I’ve had to deal with a few health complications since the start of the year. HIV and aging is becoming all too real. Or is it just aging, period? Have we over-complicated the experience that lies ahead for us by over-focusing on HIV- related issues?
I don’t want to make the case that HIV doesn’t complicate the aging experience. There is a large body of evidence to suggest it does and we have been conditioned to treat the two conditions as if intertwined. But they are not always equal partners. Likely the two most common conditions older people face – hearing and vision impairments respectively – have nothing to do with HIV, but the HIV-positive will encounter them anyway.
As I write this, the words on the screen in front of me are a bit blurry. One eye sees better than the other; it’s still healing after cataract surgery a few days ago. That means the glasses I wear now are made for pre-surgery eyesight. I can’t get a new prescription for six weeks so I will have to live with an impaired viewing experience through to the end of March. It’s hurting my work and my head hurts too.
It’s sobering too that my hearing isn’t what it once was. Can a visit to the hearing clinic be far away? My partner says it’s needed. I pretend I don’t hear him. Sometimes I’m not pretending.
"Conversations we have in our community, workshops and webinars too, about HIV and aging have been long on HIV, and short on the natural aging process."
And what about energy levels? Is the fact that I crave shorter work days and a lighter schedule a consequence of living with HIV or do all folks my age experience something very similar?
My point is this, I think. Conversations we have in our community, workshops and webinars too, about HIV and aging have been long on HIV, and short on the natural aging process. Now I’m there, I feel a bit short-changed, unprepared for what comes naturally.
Irrational maybe? That may be an unpopular view, one not shared by many, but then I’m used to being out on a limb. I’m no stranger to blunt talk, even before advancing years turned my crankiness volume up to eleven. My last column on HIV aging (you can read it here) got hate mail, after all. Such is life in the slow lane.
If my premise is correct though - that our big foe is aging itself first, HIV or the socio economic factors that travel with it second - who else is speaking up for that view? Advocates tend to be younger and not speaking from that all-important life experience – yet. It’s the dreaded “over 55 syndrome”, the assumption that 56-year olds know about this stuff and can speak for me. When it comes to the elderly, the value of the lived experience is paramount but often missing. That needs to change. Think of it as a need for GIPA for old folks.
Trouble is, aging makes this difficult. How many 80-year olds can stay the course, or seek to avoid retirement? We are not all Larry Kramers, nor do we want to be. Retirement, though I have yet to experience it, is reportedly a nice alternative to a lifetime of fighting people.
I’d love to find out.