Change in Perspective
An Excerpt From: The Guide to Living With HIV Infection
Often the answer to questions like Helen's and Job's involves a change in perspective on life. "Change in perspective" is a vague term that everyone uses and no one defines; it probably means something like, "When you stand in a different place, you see things differently." HIV infection is certainly a different place, and after years of adjusting to these changes, people come to see their lives differently.
"Before I got sick," said Rebecca, "the world was normal. I knew I had a virus in me, but I was living the life I wanted to lead. I was dating, having fun, being me. But when I got sick, I prepared to die. I wrote my last will and testament, made funeral arrangements, did a living will, and fixed up my house to die in -- I wanted a pretty place to die in. I had 12 CD4 cells, PCP, esophageal thrush, anemia, had lost over 10 percent of my body weight, and my hair fell out. So I know what it's like to be sick." But Rebecca improved drastically on the medications, and once again, her life changed. "Life before I got sick was very good. I got sick and it all changed. For a long time I thought I should never have taken the meds. I should have just let it go. It almost pissed me off not to be able to die gracefully and beautifully. I don't really want to live. I don't want to die either. So I'll make the best of it. You don't just resume life. And you don't have any hope of ever resuming your life. It's changed. The hand I hold is totally different now, and I have to play this hand I'm dealt."
Faced with their new knowledge, people change their priorities. Accordingly, some people begin thinking how they might change their lives. Rebecca will go back to school, to go into social work. Alan is a banker, but his training was in music, and now he thought he would like to go back to playing the clarinet. Steven, who worked as a technician for a scientific laboratory, had always wanted to teach, and volunteered as a teacher in a community adult education course.
Many people now place greater priority on other people. "When I almost died," said Rebecca, "I realized at that time the most important thing is my relationships. With my time now, I want to spend time with the people I love." Some people begin tidying up relationships: Lisa's husband called his brother more often, and they began going to ball games together.
Somehow or other, such changes in priorities answer people's deep questions about whether life makes sense, whether it has meaning, whether it's good. Dean volunteers at a hospice, and explains himself this way: "Before I got this virus, I had this feeling about God, that I lived a charmed life, that God looked out for me. And this was a wakeup call. I couldn't believe in God the way I did. I thought, 'There's no orchestrating force in life, it's just random. I've spent my life in the best way I can, doing as little harm as possible. Nothing justifies this.' So I had to think where I had ever found meaning before, where I ever had a sense of God. I realized these times were when I cared about someone as much as myself. I needed to get that back. If I could care for those people at the hospice, I could come back. My conception of God has changed. I do see the world as more random. And whoever I was before is gone. But I'm trying to find where God was and where there's meaning. And that's in caring for someone. That's what keeps me going."
This article was provided by Johns Hopkins University Press. It is a part of the publication The Guide to Living With HIV Infection.