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Personal Perspective

Moving Forward

Summer 2004

I must say first and foremost that I'm blessed through all life's experiences.

Living and appreciating life -- I wonder if I would have really enjoyed life the way I do now, being an HIV-positive woman at the age of 54. I did not ever think that would be me -- well, it is. It's been 10 years now, and life goes on.

I live a good healthy, positive life and plan to see 55. And more smiles.

I have my up and downs, like not wanting to take my medications because my stomach gets bigger or I'm going out and don't want to have to keep running to the bathroom because of side effects. I just need a break from the everyday reminders that I'm HIV-positive. I take a day at a time and appreciate life a day at a time, not thinking about my medical condition 24/7. It works for me.

I said a long time ago that my higher power didn't bring me this far to let me go now.

I have the strong support of family and friends who continue to be there for me. I really couldn't do it alone. On the days that I don't want to take medication or even go out, my phone will ring. It's one of my peers reaching out to me for support.

Loving life and wanting to live.

That wasn't the case when I first found out. I thought I would die, like yesterday. Then I met people who were positive for a longer time and were living with it. I remember a friend telling me where to go for education on HIV, support, guidance, empowerment, so that I would be able to live longer and would want to live as long as God allowed. I've connected myself to a whole lot of agencies for HIV-positive people. I keep up on new information concerning HIV and the new medications. I like to read about long-term survivors. Living with this virus would be harder for me if I didn't have the resources that I do.

A lot of us who are HIV-positive say that the virus is living with me, I'm not living with it. I'm glad to say I've been undetectable for a very long time. Can't stop now. Enjoying life too much.

I find it is very important to connect with people who are living their lives and not feeling sorry for themselves. We laugh, we go out, we play, we cry, we have our fears, we wonder. We still go on because we want to live. Some have moved away, some got married, some went back to school. Some are gone now. They will always be in my heart. A lot of times something they said will come to mind, like: "Take your medication. They don't work for me, so you're blessed."

Music and singing. Games. Conversations, connecting. Moving on and on.

Yes, I have HIV, but I will not let it dictate or run my life. I have never been in the hospital because of HIV. I was sick only one time, when my T-cells went below 200. I am happy to say that I haven't felt that sick since. I chose to get on meds with the help of my doctor. Had side effects until I found the meds that work for me. Glad that I still have a lot of choices in regards to medication. There are now a lot out there to choose from if I need to.

Showing up everyday or as close to every day as your body allows. It will tell you when to rest. I listen.

Annette, a dear friend, introduced me to yoga. I'm so grateful to her because since I started doing it four years ago, my body has gotten so much better. I used to ache every day. I was overweight -- not good. So exercising was one of the best things that happened to me. I do tai chi, get massages, acupuncture…

Living with HIV isn't as bad as seeing the World Trade Center come down in front of your eyes. Had to go to therapy again. I'm still here, though.

I get aches, I get pains in my feet sometimes, I keep on pushing, learning yoga to take the pain away. Better than staying home and doing nothing and feeling sorry for myself. That doesn't work for me. I got my driver's license at the age of 50. I got a car. Now I travel long distances.

Can't forget the day a friend of mine gave me a kitten. He was four weeks old, that's my Spunky and now he's six years old and having a pet has enhanced my life.

I even had locks -- long ones -- for 13 years. They were salt and pepper. Just this year, I made a change by cutting and changing the color. I'm a changed person and I wanted a 360 degree change. What a difference.

Going through menopause now -- hot flashes, mood swings -- do breathing exercises, and they pass. Found out I was diabetic the same time I found out I had HIV -- learned how to live with it, learned how to eat in moderation. Mind and body.

Gone through as much as I have and rising above it to become the person I am today. I have HIV, facing it, understanding it, and moving on with my life. If you should ask me how I feel, my reply would be: Blessed!

Having faith helps me a whole lot. My faith has become so much stronger, so on Sunday I go to Rivington House and give back to people who are sicker than me, who can't walk or talk or be as independent as I am. I get so much joy being there.

Much love and peace for all who feel like they can't go on. You can. I'm living proof. Clean, sober, and positive. God bless us all.

Yolanda Birthwright, 54, is a native New Yorker, born and raised in Harlem. She has worked with or is currently working with AIDS Service Center, Lower East Side Family Union, the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center, and the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.

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This article was provided by AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. It is a part of the publication ACRIA Update. Visit ACRIA's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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