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.
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:
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.