Who the hell are you and what are three things that bring you joy?
I am Tiffany Marie Peterson, phenomenal health care advocate, and activist. There is a major difference between the two. Both are extremely necessary to ensure shit gets done on behalf of all those who need affordable access to healthcare in this country. I am a changemaker with an entrepreneurial flair and supreme ass kicker of all things lupus related.
Oh god...just three? Actually, I’m a bit shocked with how difficult it is to narrow down that which brings me the most joy! First is most definitely anime. I don’t give a shit how old I get, I’ll be first in line to see any and every animated movie I desire. Whenever I have a really shitty day and need a laugh, anime comes through every single time! Next would be cooking. My arroz con habichuelas y pollo guisado is untouchable, Abuela co-signed it so can't nobody tell me different! I haven't cooked in a while though because lupus along with a couple dashes of depression is doing thee most right now. And finally, skincare. I have been having this deliciously long love affair with Korean skincare for quite some time now. Pretty sure I'm obsessed...once my acne scars faded there was no going back. I'm just trying to live my best life and make sure my melanin always pops severely.
How would you rate your self-care at the moment on a scale of 1-10? What are you doing for you?
Damn. I am at 5 maybe even a 5 ½ right now. I definitely need to drink more water. Both my energy levels and appetite have been pretty low lately so this week my nutrition has not been at its best. When this happens I usually end up eating endless ready-to-eat meals and liquid supplements which are counterproductive to having good health. Also, insomnia is getting on my damn nerves lately.
Smoothies! Fruit & veggie smoothies have been really helpful in giving me little energy boosts on really rough fatigue days. Also, daily positive affirmations and meditation are also really uplifting and help bring my headspace back to a peaceful space. I’ve been learning more about crystal energy and smudging sage to keep my space healthy and free of negative energy.
What could you be doing better/differently?
I could be taking my medications more regularly. I am not going to lie, I’m horrible at remembering to take my lupus medicine on time which is actually one of the reasons why I share public reminders on social media because I know it’s not only me who forgets. Also, I need to work on removing myself from the narrative of toxic ass people. It is OKAY to say no. Protect your space. We don’t owe anyone an explanation or an apology for protecting our space and ensuring that we surround ourselves with positive energy at all times whenever we deem necessary.
How do contending with lupus and your advocacy work affect your mental health situation?
For me, it’s somewhat of an endless cycle. When my health falls into a dangerous and painful place it often has a destructive effect on my overall mobility which then affects my ability to perform advocacy work. Whenever this happens my mental health usually spirals downward. I always try to physically prepare myself for advocacy work at least a week in advance so I can get my mind and body ready for whatever needs doing. I traveled to Vegas for the first time last month to give a motivational speech at KIPP, my former charter school’s annual summit. I was asked to inspire the next generation of students and faculty. That responsibility alone heavily weighed me down for days. So, to prepare I made sure to sleep as many hours as possible, eat healthily, take all of my medications on time, and do as much physical therapy as possible in those seven days so I could make the trip. I cannot just pop up somewhere without intense preparation. To do so would be violently traumatic to my body and if anything the last seven years of my life with lupus has taught me to always put my health first or pay the consequences. I will always choose ME, myself, and I.
I know, I know...most days I don’t look like I’m sick, but I am. If I could show you my raggedy ass kidneys I would, but alas I cannot. I have an extensive medical history several miles long to prove it. No one wants to look like they are sick while out and about trying to slay the day and get shit done. I put a lot of effort into not looking sick. If I feel like a hot sack of shit on the inside, I at least want my outsides to shine so bright that my highlight blinds random folks on the street, okay!? When it comes to those living with chronic illness, sometimes the biggest smiles are often the ones masking the deepest pain.
My advocacy work is so damn important to me. I didn’t have a support system when I was first diagnosed. I was alone, scared shitless, and didn’t know which way to turn for help. My immediate family didn’t understand, some even rejected it altogether and chose to live in denial. I never ever want another person to experience what I went through. That is one of my strongest motivations and it fuels me on the really difficult days when I’m not sure if I have the strength to continue on.
With everything that’s going on, with all you’re doing, what does your support system look like? Who can you call when life gets unjiggy and wack?
I have found support in some of the most unlikely of places. Online! It’s often said that blood is thicker than water, but personally I believe that’s a goddamn lie. Sometimes the people you choose are your family more than anyone you have a blood connection with. Listen, we’re living in a digital age! People are finding their husbands, wives, baby daddies, cougars, and then some on social media. So why not friendship?
I’ve found friendship and family, brothers and sisters within the online lupus community. No matter what either of us is going through we always lift each other up whenever needed and check-in with each other to make sure we’re doing well throughout each week. Three women, in particular, have been such an amazing, uplifting, phenomenal positive force in my life. Whenever I find myself questioning the path I’m taking they pull my over-thinking Virgo ass out of that deep dark soul sucking abyss I frequently fall into way too often. We live in different areas so we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like, but there isn’t a single day that goes by without us speaking. Our group chats always poppin’! They inspire me beyond belief. I’m always surprised when I see how much we manage to accomplish day in and day out through our dedicated teamwork. Perhaps what I love most is that they never hesitate to call me on my bullshit, I appreciate that more than words can say. Cause real recognize real, always.
When life gets wack, unjiggy and lackluster, not a maduro in sight with a mental breakdown creepin’ round the corner I call my OG homie Henry. He’s one of the few people who will always get an honest answer from me when asking how I’m doing because his ask is always genuine. He usually asks, “You iight?” and depending on how I’m doing that day he’ll either cuss me out or start a debate on misogyny and politics then probably suggest new music from his favorite artists and ask me if I ate that day. By the time I hang up the phone it’s been about three hours and I’m no longer in the horrible place I started in. I once sent him a text asking for hardcore tracks to help drown out my pain one night and he sent me, “Banned From TV” and “Twinz,” two legendary old school tracks featuring rappers from the Bronx, my home borough. It was everything I needed at that very moment. My friendship is not a burden to him, and that’s dope as fuck.
Why are you awesome as hell?
I am most proud of my inner strength. My relentless will to overcome all obstacles placed in my path, and my overflowing optimism and ability to find joy no matter how dark the clouds above me are. I love how enthusiastic I become about each of my passions. I feel the light sparkling in my eyes with every idea fueled by my conviction to turn it into reality. The word ‘cannot’ does not exist in my mental dictionary because I was taught to find a way to achieve my goals or make one. Seven years ago I saw a massive need and decided I would be the person who takes steps to help fulfill it. I created safe places for people like myself with lupus or chronic illness and those that love them to feel encouraged to see another day, empowered to advocate for themselves, and educated to know what steps to take towards wellness.
I have taken my circumstances and turned it into a blessing for not only myself but others as well. *Method Man voice* Creativity rules everything around me. C.R.E.A.M. (love yourself) put mental health first, ya’ll!
The NYC Lupus walk is on October 14th and I’d love for folks to walk with my community team and/or donate to the cause. 100% of donations goes directly to support lupus research with the Lupus Research Alliance. Here is my sign up/donation link: bit.ly/lrawalk