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A Year (Almost) In Review

| 18 Comments
It has now been almost a full year since I've last blogged. I want to begin by apologizing for taking such a long break from blogging and by thanking everyone who commented on my previous blog post.  Although I haven't been back to blog since September, I frequently think about the POZ community and at various times throughout this past year, I have come online to review the messages of solidarity, hope, and strength which were left for me (and for others in similar situations). Some messages even brought me to tears.

I'm not sure where to begin...this year has been full of ups and downs. While my health continues to improve, my circle of supportive friends continues to grow, and my connection to the HIV community is strengthened, I have also faced some intensely hurtful words and heartache.

 

I'll start by writing about the area of living with HIV where I've had the most difficultly--and where I think most of us have the most difficulty--dating. A month or two after my last blog entry, an acquaintance who I had always been attracted to began to show interest in me. Everything seemed to be going perfectly...he made me laugh, we talked on the phone as if we had been close friends for years, and when we spent time together he showered me with affection.

 

Although in hindsight, I feel as if I disclosed too quickly, before we had a chance to know each other on a deeper level, the actual disclosure went as smoothly as I could've hoped. After I broke the news to him, he held me, shared some secrets of his own, and expressed kindness and empathy with both his words and his touch. He told me he wasn't sure if he was prepared for all that came with my status, but said he wanted to be there for me, and hinted that he may just need some time to get used to the idea. We talked about what our future would look like together, and he shared his concerns.

 

To my surprise he didn't immediately disappear. However, he did slowly distance himself from me, revealed his conflicted emotions, and it became increasingly evident that he was not able to think of me in the same way he used to, now that I had disclosed my status. To no avail, I showed him all of the science about how we could safely be together without risking transmission.


While he seemed to understand the various articles, graphs, and studies I sent his way, I slowly learned that he wasn't willing to build a relationship with me once he knew I was positive. He began to treat me with less and less respect and became increasingly unreliable. He said some very hurtful things that left me in tears. Although I believe he did not mean to hurt me, his words were gut-wrenching realizations of how my status had totally (and unfairly) changed his view of me.

 

Despite the pain, I still pushed and tried to make it work (a decision I've scrutinized with my individual therapist...why would I even want to be with someone who could disrespect me and bring me to tears, without so much as a genuine apology?). Eventually, after a few failed attempts at sex, which again left me feeling heartbroken and rejected, I finally had enough and told him I couldn't keep trying to make whatever-it-was-between-us (certainly not a relationship) work.

 

Throughout all of this, I was lucky to have the incredible support of a few trusted friends and a new peer support group, which I started attending earlier this year. I can't say enough how crucial finding a support group has been. Connecting face to face with peers who are dealing with similar issues, and who could truly empathize with my struggles and fears, helps to lift some of the heavy weight off of my shoulders (and heart) that this disease often brings.

 

Another wonderful thing about the peer group is how safe I feel there. At group I find myself feeling uniquely free to be completely open and just be me. It's been incredibly liberating to speak about my feelings around my diagnosis and status openly in a group setting. Each week I look forward to my group sessions, and have begun to develop supportive relationships with people whom I hope to one day call my lifelong friends.

 

It's hard to believe that just over two years ago I was diagnosed with HIV. Even as I wrote that sentence, it still shocked me, as if somehow, on some level, it's still news to me. Somehow after all the therapy, the journal entries, the blog posts, the failed disclosures, and the daily reminder delivered by my morning medication, I still have some small, inexplicable level of disbelief that HIV is really something I'm living with and will continue to live with indefinitely. Unfortunately, I think this is one of the many manifestations of stigma that I have internalized.

 

While I still wish to remain anonymous (for now) I continuously fantasize about the day when I will be brave enough to be "out" with my status. At the same time, however, I fear that I will be defined by my status. Rather than see me for me, will people see only my disease? And aren't I entitled to the privacy around my sexual history that people without this disease are entitled? Will people question why I've pursued the career path I'm pursuing, or assume that I should be a full time advocate? (While I do sincerely hope to be an advocate for the HIV community in some way or another, I also have other career goals that I am pursuing passionately now, and don't want to allow my diagnosis to divert me from the goals I had pre-diagnosis.). If I am "out," will I incessantly hear whispers and have to face more words that bring me to tears? Or will I no longer let others' ignorance and fear effect me? 

 

Immediately after my diagnosis, I read Regan Hofmann's book "I Have Something to Tell You." In her book, Regan speaks bravely of her journey and her ultimate decision to "come out" and become a full time advocate. Two years ago the thought of being open about my status seemed like a totally foreign idea and an unreachable goal. Now, two years later, when I find myself reaching for the book again, I feel as if I'm getting closer to a place where I can understand both the personal and societal importance of being more open with others about my status. I'm getting closer to a place where all of the questions and fears discussed above will not outweigh the desire to just freely be me--HIV and all--and allow myself to live and speak openly, the way I do for just about 1 hour each week in group...

My Reality Check: Dating with HIV

| 72 Comments

In my individual therapy session this past week I realized that since my last blog entry in June, I haven't spent much time reflecting or dealing with my relatively recent HIV diagnosis. It has been several months since I've been back to my HIV support group, almost three months since I've blogged, and my therapy sessions were mostly spent talking about other issues in my life (stress, school, family, my summer crush), without delving into the proverbial 'elephant' in the room - how HIV effects these aspects of my life. So when my therapist said to me, "you're the same person you always were, but now you are a healthy person living with HIV," I noticed my chest tighten. Her words seemed to come at me hard, giving me that reminder I needed that HIV is a real part of who I am now, and does have a real impact on almost all aspects of my life. I made a decision to go back to support groups, start blogging again, and to stop running from this part of my new reality.  

 

Just a few days after this eye-awakening therapy session, I was again confronted by the reality of HIV - in one of the most difficult aspects of life for those of us living with HIV - dating. I attended a 'bar night' for students at my graduate school, and met a fellow student there for the first time. After a few drinks, and with our inhibitions down, it became clear that we were interested in each other. Long story short, he came home with me, and we spent the night together. When I stopped him from taking things too far sexually, he seemed confused (after all, I brought him back to my apartment, so I'm sure a "slow" approach was not exactly what he was expecting.) But he respected my wishes, and we went to sleep.

 

The next morning he asked me about my seemingly contradictory behavior, checking in to make sure he wasn't pressuring me too much. I told him that no, he was not coming on too strong, it was just that I needed to take things slow (even though a part of me didn't want to) because I had been through a difficult break up and was dealing with a lot of emotional baggage. He told me that he understood, and empathetically accepted my half-truth.

 

I silently debated telling him everything then and there, but decided against it. After all, I didn't really know him, and if he did not react well, I feared that he had the ability to make the next two years of my educational experience socially complicated. (Even if we don't continue to date, this is someone who I will inevitably run into again on other student bar nights, or in the hallways of my school, and someone who I am bound to have friends in common with.) So I decided against disclosure, at least for now.

 

We ended up spending the entire morning together. We talked, laughed, listened to music, cooked breakfast, watched a movie, cuddled in my bed, and had a really great time. Conversation was comfortable and interesting, our music tastes were aligned, and he softly bit my bottom lip when he kissed me - a girl couldn't ask for much more!

 

Before he left he asked for my phone number, and I gave it to him happily. I was on cloud nine. It's been a long time since I felt that good--since I felt that joy that comes from comfortably sinking into another person's arms, and that exciting feeling of wanting to see someone again, believing that real chemistry and potential is there. But my 'high' only lasted so long before I started to feel the stress of the inevitable questions popping into my head; how and when do I disclose? Will he still be interested in me if he knows about my status? Will he be mad that I didn't tell him sooner?

 

Those of you who have read my previous blog entries know that the last (and only) time I told a potential partner about my status, it completely ended our relationship. Although he was kind and supportive, once he knew about my diagnosis, our relationship came to a screeching halt, and I never saw him again.

 

But this felt different. Good, different. So I'm trying to stay optimistic - maybe this guy feels what I'm feeling too, and when he hears my story, he will not run away from fear but will instead give dating a try, even once he knows my whole-truth.

 

So in preparation for seeing him again, I'd really love some advice from you all out there - has anyone else been successful disclosing to a negative partner? And if so, how did you do it? How long did you wait before disclosing? Did you use literature (as some people have suggested to me before), or did you just talk?

 

Thank you in advance to all who read and respond! Your support means more than you know!

Where is the Line?

| 7 Comments

Almost exactly one year ago today I was diagnosed with HIV. As the one year anniversary of my diagnosis quickly approaches, I find myself struggling with knowing when to live without letting my diagnosis alter my decisions and when to acknowledge the reality that being HIV positive does effect my life. I don't want HIV to be a crutch that I have to drag along, stopping me from running at full speed. But I also believe we all sometimes need to slow down in order to deal with the emotional reality of being diagnosed and the physical complications HIV sometimes brings. So, where do you draw the line between those two conflicting realities? Do I take the advice of a wise, long-time survivor who advocates for "healthy denial," or do I give myself a lot of space and time to feel, to cry, and to take advantage of all the support services I can find?

This week these questions came to a head when I was offered a prestigious, highly sought-after writing position at my school, and had a really difficult time deciding whether or not to accept it. My classmates and colleagues told me I was crazy to even consider declining the position; I would be "shutting doors" on my own career. But my classmates don't know about my status. Maybe if they did they wouldn't think I was so crazy after all. This particular position would have to be squeezed into my already jam-packed schedule, would cause additional stress, and would undoubtedly lead to less self-care.

I was conflicted. I cancelled my Saturday night plans and sat alone in my apartment thinking, writing, talking to people whose opinions I trust, and making lists of the pros and cons. But no matter how many pros and how many cons, the same questions kept creeping back into my mind: Would I accept this position if I was never diagnosed with HIV? Is it even fair to ask myself that question at all? What's the line between not letting HIV control my life, and recognizing the reality of the challenges it brings?

After A LOT of thought, I started to realize that even though I don't spend a lot of time discussing it, my status is a big part of my life now, and I can't ever really know what I would or would not do if I was never diagnosed. The truth is, I'm HIV positive now, and my health needs to be a bigger priority than it was before my diagnosis.

I realize also that I'm not the same person I was a year ago. I'm stronger. I have a deeper appreciation for self-care, self-worth and self-protection.  So, why do I keep trying to mentally return to the 'self' I was before my diagnosis? The 'self' I am now is doing pretty great, HIV and all. But when it comes to big decisions that will effect my stress level, my time, and my future, my mind wanders back to unanswerable questions of "should I" because I have HIV, and "would I" if I didn't have HIV.

I guess, as most things in life, the answer lies in the abstract. There is no clear line to be drawn. There is no right answer. There must be a happy medium somewhere between "healthy denial" and declining prestigious positions just because I'm HIV positive.  The hard part is finding it...

So, in my attempt to find my own happy medium, I accepted the position, but on a condition. I promised myself that I would quit if it proves to be unmanageable and if my mental or physical health is suffering. A good friend reminded me that after getting through all the challenges of this last year, making a decision to leave a position for the benefit of my mental or physical health probably won't seem like such a big deal. I can and will face the challenge of a demanding schedule, and if I have to back out because I need to prioritize my health, then I will face that challenge as well.   

My First Disclosure

| 31 Comments

Terrified, I shut the lights, buried my face in my hands and told him the secret I was dreading to tell him for the last four weeks: I am HIV positive. As someone newly diagnosed with HIV, this was the first time I've told a potential partner about my status.

 

I had been thinking about this moment ever since I met him. Its unfortunate but inevitable, that as signs of romance begin, my head starts turning with when, where, how, and if I should disclose.

 

In therapy sessions, I told my therapist (and myself) that I would wait to disclose until I felt like I really knew who he was and whether I could truly trust him. But as we spent another great date together, my thought process quickly changed, and I found myself throwing my perfectly planned disclosure "time-line" out the window.

 

On the night of the disclosure, he picked out a trendy, intimate place for us to have dinner. When I arrived, he was waiting for me with a table and a bottle of wine, and smiled at me as I walked through the door. We spent dinner chatting, laughing, and learning more about each other. After dinner, he escorted me around the corner to a live music venue. From there we went out dancing, to a place he knew would play music that I loved. He had planned the perfect night...or so he thought...

 

A few hours later, we ended up back at my apartment. He started kissing me. Soft, passionate kisses - the kind that you can get lost in.  But I couldn't get lost, I wouldn't let myself. I silently and repeatedly reminded myself that I had to be very present and strategic. Our hearts raced (for different reasons), and as his kisses became increasingly passionate, I started to pull away. He smiled and asked me what was wrong. I told him that we needed to talk.

 

That's when I shut the lights and put my head in my hands. I couldn't look at him, looking at me as I revealed this news to him. After some hesitation, I spit out the 30-second version of my story. "I was in a relationship with a man who I had loved and trusted, but he cheated on me, and as a result, infected me with HIV." I cringed and peeked at him through my fingers, like a child awaiting punishment.

 

To my surprise, he didn't look angry or disgusted. He didn't scream or run away. He looked at me, and after a bit of nervous, verbal fluttering, started to ask me questions about how I was doing. He repeatedly said, "I'm sorry," and showed empathy and kindness. I told him I was willing to answer any of his questions and to talk about it as much or as little as he wanted. He thanked me for being honest with him and asked if he could spend the night with me. Shocked that he still wanted to, (after I had effectively extracted all of the passion from the night), I said, "of course."

 

We got into my bed, and I told him how much it meant to me that he wanted to spend the night. He seemed to be talked-out, and wanted to just think or sleep this experience away, so I thanked him for taking the news so wonderfully, and we said goodnight with a quick, passion-less kiss. I laid my head on his chest with a sigh, and we both drifted to sleep.

 

The next morning, I thanked him again for his kindness and told him I'd be happy to talk more about it when he was ready. He told me he had to leave, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and hugged me tightly as if to say "take care of yourself." Part of me knew that it would be the last time I saw him.

 

Despite how wonderfully he took the news, and how comforted I felt to have him spend the night by my side, it's been almost two weeks now and I still haven't heard from him.

 

I try to rationalize his behavior in my head. Maybe he needs more time to process... Maybe he'll come around.... But when I'm being honest with myself, I know the truth. He is not willing to have a relationship with me now that he knows the truth about all of my 'baggage.'

 

The weeks following my first disclosure were filled with a range of emotion.... Relief that I successfully jumped over another "first-hurdle" in my HIV journey; anger that I have these hurdles to jump at all; and sadness like anyone feels when they realize they are being rejected.

 

As I tried to focus my mind on my studies and extra curricular activities, the questions about this experience kept creeping in. Did I disclose too soon? Maybe I should have kept our relationship purely platonic for longer so that we could have gotten to know each other better? Or maybe I should have told him on our first date, so that it wouldn't hurt this badly now that I know his truth - that he's unwilling to be with me and my HIV.

 

Talking to one of my friends about the experience, she quoted from a favorite childhood movie of hers, and told me, "You'll know he's the one, when he's the one." This simple quote rang true, and made me smile.

 

As much as I rationalize this experience as a good thing--the disclosure went well; he was kind; it made me stronger, wiser, and more experienced in dealing with the everyday struggles of living with HIV; its better that I know sooner rather than later that he's not right for me--its still hard to shake the feelings of loneliness and the pangs of rejection. I'll try to remember what my friend said and know that one day someone who truly wants to be with me, won't let something like a virus get in the way.

 

This experience reinforced something I already knew, but that I now understand more profoundly; how the stigma of HIV can truly be the worst part of this disease. I've been taking my medication faithfully, my bloodwork is great, and I feel perfectly healthy. The pain I've felt in the last few weeks was not caused by HIV per se, but by others' fears and ignorance of the effect HIV has on a relationship's future. I informed my potential partner that because my viral load is undetectable, if we practice safe sex the chances of transmission are close to zero, and that chances are my life won't be cut short by HIV, but he still has dodged any further conversation about HIV or our relationship. Stigma is one powerful beast...

My Search for Support

| 11 Comments

As promised, I spent the first few weeks of this New Year searching for the right HIV support group. For someone like me, who doesn't quite "fit" the HIV "mold," this was a harder, more time consuming process than I thought it would be. The first organization I went to blatantly told me I didn't belong. Although they agreed to meet with me, and completed the first step of the intake process, they told me (repeatedly), that the participants at their program were not my peers. They told me that the women in their support groups had a variety of complicated issues, were much older than me, and "different" than me. While I did believe the intake coordinator was trying to be honest, and help me find a support group of my peers, I think she failed to acknowledge an important notion that HIV helps remind us of: we are all human. HIV, as my therapist once said, is the "great equalizer."

Although I recognized that the intake coordinator's unwelcoming advice to seek support elsewhere was unfounded, and I probably could have received emotional support from the other participants of the program, I decided to keep looking for a place where I felt more welcomed by the staff. (Also, the program was right around the corner from my ex-boyfriend's apartment. The ex-boyfriend who's infidelities exposed me to this disease, and who I haven't spoken to in months. An unplanned rendezvous with my ex on my way to or from a support group would be the furthest thing from support I could think of!)

Fortunately, I live in New York City, where the stores are open all night, anything can be delivered to your front door, and the variety of non-profit organizations providing support to the HIV community is bountiful, (when compared to other areas of our country.) So, with hope that I could find a place with a more welcoming atmosphere, and with knowledge that I could always go back to the first location if my efforts failed, I decided to move on.

The second stop on my support group "hunt" was at an organization that was founded in the early 90's to provide emotional and spiritual support services to those affected by HIV and cancer. As soon as I opened the door to support group#2, I could feel their welcoming arms wrapping around me. Rather than being told I didn't belong because of my background, race, class, etc., I was being welcomed by staff who were empathetic, warm, and caring.

My first experience participating in the support group, however, was not as emotionally satisfying as I had hoped. Because groups were open to anyone dealing with a range of life-changing events, such as death, caregiving, and cancer, a great deal of the group time was spent dealing with issues surrounding grief, loss, and mourning. While I could see the value in the way that the facilitator helped lift up the spirits of the participants around me, I couldn't help but feel like this group too, wasn't quite 'for me.' I tried to keep an open mind, take what I could from the facilitators' wise and comforting words, and see if the dynamic would change. When I went back for a second time, however, the same topics were discussed; death, loss, grief. While emotionally, I empathized with those dealing with the death of a loved one, and felt bonded to my fellow participants by the same overwhelming emotions we shared, another part of me just wanting to scream, STOP TALKING ABOUT DEATH - I'M NOT DYING!!

This time, however, instead of walking away, I decided to speak up. I formulated an honest, yet professional letter to the staff, explaining how I felt that the groups were not servicing the HIV population in the way that their founders set out to. I told them that I didn't want to always speak about death - but instead, I wanted to speak about life; life with HIV that is. I wanted to receive peer support and guidance around issues such as dating with HIV and dealing with stigma and disclosure, for example. In my letter, I suggested that at least one group (once a week, or even once a month) should focus on these unique issues that those of us living with HIV struggle with everyday.

So, I returned to support group #2, and walked to the front desk, with my letter tucked away in my bag. I asked if they had ever considered separating the groups, or providing HIV-only support groups, and they said that its "always on the table." So, with that encouraging response, I submitted my letter. They thanked me, told me it would be photocopied, distributed to the staff, and discussed at the next staff meeting.

About 4 days later, I checked my email, and opened a letter I received from the organization's director. He thanked me for my letter and informed me that it sparked quite the debate at their weekly staff meeting. He told me that after 20 years of combined group sessions, that were open to any one facing a life-threatening disease, they were going to begin having "focus" groups; one day a week would be dedicated to an HIV focus group; another day would be a cancer focus group; another day would be for caregivers, and so on. They emphasized the word "focus" and decided to still keep their open-door policy. Whoever needs help and support, can come in any day, and attend any group.

I felt as if I had just moved mountains! With one letter, one small voice, I encouraged an amazing organization to restructure its' services to better accommodate the needs of the HIV community.

Although support group #2 has yet to implement its' new schedule of support groups, just knowing that in the near future, I will be able to go to an HIV focus group, and get the emotional support I need at a place I felt so welcomed, is encouraging.

Based on my very limited experience so far with support groups, I put together a few words of advice I would recommend to anyone looking for peer support:

Don't allow yourself to be turned away by others' small-mindedness. Be willing to explore support groups where you may look, act, or even speak differently than those around you. (I don't mean to be hypocritical. I recognize that I walked away from this type of experience, but as mentioned above, I had other reasons that kept me away, and other resources available. And I still have a continuing internal debate about whether or not to return).

Speak up! If you don't like the types of services that are being provided, let someone know. Explain why you feel things need to change, and try to express yourself in as kind and professional a way as possible.

Don't give up. We all live busy lives, with plenty of distractions. Its easier, and arguably more efficient, to just get tired of the search, and continue with everyday life. But I have a feeling the emotional rewards will outweigh the difficulties involved in the process.

As my journey continues, I will try to take my own advice, and keep searching until I find the support group I need. Its hard not to let the paperwork, the time commitment, or an unfriendly staff member keep you away, but I believe peer support is an essential part of my 'medicine,' and I'm not going to stop until I find the right prescription.

New Year, New Meds

| 16 Comments

First, I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy new year, and thank everyone at POZ for embracing me, albeit anonymously, into the POZ-blog-family, and allowing me to share my story as it evolves.

 

This holiday season was unlike any other for me. On December 23rd, I went to my infectious disease doctor, to discuss the trend that was revealed by my most recent blood work; my CD4 count was steadily decreasing while my viral load had nearly doubled. With my doctor and both of my parents by my side, we all agreed it was time to start my HIV treatment.

 

My doctor wrote the prescription for Atripla, the once-a-day, three-in-one pill, and instructed me to come back in 1 month for a blood test to see how the virus was reacting to the medication. My doctor reminded me of the importance of maintaining a strict medication schedule. He told me that I must take the pill every day, religiously, and as close to the same time each day as possible to maintain its effectiveness. He warned of the most common side effects; drowsiness, dizziness, and vivid, "techni-color" dreams, of which he estimated about 20-30% of patients experience. He assured me that the majority of patients that experienced these side effects felt that they vastly decreased or completely disappeared after 3-4 weeks of use.

 

The timing was perfect. I had just finished taking my last final exam and I was at the start of a three-and-a-half week break. For just under four weeks I am now free from classes, reading, exams, and can fully focus on my adjustment to the new meds.

 

My parents and I left the doctor's office, thanked him for his good advice, picked up my first-ever bottle of Atripla from my pharmacy, and headed to my home in New Jersey where I would spend my first week on medication. Normally, my holiday is spent with just my immediate family, but this year one of my sisters had a guest with her, who I have not yet disclosed my status to. Because I didn't want to disclose my status to our guest, we didn't openly discuss my diagnosis or my new treatment. My parents and sisters discretely checked in with me throughout the day, everyday, to make sure I was doing ok. When the time was right, I told them that for the first 5 or 6 hours after swallowing the pill I felt dizzy, fuzzy (for lack of a better way to describe the light-headed, 'out-of-it' feeling), and had numbness in my face in the mornings and headaches in the evening. Based on my outward behavior, my family was surprised to learn that I was so affected by the meds. "But you're acting so normal," they said. And they were right. Even on those first few days, I was still able to take part in most of our holiday traditions; I played family games, cooked a family meal, watched movies, and even played in the snow for 'old-times' sake.

 

My first few days on meds served as the perfect metaphor for my HIV journey thus far. Inside, I felt dizzy, fuzzy, and frustrated, while, just by looking, no one could see what I was really experiencing. I am now no stranger to hiding how I truly feel without others being able to visibly detect the reality of my inner experience. The more I reflected on this, the more I saw that the physical and emotional aspects of my HIV experience were parallel in various ways.

 

First, just as the overwhelming emotions that followed diagnosis eventually faded as I coped with my status, the dizziness and fuzziness from my new meds fortunately faded as well. I felt more and more like myself with each passing day. Second, just as my friends' and family's support got me through the emotional experience that followed my diagnosis, I also felt comforted when I talked about what I was experiencing physically with trusted friends and family. Verbalizing the worst of the side effects helped me realize that they were actually quite manageable, and I was in fact able to act quite 'normal' despite them.

 

Perhaps it was for the best that I could not freely complain about the side effects as I experienced them this past week. If I was with only my family, I may have been more likely to groan about how unfair this whole situation is, or even yell out in anger, letting tears form as my frustration with the side effects grew. Because I had a house guest, however, I simply had to suck-it-up, sit on my couch when I felt too dizzy, and blame my few hours of extra couch-time on fatigue from a stressful semester at school. In turn, I pushed myself a little more than I otherwise may have to go about my day as if I was not taking my HIV meds for the first time.

 

I don't mean to understate the emotional or physical experience of beginning treatment. I think allowing some time to grieve for your old, medication-free self, and even allowing yourself to feel some self-pity and giving in to some self-indulgence is hugely important for the healing process. (My therapist recommends a full body massage, for example.) But it was important for me not to get wrapped up in those bad feelings of self-pity, or allow them to obscure the reality of the not-so-severe side effects of modern HIV treatment.

 

My reality (which of course will be different for everyone because every body reacts differently to medication), is that as I sit here, writing this blog entry, just a few hours after taking my ninth-ever Atripla pill, I feel about 90% side-effect free. I remember reading first-hand accounts of HIV positive people beginning medication even just 10 or 15 years ago, who had drastically more difficult experiences than mine. The older pills sounded awful. They were described as chalky, difficult to swallow, and created much more significant side effects for more patients.

 

So, as I swallow the smooth, one-a-day pill I am blessed to have for only $10 a month on my health insurance plan, I try to remember all of my 'brothers' and 'sisters' who came before me and had to struggle with three-a-day regimens of pills they could barely swallow, and then fought to keep down. Or worse, the millions of people around the world who today, still do not have access to these life-saving pills that I can pick up at any drug store in Manhattan for less money then I spent last night celebrating New Years Eve.

 

So moving into the New Year, I hope that when I swallow my Atripla every morning, rather than allowing my anger and sadness about my diagnosis to consume me, I will instead try to remember how truly blessed I am to have my medication at all.

 

2010 was the most difficult year of my 24-year old life, and one that I'm happy to leave behind. Despite all of the ups and the big downs of 2010, I still feel extremely lucky to be entering 2011 with access to HIV meds and access to multiple HIV support groups and networks. I'm lucky to have the support of my amazing friends and family and lucky to have the chance to anonymously share my experience with such a strong, extensive community of peers.


I hope everyone can look into 2011 and see some of the hope that I do for this year. Despite our common diagnosis, we truly are blessed to have the resources we have available at our fingertips, at our drug stores, and at our community centers.

 

Because 2011 marks the beginning of my physical "fight" against the virus in my body, I feel it appropriate to also start more aggressively addressing the emotional side of my diagnosis, by taking advantage of the resources I have in my community. So, in the first week of 2011, I plan to attend my first HIV support group. I'll be back to blog all about it.

 

Happy New Year!



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