lotus Yoga on Munjoy Hill and her organization, Sacred Yogini Project, offers trauma-sensitive classes to survivors of sexual violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, neglect and PTSD.
Our discussion focus on the work she does with HIV and AIDS community, the importance of self care in social work , and the role yoga plate in that and staving off the effects of trauma.
How did you get into the business of social work?
When I was 17 I graduated from high school early and I moved to Nepal. There I worked in orphanages to children who had lost their parents to HIV and AIDS. I also taught English in a bunch of schools. When I came home, I worked saving sea turtles [laughs] and then I got a job at Preble Street. I became a case manager—I was there for a few years—and I was working directly with homeless and marginalized populations. I then went on to a therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens where I taught yoga. It was still social work, but it was in a different kind of learning capacity. I then moved on to Crossroads for Women working with women confronting alcoholism in early recovery. Now I am at the Frannie Peabody Center.
That is quite a journey. What about this sort of work is something you keep coming back to?
[Laughs] I could point to my astrological chart, or it is because I realize that I only have control over myself. I don’t feel like I can change the world in a large scale way until I start with something smaller, like with the person outside of my door or the kids in the state of Maine or people living with HIV here in the state. You have to start small to affect and ripple out into a larger capacity. That’s where my work comes from.
You have been at this sort of work for 10 years now. How has your approach changed over that time?
I have come to understand that self-care has to come first. In order to affect change, you have to take care of you. When I started, I gave my all and my everything and at the end of the day I was depleted. Over time I came to understand that the more I took care of myself, the more I have to offer to others. Now with my clients I have this great depth of presence with them. I can see things with more clarity and I can advocate for them more strongly because I take better care of myself. I am still the same person, I just realize how to do it more sustainably. Social work is a burnout job—social work and Yoga—taking care of others is not a long term thing unless you really, really take care.
Can you talk a bit about your work at Frannie Peabody Center?
Frannie Peabody is totally dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV and then providing support for those who live with HIV and AIDS in Maine. We have an amazing holistic approach to care. We offer this comprehensive structure. We offer medical case management and then we have housing because you can’t have the treatment and care without a house. Then we have emergency assistance including food—you need to be really healthy to take these medications that are hard on the body—or a taxi ride to your medical appointment. We also offer prevention services, which is where people who already have HIV can learn to have healthy, fulfilling sexual lives. You don’t have to give up sex just because you have HIV. And we offer testing for people who want to stay safe.
You also profiled Zoe [Odlin-Platz of Portland Needle Exchange] and we work with her and that agency to offer clean needles and Hep C information and stuff like that.
I am a medical case manager and I have 32 clients right now. They range from a 70-year-old man who lives alone and who’s HIV is very stable. He initially didn’t think he was going to make it, and now he has a wonderful life. I also have very young women who are active IV drug users, who are in unsafe, abusive situations and who have AIDS. My caseload covers a wide range. I have a woman right now who is pregnant and healthy and so psyched to be a mom so I call her a lot to support her. It is a lot of checking in and I do a lot of calls to other providers and doctors. I talk to clients most days. And a big chunk of my time is about writing case notes and plans, looking at folders, and the not-fun stuff that comes with social work.
What do you find are persistent misconceptions about HIV/AIDS?
I think people still don’t know the difference between HIV and AIDS, and that is a conversation I still have regularly. I think others are surprised to hear how much I talk about sex, and that sex is okay in this community. People tend to find that shocking. Others still think it is strictly limited to the gay community, which is not true. Anyone can be affected by this virus. Anyone. And there are still people I know who are fearful I will contract the virus by working with those who have it because they still don’t understand how it is spread. I hug my clients all day long and when I told a family member that, they gasped. Those are the conversations I am still having and they still kind of make my head turn.
Outside of your work with Frannie Peabody, you are a practitioner and teacher of yoga as a form of therapy. Can you talk a bit more about that?
I began teaching yoga in 2009 and became certified in 2011. I taught at Crossroads for Women to women in early sobriety in a 30 day recovery program. One of the clinicians there and I found such amazing results with it. The classes were open to women who had addiction, PTSD, chronic stress and incredible trauma. After a few classes, we found that they wanted to meditate instead of smoking a cigaret and we were like, “holy shit.” Subsequently, I have really focused my yoga on its healing aspect. I have worked with women in early sobriety, trauma survivors, and troubled youth. I have been through a lot of trainings for trauma-sensitive yoga—you have to be certified in it. You don’t offer modification, which means the instructor doesn’t go up and touch people. It’s the practitioners honoring and controlling their own bodies and focusing on how they feel. It is about them getting in touch with their own bodies.
I went that healing route, and I offer classes in my own home studio that I have on Munjoy Hill. I still really don’t adjust people unless they want it. I play really funky music and I enjoy yoga classes that are uplifting and upbeat. I bring a sense of self back into the picture. It’s very real world oriented. Some yoga students talk about lifting your heart or your energy and I don’t reality speak like that. I say things like, “Okay, when your babydaddy don’t pay you child support and you feel rageful, how will you sit with that?” How can we bring yoga there? That’s real world to me. “When you have to go to jury duty and you can’t put food on your table because they offer less pay than what you are making, how do you sit with that?” Or you get in a fight with your best friend, or you get drunk and do something embarrassing, how do you bring yoga to that? Yoga for me is about healing and honoring the emotional state.
Looping it back to HIV and AIDS, there is so much shame associated and shame sticks in your body. With my clients, I do breathing exercises. They’ll say that someone finds out that they are HIV positive and will say that they feel shame and I ask where in their body they are feeling it. They say right in the pit in their stomach or right in their throat. They notice where the feeling is, and we figure out how to breath to release it. I bring it into work all the time.
It sounds like you’re saying stress and trauma alienates people from their bodies and yoga is a process through which the person can be reintroduced to their relationship with their own body.
That’s it! Right on! I see this working all the time, even in myself. Sometimes I have really awful days where I take shit home from work. I meet with one client and every time I meet with her my back locks up. Her situation is so dire and desperate and there is nothing I can do and I always take it home in my lower back. If I check in with my body and where I am feeling that badness for the situation, it goes to my back and so when I come home, you can bet I am down on the floor in Child’s Pose trying to work it out of my body. I think a lot of social workers feel that. You get it in your shoulders where you are chronically holding the weight of someone else’s story. How do you get it out of there? Maybe it means a little bit of stretching, a little bit of movement to release that feeling.
How can readers lend a hand to your efforts?
Today (Monday, December 1) is World AIDS Day. I would love for people to come to the Salt Institute for their World AIDS Day event. It is an extension of their Smith Galtney show, which profiles the resilience of people working with those living with HIV and AIDS and those who work with them.
And you can donate to the Frannie Peabody Center. We are always looking for funding. We have an AIDS walk every Summer.