This post was written by BLC guest blogger, Rob Quinn
In 1999, I was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS), a form of of skin cancer common to people with AIDS. Having previously been diagnosed HIV-positive in 1993, I now had an AIDS diagnosis. Short turn disability ensued, turning into long-term disability when I suffered a heart attack related to chemotherapy treatment for KS.
I was not prepared for the darkness that followed. My professional identity stripped away from me, I lost the sense of life purpose I so valued and fell prey to addiction. In early 2007, during an appointment with my nutritionist, I remember her mentioning that I needed to become “accountable.” I knew at the exact moment in time that my nutritionist meant not only being accountable in terms of my nutrition, but being accountable in my life! The word “accountability” resonated with me; after trudging down a long, bumpy road, I became sober later in 2007. That was my turning point: the beginning of my recovery, the discovery of my resilience, and a reinvention of myself. I was starting to think about a life purpose to improve chances of a longer, healthier life.
In addition to the emotional and psychological benefits, having a sense of purpose is correlated with lower stress, better health outcomes and an improved overall sense of well-being. Maintaining a sense of personal control — even in the face of difficult situations — improves health outcomes. In this guest post, “purpose” refers to work–which includes work, work reentry, volunteerism and/or pursuit of higher education. I truly believe that we can all overcome and grow from life’s hurdles when we learn to see them differently.
New advances in HIV treatment have effectively made HIV a manageable chronic disease. People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), like me, who maintain a positive outlook on our future, may manage stress better than those who do not, leading to improved coping behaviors and optimal health outcomes. Today, early diagnosis and powerful HIV drugs mean we are living long, healthy and productive lives. With proper care and treatment, many PLWHA lead normal lives, including work. Most PLWHA can continue working at their current job, look for new employment opportunities in their chosen field or even consider a career change. And with improvement in morbidity and mortality, PLWHA, including long-term survivors, are increasingly contemplating a return to the workplace.
However, despite compelling reasons for workforce (re)entry, a number of issues and concerns impact HIV-positive individuals transition from disability/unemployment to the workplace, and may actually contribute to overall declines in health outcomes. These issues may include disclosing one’s HIV status, the reality of HIV-related prejudice and discrimination, the fear of stress, and the challenge of balancing health, appointments, connection to services, identity and relationships.
In my opinion, the working HIV-positive community is an underserved community when it comes to accessing some services, particularly support services. Many local AIDS Services Organizations (ASO) currently operate weekdays, 9am-5pm, making it difficult if not impossible to access services. Although many of us may be virally suppressed, are retained in medical care and have stable housing – and are therefore not considered “vulnerable” – we do have needs. Because of this, do ASOs really know what the needs of this population in our community are if they never see or hear from us?
Recognizing this gap in services, The Boston Living Center’s (BLC) BLC Academy, a collection of workshops on job readiness, computer classes and a HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) test prep program for people living with HIV, will launch Working POZ. Working POZ is an evening biweekly peer-led (by me) support group for HIV-positive people to talk about balancing work, health and identity. The group meets the 2nd and 4th Monday of every month starting February 22nd from 6:00-8:00pm, with dinner being served from 6-6:30pm. To sign up or for more information, call/text (857) 400-9052, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by the BLC front desk.
Working while living with HIV/AIDS presents its own challenges, but for those of us who can, it pays off—and not just in the bank account. People who live with purpose are able to find meaning in the things that happen to us…hence my reinvention as an HIV/AIDS activist and educator. With “my OCD”: not obsessive compulsive disorder, but rather Optimism, Confidence and Determination, I will continue to improve the quality of life in the HIV/AIDS community, including my own, by raising awareness and reducing HIV-related stigma.
How will you inspire a world of good?