Now I suppose most people feel some trepidation when they reach this age. For many, it's the time when they have their mid-life crisis, taking stock of their lives so far, and asking themselves if they've lived them to the fullest. I think the rules are a bit different for those of us living with HIV, however. I mean, is it fair to call it a "mid-life" crisis, when chances are very good that I may not make it to age 80 or beyond? Hell, it sometimes feels like the last few years of my life have just been one unrelenting crisis, with no immediate end in sight.
My nervous feelings have probably been exacerbated by all of the things that the universe has thrown at me lately. As I write this column at the end of February, I have been assailed with a severe, week-long cold, a close friend who has been suffering with hepatitis for the whole month, and the death of several other friends, including front desk volunteer Bill Helgemo (who I shall miss even more in the future than I am able to now, I suspect). These, along with a myriad of other issues I've had to face, have forced my weight and t-cells down again, and have made this newsletter come out later than usual (it doesn't help that February is a short month anyway). It would be really easy to get depressed right now.
At the same time, though, I do feel a sense of pride for having toughed it out for forty years, especially when the last 16 (at least) have been as an HIV+ man. And despite all of the obstacles I've had to face, I think I've come through it with a positive attitude and a lot of friends to show for it. Not to mention a reputation for putting out a pretty fierce little publication called Survival News. I can honestly say that I've lived a good, decent life, I have no real enemies, and I've accomplished some things on disability that many folks wouldn't try to do in perfect health. Still, I feel myself plagued by this feeling that, despite all I've accomplished, it hasn't been enough.
Maybe that's not as unhealthy as it sounds. My experience over the years has been that it is those who still have goals left to accomplish that find the necessary drive they need to survive. When you feel as though you have nothing left to look forward to, or that your body doesn't have enough strength to make anything productive seem worthwhile, it becomes a lot easier to just give up. I've never been one to run out of goals, though. For me, especially as I sit here staring at the big four-oh, it's becoming more and more a matter of "Will I have enough time to do all the things I want to do?" And "Will it ever be enough to make me feel successful?"
I know, I know, there are many among my friends and family who feel I'm successful just because I've stayed alive for so long. But is that enough? They're talking about survival, not success, aren't they? Can survival in and of itself truly be considered success? I certainly don't feel like a failure. But does success simply mean that you haven't screwed up your life totally?
As usual every answer I come up with just creates more questions. One thing I do know for sure, thought, even if I sometimes forget it, is that it doesn't matter how successful -- or important or handsome or nice -- other people think you are, it's irrelevant if you don't believe it yourself. A friend can gush all over me about what an inspiration I've been to them, but it just sounds phony if I can't see it, too. I guess that's why I write columns like this: to remind myself -- and all of you -- to believe in who we are, based on our own standards, and not those hammered into us by all the teachers and preachers and government officials that we have to deal with every day. It doesn't really matter if I'm positive or negative, gay or straight, old or young. No one else has to live my life but me, so I might as well do the things that make me proud to look at myself in the mirror each morning, especially when the guy staring back at me is 30 pounds underweight.
The funny thing is that, despite my little diatribe here, I don't know any other way to be successful than to just do what I've been doing all along. I've never been arrested, or homeless or destitute, so I suppose I should consider myself fortunate, even if I do have AIDS. I've met a lot of wonderful people, seen a lot of different places and experienced much that life has to offer. I get to do something I like -- speak my mind and edit this publication -- for a living every day. I guess there has been more good in my life than bad.
Some people would say that's what success is all about. All things considered, maybe turning forty won't be so bad after all.