The Cure Chronicles: HIV with Joseff McKenneth
Joseff is an independent music artist, Amazon best-selling author, online content creator, inspirational speaker, and self-healing advocate who gives hope to others living with HIV.
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Today, the Cure Chronicles welcomes Joseff McKenneth, an independent music artist, an Amazon best-selling author, an online content creator, an inspirational speaker, and a self-healing advocate. Joseph was diagnosed with HIV, and his experience with anxiety and severe panic attacks inspired his advocacy work. He decided to start sharing his story online to give others hope when experiencing the challenges of living with HIV. Today, Joseph is a mental health advocate for people living with HIV.
Jeff Galvin: Joseff, thank you so much for joining me here today on the Cure Chronicles.
Joseff McKenneth: Thank you, Jeff. I'm glad to be here.
Jeff Galvin: Well, let's jump right into this. I mean, you are a successful artist and writer, and it seems like you really have pulled a lot of your creativity from your life and your viewpoint, basically, right? And I just feel like there's a ton of really interesting stuff in here, and I almost don't know where to start, but what I'd love to hear first is your journey to where you are today. It seems that your novel, A Liberated Son, is, you know, it's got a different name, but it's pulled from your own life, and it's quite a journey. I wonder if you could tell a little bit of that background and how you grew from that place and what made you feel like you had become liberated.
Joseff McKenneth: Well, first of all, thank you Jeff for the kind words. It's affirming, really. Thank you. I appreciate the observation because a lot of times when we talk about subjects related to specifically what the platform here is - HIV - and just the mental and emotional effects, you can feel trapped and you can feel sucked in. So, A Liberated Son was sort of my way of sharing my HIV story.
And just to condense it, I guess, a little bit, my story started in 2014 in terms of being diagnosed HIV positive. I got it from an ex-partner who was unaware that they had it. And after that relationship ended, I dealt with severe panic and anxiety symptoms. So, I developed a lot of cognitive therapy methods to assist in neutralizing a lot of the symptoms so much so that I didn't have to rely on any prescription medication to get me through it. That was a testament to the process, to my process, and so it made a remarkable difference in how I showed up in my personal life as well as my professional life.
Jeff Galvin: Well, let me dig into that a little bit because that's amazing that statement right there, that you were having panic attacks. That makes perfect sense. I mean, think about somebody getting an HIV diagnosis like in the best conditions where you have tremendous support systems and people that love you and are there for you when you need it. That's still difficult, right?
So, you know, and I know a little bit about A Liberated Son, so I don't think that you had like the optimum sort of launching pad dealing with HIV. Would I be correct there?
Joseff McKenneth: You are absolutely correct.
Jeff Galvin: Okay, and then you managed to get on top of these anxieties and panic attacks without medication. Now, let me just say because that seems superhuman to me, and I would not tell my audience to aspire to do that superhuman thing. Now, if you can, great, or if you can find a psychiatrist and get help and use some drugs, at least temporarily, to take the edge off and start the cognitive therapy like what you're talking about, that's another way to get there.
But okay, let's talk about Superman again. So, what was the process? I mean, I'm dying to hear this. When you think about how many people need some sort of antidepressant just to deal with life.
Joseff McKenneth: Yeah, definitely don't diminish pharmaceutical methods. I don't diminish any method at all because ultimately, I guess my process, the way that I approach things, I'm a very passionate person. And if when I set my mind to something, I usually want, if I have very little knowledge of something, if I'm passionate about it, then I'll not only catch up to what I'm meant to be doing, but I'll get ahead of the curve. That's just my process.
Jeff Galvin: It sounds like you became sort of like your own semi-professional psychologist right to try to work through a bunch of things. And I think that these things are all possible. And I think, like I said, under optimum conditions, support systems are great. If you have medical insurance, it pays for a counselor. And if you temporarily have to, I'm not one way or another on those types of drugs, but if there's evidence that there are substances out there, SSRIs or whatever, that can take the edge off and allow you to do the cognitive therapy, great. So, don't... I'm sorry about that.
Joseff McKenneth: Yeah, it's totally fine. I take it as a compliment any in either case, but I think for the majority of us who deal with panicking, some sort of mental, emotional distress, I guess, from my personal experience, it's all about pacing yourself, no matter what direction you take in terms of alleviating a lot of this stuff. And so, for me... Go ahead.
Jeff Galvin: Well, be specific about it, like sit there in one of your anxious days or after a panic attack, and tell me, okay, how do you start chipping away at that or how do you start digging yourself out of that hole or climbing up? What was the cognitive therapy that went into that? But you know, it sounds a little abstract so far.
Joseff McKenneth: Yeah, but it gets specific. There's something in the second book that I wrote after A Liberated Son. It was, well, you know what? Because it's interesting because I think I had support because, and I don't want to make it seem like it was just me alone, and so let me rewind a bit to get to the part where I felt supported. Because the support didn't really come from my immediate family.
Jeff Galvin: Okay.
Joseff McKenneth: The support came from an online community. So, I have a TikTok platform, and so the support came directly from that.
I'll tell you this: I've been a professional music artist since 2012, and that's been my course in life. I was pursuing that heavily, and I had a breakthrough in 2019 where I was signed to a major label for a one-single deal to RCA with the intent to create a full album deal. So, I was excited about that. However, life has this interesting way of keeping us on our toes, and the year 2020 happened. It affected everybody's course of life to some degree, but mine specifically because that gave me the opportunity to dive into advocacy work.
So, I started sharing tips and tricks and insights about diving into emotional, mental, physical, and sexual wellness and awareness through my TikTok platform. I was able to be very direct in sharing information, and my platform went from a few hundred followers to over 50,000 followers over the course of a couple of weeks.
That blew my mind, and I think it affirmed where I was at the time, and those who were gravitating towards my platform were encouraging me to author a book, to share my story and share my process and to dive deeper into it. Little did they know, I had that already planned. I was planning that already, but I wanted to do it through film. I wanted to write a screenplay. Mind you, I have no experience in screenwriting or novel writing, but I have a passion for writing. I enjoy writing.
Going back to the point about being passionate, I had the passion, and so I took that passion. Here's the thing, there are people who follow their passions and people who follow routines and for me, both are equally important. If you have a system set in place, create that system, go step by step, little bit by little bit, but sometimes that doesn't work for me. I find myself lacking off and slacking off if I have to be too specific with a system and a routine.
When it's passion, I'm able to be flexible with the system and routine. There are moments where I don't want to do anything, but then when I get the inspired nudge, I'm like a rocket. That's my process.
Anyway, I scratched the idea of doing the screenplay for what I wanted to do and I started writing the short story. This is where "A Liberated Son" came in, and I started it as a short story. But then, everything just started to flow. I was going back in memory, and everything was just resurfacing. I was facing things that I thought I would never ever face or talk about things that I would never ever talk about at this point in my life. It just started to flow, and I went with it.
About two-three months later, I had a whole novel on my hands. From not writing a novel at all to having a whole book, then I released it because my tribe was so supportive. I decided to self-publish and self-release it through Amazon.
At the time that I released it, which was Christmas Eve 2021, my platform grew to the 100,000 follower mark. I released it specifically for them, and from there, we started to get to the second book where I got a little bit more specific and started laying out a lot of the self-care and self-help tips to deal with emotional, overwhelming mental, overwhelming panic, anxiety.
Jeff Galvin: Kind of lessons learned as opposed to the story, so you went from the story arc to the completely non-fiction version of what you learned. That sounds like a great one-two punch that everybody should read. As a matter of fact, you could probably start anywhere in the series because I think it would be very interesting to see the story arc that you went through and then to read what you observed, but I think that just reading what you observed and learning about this process of healing, right, the name of the book is perfect.
It's like it says you have a choice to heal or not to heal, right, it's up to you in a way. You express it in your music, you express it in your books, you express it in TikTok, and you found a lot of like-minded people that gravitated, and you have a community now that's just amazing, frankly that came out of all that.
Jeff Galvin: So, tell us about that. What are the implications of your philosophy to the world? How should we, as individuals, think about that unified space and how should we participate in it and how should we help to enhance that? I love the idea, right? You know, it's all about the pursuit of happiness, right?
Joseff McKenneth: Yeah, yeah, everybody wants that. Going back to the point of the choice of to heal and not to heal, I'm glad you made that distinction. You were able to catch that because it is a choice, and you know, there's this idea of like, well, I talk about self-healing and self-empowerment, it's just like what is that?
Self-healing to me is bringing awareness to the self that's meant to be healed. Here's the thing, in the spiritual and the personal development communities, we talk about two aspects of the self. You have the ego self and then you have the spirit, soul, conscious self. The ego self is the human logic self and or what I like to call the traumatized self. And then you have the soul, spirit, conscious self, which is the healed self. Many times in our collective human consciousness, that line gets blurred. You don't know when it's the ego or if it’s the spirit or if it's the consciousness that you get confused specifically if you've gone through some traumatic events in your life and some things that leave you in distress.
So for me, to make it a distinction, it's like the human self, the traumatized self, puts healing in a box. Healing has to look a certain way, it has to sound a certain way, it has to be a certain way, and anything outside of that box is deemed dangerous or traumatizing or inappropriate. But the healed self empowers the perception of that box and it shows that there is no separation between what's in the box and what's outside of the box.
So, for you know, going back to this community of those who are HIV positive, it's not uncommon to feel like a victim, and it puts you in this low emotional state. You feel like you're bogged down. So the most important thing to do and to make this more practical is to be more loving and more compassionate with yourself.
And so, what does that look like? What is that? How do you do that?
It's really about being the tender, loving parent to the child within you. Because many times, when you're in that low emotional state, you feel like you're all alone, like you're not being heard, you're not being seen, you're not being felt. Love is about seeing you and your feelings, seeing things in that space. And so, when you're in that space, you begin to empower the narrative that's going on in your head.
For example, instead of saying, "This doesn't feel good to me," you reframe that by saying, "This may not feel good to me, but this is working for my good." You can say, "This feels like an obstacle." Instead of saying, "This feels like an obstacle," you can say "This is an opportunity for me to expand the awareness of myself."
Here's the thing, Jeff: love and compassion do not hurt. Love brings us into an awareness of the traumas that have hurt us. And when we can begin to unpack that and really get clear on what that is, then we empower our perception of the box that we placed healing in. And so, we get to expand that box as we begin to love ourselves more. And we realize that that box was simply a tool to realize that in our empowerment, we've been healing all along.
Jeff Galvin: It's interesting listening to you, and just correct me if I'm not getting the point, is that part of this healing journey is taking advantage of love of yourself, right? To sort of take that perspective on yourself and to reflect back on the good things, listen to yourself.
This must be hard to do in a way. It's easier if you just have somebody that loves you like a real friend that you can reflect off of, but you can do that internally. An internal dialogue can become more positive. It can become more about kind of revealing your limitations and especially the limitations on your view.
And then this "in the box" thing, you know what I just kept thinking, that's fear and prejudice that we put on ourselves, right? And it's like we have this box that we think is the only good stuff. And who defined that box? Well, part of it was that we've been burned so much outside of the box that we're just scared to go outside of the box. And you're like, don't be scared.
Joseff McKenneth: Or be scared. It's okay to be scared. And then that's where the love comes in. It gives you permission to feel that fear. It gives you permission to feel that stress and that worry. And so, when you're able to be in that space, then you're actually giving attention to that.
So, the love and the compassion that you begin to have for yourself, because, to me, everything brings us back to our emotional state. How do you feel? And so, when you love yourself, when you're compassionate yourself, the next question is, how does that feel? What does love feel like? What does compassion feel like? It feels like ease. It feels like bliss. It feels like contentment. It feels like all is well. It feels like wellness. It feels like relief.
And whatever that looks like, whatever gets you to that space of, "Ah, I can breathe. I can exhale. I feel satisfied. I'm good." Do more of that.
And the best, I would say, way of getting there is gratitude. Can you name three things that you are grateful for in this "right now" moment? When you can name three things that you are grateful for in your "right now" moment, then this shifts your thinking, that shifts your emotions, and it puts you, it connects you to that signal of love. That's love.
Jeff Galvin: You definitely seem like an example of a happy person, right? Would you call yourself a happy person?
Joseff McKenneth: I am very happy. Here's the thing with me, I'm serious but I don't take myself that seriously. And so that's what allows me to be in the state of hazard.
But then going back to the whole perspective shift, because I think when you're able to shift the way that you're seeing a lot of the chaos and a lot of the stuff that's happening, when you're able to switch it to something positive. Because here's the thing, like everything is about our dominant point of focus. And I think this gets overlooked a lot.
When you're able to take charge of what you're focusing the most on. And you know, I think there's this, you know, famous saying is like, what you focus more on, you get more of?
Jeff Galvin: Right, I've heard that in a lot of different ways.
Joseff McKenneth: And literally, I've adopted that. And the more that I focused on the things that I wanted, the things that uplifted me, the things that empowered me, the things that were positive, I got more of that.
This, however, does not mean you forget and diminish the negative stuff. You don't. It becomes less of your focus. You see it, but then you're able to put it into the perspective of the positive focus that you're in, so that you can better manage how you navigate through whatever that chaos is and whatever the icky stuff is about life.
Because honestly, everything is about being creatures of habit and repetition. The more you practice doing a positive focus and empowering focus and really leaning more into those positive feelings and positive thoughts, then you get better at it. You're not in the negative stuff longer than it takes for you to get back to the positive stuff.
Jeff Galvin: Oh sure, it's like grooving your stroke in tennis or something like that or golf, right?
Joseff McKenneth: Perfect.
Jeff Galvin: Practice, and then it becomes natural. And yeah, connection with the ball is better with that with less thought, right? Yeah, interesting. I have heard that concept that your focus really determines what comes into your life. If you’re always focused on problems, you just elevate the problems. At least they seem bigger if not actually creating your own worst fears. Like I've seen people do this all the time. They get something in their head that something bad could happen and then they can't get off of that and they create it, right? You know, in there.
Joseff McKenneth: Yeah, because it created momentum, and it's more so the dominant focus, because we're going to be focused on so many different things, constantly being bombarded with stuff. But it's making the choice to choose what you're going to focus more on. Because by default, almost the condition of the human experience will have you focusing on the negative. It will have you focusing too much on the drama and the trauma. And then you get hyper-focused on that. And so, too, that, and then you start to get solutions that match that trauma and that drama.
But if you don't want that anymore, if that's opposite of what you desire, then once again, the choice lies in your hand. What are you gonna do about it? Because in that state of drama and trauma, you are in victim mode. You're in survival mode; you're either fighting, running away, or freezing by the overwhelm of it, and it just has you stuck.
It's okay to be stuck for a little while when you become aware that you're stuck, because some people are stuck and they don't know that. But when you become aware, and awareness is important for me, because it's the most powerful state, I would say the most powerful, the most miraculous state to be in in life because it's when you know that you are observing. Like this is happening to me, this is my experience. This isn't someone else's experience; this is my experience.
When you can take charge of the experience that you're having, whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, then you can put yourself in the driver's seat if you choose. When you have reason enough to choose, and it's that reason that has built some momentum up in your life.
For me, I knew that I didn't want to be in a victim mode, and I didn't want to be weighed down by the heavy emotion and mental state longer than I was, because to some degree, it felt like it was out of control. I couldn't manage it, and I felt like, "Oh my nerves," and it's just like, "Well, there's got to be some way to deal with this."
What happened to me when I was diagnosed with HIV, and then I was diagnosed with severe panic and anxiety, my doctor brought the hospital psychiatrist in the room, and they were about to prescribe me medication, because I was at a point where I didn't know what's going on with me, where it's like, "What's happening?" For me, I felt since I was already taking treatments for HIV, I didn't want to take any more medicine. Although I wasn't opposed to it, I personally didn't want to. It was opposite of what I wanted, and I said, "Okay, there's got to be a different way, a more natural way to manage this."
So when they were about to prescribe me anti-anxiety meds, I said, "Wait, not yet." I was like, "Give me at least two weeks to see if I can find some methods and some things to do on my own, and if nothing changes, then I'll come back, and then we can start medication."
That was my determination speaking. That was me making the choice, even though I didn't know where the methods were going to come from or if there were any that were going to work for me. I wasn't concerned about that. I wanted to do it in a natural way. I didn't want to take the medication. I wanted to do it and feel like, "Okay, this is something I can take responsibility for."
So that was the step that I took. I took responsibility, and then like magic, the universe basically just, you know, I went online. Google was my friend. I went searching. I was like natural methods. I didn't know what to call it at the time, and so it brought up ideas and tips and insights on cognitive therapy, and I was like, "Hmm."
And so I adopted a lot of these methods and modified them for my life, and then I started to notice a significant difference. And actually, one of the methods I added into my second book, "To Heal or Not to Heal," as a grounding exercise. That's what happens when we're discombobulated in a tough emotional space - we feel ungrounded. We don't feel centered in our bodies, and that's where we don't feel at peace. We don't feel that love because we're ungrounded.
There's a series of questions that I ask that are very simple on the surface level, but if you've not allowed yourself to really think positively, it may feel difficult. One of the questions, out of the seven questions that I ask, is "What makes you happy?"
And when you begin to think on what makes you happy, then the next question is, "All right, now that makes you happy, how does that make you feel?" And then you start to peel back the layers of the feeling that comes from that thing.
And then it goes into a series of other questions - "What are you excited about? What are you proud of? What are you thankful for?" These are simple questions, but they're so powerful when you allow yourself to sit with and deal with.
It's not so much about materialistic things, because when you're looking at and thinking about these things, the intent is to not make them materialistic. It's really about tapping into that emotional center because that's where the intuition lies. That's where the love resides. And when you're able to think about those things that make you happy, and for me, what makes me happy is singing. I enjoy singing.
How does that make me feel? It makes me feel liberated. It makes me feel at ease, and I enjoy that. Every chance that I get, I'll sing, whether I'm doing it for a paycheck or if I'm doing it just to have fun. It's liberating for me.
And then I took myself through those questions, and what I did from those seven questions was I spoke them day in and day out until I had them memorized. And I started to recite them. I started to speak it out, because it's important to really use your voice, because your voice is really the creative expression form for your human body. You want to speak these things out so it can feel more in your body, and it's a grounding exercise.
Another aspect of grounding I tend to do for me personally is going out in nature. I like to take these long walks into nature. I listen to inspiring music. I read inspiring words - things that will naturally allow me to lean more into that space and that feeling that I want, which is happiness, which is light-heartedness, which is centeredness, which is love.
Jeff Galvin: Well, I know you didn't come on here to pitch your books, but I gotta say, there was so much in our discussion here that I gotta - I'm gonna run right to Amazon and get both of them. I am so curious to put even more meat on what you've been telling us here today. At the end of the journey, the goal is to create a little bit of inner peace. The next thing is achieving happiness, and then the aspirational goal is, "Okay, how do we fit everybody's happiness into a unified space? How do we coexist, be ourselves, and be happy?" And I wish we had more time because we could go on and on and on about that. Let's do this again.
Yes, let's get back. I'm gonna go read your book and then I'm gonna, you know, go down into the details with you on our next discussion, because I'm blown away with how much stuff, you know, is in this superset of things that we touched on today. So, thank you so much for joining me.
Joseff McKenneth: Thank you Jeff.
Jeff Galvin: I think your journey is an inspiration to me, I'm sure it is to some other folks that are listening in here. And the amazing thing is, we barely talked about HIV, didn't we? This, no, and I mean that in the way that, yeah, you know, what that tells me is that in all of this self-examination and in all of this process for achieving happiness, you could even put HIV in perspective and it can be a part of your life without being your life or defining your life. And I just love seeing that. I love your big, bright smile, I love your energy, and I really love that you came and shared all this stuff with us here today.
Joseff McKenneth: Thank you, I appreciate you for having me. I really am. This was exciting.