Karamo Brown on Mental Health and COVID: 'You're Grieving the Life You Thought You're Supposed to Have'
The Queer Eye star sat down with PEOPLE to discuss fitness, mental health, his coronavirus experience, the Black Lives Matter movement and the status of his hit Netflix show
The Queer Eye star, 39, who is partnering with LG to host a Virtual 5k COVID relief fundraiser, detailed how he is getting through this time of mass uncertainty through exercise and putting his mental health first.
You will be hosting a Virtual 5k COVID relief fundraiser with LG. What made you want to take part in this event?
"Well, I'm somebody who, out of the Fab 5, is not a fitness guy. I'm more of a candy [guy] and a let's stop by a fast food restaurant type of guy, I've just always been. And so COVID has really allowed me to say, 'What is it? What part of myself do I need to work on?' I'm very emotionally stable, I'm very mentally stable, but I was realizing that my physical fitness was the thing that I put to the side. And so partnering with LG was something that was great because I already started trying to figure out how to work out a little bit more. And then it was like, 'Well, have you ever ran a 5K or 10K?' And I was like, 'Kinda, like once, but never.' So I said this would be a good challenge for me and also a good challenge for other people where they could follow the journey with me, train with me and know that I'm not the fitness guy that's like, 'Everybody get up at 6 a.m. and work out.' So if they can see me doing it and accomplishing it, hopefully, it will give them some inspiration and we can go on this 5K journey together ... to be able to kind of do this in your home at your own pace is just really nice."
The pandemic has taken a toll on a lot of people both mentally and physically. How are you staying healthy and motivated amid the current health crisis?
"I really took time to evaluate what areas of my life I'm not focusing on. And I didn't just jump into something. I really thought if my career was lacking and I was like, 'No, I'm really focused on that I have a clear plan.' 'Are my relationships lacking?' And I said 'No.' I think this is such a great time to reflect on the areas of your life that need work and not for you to get into some pattern where you're like, 'Okay, now I gotta just fix everything.' "
"It's about acknowledgment and awareness and then it's about taking small steps on that journey to have the life that you want. So for me, it was realizing that fitness was something that was really lacking. I think what a lot of people need right now, especially when you're in an emotional state where you don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow and you're grieving your life that you thought you're supposed to have — I think it's super important that you figure out some way to have your body move because that gets endorphins going; it gets your heart rate going. You start feeling better, you start feeling more motivated. Start moving in your life because that will give you the energy and sort of wake your mind and emotions and body up to start feeling better and doing more."
What has your personal COVID-19 experience been like?
"Oh, it's been a mess. Week one and two I was like, 'How the hell did everyone start to learn how to dance?' I mean, I even posted about this. I woke up and everyone was like the best TikTok dancer, everyone was buying bread and cooking. Everyone, I mean, like every single person. And I was like, I have not gotten out of my sweats in two and a half weeks. I don't know how everyone else is just doing so well. Then I went through a moment of like, 'Okay, I'm super inspired. I think it's gonna be okay.' "
"And then the [COVID numbers] went back up and I was super depressed again and feeling anxiety about it. I'm in this place now where I know how to manage my emotions ... managing your emotions is really about ... don't fight against an emotion or feeling. I think it's really important to be able to manage your emotions by being able to express them. So for me now, if I have an interview or a Zoom call and I'm not feeling okay, or I'm feeling anxious, when I get on that meeting, and someone says, 'How are you doing?' I say, 'You know what, I'm very anxious today. You know, I'm here for the call, I'm going to be prepared, I'm going to be professional but I just want you to know that I'm feeling anxious and I might not be as excited as I normally am.' I think by saying that, you then are able to put your emotions in front of everyone in a very healthy way so that you don't have to pretend. And that way you're managing it and you can grow past it, and I think that's such an important thing for people to do. That's sort of the state I'm at right now, just being real about how I'm feeling."
How do you feel about the racial disparities related to coronavirus?
"It doesn't surprise me because we live in a country, unfortunately, that when it comes to black, brown, immigrants, women and even the LGBTQ community, people in this country and in this government, do not, unfortunately, value those lives. We have seen this over and over again. So with the lack of health care that we have in our country when it comes to lower economic communities that are, unfortunately, sometimes populated by black and brown people, of course they're not getting the care and they're not getting the information. I think it's very sad."
"It's disgusting that we would treat any human being different because of how they are because of their race. But I think it's also important to understand that because of the lack of concern and consideration by our government for black and brown people, we have now opened up a space where we have learned, and can look to each other to create resources to fight for each other and to stand up for each other. I think that's what's important. I make sure that I go back to areas where black and brown folks are and I say 'Hey, what do we need here? How can I use my resources and the access that I have to make sure y'all are safe?' I think it's important that as we fight to make sure that legislation is changed, we also make sure that we go back and support our own."
What is your reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement?
"I think it's excellent. I'm so excited that right now people who have not been aware, or have tried to pretend as if they weren't aware of the racial disparities, are now waking up and saying, 'Enough is enough. I'm going to support and help people to understand.' But there is still a large swath of people who believe that this movement is trying to say that one race is better than another, when in actuality, the only race that's ever done that was the white race. So for me, it's really about helping them know that this is not bad. It's saying that what we need is equality and equity and we're going to fight for that, and we're going to protest for that, and we want your support, because together, we will have a better tomorrow if we all are fighting to make sure that no one is dying in the streets, that no one is dying in their homes because police unlawfully invaded their home, speaking of Breonna Taylor. I think it's so important that we continue to have these movements and even though people don't see them as much in their social media feeds, they're still happening in every city across this country and they're still happening overseas. Because what I know to be true about this movement, and what I know to be true about this generation is that this will be at the forefront of conversations as we go forward, and will become a national conversation again and again until things change."
Transitioning a bit to your hit Netflix show, Queer Eye, I know you all began filming around the beginning of the pandemic. Are you currently filming?
"No, they shut it down after one episode. We shot and then literally, we were hugging the hero, and we stepped out of their home to say goodbye, and then the network was like, 'Hey, so we're gonna put you on a plane because there's this virus.' "
"We saw it coming, but I think like most Americans, because unfortunately our president and some of the news cycles were downplaying it as if like, 'Oh no, it's not gonna affect us, we'll be fine.' So I think our network did a really great job of seeing it for what it was and making sure that we were safe way before the news had said things need to shut down. But they're excited for us to go back. They've given us notice on Monday that Queer Eye is coming back, [saying,] 'Don't worry guys. We're just figuring out how to do it safely and at the right time.' "
Have you been in sweatpants most of the time like the rest of us? Or do you still get dressed up?
"No, I learned very early in the pandemic that to not get into a state of feeling depressed and feeling alone, you have to create some normalcy. And that's done by routine. So I put my alarm clock on so that I can get up every morning around the same time. That makes sure that my body is feeling like you're not just gonna be on the couch all day. I also set a limit on the amount of time I watch television or watch my social media screens because I don't want to get just stuck in that. I find other things to do, whether it's just playing outside, taking a walk or reading."
"One of the most important things is that I shower and I change my outfits everyday now. Even if I'm not going anywhere, it does so much for your mental state. Because when you get into that state of I'm not caring about my body, that then translates into the world doesn't care about me, sort of like I'm forgotten. So you've got to wake yourself and go into that mirror and be like, 'Look, you look cute today. You look good,' and do that as much as you can. I try to do it every single day."
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