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Feb09

Strategies for forgetting about HIV

Thursday, 09 February 2017 Author // Félix Garmendía Categories // Gay Men, Mental Health, Spirituality, Health, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific

“What do I do to forget HIV?” asks New Yorker Felix Garmendia. And what do YOU do?

Strategies for forgetting about HIV

What do I do to forget HIV?  Interesting question. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and say, “I HAVE HIV but HIV is NOT me”. We all have days when we don’t want to remember we are HIV-positive. When I am confronted with my HIV, I have learned to look at it in the eye and embrace the fact that we are deeply intertwined. I do this every single day.

1.  I DO IT when I wake up in the morning and have to wait for my HIV-positive husband Denis to help me get into my wheelchair. I have been wheelchair bound for four years due to a progressive neuromuscular disease called “Inclusive Body Myositis” that according to my doctors, is not HIV-related but I’ve never been 100% convinced  that that is the case.

2.  I DO IT every morning when I struggle but succeed with my personal grooming rituals. 

3.  I DO IT when I take my HIV meds every morning, afternoon and night.

4.  I DO IT when I comb my beard in order to hide the effects that lipodystrophy has had on my face. At one point awhile back, I developed what I referred to as “hamster pouches” on my cheeks that eventually disappeared but left me with some sagging skin that I have artfully sculpted my beard to cover up.

Yes, I am reminded of HIV all the time, every time I take a look at myself in a mirror I am confronted with that reality. I am confronted daily with the realization that I have HIV BUT do you know what follows that realization? 

Following my daily HIV realization I become surrounded by a positive affirmation, indeed, a mantra of inner peace about it. I know for sure that I’m living WITH HIV. HIV does not consume my life. I have made friends with the acceptance of HIV as a part of me and my life and I have no need to escape that piece of information. I use my relationship with HIV as an example to help others accept the fact that there is life after testing positive for HIV. I guess I’m pretty successful at accepting peacefully my HIV status. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. 

When life hurts, I “WRITE”. For me, writing begins a conversation with myself that always results in a very accurate treatment plan for where I need healing.

I have always loved art and earned my M.A. degree in art history and art education. I used to dream of being a great painter but unfortunately, in spite of my knowledge ABOUT art, I pretty much couldn’t draw a straight line. It was when I realized that I would never paint a masterpiece that would hang in the Louvre that I discovered the art of the “written word”. I paint with words. I write from the perspective of an openly gay, HIV positive, Latino man, and have done so for years. 

Even when I was a teacher in New York City’s East Harlem “barrio”, I was always a proud, openly gay and HIV positive, Latino professional. I used the process of embracing my HIV status to help and maybe even inspire others who may have been struggling. I was a TEACHER by profession and a good one. I refused to waste my teaching talent and my ability to paint “word pictures” to add some comfort and beauty to a struggling world. I will use my word pictures to help diffuse the ugliness of this disease and, in doing so I hope to share hope, strength and inner peace to troubled souls. 

Only through the entire acceptance of HIV as an integral part of my life was I able to heal and attain peace and joy in my life. Healing. I am so lucky to have learned to find joy when I need to. YES, there IS joy in finding just the right bow tie to go with a favorite shirt. There is joy, comfort and pleasure knowing I have a supportive, loving partner who understands what I’m going through (and miraculously KNOWS when I’m craving Puerto Rican food). 

The opportunity to smile and have friends is a joy. The ability to continue to open myself up to a world full of wonder where HIV is NOT a perpetual “buzz kill” is joyful. 

HIV is just ONE of my paint brushes. Not only am I the painter, I’m also the model for my word paintings, sometimes the “master” sometimes the “student”. Not sure I’m ready to call HIV a friend, but much like the guy at work who doesn’t use deodorant and talks too much, I’ve learned to live with it.

I’m Healthy, Inspired and Victorious. Good morning HIV, who’s heart are we going to paint today? 

About the Author

Félix Garmendía

Félix Garmendía

"I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in the 60s. Living in Puerto Rico, and growing up there was a bumpy process. I was very aware of my homosexual identity at a very early age, so fighting the stigma was a very intense journey in my native island.

I love art. The Ponce Art Museum was my shelter since I was in high school. As my first job ever, I guided bilingual tours for locals and tourists from all over the world.

In high school, I was introduced to music and theater, after that, I chose to pursue a B.A. in theater at the U.P.R. ( University of Puerto Rico ). Rio Piedras campus.

In college, I discovered many things about myself. My sexual identity became established, my religious beliefs changed dramatically and my awareness of my role in society became the first and biggest challenge of my life. I became a proud gay man, an atheist and an activist. The political climate in Puerto Rico was very far away from recognizing any kind of gay rights so I knew that I needed a community that I could call my own, and be myself. After several years in Puerto Rico, in my twenties, I moved to N.Y.C. to pursue a Master’s Degree in Art Education and Art Criticism at New York University. I decided to stay in Manhattan. Here I found myself. I discovered my passions, causes to fight for, and the strong community that I always dreamed of. I became a passionate man with strong convictions.

After graduation I became a N.Y.C. school teacher. I taught art in the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem and Upper Manhattan for 15 years.

Sometime in my twenties, I was exposed to HIV. I tested HIV-positive and after a serious depression, came out strong and victorious. I became an AIDS activist. My passions in life became the gears that fed energy into my existence.

Very early in my N.Y.C. years, I became a staunch liberal. All my causes were related. I was trying to survive in a world where not everybody cared if I did or not. Politics made clear who cared for me as a human being.

That’s why I’m very vocal about my postings. Not because I want to convince anybody, but I do it for those who, like me, once needed some direction in life. I want to share the "real" me with those friends with similar beliefs or at least respect for my beliefs.

Today, I still live in Manhattan. I’m legally married to my husband Denis Beale and I’m disabled. My life is not easy, I have several health related conditions that are a real challenge these days. This bring me to another one of my causes. From personal experience, I believe in the legalization of cannabis (marijuana). 

I consider myself a loving, compassionate and spiritual person. I have no patience for bigotry, especially the kind of sanctimonious bigotry that wraps itself in prayer and fake compassion.

This is a synopsis of who I am. It would be really helpful to start introducing myself with my favorite warning. Warning: I’m human, far from perfect, passionate about life, the pursue of difficult answers, and the conviction that we are all equal."

Felix has been featured in The Huffington Post’s Queer Voices; see the piece here

You can follow Felix on Facebook here or here and on twitter @PozHeart

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