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To blog or not to blog: the journey begins

| 22 Comments

When I was first asked to blog for POZ, I resisted.  Blogging is not a natural thing for me. 

As a young man, I kept a journal of my ideas, my big thoughts and dreams -- and my fears.  As a painfully shy and closeted gay teenager, journaling was extremely cathartic as I didn't have a lot of people to talk to about the turmoil within me. It was a private, solitary activity.  Privacy was the critical element which enabled me to express my thoughts and feelings honestly and safely. But it remained difficult to share my thoughts with others.  It was hard to show people what I had written, because it represented who I was: a young man learning that I was suddenly at odds with my faith, my parents' expectations of me, and the dreams I had for myself. It was a time of deep fear, coupled with overwhelming longing to be understood, accepted and loved.  My fear of judgment and persecution and and my shame about being different stifled me. I remained silent and alone with all of it. It was a dark lonely time. 

I eventually disclosed my sexuality to just a few close friends. Not surprisingly, these disclosures were made in long-hand notes which I wrote and carried around for weeks - before finding the courage to present them to those I had decided to trust with my secret.  Eventually I found not only my voice, but a wealth of courage and acceptance. 

In the coming years, I really bloomed. I found a group of supportive friends in the early 1980s that loved and understood me. Then suddenly, like many of my generation, I was exposed to unfathomable grief as I watched my support network being decimated by AIDS.  We did not understand it back then. It was like a supernatural horror story:  a silent, foreboding phantom villain who struck randomly, ominously, and fatally. Homophobia was rampant. Those who got sick were blamed for being ill. It was hard to resist the urge to pull inward again due to fear, stigma and ignorance.  I found strength and was forever changed. 

Flash forward - I am 50 now.  I am at a point in my life where I am happy.  I have good friends and a supportive family.  I've been working in the field of HIV for many years.  We know so much more today about the disease.  But my heroes remain those from the early generation of AIDS activists, who taught us the way to help ourselves is to not be silent, but to stand up and be heard.  Our subsequent and accelerated progress in the gay rights movement owes much to these heroes.  They insisted we not wait for society to decide to grant us equality, but to demand to be treated humanely, and to insist upon nothing less than the same rights and privileges as our heterosexual counterparts. I found new meaning and happiness by dedicating periods of my life to fundraising for AIDS Walks, AIDS service organizations, LGBTQ causes and HIV/AIDS research.

Then about six months ago, I learned I had sero-converted. I was awash with confusion and fear.  And surprisingly, shame.  Shouldn't I have known better?  How could I let this happen?  Unsure of how to process all of these feelings, I did what felt safe: I pulled inward to that dark and lonely place.  The stigma silenced me. And I realized my silence implied shame.

I have decided to not remain silent.  I know that I will find support and relief from others.  I feel compelled to share these feelings openly and honestly to see if my experience can somehow benefit others who may feel alone in all of this.  I remind myself several times daily not to judge myself.  And I remind myself to seek the support that I need and deserve. 

My name is Charlie Finlay.  I am 50 years old and have been recently diagnosed with HIV.  This is my story.  If you have recently been diagnosed, you have your own story and your own journey.  I hope you take comfort in knowing I walk with you, shoulder-to-shoulder. I have decided to share my journey with others in this blog.  I'm not sure where the story goes, but I know that sharing my experience will help me, and it is my hope that it helps you, too.  Let's not be alone in this.  Let's see where this journey takes us.

22 Comments

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Comments on Charlie Finlay's blog entry "To blog or not to blog: the journey begins "

Hi Charlie, i just posted and i saw your post as well. I havent been connected to the poz blogs lately. I guess it is bittersweet note to tell you welcome but anyways i just wanted to add i am really proud the way you are taking things.

One and i am sure you feel the same, wish this will never ever happen to anyone else. Although it keeps on happening but for every person coming out and facing it many others will remember they have to be careful and hopefully one day it will really stop happening.

Not sure if my opinion counts on this but after 6 years living with Hiv i can ensure you it is an experience that will make you grow in many ways, more than you ever though. I also disclosed to my family few weeks after diagnosis and started to blog here as well. So when i read your posts i sort of understood what you are going through. If ever need a friend count me in.

Keep the faith, things get better with time.

Juan Carlos -- Thanks very much for your comment. You are so kind. My late sister used to say to me "keep the faith, Charlie" and it's something I really love to hear. Thank you.

Life is humming along, and I feel so fortunate. I am learning and growing in many new ways because of this thing. Thank you for your kind words and friendship. Best, Charlie

Hi Charlie,

If you think you felt shameful about contracting HIV, "when you should have known better", think how I felt as a physician when I got infected 10 years ago. All it took was one slip up and bingo. In fact, it happened on June 18, 2003. When I sero-converted I went from HIV-negative to having AIDS in 3 weeks. Both of my experienced HIV physicians said they never saw anyone sicker who survived. In any event, thanks to the ARV regimen, which by the way has remained essentially the same (Sustiva/Epivir/Viread > Atripla), HIV, although always part of my life, occupies a back burner. And I'm open with all of my family, friends and business associates. As I always say, if people loved you before they will after; if they didn't they won't. In time I hope that HIV will become a background issue for you too. And eventually, I hope the world will accept that it's just another infection and no one should be stigmatized for doing something almost all humans engage in, namely sex. Best for now - John

Thank you, Charlie Finlay. I zero-converted three years ago at 48... I will walk with you.

Cheers

Hi Charlie,
Thanks for the new blog. It is almost if I am reading my own story. I converted last year just three months after my 50th birthday. I too know the shame, and had the same feelings of "I should have known better". One year on and I am doing well medically, but still have withdrawn into the Poz closet. While I have forgiven the guy who pozzed me, I have yet forgive myself. As a fellow traveler on this path I look forward to your future writings.

-David

Thank you for your blog post. It's been a year and a half since my regular testing came back positive and changed my life. I fully understand the shame and even thought I know better it still lucks around in my back of my head. I applaude your couage and thank you again for sharing your emergencies wth us.

Hey Charlie, as one who has lived with HIV more than 1/2 my life(55yrs old) I can say honestly that though shame is something we all will experience, it serves little purpose unless put into action to turn it into something positive and useful....You are ahead of the game....Love forward to seeing and hearing your journey unfold!

Hi Charlie,

You are not alone. I can relate to the "didn't I know better" part, and the shame. I like what another poster said about if they loved you before they will love you after. Thanks for your post!

Thank you very much, Doc! I appreciate you sharing your story with me. I just got another confirmation that i am "undetectable" which is amazing to me, and for which I am extremely grateful. I look forward to HIV becoming just a background issue for me -- it should not define us. This is a terribly awkward adjustment period. Thanks for your support. Best, Charlie

Thanks, Todd. It means a lot to me that not only is someone reading this, but that they would reach out to share how they identified with what i wrote. Many thanks, Charlie

Dear Joe -- Thanks so much for your note. I look forward to learning from folks like you as i move through this awkward discovery period. And like you said, finding the positive and working toward being useful. Many thanks and much gratitude to you, my friend. Charlie

Thanks, Mark. Yes, it lurks back there, doesn't it! It's difficult to understand how the shame and self-judgement can linger. I guess while i can dismiss it intellectually, it's difficult to dismiss the emotion of it. I've been wrestling with some health challenges which got complicated by the HIV, and my suppressed immune system. Left me feeling just horrible and a real struggle to be positive about my outlook and future. Am coming out of that dark space now, and will probably write something about that next. Thanks for sharing your journey with me! Best, Charlie

Thanks, Jeff! I am so grateful for this lifeline...

Thanks so much, David, for sharing. Nice to have a fellow traveler. Best, Charlie

It's a story that can help us all to channel our lives .. Sometimes it is difficult to understand that, knowing the information provided by social media on the real existence of the virus and its consequences on our health .. but such is the fate and did not know what we would be susceptible to the enemy .. because I too was a victim of this and I fight constantly and learning every day. Everything has a purpose and a signal to be positive not all bad.

Thanks comrade, your my hero...We need ppl like you to give us hope and strength....I wish i was that strong as you appear.....Know that i can really relate to what your throwing out here....Thanks again....

thank you!!! i wish you well..sero-converting in 2007 i know the shame and the immediate judgement from others. i hope you find as i did the shame is really temporary once you begin your process of coming out as a HIV positive man. dcn

Luis -- Thanks so much for your comment. We can make miracles if we stay positive and find the things to be grateful for. So many blessings. Life is Pain and Joy. Struggle and Triumph! Glad to have such wise fellow travelers on my journey. C.

Hi,
My name is Tommy and I am 46 and newly diagnosed with HIV. I am starting my meds tomorrow morning. My doc put me on Stribild. I came onto this site looking for info about the meds and side effects etc and I saw your blog. I am also confected with Hep C. So I have some work to do. Surprisingly I had no clue and had no symptoms. I knew about the Hep C but the HIV was a surprise but not a shock considering the things I used to do.
I am blessed that I have a loving sister who insisted I move in with her and her husband and my niece aged 7 and nephew aged 11. I work full time and so have decent medical coverage and I eat well and do yoga and am trying to facilitate a meditation ritual into my life.
I look at it this way right now. I should be dead many times over so any time I do have left is a bonus. I have friends who have died in their sleep from aneurysms so I know that no one is guaranteed another tomorrow and that we all must live in the now. I do not take this as a death sentence and I am trying to look at it as a blessing of sorts. It has put a focus on things and made me appreciate what I do have. It has caused me to change many bad habits so may have actually extended my life. After all this my hope is to one day perhaps help others and maybe work in drug and alcohol recovery or something like that and turn all my negative past experiences into a well spring to draw from to help and inspire others.
But first I need to go to bed and get a good nights sleep, wake up and take my meds with some food at 8am. I figured that would be the best time of day as it is supposed to be consistent.
Anyhow, thanks for your story. It helped me to feel better and perhaps we can stay in touch.
Take care,
Tommy

Tommy, so great to get your note. I just posted my latest blog which is really about gratitude and the notion of benefit-finding (which is actually a psychological phenomenon). You sound like you are doing well. Are you in recovery? I am -- and no surprise -- I am also very grateful for that. :) I do take Stribild one-a-day (and the bf does, too), and it's been very good for us, and we make sure we never miss a dose. We are both undetectable now. We've both gained a bit of weight (but I think that just happens in relationships, maybe not related to Stribild!). Anyway, thanks for reading my blog, and i hope you continue to let me know how you are doing. Best, Charlie
.

Hi there

I have read your blog and i think it takes a lot of strength to open up to your status but i want to thank you as i have been living HIV positive for 3 years and i still cant get the hang of what has happened to my life, its all changed, i cant have a normal married life cause i fear infecting my husband, i cant have a child because it might get this horrible disease, and then at the same time getting sick myself all the time is just unbearable, but i have made it so far and i know the road ahead is a long one and i fear walking it.

Regards
Janine

Take care and keep healthy and fight for your beliefs, dreams you life.

Very inspiring post. I have been struggling with this diagnoses for 8 long,hard years. And you know what, I'm ready to break my silence! For to long now I have been hindered by guilt and shame and fear. I'm not sure where my journey will lead me, but I'm finally ready to take that 1st step. Thank you for your truth and your honesty. It indeed served me.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Finlay published on June 10, 2013 5:28 PM.

HIV Diagnosis: Uncomfortably Numb is the next entry in this blog.

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