“It may be hard for some to understand, but far from feeling like a victim, I feel blessed. Sure, I would rather there was no such thing as HIV but there is and one day I contracted it. That's mine. It's a part of my life and it informs my life in ways that I love. From adversity, opportunity.”
Those words come from a column I wrote some time ago about the first anniversary of my HIV diagnosis and the reasons why I found it something to celebrate and not to mourn. I find it a bit hard to fathom that so much time could have flown since I celebrated the first anniversary on October 14, 2015, but it has. My second anniversary has now come and gone.
For me, anniversaries seem to inevitably be a time for taking stock. So much has happened in the course of this last year, some of it only affecting me directly while other events are game-changers for anyone living with HIV.
So, with the sun getting high in the sky and my editor bugging me for an article, let me waste no more time in enumerating what were some of the main points of interest!
On the personal front, one of the biggies was that I finally quit smoking . . . tobacco. And boy, do I feel great for having gotten it over with! I feel stronger, more energetic and my senses of taste and smell are back. Best thing I could have done. Wish I'd done it ages ago. In fact now I can't quite believe I actually used to smoke the way I did.
Now I want to get completely away from smoking pot as well (please note: not away from using pot, just from smoking it) so I'll be looking for a new medical supplier of that commodity soon. One that stocks oils and lots of edibles, unlike my last one, which never had any. It's become important for me to do this because I have found, through experimenting with smoking/not smoking over extended periods of time, that my use of that intake method has been affecting circulation to my legs, particularly the left one. At worst, walking becomes painful and difficult.
Also on the personal front, training: three levels of TTOA (Turning To One Another) and one level of PLDI (Positive Leadership Development Institute) training thus far have all helped me in some degree in my involvement at the AIDS Service Organization (ASO) in my immediate community, where I hope we can achieve some positive change, particularly in terms of making anonymous HIV testing available in our region on a sustained basis. And there are other things. Implementing the principles of GIPA and her somewhat redundant but no less charming sister, MEPA, throughout the operations of the ASO comes to mind.
I also have become an assistant editor here at PositiveLite.com – and let me tell you, that has been and continues to be an education involving several learning curves, some of them fairly steep. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my dad was a journalist for most of his life, but I'm a strong believer that people have a right to accurate information from trustworthy (read: independent) sources. PositiveLite.com certainly fits that bill and it isn't a crowded field. Check out our vision statement, here. I'm honored, intimidated, enthralled and all shook up on a regular basis to be a part of this team and I am grateful for the chance to help keep this voice independent and strong.
On a less personal front, the HIV continuum in this country saw a couple of game changers: Canada adopted 90-90-90 and the HIV sector eventually found out.
Also, we saw (and PositiveLite.com were early Canadian endorsers of) the Prevention Access Campaign's Undetectable = Uninfectious campaign, arguably the most exciting, liberating news for people living with HIV to come down the pike since the advent of antiretroviral therapy, though it turns out that some peers aren't quite on the same page yet. But getting the information out that people living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load cannot pass on the virus sexually is what this campaign's all about and what we see is that by and large, once people get it, well – they get it.
So although it's been somewhat disconcerting to witness the degree of self-stigma, shame and sex negativity some of my peers live with and which I believe has driven a good deal of the denial we've seen, we now as never before have the basis to challenge the stigma we all complain of wherever we find it.
Please note: I am undetectable and uninfectious – no organization that believes otherwise can claim to represent my interests.
There's actually been lots more, but these have been some of the standouts. It's said that time flies when you're having fun and I have in fact been having a hell of a lot of fun, manic though it's been. Which is all to the good really, as I worked out for myself long before this that the only way I can win in this life is to enjoy it to the hilt, if that makes any sense to you. It's taken me a long time to learn to be good to myself and besides, whose HIV adventure is this, anyway?
So I'm happy to be able to say that two years on, those words up at the top still apply. And for that matter I still never wish I were negative or that I'd never contracted the virus. HIV and I are organisms that coexist in the world. One day our paths met. We all have different paths and mine took me to where I am now. It's okay – I never wish I were someone else.
I refuse it.
So I'm still excited, still learning, still living, still growing and still fucking my brains out whenever it feels right, as is my birthright and the birthright of every sexed being under the sky. I'm still celebrating.
And I sure hope you are too.