When I heard about Justin B. Terry Smith’s, “Write a Letter to HIV” Campaign at Thebody.com, I was eagerly ready to express my feelings about my HIV in a letter. As a writer I feel it’s important for all people, positive and negative, to express their feelings about a difficult topic as such. The power of words helps to educate and empower others more than one may think. Below is the letter I’ve written to my HIV that I’ve extended and converted to a blog post.
May I present my friend, HIV . . .
I know what many are thinking with the title. It’s probably something like questioning the validity of equating HIV with Friend. If HIV were to take the form of a human I would assume that others picture him as anything but desirable, given the nature of society’s stance towards the virus. However, when I look at the HIV inside me I see a young man, roughly the same age as myself, whose outward appearance is healthy and vibrant. This is because I believe he’s a mirror-image of my exterior self whose life has unnoticeably changed. I see HIV as a friend, an unexpected friend, but a friend nonetheless.
Naturally when we were first acquainted two years ago I felt differently about him; I cried, I contemplated and I even hyperventilated. My idea of spending the rest of my life side-by-side with him involved disaster, falling victim to my nightmare of me drowning in the ocean while unsuccessfully treading up to a non-existant surface. Conversely, as time went on and my self-pity did zilch for my moral, it dawned on me that nothing in my life had drastically changed like I anticipated. Subsequently, while I made the decision to turn a negative into a positive (strike the pun) I searched for reasons why I was afraid of my connected partner in crime from the start.
To do so I reanalyzed my past. I discovered that the biggest nightmare didn’t rest in my oceanic dreams, rather in the physical world. Everything I was taught to fear in HIV was playing against my scrutinizing feelings towards my own HIV and adding to the panic within myself and mankind alike.
I began to ask the question, “Why am I hiding my HIV from everyone?” He was not the same HIV that the world had envisioned, because I felt marginally well. I was taught to stay away from HIV’s older sister, AIDS, because she was the one who cost lives in the earlier days. AIDS should be receiving the heat for the precedent she’s created; yet many, particularly in the younger generations, continue to bully AIDS’s sibling. I guess it’s just human nature to pick on the weaker beings.
I can’t blame him, only myself, for his presence into my life. It’s not his fault that he was introduced in the midst of the AIDS crisis, resulting in a negative categorization by default. Just like any living cell his way of survival is involuntary; his only means of doing so is through our cells. Furthermore, why should my HIV resemble a demon merely because of public opinion? For there are individuals out there who think I deserve my HIV? Well, the joke’s on them because HIV isn’t killing me. He’s prolonging me.
Many are angry at the number of people whose lives were cut short by his sister. Many unaffected by HIV brand him, wanting nothing to do with people like me who are related to him. And even in our own advocating community, where thousands of courageous people fight every day to help the less fortunate, we fall short on common solutions. Failing to join together as one results in added stigma and lack of attention to a very much existing, and easily overlooked, epidemic. So, for the name AIDS has created for HIV, I apologize.
Which brings me back to HIV being a physical friend; would I dismiss him if he was in a wheelchair because I only associate with flawless people? Would I ignore him because he was difficult to deal with every now and again? If I ignored him I’d only be doing the real me more harm than good. We are connected with no means of parting, so it’s my duty to nurture him as no one else will. So long as I care for both of us every day he will leave me, and anyone else I invite into my intimacies, alone.
In the end, I choose to hold my HIV’s hand and we will both learn to share a household together. That’s when I apologized to my HIV (again) for selfishly focusing on what I thought I lost and not on what he’s actually given me - MY LIFE.
With that, we agreed to work together as one, breaking the chains of stigma, fear and ignorance. I also wanted to prove to the world that although he has altered my life, in retrospect no significant changes caused my daily routine to be compromised. In the early days AIDS patients knocked on death’s door within weeks. Today my HIV allows me to hold a full time job, eat healthy and hang out with friends over a glass of bourbon - just the way things were when I was dating HIV-negative.
It’s great to sit here and discuss how HIV hasn’t changed my life. But, it’s important to point out that some things have changed; I’ve learned to appreciate my relationships with family and friends. I’ve accepted that there will be tough days to come - and such is life. I’m still waiting for the world to prove me wrong in that the cure (and I know it’s out there) is not hiding behind politics for the sake of the almighty dollar. Yet, the best change is that there is plenty of life in me and my HIV left to conquer goals as well as setting new ones.
HIV wants to live, just like I do. He is a high maintenance friend, a nuisance and a headache at times. He is needy, always hungry for medications and needs to hear the constant reminder of how special he is via the quarterly checkups.
Still, I want to thank him for giving me my life back. Forcing me to take care of my compromised system gives me the privilege to control both our lives. Because of which I will probably outlive the life I would’ve continued had I stayed with negative.
Should a cure one day be revealed I’m sure HIV will have no hard feelings. He’s a smart cookie and I know he’ll find a new way to survive, without the need for humans, somehow.
Until then, here’s to our life together.
Christopher was diagnosed HIV Positive January 21, 2010. He aspires to live in Los Angeles where he will become a TV Personality, writer and role model for all HIV-infected and affected individuals. Until then, he resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where he’s completing what he refers to as “his future best seller.”
Ways to find Christopher:
LinkedIn: “Christopher Myron”