Daniel Sullivan earned a BA in Psychology and a Master of Arts in Community Counseling. Photo by Jagger Karls of Yagger Rose Photography
These are scary times we’re living in right now, and for those living with mental illness, that can be doubly true. The stress and fear of living in the time of a pandemic can be a tremendous burden to carry, and this illustrates just how important our mental health professionals are in any given time of need. Years ago, Daniel Sullivan realized that he had the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives.
“My journey into the counseling field took many twists and turns, none of which I regret, because I learned valuable lessons which all have been beneficial in my work as a counselor,” said Sullivan. “I performed contemporary Christian music both within and out of church settings. I worked in sales, retail management, banking and personal training among other areas. After years of career development, I came to the realization that life was too short to let my past define me. I had the ability to use the pain, stigma, fears that I had experienced to impact those in their life journey whatever that might look like and for whatever time I had by simply being myself and utilizing skills that came naturally to me.”
At age 39, the LaCrosse, Wisconsin native left for Chicago to attend school to become a therapist. He ultimately earned a BA in Psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, and a Master of Arts in Community Counseling from the American School of Professional Psychology. Today, now living in Minneapolis, Daniel is a licensed professional counselor, offering services to individuals, couples, those in polyamorous relationships, and also conducts research and training in the fields of sex, intimacy, and kink.
Sullivan’s own personal journey of self-discovery as a gay man began in an environment that wasn’t exactly copacetic to his coming out.
“At 30 years old, statistically, I came out rather late in life,” said Sullivan. “At the time I was a married, father of two, ordained minister working for a major conservative religious organization in Colorado Springs, CO. Through a series of events, I was coerced into conversion therapy as a way of ‘praying the gay away.’ It was during those therapy sessions that I realized spending the rest of my life running from who I truly [am] was not a life that I was willing to live any longer.”
After filing for divorce, Sullivan was outed before his entire church and kicked out, and lost his job. But Sullivan said that he was welcomed with open arms by a group of friends who accepted him for who he was.
“I began volunteering with the local AIDS Project, helped organize fundraisers, helped make AIDS memorial quilts and was at the bedside of way too many men, who were rejected by family and friends, holding their hand as they died so they wouldn’t have to die alone,” said Sullivan.
In 2001, Sullivan tested positive for HIV, and though his experience with antiviral medication had a rocky start, his HIV has remained undetectable.
“If I remain undetectable, I can’t pass the virus to others,” said Sullivan. “I am not ashamed of my diagnosis just as I would not be ashamed if I had cancer, diabetes or any other disease. I am completely open about my HIV status, and since the introduction of PREP, [I] have dated more guys whose status is negative than positive.”
As a person whose immune system is compromised due to HIV, Sullivan has taken what he’s learned from the AIDS pandemic to properly conduct himself during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just like the early days of the AIDS pandemic, with COVID-19 I stay up to date on a daily basis via news, reading and research,” said Sullivan. “I follow guidelines as laid out by our governor, I utilize social media as a way to share with friends and family valid information, call out ridiculous false reports, and on occasion, post information related to ignorance.”
Sullivan said that like everyone else, he’s had to get creative in staying in contact with family and friends.
“Isolation in the midst of social distancing can be a big concern for everyone, but it can be exceptionally difficult for those who live alone,” he said. “I live with my two puppies, Bruiser and Belle O’Sullivan, so human contact is extremely challenging. As a way to stay connected, family members meet once a week on Zoom for virtual cocktails, friends and I have several phone calls using Google Hangouts, Duo, WhatsApp and Skype just to chat about mundane things getting our minds off the tragedies facing all of us.”
Luckily, COVID-19 hasn’t forced Sullivan to adjust his game plan in his work as a therapist too much.
“For me as a therapist, this is the one area I’ve seen the least degree of change,” he said. “As I have clients in various cities around the globe, our appointments have remained the same with no change. We continue to meet weekly or biweekly via Skype, and if counseling is conducted with more than one person in various cities, I utilize Skype and Zoom. For local clients with social distancing regulations, we are now meeting in the same manner Skype and Zoom. This option is available to all my clients whether there are pandemic regulations or the new normal we are yet to experience.”
Sullivan added that while every individual is unique in their needs, he offers a few strategic coping mechanisms to help weather this storm:
- Take a break from all the negativity. While it is important to remain informed, step away from the television, put down reading materials and turn off podcasts and other news related sources; this includes social media. Constant intake of pandemic information can be unnerving and lead to anxiety, panic attacks and depression.
- Allow yourself to grieve. All of us are experiencing loss in varying degrees. Bottling the grief up can lead to emotional and physical symptoms. Remember, the grieving process is unique to the individual and it is not a linear process.
- Self-care is imperative.
- Implement deep breathing exercises
- Practice Yoga
- Eat healthy, balanced meals.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Pamper yourself. Give yourself a facial, manicure, pedicure. Something that is a reminder that you are special and still deserve to feel special.
- Get creative with exercising. While you may not be able to go to the gym, there are a variety of ways to utilize basic household objects for daily exercise.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Take all prescribed medications as prescribed. Do not increase, decrease or eliminate medications altogether without consulting your doctor.
Sullivan also adds that social distancing can lead to increases in domestic violence episodes, and that anyone experiencing emotional, physical, or financial abuse should reach out to a helpline, speak with a therapist, or call 911.
If anyone is currently dealing with anxiety or mental health issues, Sullivan says that he’s just a phone call away.
“Reaching out to me for help is simple and can be done quickly, safely and is always confidential,” he said. “If you are experiencing financial challenges, I provide a sliding scale based on income.”
Sullivan said that individuals working as first responders, medical professionals, firefighters and police will be offered a 40 percent discount when they mention Lavender. To reach Daniel Sullivan, call or text 218-994-1599 or email him at d[email protected] For more information, visit www.mydrscounseling.com.