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!

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An Interview With Ma Quinn Part II

Written by BLC Prevention and Education Specialist Caitlin O’Gallagher

This is the second portion of my interview with Pat Quinn, BLC member Rob Quinn’s mother. In the first half of our conversation, Pat shared with me her experience learning about Rob’s diagnosis and what she finds most inspiring about Rob’s work as an advocate for people living with HIV. If you missed the first post, catch up here! Here is the second part of our conversation:

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Pat had explained over and over again that she just accepted her son for who he was, regardless of his diagnosis, and was there with him through thick and thin. When I asked Pat where she gathers the strength to be such a pillar of support for Rob and his four siblings, she commented that she thinks she was just born to be a mother and doesn’t know how to be anything but loving and supportive to her family.

Pat spoke about families who write off their children when they come out as gay or disclose their HIV diagnosis and reflected on many of Rob’s friends who had that exact experience, and for whom she became “Ma Quinn.” Pat mentioned that she connected, through Facebook, with another mother of a man diagnosed with HIV and that they keep in touch periodically. She shared that she remembered the mother having almost the same reaction to her son’s diagnosis as Pat did to Rob’s: it didn’t matter because he was still her son. Pat remembers being struck by their similar, supportive reactions. We talk so much here at the BLC about the importance of social support and having people in your life that you can talk to about the good stuff, the bad stuff, and all the stuff in between. It’s clear that Pat is able to be a great trusted support for Rob, as well as many of his friends. Both Rob and Pat will be the first ones to tell you how important they have found it to be able to lean on one another. As is clear from Pat’s story, the importance of trusted supports and confidants – whether they are your mother, a friend, an old co-worker, or even your mailman – when receiving an HIV diagnosis and living a healthy life with HIV simply can’t be understated.

In that same vein, I asked Pat what kind of advice she would give to a parent or family member who has a loved one who was recently diagnosed with HIV. Pat was sure to say that she can’t give universal advice because everyone is different and will handle the situation differently, but if she could say one thing it would be, “that’s your child – he’s your baby – and you should love him unconditionally no matter what.” She has seen what her unwavering support has provided Rob and realizes how essential it is.

Pat and I ended our conversation by her sharing with me some of who she is and what she likes to do in her spare time. Pat loves to read, especially when it comes to the newest literature on HIV as well as cardiovascular health, she enjoys watching TV, doing puzzle books, and playing games on her iPad. Pat’s story as a mother of someone living and thriving with HIV was inspiring and really reminded me the importance of having supportive people in your life who are willing to stand by you as you fight the stigma, stand up for what you believe in, and just be whoever it is that you want to be.

Thank you SO much to Pat and Rob for your honesty, openness, and willingness to fight the stigma!

An Interview with “Ma Quinn”

Written by BLC Prevention and Education Specialist Caitlin O’Gallagher

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Pat Quinn, BLC member and guest blogger Rob Quinn’s mother. When I originally spoke with Rob about becoming a guest blogger for the BLC Soup, he came fully prepared with a ton of really interesting ideas for blog topics, one of which was to share the perspective of a family member of someone living with HIV. Having had the pleasure of learning about Rob’s story as a person living with HIV, I thought it would be invaluable to hear the story from another angle, from the person who Rob calls “his rock,” his mother Pat. Here is a look into the first half of our conversation:

Once we got our introductions out of the way, Pat began by reflecting on her experience of when Rob first told her about his HIV diagnosis. Her initial reaction was shock, she said, but regardless the first words out of her mouth were, “no matter what, I love you and you’re my son.” While Pat’s support for Rob was unwavering from the start, she reflected that misinformation and stigma from friends and family were not uncommon initially. Pat shared, “In the beginning, people would say how you could catch HIV from drinking out of cups and what not and people were always making cracks about gay people and people living with HIV.” She reflected that “so many of his friends called me ‘Ma’ because half of their mothers and families wanted nothing to do with them… Still not many people come out publicly about it.” Pat shared that things have definitely gotten better, especially with their family and friends, as things are “all good now.” However, in the very beginning stigma wasn’t unfamiliar to the Quinns, as is the same for many of our BLC members and their families. Despite Pat’s reflections being many years old, people receiving HIV diagnoses today often still face the same stigma that Pat remembers.

When I asked Pat what was most inspiring about all that Rob has done in his life, specifically the advocacy work that he has done for people living with HIV, she immediately shared that so many people want to hide, but Rob just goes out and shows his face as a person living with HIV. “I wouldn’t do that,” she said, “I give him so much credit.” She said that at first she was hesitant but then she said, “You know what? Go ahead,” because she knew Rob could make a difference and be a role model – plus she was just the kind of mother that chose to support him in everything he did.

When I asked her further about Rob being open about his status to help others, she mentioned that for a long time, when Rob was living in Springfield, he worked with youth at Commerce High School who were struggling with their sexual orientation and, for some of them, their HIV status. Pat shared that Rob went there and showed kids that it’s okay to be who you are and come out to the world as just that. Pat reflected that Rob always says if he can help just one person then he will be happy. When I asked Pat how she responds when Rob shares that, she said, “I’m just so proud.” Putting a face to HIV and being open about his status enables Rob to fight stigma every single day as well as serve as a support and role model for so many people, including those he may not even know personally. Even though Rob received his diagnosis and shared it with Pat years ago, stigma still remains. Rob’s willingness to put a face to HIV, and Pat’s willingness to support him in doing so, are both just as important today as they were two decades ago.

Tune back in next week to read the second half of my conversation with Pat!