Living in the Afterlife With HIV
November 30, 2012
While all of this was taking place, I was working in the entertainment industry at the high-powered William Morris Agency. I had ambitions. It was a small-town-boy-makes-good story and I was moving up in the world. I was an Agent's Assistant working in the Music Department. I had a background in TV and Motion Picture Talent from another agency, and I was slated to move into a newly created department called Music Crossover. I would be representing the big A-list music clients to get them TV and movie deals. This function came on the heels of Whitney Houston's success in The Bodyguard. I had spent 10 years positioning myself for this and I was just inches away from my goal. Now all that had changed ... or rather, I changed. I started taking a good hard look at the people I worked with -- not the grunts like me, but the agents, the managers, the partners, the people who made it -- the people who were successful doing what I had been working so hard to do. I'd always been painfully aware of how rude, arrogant, pretentious and self-absorbed these people were (this was the entertainment industry after all). But what I suddenly understood was their rudeness and otherwise miserable affect wasn't just a circumstance of their success -- it was an essential component of it. You basically had to be an asshole in order to make it in Hollywood (or at least that facet of the business). I guess when it was before, their horrid personalities didn't get to me because I didn't believe I had to emulate them to effectively do my job. Now in the after, I realized that, in order to be one of them, I had to behave like them too, and I couldn't do it. I didn't have the capacity to be that person. I didn't want to die an asshole. Suddenly, my dream of the glamorous Hollywood life felt neither glamorous nor dreamy. My solution was clear. My choice was simple. I walked away. I just got up, and walked away from all of it and I never looked back.
That decision was the first in a long line of choices that snowballed into the person I was becoming. It was the start of what I had accepted to be a meaningful albeit short life. If I only had 10 years to live, then I was going to make that 10 years count for something. I'm a survivor. Even before all of this, my life wasn't easy or privileged by any measure. I won't go into detail here, but suffice it to say I had already overcome a hell of a lot of adversity in my short life. As cliché as it might sound, I became determined to live my remaining life to the fullest, to enjoy it, to savor it, to take in and experience every moment that I could. I started getting up early in the morning and going on hikes to the top of the Hollywood Hills just to watch the sun rise over the city. I threw every stressful and toxic friendship out of my life (which didn't leave me with many) and spent my time in the company of good-hearted, good-natured people. I wasn't doing all of this just for my mind and spirit; it was also for my physical health. I learned that staving off HIV meant pouring all of my energy and focus onto maintaining healthy habits of living. That meant eating right, getting plenty of sleep, managing my stress, exercising, etc.
Around three years into the after, I was approached by my doctor about volunteering for a clinical trial. There were drugs in development that were designed to suppress the HIV virus and they wanted to know if I would participate in the study. I figured if there was a chance they could prolong my life by a few years, then it would be worth the effort and the side effects, so I agreed. The effort was minimal, but the side effects were not pleasant. Some pills made me nauseous. Others made me horribly lethargic. Some had to be taken with food, some on an empty stomach. One even caused me to pass a kidney stone.
Little by little, trial by trial, the medications kept improving. The side effects were fewer and eventually non-existent. It wasn't just the side effects that improved. So did the viability of the drugs. People weren't getting sick anymore. Opportunistic infections were no longer the specter they once were. The funerals became few and far between. It was the end of 1999, just before the new millennium, that my doctor informed me that my viral load (the measurement of HIV reproduction in my body) was undetectable and my T-Cell count (the strength of my immune system) was about that of what it was in the before. The medications I was on were working, they had no side effects whatsoever, and I was not developing a resistance to them. Coupled with the fact that I hadn't yet experienced any noteworthy opportunistic infections as a result of my HIV, this news meant that I was not going to die a premature death because of HIV. I am going live just as long as I would have before all of this happened.
That's when it hit me. It was at that moment that I realized I wasn't cursed with a disease. No, I was blessed with a gift. You see, I was driven by the fear of death to step outside myself and strip away all of the vain, self-indulgent and meaningless pursuits and acquisitions that I centered my life around. I was compelled to seek out that self-actualization -- that connection to God and my higher power -- a connection that most people don't make until they're on their deathbed. My perceived imminent death pushed me to reconcile not only the mistakes Ive made, but be at peace with the wrongs done to me. Then, with all of that insight, and peaceful resolve -- with my feet grounded in mother earth and a connection with my higher power, I was given back my life and longevity. I consider myself so very lucky, because I get to feel that end-of-life peace that comes with mortality, and I now have my whole natural lifetime to enjoy it.
Had I not gotten this pink slip from God laying me off from life, I would probably now be a chain-smoking, arrogant pretentious Hollywood asshole, hating my life and hating who I had become. And the miracle wasn't just what happened, but also when it happened. Had HIV arrived earlier in my life, the life-sustaining medications that I'm now on would likely not have been developed in time to stave off HIV and prevent it from becoming AIDS, and I would now be dead. Had it arrived later than it did, the medications would have already existed, rendering HIV nonlethal, and none of this metamorphosis, born of my perceived imminent death, would have taken place. The timing was as perfect as the purpose.
Twenty years ago this year began my journey of transformation through a place I call the after. Now, I'm living the after-life.
About Jeffery: "I'm one of the nicest guys I've ever met. That's one personal attribute of which I'm most proud. I've had what feels like 100 years of life experience stuffed into a 46-year (so far) life span, with about 15 seconds of actual childhood as a foundation. I'm happily committed to my partner of nine years. At present, I work at Founders Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles. I'm attending classes to get my bachelor's degree and taking writing courses on the side. Where I go from here, I don't know, but I know it's where God wants me to be."
This article was provided by TheBody.
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