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From Being Gay in Gang Life to Dealing With HIV and Mental Health

An Interview With Michael Storm -- Part of the Series This Positive Life

October 14, 2012

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So when you started treatment you were like, "I can't work anymore."

When I started treatment, it was "Okay I'm going to focus on my health. Period. I'm going to look at my mental health and try to get it better. And I'm going to look at my physical healthy and try to get it better." And I just looked at disability as being an option so that I could focus all of my attention to what was disabling me.

I want to go back to your mental health. What were some of the things that were causing you to be depressed? Was it past trauma, does depression run in your family?

I don't know about it running in my family. I'm not that close to my family. I think I was more frustrated with my family more than anything. They were a huge impact on my happiness. And, unfortunately, [laughs] it was not that they were not close. I think what I wanted to do is, I wanted too much for them that they didn't want for themselves. And that was frustrating me. So I chose to detach myself from that. And when I started to do that, and distance myself from them, that's when my mental health started improving. That and just acknowledging some things about myself with the help of my psychologist. You know, I definitely sought out help. My internal medicine doctor, my primary doctor, referred me to one of his peers and he is a good doctor and he worked with me. I was seeing him every week, once a week. And now it's like once a month. But it's taken well over two years.

Does your family know that you're positive?

Yes.

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And what was that like, when you told them?

Well, I don't know how it impacted them, because at that point in time is when I was having the nervous breakdown. I quit working and I was gonna go into treatment and I just pretty much walked in on the family and said, "Okay, this is the situation; I'm positive, I'm not healthy -- mentally or physically. And you know there's gonna be some changes around here starting with my income, starting with my responsibilities and you're just gonna have to deal with it, because I can't keep it from you."

And what did they say?

They were very quiet, they didn't respond too much to it. My mother said, "Well, that damn disease," because my brother who is ten years older than I am is also HIV positive. And he's been diagnosed now for ... I think it's about 15 years -- maybe longer. So, my mother was used to dealing with my brother. But I'm the youngest of seven and so she said ...

"That damn disease."

Yeah. Yeah.

It must be devastating for her to have two children that are HIV positive.

I don't know how devastating it is, because I can't attempt to be in her shoes, but I imagine what anybody wants for their family. They want better things than ... [B]eing struck with a disease is not something that I guess anyone would want for anybody else in their family. Since all of this came about now my relationship with her is, I think, a little stronger. She seems optimistic, because she sees a positive change and she just keeps reinforcing, "Make sure you take care of yourself," "Don't work too hard," "Don't stress yourself out."

What was your childhood like? Did you grow up in Illinois, Chicago? Where are your parents from?

Sure, I was brought over here from Mexico, when I was about seven or eight years old. So before I was brought here from Mexico, I was actually growing up very out. I was gay, I knew I was gay. And I didn't care who knew it. That went for my neighbors, my nephews, my cousins, everybody. But, when I came to the United States it was kind of like a culture shock. And I went back in the closet. I still had gay feelings, but I sort of went with the flow of what the other children were doing. And, well, I grew up on the west side of Chicago in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. And that included growing into gangs and going into them and being part of the group. And stealing, drug dealing.

So how did you get out of that?

I came out of the closet.

Oh, okay. [Laughs.]

Yeah, when I came out of the closet, I actually, I was starting to deal with my sexuality more, because I was a teenager. And in starting to go out to the underground clubs and meet people, I met this older gentleman that -- we liked each other -- was gonna let me have a birthday party at his place, and I had a coming out party. So, I invited all of the gang bangers, I invited everybody from my neighborhood, new and old friends. When I was inviting them, I said, "You know, there's gonna be gay people there, there's gonna be drag queens, there's gonna be gang bangers, when you come just know your place." And you know, well the ones that came had fun, the ones that didn't come just stood in the neighborhood and gossiped, "Hey, Michael is a fag, Michael is a fag," and so I was like the local cocksucker after that. It was all right, they said it in fun. They said it in fun. I was more surprised at how comfortable the majority of the gang bangers were. My ex-partners would just look at me and laugh and say, "Hey, cocksucker, how you doing?" And I was, "Hey motherfucker, how you doing?" You know, but I wasn't scared of them, they weren't scared of me.

So you didn't have a threat of violence in your neighborhood or anything?

Oh no, I, I was too tight with the older guys, that ran things. I wasn't worried that there was going to be some type of backlash for anything. No, I wasn't threatened because I was gay. I wasn't threatened for quitting the gang and I think they were probably happy. "He doesn't wanna be with us anymore, it's good cause he's gay."

And how did your parents react to your sexuality?

I never gave them a chance, but I grew up mostly with my mother. And with my mother, I just pretty much never dealt with, never let her have a say in it, so to speak. I just pretty much came out.

Who else had you told about your status? Between being diagnosed and then kind of getting the mental health care and the treatment?

Nobody.

Nobody.

Nobody. It was something that I was dealing with all on my own. And I found that it was such a hard thing to deal with all by yourself. You know, there were so many times that I was going through some hard times professionally, and I wanted to share part of my concerns, part of the things that bothered me, that made me feel wanting to want to reach out to people. It was so, so hard. There were times that I used to just break down all by myself into tears and it was really hard.

You were lonely?

I wasn't lonely, I needed someone to share what I was going through. I think if I would have had the support group that I attend, that you and I met through, right now, I think if I would have had that, if I would have started treatment for my mental health and for my physical health earlier, I don't think I would have gone on disability. I don't think I would have had the breakdown that I did. If I would have had the support that I now created for myself.

Now I hear a lot of people say the same thing, I just wish I had, you know, went to support groups and had certain things and didn't keep it in, because really your life does get so much better when you start opening yourself up and getting the support that you need. So then let's talk about when you started going to support groups, how did you find them, how did you know? How did you know which one to choose for you?

Well, ironically enough at some point in my life, I worked for People with AIDS. When I was younger, and working with People with AIDS and living with AIDS I had friends that were HIV positive and had gone into independent living once again. And I reached out to one friend and he said, "Oh, you know, what you need to do is this, this, this. And there's this group that I used to go to that they would be able to help in accomplishing these things for yourself." So, he said, "Let me give you the phone number, they're located here," and that's how I started the first thing I did before reaching out though, was to go see a therapist. And at that point in time, though, I wouldn't have been able to, I was so far gone depression-wise that I wouldn't have been able to function with the support groups. It took me -- September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April -- eight months of therapy for me to be able to step outside of my comfort that was very limited at that time. And get the support or start the support that I needed.

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