Why me? I ask myself. I slept with many of the same people my small group of college friends did. I never shared a needle or had sex with someone I knew to be HIV-positive. Most of my college buddies were negative. Why was I the first one in my clique to be diagnosed with AIDS?
More than nine years later, I keep asking myself the same question. Why me? Why am I the one enjoying the benefits of triple combination therapy? Why am I able to go back to work, accessing private health insurance and adhering to a difficult drug regimen? And why -- oh boy why -- did I run my credit card bills up so high? Life's challenges can remain very overwhelming regardless of how one feels. A sense of humor sure helps.
I know I am lucky. Luck is a big part of surviving any holocaust. I try to find logic as to why I am a survivor but there isn't an answer I'm comfortable with. I do know that I have learned many things as I continue to mainstream back into the work place. I feel very fortunate to have found some benefits from this befuddling and unpredictable experience.
I've learned never to take your life or your private health insurance for granted. This year I was diagnosed with diabetes, a side effect of a powerful, drug cocktail which has kept my HIV at undetectable levels for more than two years. I'm glad Medicare was there to pay the hospital bill when I became ill, unlike the employer-sponsored insurance coverage that was yanked away from me when I first got sick. Access to quality medical care should be for all Americans and I'm fortunate to have excellent doctors.
I've learned the importance of our government's safety net and grass roots advocacy. Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), Medicare and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) have kept me alive and I'm grateful for those programs. Although effective drug developments could never happen fast enough, I've learned to appreciate the hard work of AIDS advocates who ensured research and social services were available to me.
Taking advantage of every opportunity is a tough lesson to remember. It is easy to get angry at almost anything; Waiting in the doctor's office, the maybe boyfriends who run after my HIV disclosure, and the unsafe sexual activities I continue to see amongst my friends. It's impossible to make AIDS a positive experience but an excellent mental health therapist put quality into my life.
I was lucky to find a caring therapist. She taught me that every day didn't have to be a step closer to death. I used my small savings early in my disease to travel to places I never expected to see. I met fascinating people and had experiences that brought the world closer to me. Unfortuntely it left me with very little money. I was too sick to work full time and felt very sorry for myself. I needed something to do. My therapist told me I should become a volunteer.
A large AIDS-service organization was close to my home. I went there and remained for a long time. As a client, volunteer and eventually as an employee I often found the policies and procedures to be frustrating and limiting. Yet this AIDS-service organization allowed me to develop public policy skills I use in my present job. I work for a great local Councilmember in a city known for diversity, tolerance and a willingness to take care of its own. I am lucky to have learned from this opportunity and I recognize the value AIDS-service organizations have upon our community.
I don't know if I'll ever stop asking myself why. I feel tremendous responsibility to my friends who didn't make it this far. Living with AIDS for more than nine years has not been easy. I believe I have met this challenge with perseverance, fortitude and dignity.
I know I'm lucky, but I still don't know why.
This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.