Living with HIV/AIDS: What Can I Be Thankful For?

This post was written by BLC guest blogger Rob Quinn

The holidays are here and in New England the colorful leaves of fall release their hold on tall tree branches and float easily to the ground. Temperatures continue to dip. This can be a tricky time of year to navigate for so many reasons, so, to experience the holidays with minimal stress, it’s important for me to feel a deep sense of thankfulness for all of my blessings.

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I can hardly believe it’s been twenty-two years since my HIV diagnosis. The news that I was HIV positive was delivered just days before Thanksgiving 1993. That year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that newly diagnosed individuals would have a seven-year life expectancy. Although the journey has not been easy, and often grueling at times, today I celebrate life, peace, health, happiness, support, and simple living as I gratefully age fairly healthy with HIV/AIDS – sometimes struggling, sometimes succeeding.

An HIV-positive diagnosis can be a shocking emotional experience. Living with HIV can feel overwhelming and incredibly isolating. But, we are far from alone. Countless people and resources are available to help those of us during the holiday season and throughout the year. Each year I make a “gratitude list” as a way to focus on the positive in my life.

As a long-term survivor living and thriving with HIV/AIDS, I am grateful for many things, including surviving long enough to have gray hair, or as I refer to it, my “wisdom highlights.” The top five HIV-related things I am thankful for this holiday season are:

  1. HIV Care Is Better Than Ever

In the United States, and specifically in Massachusetts, high quality HIV/AIDS treatment, care (i.e., oral health) and support services (i.e., affordable housing) are more accessible than ever. We have a wide variety of providers to chose from, medication options, and complementary therapies (i.e., yoga, massage, acupuncture) that can be used to enhance our quality of life. With proper antiretroviral therapy (ART) and support, people like me can stay healthy, live longer, and significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others.

I am the expert on me! I am the most important member of my health care team and my own best advocate. My health care team members (a.k.a. coaches) and I work in partnership, striving for optimal health by talking openly and honestly about my concerns, asking questions of one another and then developing an ongoing personal health plan that’s right for me. I personally select experts who advise me about all my options and then the final decision is up to me. As my cousin Sarah once told me, “You are the captain of your ship, Robert, and ultimately it comes down to you when you experience such progress. Remember that!”

  1. I Am a Success, Not a Failure

All of us encounter difficult challenges in our life. HIV is something I never expected to happen. Both the challenges and triumphs have formed me and made me stronger. I truly believe that we can all overcome and grow from life’s obstacles when we learn to see them differently.

  1. All of Us Write Our Own Stories

I don’t live with HIV, HIV lives with me. Yes, I am HIV-positive. But, first and foremost, I am Rob. My HIV status, much like my gender, age or sexual orientation, does not define who I am, but it is part of my life and part of what made me who I am today—Optimistic, Confident and Determined! I am the person that I am today because of HIV, and I would not change a single moment, risking all that I have gained.

  1. My Health Is My Priority

My health and happiness are my greatest assets and highest priorities. Living with HIV, I am more conscious of how I am treating myself as a whole—mind, body and spirit. That’s important.

  1. There is Support Everywhere

Although at the time of my HIV diagnosis I had no idea how, when, or to whom to disclose, I knew one thing for certain: I could not continue on this journey alone. People living with HIV are part of a community that is compassionate, supportive, and kind. In addition to my trusted support, a wide range of people are available to provide me with emotional support – peers, trained professionals and other people with a sympathetic ear.

Gratitude is something that doesn’t just benefit us people living with HIV – it has uplifting and healing properties for everyone. And a little bit goes a long way. What do you feel grateful for even when you might be going through a tough day or time? I challenge you, for you, to complete the sentence: “I am grateful for…because…”

However you choose to celebrate this time of year, my wish to you and those you hold close in your heart is a safe, happy and healthy holiday season.

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The Power of Support

This entry was written by our BSW intern, Anita Peete

For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.

-Margaret Heffernan

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The Boston Living Center is a place of comfort and support for so many people. The Center holds so much value to those who utilize the many services provided here. This is the one place that many of the members are able to find a sense of peace, hope, happiness, or joy. This past month that I’ve spent at the Boston Living Center has caused me to re-examine what life is all about: enjoying the many moments we experience with others.

The members come to the Boston Living Center because they are in need of support around situations that are occurring in their lives such as homelessness, medication adherence, relationship issues and other various pressures, but it is through groups like Bridges, G.L.E.M (Grupo de Latinos en Movimiento), meals, pottery class, beading class and so much more that for that moment the pressures of life do not exist. There is so much that impacts an individual that is HIV positive. This includes stigma, discrimination (although we want to believe it doesn’t happen anymore), the inability to work because of their illness. All of these situations have a major impact on how an individual who is positive views life, but when you have a place of support such as the Boston Living Center you are more likely to progress in a positive manner. Research shows that support groups and a strong support network helps individuals thrive. You are in a group with other people who are going through similar situations, and this is very important when it comes to those who are living with HIV. When someone is diagnosed with HIV, they may begin to isolate themselves or be ostracized by others.

I have witnessed this on many occasions, especially attending Bridges. While in Bridges, I have noticed the weight that is lifted off of so many members as they share and receive feedback from their peers on their struggles. It is moments like this that I am forced to enjoy. The overwhelming feeling of community here at the Boston Living Center is great to witness. There have been many times when I have seen small gestures of help being given, such as a member needing help carrying their take out downstairs and another member is quick to assist them.

Our daily interactions with others are vital to our continuous growth as humans. The strengths perspective is a theory that all individuals have something that is positive on the inside or around that can be used as motivation. A strong support is often an overlooked strength for individuals. The Boston Living Center is a part of many individuals support system.

There is power in our interactions that cause us to feel hopeful, appreciated, grateful or thankful. We are motivated to succeed when we see others succeeding. We are saddened by that which saddens a peer. We feel what others feel when we care for them. It is important for all of us to remember that we are not in this alone. We have each other and it is important that we utilize others when necessary. Marianne Williamson stated it best in her well-known poem entitled “Our Deepest Fear” when she stated the following:

As we let our own light shine,
we consciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.”

So continue to let your light shine and consciously give others the permission to do the same. It is through our interactions with others that we will liberate ourselves from our fears and our presence will automatically liberate others. I challenge you to take the time after you read this to get to know someone new. You just might be the light that they need!