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Coming Back From Zero

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Medication adherence is a commonly used term to describe the ability to consume your medication at the appointed time and the right dosage. Although I was fully aware of this phrase the meaning didn't have an impact on me until I witnessed the consequences of not sticking to a consistent regiment.  You can say I was provided this lesson when I skipped too many dosages and eventually found myself with t-cells not too far from hitting the single numbers. As an African-American I was in a group of those who didn't and couldn't adhere to medication for my HIV. Seen as one of the biggest obstacles to helping one live a healthy life, it's also one of the largest barriers for many and at one time also me. As I have progressed and lived a healthy life with HIV I still have to remind myself the lessons I learned by being non-adhering.  

I was never a pill person. Even before my diagnosis I would have much rather rest my body than take an aspirin for my headache. The pill also represented a weakness and that I needed assistance. I always considered myself a strong person and could handle my own. I wanted to heal without the aid of something made in a lab. So when I was diagnosed with HIV I knew it was going to be a struggle for me. It was one of the reasons I didn't commit to seeing a doctor on a regular basis. Since I wasn't placing myself on pills what need was there for a doctor. All he was going to do each visit was to confirm that I still had HIV. I told myself as long as I eat healthy and take care of myself I can manage on my own.

I knew I was playing with my health but the idea of swallowing a pill for the rest of my life was not appealing. I was only 19 when diagnosed so that meant a long road ahead.  I was also concerned about what any long term damage I would do by taking pills for so long. Would my body be able to handle it and would my liver or other organs pay for my decision? I wasn't a conspiracy nut like some people are. I didn't think the meds were designed to harm me or make it so I would never get better. I simply felt I didn't have the will or the desire to take medication for a lifetime.

My change in thinking came when one year I was constantly sick. I started the year with bronchitis and ended the year with bronchitis. It was then I realized my method of avoidance wasn't working. My doctor who I was always running away from confirmed it for me when he told me that my t-cells were starting to dip below fifty and heading to zero. Someone without HIV has a t-cell count of 1500 and here I was on my way to zero. That's when the fear set in. In a weird way it was okay for me to have HIV as long as I didn't have a diagnosis of AIDS. AIDS was for others who truly didn't take care of themselves. AIDS was Rock Hudson with sunken skin and hollow eyes. So I was okay with HIV, but my reality was realizing since my t-cells had dipped below 200 I was now classified as having AIDS.

I had AIDS.

I was defeated and felt like I was on my final chapter of life. I felt that once you had the scarlet letter A scribed on your records that there was nowhere else to go but down. I gave in to the doctor and stopped fighting him. I allowed him to prescribe me HIV medication. It was only a square piece of paper he handed me, but it felt like an anvil. It felt heavy. But I also told myself this was my life preserver from sinking further than I wanted to.

The kaleidoscope of color and sizes intimidated me. The instructions were just as puzzling. It was a brain teaser as I had to remember to take some pills twice a day, the others once a day and the other with food one hour after eating. It felt like the math class I always skipped when I was in school. I didn't know it was going to be so complicated. Then there was the matter of how did I keep it hidden so if someone visited my home they wouldn't discover my secret. This in itself was another reason I didn't want to be placed on meds.

My will was tested when the side effects came. I heard horror stories from others sharing their experience, which added to my reluctance to taking medication. People shared stories of nausea, cramps and constant diarrhea.  In the scheme of things I got off pretty lucky as the only effect I had was loose stool. Eventually that went away and so did my opposition. I was starting to feel better and my doctor confirmed it for me many months later when I went in for my lab results. My t-cells were inching up. He was still concerned why my levels were rising so slowly. When he asked me if I was missing dosages I looked him in the eye and lied. I said no.

The truth was I was taking many holidays. Holidays refer to a period when you stop taking medication. My holidays were scattered and incomprehensible as routine involved me taking just the morning dosage and missing the evening or vice versa. And some days I just wouldn't take it at all as I was tired, out later than I thought or just didn't feel like making the effort. My unspoken reason was suffering from an untreated depression that made adhering to my medication unrealistic.

My punishment? I eventually became resistant to not only my medication but to others class of HIV meds. There was nothing the doctor could do for me as anything he prescribed would have no effect. My subconscious spoke to me and simply said, "Well this is a fine mess you got us in" To add to my bad news  I was reprimanded by a nurse who had befriended me and told me she would rather have me not take the pills than to take them irregularly.

My stubbornness was affecting my life and although I had the tool I was being reckless. I had to get my act together and if there was something that can help me, I should stop complaining and do what I needed to do.

Medication adherence is an important issue when discussing HIV. Resistance to taking HIV medication can have an impact on your life and health. The discussion should be based on the fear people have and how to provide reassurance and education on the importance. I would state that taking medication is harder than having the virus as the HIV can remain static and not affect your day to day life but medication is an action that requires thought and commitment.

My advice to anyone having inconsistency it to first realize you're playing with your health and when that realization hit you, find a way to create a realistic manageable schedule. Look at your life and see what's blocking you. For me it was the depression that I had to address and get it out the way. Also talk to your doctor and come up with a regimen that works for you. Since my diagnoses new pills have been introduced and can afford someone to take one pill.  And any experience of side effects should be quickly discussed with your medical provider as they want to see you healthy and won't keep you on a pill that's making you sick and causing you to miss dosages.  

I was fortunate when medication was finally introduced that I could take. I felt that this was my second chance to get this right. I've since dedicated myself to being devoted and my reward is seeing my t-cells climb. Where I was close to zero I can now say that I'm at a healthy number of 632. That's a long way from zero. Although I take the daily medication I still don't lose sight of my ability to take care of self, it's just that I have a little help. And that's okay. 



Aundaray on: On the web

Springing into Love

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The arrival of spring signifies many things. It means out with the old and in with the new which can involve tossing out old clothes, shedding winter pounds or finally putting the television remote down and heading outside. This is also the season when we're open for something new in our lives. We're looking for love.

But how do we find love?

This is one of the most difficult questions in the world for many to answer. Some have it easy while others may resort to extreme measures such as giving their heart to someone unworthy; settling for whoever comes along first or attaching ourselves to another so mismatched just to change our relationship status from single. I'm going to add another layer of difficulty. How do you find love when you're HIV positive? How do you make the effort, despite what you have inside of yourself, make that move to find someone? This question is an important one as love is a universal feeling we all want to experience. Finding someone to love is a task which can seem insurmountable in any circumstance. Adding the stigmatization of the disease and feeling less valued, makes one ask; why bother?

I speak from experience as I've lived with HIV for the past 28 years. When told of my status, the two things I immediately questioned were; when I am going to die? The second was, will anyone ever going to love me again? At the time how people viewed HIV was entirely different from today. HIV was such an unknown entity in 1986, the year I learned about my status. There was such a huge public fear which resulted in ostracizing people from their homes and sometimes communities. My fear was wondering if my HIV status was making me next on the list of a witch-hunt. I decided I didn't want to be emotionally hurt and the best way to avoid such pain was to not let anyone in. My only option it seemed was to build a wall around my heart. A wall so strong it prevented people discovering my HIV status and also had the ability to keep anyone from getting close.

As the years past I was finding out hiding behind this wall wasn't so fun after all. Yeah no one could do harm but at the same time I was lonely and miserable. Without realizing it, depression had made its way through the cracks and kept me company. Was I ever going to find love?

Luckily times have changed and many living with HIV negative now find no problem loving someone with HIV based on an increase understanding of the disease. I'm a personal witness to this as I'm now in a relationship with a person who is HIV negative and loves me unconditionally. I would never been able to meet this person if my walls had remained up. By removing myself from a place I thought would keep me safe, my reward was finding love. Placing a wall up is easy, tearing it down is hard. To receive love one must learn, brick by brick, how to step into the faith someone is out there waiting.

These are some suggestions which helped me tear down my wall

1)      Do it for you. The first thing one must learn is to give permission to love self. If you're moving from a place of isolation, don't do it for anyone else but you and your happiness. You will never learn happiness if all your actions are simply meant for the benefit of someone else. Know you're worthy and embrace the feeling. Like the commercial states, 'Love the skin you're in.' It's so hard for someone to love you when you don't give yourself the same love-so start with you first.

2)      Stop seeing yourself as a negative. When we look in the mirror we're always looking for what's mistaken. It may be a hair in the wrong place or a glance to see if our waistline has expanded. No matter the reason, we're looking for the bad. And sometimes we look in the mirror an seeing only HIV looking back.  As a task start to look in the mirror and find all the great things about you. It doesn't have to be physical attributes but also features of your personality people can't see. Discover affirming words about yourself and redefine who you are. Embrace those words and the image looking back. So no matter what happens to you during you know how wonderful you are. What are your words of affirmation?

3)      Accept you have HIV. I know this may not make sense but sometimes we're in so much denial and won't accept our HIV status. I used to stick my head in the sand and act like it didn't exist. It was my own showing of shame. By coming to terms with your HIV you can start to move forward and make the positive changes which remove you from the darkness of denial and place you into the light of truth. It's hard to start any relationship when you can't be honest with yourself. Shame is such a strong destructive device which can hold the strongest person back. For whatever reason you are HIV positive but you're still a good person. Don't carry shame based on your situation; you're stronger now and can live the best healthy and happy life possible. This is not minimizing the impact of having HIV but to create a greater awareness your identity is not a three letter acronym.

4)      Don't let past rejections make you one who rejects- When we have someone walk away from us for whatever reason our natural response is to close ourselves off. We develop a mantra which states, "Never again". When you do this the other person win as they go off and find happiness and you're left alone with resentment. I personally have experienced so much rejection around my HIV status, it took me a long time to realize it was never about me but spoke more to the other person. Flip the script and realize if someone doesn't want you for you, they are intimidated by your strength. If anyone rejects you, they've just made room for someone who loves you to fill. This isn't a mind game but something you have to believe. Everyone we meet is not necessarily meant to be in our life no matter how compatible. Don't morph into the one who now rejects. Always strive to be the one who loves.

5)      There's no King Arthur. Sometimes we wait for the person who has the strength to pull the sword from the stone and tear down our walls. You will be sadly disappointed and remain in a place of loneliness if it's your litmus test. While waiting for the shining knight you're probably missing out on the many suitors who have sincere attraction to you but because you made loving you so challenging you're missing out. You've created a long laundry list of qualities you don't possess yourself but expect others to have. Be realistic and accept sometimes your Prince Charming is right in front of you.

6)      And last-There's not an app for everything. I don't care what anyone says but apps like Grndr and Adam4Adam are strictly for sex. Period. If anyone says they have found true love they are not the norm. Solely depending on these apps will set you down the long road of bitterness as you'll become convinced all men have the same characteristics on the mobile app. Too many of these encounters; good or bad, you'll develop the mindset that everyone simply want sex or start believing any form of a relationship is superficial. What happens next? Yep, up goes the wall.

 

Declare you're ready. You're ready to tear down your wall and find the relationship you're meant to have. Finding love won't happen overnight, or the process of tearing down your defenses. But the reward is so great when you finally say to yourself, I'm ready.

 

As I enter my 15th year with my current soul mate I'm so glad I didn't deny myself the ability to love. It took a deep understanding of my life with HIV but in general it took me not hiding behind a wall. Experiencing self-love stopped blocking the full life I desired and helped me to find love.



Aundaray on: On the web

Family Secret

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One of my sad truths that I don't really share is my relationship or perhaps my non-relationship with my family. Before I begin, I have always had a certain feeling about people who in the public drag others on social media, so I state that is not my reason. Instead I use it as a frame to share how by not being close to family, matters such as my HIV status comes into play.

With the recent passing of the holiday's it has now become a norm for me not to receive a call or any type of acknowledgement. This past holiday wasn't different and instead of being sad I reasoned that at least they were being consistent. The one thing that did briefly come was the sadness that despite thinking I was close with everyone, the feeling wasn't mutual. I know I could have simply picked up the phone and reached out but frankly my whole life that's what I've been doing. I'm the one who has made the call or showed up unexpectedly at the front door to say help. I'm the one who has come running when there was a need and being across country I continued to be there physically. So although I could have called you finally reached that point of not wanting to be the giver. Even recently I received an email from a family member and thought maybe they were catching up. Instead it was the usual reason for reaching out, for financial assistance. It has worked in the past as I reasoned by helping they can see I want to be part of the family. It took a while for me to realize money doesn't buy love

In the early years of having HIV I was still alone in the battle despite them knowing my status. I remember doing a test where I stopped reaching out to them and wanted to see who would reach out knowing I was struggling with this new virus. I was the one who was surprised as there was no communication from any. It was that 'Wow" moment as I thought, "I could be here on the floor unable to get up for any reason and no one cared, at least my family". It's hard to wrap my head around it as when we do see each other in person we're having the greatest time, with good conversation and filling the room with laughter, but once we part the silence fills the space and goes back to being strangers.

I once asked my sister why she didn't reach out and she let me know that they expect me to since I was so good at it. It was then I realized it was my job and I shouldn't expect the feeling to be reciprocal. For that reason I now keep my life with HIV quiet as I feel they won't be the support I need although knowing with their support it'd be a great addition. And not that I want them to simply see me as the big/little brother with HIV, but knowing it's part of me I want them to be there when I want to share.

Without sounding like I'm telling anyone what to do, if I could give advice I would say don't try to use your HIV status as leverage for someone to love you. I say that as knowing we weren't close I thought by letting them know my big secret that it would draw them in. I built myself up to say this will be the impetus for change. Scary as it was to share it was for nothing as I didn't get the results I was looking for. My lesson was using my status as a tool.

Living with HIV a person sometimes wants to use it to create that closeness. In my case it was with family. For others it may be a partner who shows little interest in you or it could be your way of trying to save a relationship that was never there or because of your denial, was over a long time ago. It also has created in me a song that says, 'I don't need anyone'. Even though I am now partnered I still find myself in moments where I feel like an orphan and don't want to depend on anyone. Having HIV this is a bad idea as we all need support but you can't help going to that feeling of being a loner after all it is safe and you won't get hurt...again.

I don't want to say that my relationship with my family is over but the truth is the truth. If they didn't talk to each other maybe it wouldn't hurt as much but knowing among each other they are a family and it's just me who's not in the loop is discouraging. In sharing this I'm not hoping to create something that is not there. I'm also sure I will get advice saying I don't need them or family is what you make with strangers. I know that all to be the truth but there is still those small quiet moments when the hurt peeks in the back door and before the hurt makes itself comfortable, you close it tight again.

So that is my story and as I continue my life surrounded by people who love me instead of holding out for arms that are not there for me, I'll embrace the ones that are there. Even with my struggles with life, and that includes my HIV status, instead of being bitter I hope they know despite current circumstances I love them. And perhaps this is my way of reaching out as it's my job to do. And in my open honesty I can make peace with my family secret.



Aundaray on: On the web

Life's Lesson With HIV

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As I enter my 28th year of living with HIV I have to say that I have learned some valuable lessons along the way, some good and some bad but all my experiences have happened for a reason. The thing is that while you're in it you don't know that. It's not until you get from out the storm not only do you discover why you went through it but you recognize your strength for all you endured. I'm thankful I didn't come away bitter and accept all the new traits now part of my building blocks. So as the New Year's arrives and we start a new chapter I reflect on my experiences and share the 20 lessons I've learned about living with HIV.

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1) I've learned that you're either living or you're dying and despite what you heard about HIV it's not a death sentence. Yet there was a time when I simply stopped living and settled on existing. I had to recognize we all are going to die, that's a fact but until that day how will I live with the life given to me. You're either like the zombies in the TV show, The Walking Dead, walking in an aimless direction or you're taking each day as a gift and cherishing it

2) I've learned the people who have rejected me because of this disease have missed out on having the privilege of knowing such a strong individual. They must be scared of that strength and their decision is something they have to own as I embrace everything about me. And in those lessons I've learned that anyone who has rejected me has simply left room open to be filled by someone who will accept me for me

3) I am beautiful. As simple as that.

4) I've stopped asking 'Why me" and started to understand "Why me' as I have helped others to live with this disease by breaking the silence and talking about HIV. I didn't know at the time I was someone else's gift as through the years people have been made to feel less alone as they listened to shared experiences.

5) My doctor is my friend and if he's not then he has to go. Just because he/she wears the white coat and has the degree we're in this together. At one point I thought I had to submit to everything he prescribed or said but learned that my voice is just as strong as his. So if it's working, then keep it strong but if it's a one sided relationship then he/she has to go.

6) When I used to complain about taking medications a nurse gave me great sound advice. I was hoping for sympathy but she served me a spoonful of hard love as without blinking she told me, "If you have something that's saving your life and its working stop complaining and take the damn pills." Lesson still appreciated today.

7) Start dreaming again.

8) If you're worried about anything killing you just try being best friends with your anger. Having this disease I have had many opportunities to be angry but after walking that walk I learned quickly it wasn't getting me nowhere. Anger strips you down from the inside and clouds your dreams. I accepted that upon hearing my status I had the right to be anger but for me to be well I had to not let my anger guide me.

9) I've learned its okay to cry but to not let those tears create an ocean that I can drown me. Along with anger, tears will come but at a point I had to wipe them away and start heading back to shore.

10) Give myself a hug everyday

11) Sex is still good

12) Stigma is a two way street and don't assume everyone will reject you because of your status. Yes stigma is real and people do inflict it on those who are positive but sometimes I have to recognize when I'm handing out my own dose of stigma. In this lesson I had to learn that not everyone who is negative is ignorant about this disease. This was a good lesson for me to learn as it helped with disclosing and most importantly it helped me in relationships whether friendly or intimate.  

13) I'm more than HIV. It seemed that with the doctors, the pills and condoms shoved in my face HIV was all I would ever be. But in thinking that I wasn't allowing myself to see the fullness of who I am. I may write and speak about HIV but the one thing I tell myself is not to limit life to a three letter word.

14) I've accepted where people are in their HIV treatment and what works for me won't necessarily work for someone else. When handing out advice I have to check myself and accept that my treatment was designed for me and people react to things in a different way. So whether it's advice, the way I keep track of taking my medication or anything related to my HIV, it's mine and may not work for others. So I keep my judgments to myself.

15) I've learned as I approach my 28th year of living with HIV that it's not a competition when others share their length of time. The one secret of those living with HIV is sometimes we play a one-man-up game where we trump others with how long we've been positive. We show our battles scars as if having HIV is a competition. It's done in a non-malicious way but if anyone wins we all do for being able to proudly state how long we've been living with this disease is the true prize.

16) I learned that whether it's my cd4 count, my weight or viral load- to heed the numbers but not let the numbers dictate my state of mind. Not saying the numbers are not important but developing anxiety around your numbers is not good. I learned to celebrate the good numbers and don't stress if they will fall. Just keep doing what I'm doing. And if they're dropping then I have to look at stopping what I'm doing that's probably causing the numbers to drop

17) I'm not being punished by God or enduring any other revenge.

18) I can still cross oceans

19) Drinking chocolate milk helps the pills go down easy

20) I've learned to be open and accept anything good or bad that comes my way. And as I step forward even if there is no cure I know that my life will be the best one I can make. So I welcome my next milestone and embrace this journey we call life!



Aundaray on: On the web

Christmas Wish

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Dear Santa
I know you're probably making your list and checking it twice but if it's not too late I would like to add several items to my Christmas list. Now I want you to know I've been a good boy and taken all my HIV medicines so I think I'm justified in making several small requests. Besides you still owe me for the time I asked for an Easy Baked Oven and instead I got an etch-a-sketch. Yes I know that was many years ago but maybe next year I can receive the gift of letting small things go. So as you look at what to load up in your sleigh and keeping Rudolph's nose warm, if you can just hear my cry as I come to you with my wish this Christmas.

First thing I ask for is a huge table that can seat all. I ask for this as I know that there will be many observing this season alone having being rejected from family and friends because of their HIV status and sexuality. This season is supposed to be one of merriment and joy but the sad reality is that it's a reminder of how individuals don't have a place at the table. I know this feeling all too well as I once felt I wasn't welcomed at the table and if I was, it was with a cautious breath. But no one should have to feel alone anytime of the year and no one should have to be shunned because of their status. So while you're at it if you can bring as many chairs that will fit into your bag for all those who feel they don't belong and by coming together they can see family isn't always just your blood relatives but the many people who come together for you.  

My second wish is for increase funding of HIV/AIDS. I think someone opened the wrong gift and got the impression that the battle of HIV has been won and see no need for increased funding. The war chest you gave them many years ago when toys soldiers were painted white have seemed to been shut when the paint on the soldiers fell off and the exposed colors of the black and browns started to come through. Maybe Christmas came early for others but I know in my neck of the woods it's still Halloween as the scary reality is that people who hold the key to the toy chest have been blind to the fact that since HIV/ AIDS is manageable we can all relax and move on. If you have a mirror you can probably gift that as well so they can see that this is still very much an issue that needs immediate attention as needed services are being cut, especially services for people of color who are making up the majority of new cases. For this gift if you can allow me to open right away as we don't have time to wait on this issue.

On my list I would also like to give a pair of shoes made of HIV stigma to the HIV negative community, especially those unaware of the impact stigma has on an individual living with HIV. Perhaps as they try on the unfamiliar footwear they will experience the uncomfortable steps many living with HIV have to experience. Give them roads of discomfort so that they can experience the real emotions of shame and rejection that comes with stigma. And the purpose is not to harm but create awareness. Make the soles full of lead so when they try to jump over the many barriers that block them from healthcare and services that can improve their life, they can relate to the hardships. But as stated before I don't want this gift to be one of cruelty. So as they try to walk a mile in steps already taken leave them not with aches and pains but a better understanding of stigma and the need to end it.

While I'm speaking of stigma, if for one day you could give my brothers and sisters with HIV a tailored shirt free of stigma. Hopefully those who have been unable to do so can put this shirt on their back and truly know the freeing experience of embracing one self and how much richer their lives can be without living in the shadow of stigma. And as they prance in their new look they can look at their reflection and see themselves for the true god and goddesses they are. Make it a magic shirt that they can fashion into a parachute that glides them over the barriers that they thought was forever built in place to stop their dreams.  And while in the air let them know that their dreams are no longer grounded by their status but their dreams and goals are unlimited like the sky. Make this shirt of the finest material so they can wear it every day and no one can take it away from them.

Now I know my Christmas list is longer than most but If you have some room can you hand out picture books of knowledge to the young gay and questioning men in the community and let them know that their body truly is their temple and choices made in the heat of the moment can last for a lifetime. But don't make it a book of lessons. Instead in that picture book have plentiful images of gay men not defining themselves by their physical attributes or sexual abilities in bed but flourishing by the healthy love they have discover with others and finding the love within themselves. Leave pages open so the young men can place positive pictures of themselves for others to see as they are our future. For some they don't know what a healthy relationship may look like so overfill the book with snapshots of those images to guide the young men and let them know and experience the love that they may have not thought existed.  Give them bookshelves so they can create a library of books that open their minds and in the revealing chapters, despite the reports, that they are aware each one is more than statistical deficit numbers related to HIV. In fact the library room can be called, Teach not Preach.

So as I get to the bottom of my request I hope you don't feel I'm asking too much of you. Based on the situation and the dire need it's the only reason I ask. HIV has taken away from so much and so many it's only fair I ask for something in return. I hope you agree Santa.


And finally if the elves have any tape left over from wrapping gifts, can you use the extra to cover Don Lemon's mouth. I'll pay you for that gift.

That's all and hope you like sugar cookies with rainbow sprinkles and chocolate milk. I'll have some waiting for you. And that is my Christmas wish!

Merry Christmas Santa



Aundaray on: On the web

Happy World AIDS Day

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This past December 1st which is known as World AIDS Day I had a chance to see acknowledgments from the online community as they reflected on the day. On my Facebook timeline people were emphasizing the importance of knowing your status, recognizing those who had passed from the disease and a reminder that HIV was still here and much work had to be done in reducing stigma. In the middle of all the messages were four words expressing their sentiments of the day but not in a way I was prepared to read. The posting from several different people simply stated, "Happy World AIDS Day." What?!? Happy World AIDS Day? And this just wasn't on my feed but others all well. The announcement sounded so festive and celebratory so right away my head went to one side and then the other as I was trying to comprehend the postings. Was there a rule in how we received the day set aside to reflect and remember those living and have died from HIV or was I making something out of nothing?  I think after a while of head shifting I had to ask myself what exactly was 'Happy" about World AIDS Day?

Based on my personal knowledge about World AIDS Day it is a day to both acknowledge those who have died from this disease and a time to create awareness in the hopes individuals will seek to know their status to stem the infection rates. It is also an opportunity to get those who were exposed into some type of early health treatment. As a day of remembrance there has been so many near and dear to us who has lost the battle to this disease. People who were at the prime of their lives and suddenly taken away. World AIDS Day events happen on this day as people of different backgrounds, wearing a red ribbon and lighting a candle, came together as the commonality was the impact HIV had made in each of our lives. If you wasn't infected you were affected as World AIDS Day brought renew focus on the topic and a call to arm for new soldiers to step in line to help battle this disease. 

And for those still on the fringes, providing them education and awareness and letting them know that HIV doesn't discriminate based on race, sex or gender. And finally for those living with the disease, a coming together to say you're not alone and don't give up the fight. So why were we now announcing our happiness about this day?

 Now before I sound off I know that the online posters were not coming from a place of coldness or indifference when they typed those four words on their news feed, but I do feel they were slightly unknowledgeable in the choosing of their words. I'll even go a bit further and venture to say that those who wrote the statements were HIV negative as I can't imagine someone HIV positive coming anywhere close to declaring "Happy World AIDS Day". 

The word itself feels like a festive occasion, one with balloons and confetti flying through the air as party horns blared in the sky. I was thinking maybe I missed something and on that day there was going to be a parade to honor the day. I could just see the giant red AIDS ribbon floating in the air as blue colored marchers dressed like Truvada marched to the beat. Even worse I thought that maybe I was missing out on retail sales that usually accompany such holidays. "Today only all HIV medications are half priced" or better yet "The first 100 customers get a coupon to be redeemed for 50 t-cells to help boost their numbers."

I won't hammer the point to much but maybe World AIDS Day has got lost in translation as the years have went by, enough so that it was the new norm to celebrate the day. Perhaps the impact of AIDS/HIV is lessened because it's now a manageable disease and in our short term memory forgot it still is a deadly disease that affects and impacts ones quality of life. One may think all they have to do is take a pill but beyond the pill there remain related health issues that one has to endure. Not to mention the impact this disease has on personal relationships based on the stigma that accompanies having HIV. 

Also the last time I looked, in certain places such as job and housing, people with HIV face discrimination because of their status. And when it comes to the African American community, HIV has increased compared to other ethnic groups. And while the rates are rising in said communities, funding to prevent and educate has decreased with neighborhood HIV agencies having to lay off staff, reduce their programming and in some cases closing their doors leaving a gap in services.

But here's the rub. After making my case on why it doesn't seem appropriate to say Happy World AIDS Day, my epiphany moment came when I asked myself why not Happy World AIDS Day? Being aware of the history of HIV/AIDS we sometimes forget there is so much to celebrate. Compared to years past we have seen achievements in so many areas. Take for example the medication AZT, the first prescribed medication for HIV. When it seemed that was the only option we now have a full menu of HIV medications that has made it possible for the disease to be manageable. Also I would venture to say doctors are more specialized to care for those living with this disease unlike the past when it was a mystery. Also public perceptions have shifted. It may not be where we want it to be, as stigma still prevails, but many nontraditional places such as the church and schools are having discussions on HIV where there was once silence.

 I think the greatest celebration is that now more than ever people are putting their own face on the disease and talking about their experiences, whether it's blogging, reporting, writing, speaking and more creative ways. And through these telling stories others are made to feel that they are not alone. Can you imagine a black bald headed man sharing his health status of HIV twenty years ago? Based on how we saw people living with HIV in the past, the stories shared no longer operate in silence but in a shared space. And another victory is the word I have used constantly in this post 'manageable'. If there is anything to celebrate is that HIV is no longer seen as a death sentence as it was before and with adherence to proper treatment, people are living long full lives.

World AIDS Day will still have its significance but what is wrong with celebrating our victories. As soldiers in this war what harm is it to take one day and lay down our arms and embrace won battles? As people gather together to commiserate the day we still need that moment no matter how brief to appreciate the work we have done and to remind each other that although we are still at war, to not give up or give in. HIV has taken away so much why must it steal our ability to be joyous even for one day?

So taking all that into account there is a reason to say and embrace World AIDS Day. Yes it may sound offensive but understanding the progress that has been made I find the celebration and the attitude to say to anyone who hears, Happy World AIDS Day!!  



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