Two and one-half years ago in August of 1999, I received a diagnosis of HIV. The news of my HIV-positive status changed my life forever. I, like many people, almost immediately got sick.
It wasn't so much the knowledge of having HIV, but a combination of events. My health took a steady dive and over the next few months I found myself in hospitals more that I was out of them. I stopped working almost immediately. I was incapable of the daily basic elements of self-care and moved into a support living program in Chicago to assist me with my chores and activities. I was on the edge of life and consciousness and wasn't sure if I would see the millennium.
My illness lasted longer than I had ever anticipated and my knowledge, perspective and body went through many changes. One of which was the decision to leave my home and friends in Chicago, and move to beautiful, warm and sunny San Diego. Thinking back now, I am bewildered and amazed at the strength and will that allowed me to drive myself halfway across the country. By the time my first anniversary of diagnosis rolled around, I was a new resident of San Diego, California.
At first my support circle was extremely limited. I was on disability and as I started to recover both physically and mentally, my awareness, restlessness and isolation grew more and more. That's when I discovered San Diego POZabilities (SDPOZabilities).
SDPOZabilities is a non-political, non-spiritual, non-profit organization dedicated to providing a fun, safe, healthy drug- and alcohol-free social setting for men with HIV/AIDS in the San Diego area, in order to promote and enhance the overall wellness of its members.
In many ways, this group of men has changed my life forever. They provide me with an avenue to meet others in a relaxed environment away from all of the medical jargon and clinics and yet still be around others living with HIV in a comfortable, nurturing environment. They are my extended family of sorts, allowing me to find the strength and desire to not sit around and wallow in self-pity or focus on the negativity that this life sometimes brings. They help me focus on living. The group has opened up an outlet for me to enjoy my newfound health. In all honesty, SDPOZabilities makes all the difference. Like all things, you have to make an effort. It's a two-way street.
We have two coffee hours at the Other Side Coffeehouse and volleyball on Sunday in Balboa Park. It gives us a chance to socialize, chat and feel welcome. I find that I look forward to these times of laughter, camaraderie, and the feeling of belonging that is sometimes rare with the isolation that having HIV can cause.
Additionally, the group schedules low or no-cost events during the week such as bonfires, potlucks, bowling, movie nights at members' homes, and arts and crafts projects. Sometimes we enjoy theater, kayaking, camping and hiking around San Diego County, and on occasion day-trip getaways to Palm Springs or other nearby destinations for the more adventurous. The board even finds a way to pool resources for people on disability or those who have low-incomes so that no one is turned away for lack of money. All activities are conducted with a strong commitment to keep the identity of the members confidential. There is a strictly confidential e-mail list. A calendar of events is distributed to many of the HIV/AIDS organizations in the city, which allows people to pick it up randomly.
As a new board member for the group, I am energized and eager to see the eclectic group of men at each of the numerous events held throughout the year. I'm empowered by the new faces, and find the honesty and integrity of the group refreshing. SDPOZabilities has grown from a great idea to a great number of men reaching out to lift each other's spirit and overall sense of well being. We are being approached by other cities for information on starting a local group, and are eager to help them.
And last, but not least, starting this spring, with the sponsorship of Hillcrest Pharmacy located in the Hillcrest neighborhood, we will have the first self-identified HIV-affected softball team in the America's Finest City Softball League (AFCSL). The league, I am told, is nearly, if not already, the largest gay-identified softball league in the nation.
SDPOZabilities, and all that the group offers, has empowered me with the desire to actively pursue a lifestyle and survive in my newly developing life with HIV. Please visit us at www.sandiegopozabilities.net, with links to HIV-positive social groups around the country.
Shane Doyle is a board member of San Diego POZabilities.
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