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This Positive Life: An Interview With Jimmy Mack

June 2, 2009

This podcast is a part of the series This Positive Life. To subscribe to this series, click here.

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Table of Contents


Jimmy Mack
Jimmy Mack

About Jimmy
Home: Southhampton, N.Y.
Diagnosed: 1987

When Jimmy Mack discovered he was HIV positive, it was 1987 and an HIV diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. So instead of going to a doctor for treatment, he dived into a different kind of medicine: cocaine and alcohol. His journey out of addiction was difficult, but Jimmy has now been clean and sober for more than 15 years -- and he's got an undetectable viral load to boot. As Jimmy explains in our latest episode of This Positive Life, he is now happily partnered with an HIV-negative man, and he's OK with everyone knowing he's HIV positive. "I think that someone needs to be out there saying, 'Look, I'm HIV positive. I have a full-time job. I volunteer as an EMT. I have a healthy, normal sex life with an HIV-negative partner,'" Jimmy says. "Today you can live a long, healthy, normal life with this disease. There's so much hope."

Finding Out

Welcome, Jimmy Mack, to This Positive Life. How did you find out that you are HIV positive?

It was a Valentine's Day gift to me from my boyfriend. We were both living in Manhattan at the time. He said to me, "For Valentine's Day, we're going to get tested."

It was Feb. 14, 1987, when we went in and got tested. They took blood and told us to come back in two weeks. When we went back, he went first and got negative results. I walked in expecting to get the same results, but that woman said the most devastating words I had ever heard at the time. She said, "You're HIV positive." When I almost passed out, she said, "Honey, try not to think of it as a death sentence. You probably have a year to a year-and-a-half before you get sick and --" She left out the word "die," very kindly, because in those days people had a year to a year-and-a-half before they got sick and died. It was two weeks before my 30th birthday. I knew I would make it to my 30th birthday, but I figured that would be my last birthday. And I just turned 52 recently! [Laughs.]

Two questions: These were the dark years for HIV. Why was this a Valentine's present. Wasn't that a scary thing to do, back then?

It was, and I think it was a very nice gesture on his part. At the time, I was in a monogamous relationship with this person. I had been in a monogamous relationship prior to that for about five years. There was a period in between, which is when I got infected. It was just a very nice gesture from my boyfriend at the time. I had never been to a back room. I had never been to a bathhouse. So I thought, "Great, this is a no-brainer."

But was it a prelude to having an unprotected sexual relationship?

Oh, no, we were already having unprotected sex, he and I. And he's still alive and a friend and HIV negative.

Wow. So he might be one of those special people --

No. He never got it. He's always been tested. He's always been negative.

The second question is, where did you get tested? Do you remember?

I vaguely recall that it was a clinic in Chelsea [a neighborhood in New York City], in a kind of scary housing project down there. The rest of it's a blur.

What was your boyfriend's response?

I walked out of the clinic with tears in my eyes. He took one look at me and said, "Oh, no."

I said, "Yeah."

He said, "Well, what do you want to do?"

I said, "I can't really think about this." Because to think about it would be to envision all the hundreds of friends that I had already watched die from AIDS.

I said, "I need to get some vodka and some coke [cocaine] and I need to just get out of my mind for tonight." Little did I know, that would get me into my other disease, which is the disease of alcoholism and addiction. I spent the next five, five-and-a-half years completely out of my mind.


Lost in Drug/Alcohol Abuse

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What happened with that relationship?

Six months later, he told me, "Ever since you found out you were HIV positive, you turned into an out-of-control alcoholic and addict. You need to get help, and if you don't get the help you need, I'm going to leave you." I couldn't, and he left me.

But that wasn't a wake-up call?

No, no. I figured I was going to die any day. Why should I stop drinking and drugging? It was my deep, dark secret back then.

I didn't tell anyone. My father's a doctor. My sister's a doctor. My brother-in-law is a doctor. I come from a family of physicians. I didn't tell anyone, and I come from a loving, compassionate, liberal family who outed me at the age of 22. They said, "If you're gay, it's OK. We will love you no matter what. Be open about it. It's nothing to be ashamed of, and it's perfectly normal."

I couldn't even tell them this. I was so ashamed of being HIV positive that it became my deep, dark secret. I drank and drugged over it.

Did you have drinking and drug problems before your diagnosis?

I believe that I was born an alcoholic (and I believe that I was born gay), but I was a very highly functioning alcoholic, at the time. It was not an issue and not a problem, but from that point on there was never a point when I went to bed sober unless I was too sick to drink that day.

You were living in Manhattan?

I was living in Manhattan. I was working in advertising, which in the '80s, was very enabling to an alcoholic. I had several liquor accounts. I had hospitality accounts. My boss was an addictive gambler who, as long as I got in before the first race went off at OTB [Off-Track Betting] (which was around 11:30), as long as I got in before that and he was able to go out the door, he was fine with whatever I did.

I was able to go out every night and get into work by 11. It was just very enabling for me and my addiction. It all came to a screeching halt in 1992 when my boss, who was gay and later died of AIDS, said to me, "Jimmy, you're sick and something's seriously wrong with you, and I'm bringing you to my doctor today. I've made an appointment." We went to the doctor. This was five years later, in 1992.

Jimmy, could you clarify? You discovered you were HIV positive, and you did nothing about it. You never went to a doctor?

"I always say that in that period of time I lived, breathed, slept and pissed nothing but fear. ... Every breath was going to be my last. And all I did was hasten my death by drinking and drugging all the time."

No. Never.

You just ignored your disease.

Totally. I was in complete denial.

You didn't tell another person besides your partner?

My partner and that was it.

How many people did you know who died of an AIDS-related disease from the time you were diagnosed to the time you finally went to a doctor?

Oh, God. In those five years I watched so many people die.

What did you do, when you went to the funerals or you went to the homes?

Got drunk.

So you just made believe that AIDS had nothing to do with you?

Yes. It wasn't something that I could deal with. I was in total denial.

You were frightened to death?

Oh, absolutely. I always say that in that period of time I lived, breathed, slept and pissed nothing but fear. I lived in fear -- complete fear. Every breath was going to be my last. And all I did was hasten my death by drinking and drugging all the time. That's how I dealt with it.

During that time, in terms of sexual relationships --

Ugh. It was sick. I wanted so desperately not to be associated with that disease that I even tried to crawl back in the closet. I was actually dating women and men; it was totally sick. I was completely out of control. It was difficult to have sex with women, but when I was out of my mind on drugs or alcohol I could have sex with anything. It was a dark, horrific time.

What kind of drugs were you taking?

My drug of choice after alcohol would be cocaine, but I would do anything, anything I could get my hands on, but a lot of cocaine.

Was methamphetamine (crystal meth) popular back then?

No, thank God. Thank God, because I don't think I would be alive today. I did meth once in that period when I happened to be in LA [Los Angeles]. I don't even remember why. I went to a bathhouse -- I started going to bathhouses in LA in that period. (I don't any more, but in that period of time I was going to bathhouses.) I went to a bathhouse in LA and did meth for the first time and got so stuck in that bathhouse in that mind frame doing that meth that I missed my flight back. I mean, I couldn't get out of the bathhouse, because I just couldn't leave. Then, when I got back to New York, this was in the '80s, I couldn't find it in New York. Nobody was doing it in New York. I couldn't find it, so I wasn't able to do it. That was my only experience with meth.

Let's return to your boss taking you to the doctor. Which doctor was it, do you remember?

He was on 78th and Park.

He was an HIV specialist?

No, he was my boss's general doctor. He just took some blood work, and he got back to me. My boss had taken me in because I was so tired all the time. I was exhausted, and I just looked sick.

This is what the doctor explained, "I've got a few things to tell you, quite a few things to tell you. First and foremost, you have AIDS. Did you have any clue about that?"

I feigned dumb. I said, "Really?"

He said, "Second, you also have chronic, progressive hepatitis B, which is a type of hepatitis that never goes away and just gets worse. Third, you have Epstein-Barr, or chronic fatigue, which is probably -- in addition to the other two -- what's making you so exhausted and tired all the time. Fourth, your liver is so distended that I can tell by that, and by your enzymes, that you are drinking alcohol excessively. You need to get help."

Did he give you a CD4 count and a viral load?

I don't think they had that. This was 1992, and I don't think they had them then.

Well, they had the CD4 count.

OK. He may have, but I don't remember what it was because I could care less. He told me it wasn't good. So that's all I knew.

But did he tell you that you had an AIDS diagnosis rather than an HIV diagnosis?

No, I remember specifically. It was AIDS.

"I passed out cold and when I came to the next morning, I crawled to the only person left in that room -- a 19-year-old, beautiful Puerto Rican boy -- I intended to ask him where my watch, my wallet and my shoes were. ... When I put my hands on him, he was cold and gray and very dead."

So your CD4 count must have been under 200.

Yes. He said, "You have AIDS." The rest was a blur because I went from there and I told my boss then what the diagnosis was. I said I needed to take a vacation. I went on a vacation in Puerto Rico.

Down in Puerto Rico was the beginning of a kind of an eye-opener for me. I wound up going down there, and on the last day of my vacation, I found myself in a crack house. I was doing enormous amounts of rum and snorting cocaine. I wound up smoking cocaine and then doing heroin to come down from the cocaine. I passed out cold and when I came to the next morning, I crawled to the only person left in that room -- a 19-year-old, beautiful Puerto Rican boy -- I intended to ask him where my watch, my wallet and my shoes were. I was very naive, even though I was 35. When I put my hands on him, he was cold and gray and very dead. This kid had OD'd [overdosed].

My first thought was, "God. I wish it was me." That was my first thought. My second thought was about a letter that my sister-in-law had written me saying, "Jimmy you're an alcoholic. You're an addict. Whenever you're ready to get help, I'll make sure you get it." I thought about that letter, and I thought, "Wow. It could have been me who died here. Maybe she's right. Maybe I do have a little problem."

I left there, and I called her the next day and told her, "Listen, I think you're right. But I think that if I just lay off the illicit drugs, I'll be fine." When I found that guy dead, it was Memorial Day weekend of 1992.


Diving Into Alcohol

That summer I drank every day, everywhere I went. I carried a flask. I had a bottle in my drawer next to me. I had a bottle next to my bed. I never did another illicit drug, but I drank so much that my family finally did an intervention with a priest. The result of that was that I told my family. My father gave me a prescription for Antabuse [a drug for alcoholism that produces unpleasant symptoms when users drink alcohol; the generic name of the drug is disulfiram]. I drank while on Antabuse, which made me very sick and gave me hives. And I still drank.

Jimmy Mack with his family.
Jimmy Mack with his family.

When they did the intervention, the priest said to me, "Jimmy, your father said that with your diseases and the amount of drinking you are doing, you would be lucky to live another six months. So your choice is either to stop drinking and live or to continue drinking and die within six months. What's it going to be?"

I said, "I know I can't stop, so guess I'll have to die." He went back to my family and told them that. I have six brothers and sisters. My little brother -- who is like my soul mate -- sitting at this table, looked at me with tears in his eyes (he's the one who married the woman who sent me the letter) and said, "But we don't want you to die." All I could think of was how desperately I had to get out of that room at that moment and have a drink.

"How could they watch this gorgeous man die this horrible death and not drink? I didn't get it."

This is how I finally stopped drinking: I was on the care team of my dentist, Russell Arendt. A lot of people in New York knew him. At the time he was the most gorgeous man. He was the dentist of all the fabulous gays in New York at the time. He was dying of AIDS, and I was selected to be on his care team. Everybody on his care team was sober but me. I knew these guys had something I needed. He died so fast. He went through dementia and died so quickly that I never got a chance to ask how they did it.

I'm sorry, can you explain what you mean when you say, "how they did it?"

How they stayed sober while we watched this gorgeous man die. We would meet to learn how to take care of him. After these meetings, I would say, "Who wants to go get a drink?" They would all say, "We don't drink." How could they watch this gorgeous man die this horrible death and not drink? I didn't get it.

The night he died I was with him. I watched him die and left him with his sister, dead. That night, I drank so much that I actually couldn't go to work the next day. I was that hungover and that sick. At home, my phone rang and it was my former roommate, Eric Pfeifer, who lived with me for many years. He had left me to go to San Francisco because he was sick and dying of AIDS. He called and he said, "Jimmy, I'm in the hospital." He had been in and out of the hospital for two years. I said, "When are you getting out?" He said, "I'm not and I need to see you. You have to get here as fast as possible."

I left the next day for San Francisco, and I walked into San Francisco General Hospital and saw my friend Eric, who at the time was maybe in his early 30s, look like he was 92. He had no hair. He was on a respirator. He was skin and bones, and weighed about 89 pounds. He asked his mother and his lover Marcus -- who was one of my best friends -- to leave because he needed to talk to me.

We talked a bit and he said to me, "Jimmy, if you don't stop drinking, you will be the next person lying on a deathbed. And it will have nothing to do with AIDS and everything to do with the disease of alcoholism. You have to get the help you need!"

Like a good alcoholic, I tried to bargain with him. I said, "I can come out here and you can show me this wonderful program of AA [Alcoholics Anonymous]. I'll take care of you and you can take care of me."

He said, "No. That's not the deal. The deal is that right now you promise me that you'll get the help you need." I did, and he died with me that night.

Within one week, I was with two of my closest friends, watching them die.

The next day I made the most difficult call I've ever made in my life. I called my parents, who loved me unconditionally, and said, "I need help."

I flew back from there and went to Seafield, the drug rehabilitation center in Westhampton Beach, Long Island in New York. There are no coincidences. I grew up there. Seafield was just down the road from me. I went there, and I've been clean and sober ever since.


Getting Sober, Starting HIV Treatment

Were your parents living in Westhampton?

I grew up in Westhampton. My parents lived in Westhampton, yes. That's where I grew up.

What happened to your job?

They fired me, which I found out later was totally illegal. Alcoholism is considered a handicap, and they can't fire you while you are in a rehab, but they did. I didn't know any better.

It was so fortunate that you had the opportunity to deal with your drug and alcohol issues before dealing with your HIV. You knew all these other people who had only one choice, which was to deal with their HIV. It's amazing to me that you could ignore your HIV for so many years and still be OK.

I know.

We talked about the time when your boss brought you to the doctor. Did you get treatment then?

No. Actually when I went to that doctor in May of 1992, all they had was AZT [Retrovir, zidovudine]. He gave me a prescription for AZT. I convinced him that I also needed a prescription for hydrocodone [there are numerous brand name products containing this drug, such as Vicodin], or something like that, for a backache. I filled the hydrocodone prescription and took that. I didn't fill the prescription for AZT or do anything to treat my HIV until much, much later.

When I got sober, I became involved with the gp160 study out of St. Vincent's Hospital in New York.

How did you become involved in clinical trials? Why was that a first step for you? And what year are we talking about?

I vaguely recall an incident with my current boss [which led me to join the gp160 study]. They owned a private island, and someone had to deliver my HIV medication or something. I guess I was on some medication and they saw what it was. Word got out. My boss took me aside and said, "If this is what it is, if it's HIV, it's OK." His wife, now ex-wife, was wonderful. She said, "We're going to get you the best care that's available" and she got me involved with this trial for IL-2 [interleukin 2], I think it was, through Sam Waxman.

How long after you got fired from your other job was this?

I got fired from the other job in 1992. I went from there to managing a restaurant in the Hamptons that summer. Then I got involved in working with my current job, which I've been with since 1994.

OK, so in 1994, there was more than AZT available, I believe.

I seem to recall that it wasn't until maybe '95 that I started taking a combination of AZT and 3TC [Epivir, lamivudine]. I don't recall ever taking AZT by itself. I first went and took the two of them, because they started to discuss it in the press, and I kept up on it with them. So I heard them saying, actually this is working really well, people should do it. I said, "I'll give that a shot."

"Once I was sober, I realized that now that I had gotten one disease in check, I needed to take care of the other one."

Did you contact any HIV/AIDS organizations? How did you stay up-to-date with information?

Project Inform and all sorts of things. I read everything I could. My sister is a doctor, and she read everything she could and sent me all the medical information she could get her hands on. My father is a doctor. I was getting information from all sorts of sources. GMHC [Gay Men's Health Crisis]. POZ [Magazine]. Everything.

Once I was sober, I realized that now that I had gotten one disease in check, I needed to take care of the other one.

Did you find a good physician at that point?

I did. I found a great physician in Westhampton Beach, where I was living at the time. Her name was Jennifer and she wound up going to one of the pharmaceutical companies.

She was so good, and she kept saying to me, "Jimmy, you know this disease better than I do, and that's the only way you are going to survive. Because it's so new, I can't keep up with everything, and I need to hear from you what you've heard, what you've learned, what you're experiencing."

She put me on testosterone replacement shots at the time. I went through AZT and 3TC. Then in 1997, I remember, I got my first real AIDS diagnosis; my T cells went down to about 150. I had cryptococcal meningitis. I had Kaposi's sarcoma. I was really starting to get sick. I believe that's when they came out with the protease inhibitors. I started combination treatment.

Were you on Crixivan [indinavir]?

"I tell these students that there's this myth that HIV drugs are wonderful. And, yes, they are. Yes, they keep me alive. But they can have horrific side effects."

Crixivan, yes.

So you were on Crixivan and AZT and 3TC.

Right, exactly.


Dealing With HIV Med Side Effects

Did you experience any side effects? Did you get Crix belly [fat accumulation in the abdomen caused by Crixivan]?

I have been on everything that's been out there, and I recall so many different side effects. They all are a blur to me. I do recall Crix belly. I do recall having peripheral neuropathy.

When I speak for Love Heals, which is an organization that sends people who are HIV positive to high schools to talk about their experience with HIV and AIDS, I tell these students that there's this myth that HIV drugs are wonderful. And, yes, they are. Yes, they keep me alive. But they can have horrific side effects. Peripheral neuropathy was one of the most horrible ones, but in my opinion the worst one is death.

The only times that I have been hospitalized in my life were twice due to an allergic reaction to two different medications that I was on. It was so severe that I almost died.

Do you remember the meds?

Oddly, it was Viracept [nelfinavir], which is unusual. With Viramune [nevirapine] it is very common to have an allergic reaction, but with Viracept I got it very bad. It was exacerbated because at the time I had just started Viracept, I was also taking IL-2, interleukin 2, which exacerbates any kind of symptoms you get. If you are on IL-2 and you get a cold, you end up feeling like you have the flu because IL-2 makes you so sick anyway.

But that's how I became an EMT [emergency medical technician]. It was December of 2001, and I was living in Manhattan. I was out in Southampton visiting my brother. I was on the IL-2 and I had just started the new regimen, which included Viracept. My sister-in-law was about to leave me with her kids. I suddenly felt so sick that I said, "Don't leave me. Something's wrong."

She said, "What's the matter?" I said I felt like I was on fire. She felt me, and she took my temperature. It was 104.5.

I said, "Call my doctor."

She called my doctor, and my doctor said, "Get him into a tub of cool water. Put ice packs under his arms. Get him cooled down and call me back in a half an hour. He should be cooler."

She called back and the doctor said, "What's his temperature now?"

She said, "It's a 105.5."

My doctor said, "OK, try to remain calm, but don't tell him now because at 106 he's going to go into convulsions and he's not going to last long. Get some blankets ready because he'll start thrashing around in the tub. Call 911, and tell them to get there as fast as possible."

They came in and this wonderful Irish EMT came up to me. Now I'm starting to lose my mind from the high temperature. I'm sitting in the tub, refusing to move. "I'm not going anywhere. I feel fine. I'm in this tub. I can't move because I'm just so hot." He convinced me to get out of the tub, into the rig, and took me to the hospital. I spent the holiday between Christmas and New Year's, the entire time, in the hospital.

What caused this?

The Viracept, the severe allergic reaction that I was having. I was covered in hives. It was just terrible. I said to myself, "If I ever move back to Southampton, I'm going to join this ambulance unit." Lo and behold, after living in New York City and London, I wound up coming back here to Southampton with my job and became an EMT myself. Because I can!

How long have you been an EMT then?

I've been an EMT since 2005. In 2006 and 2007, I won awards for going on over 100 calls. In 2007, I won an EMT member of the year award, in addition to my award for going on over 100 calls.

What's your background?

When I was in the city, before getting sober, I was in advertising for 12 years. Then I left to get sober, and wound up out in the Hamptons and met my current employer. I'm now in property management. I'm still doing that. So the EMT job is just a volunteer job. It's just a sideline.

But you live full time --

Out in Southampton, yes.


Dating and Finding Love

Tell me about your love life since you became sober and started treatment.

When I got sober, my first partner was somebody that I met when I went back to Puerto Rico, where I had my bottom. I went back down there, and I met the most wonderful Puerto Rican.

This was during my first year of sobriety; I think I had 11 months of sobriety at that point. And my sponsor was telling me, "Don't get involved in a relationship within your first year." Well, I met this Puerto Rican when I was counting days of sobriety and I moved him up and he came to live with me. Orlando Martino was his name. We were together for a while. We got married. We had a big wedding at my parent's house in 1995. We had a commitment ceremony at my parents' house in the Hamptons. They have a beautiful home right across from the ocean. We had 250 people.

We were together for quite a while. He passed away in August of 2002. He died of AIDS. I was with him when he died. I was also with my boss from the advertising firm when he died of AIDS.

The loss of my partner was the toughest one because at the time he was the love of my life. I watched him die a horrible death. He celebrated his 40th birthday in Cabrini Medical Center in New York.

Right after that I moved to London with my job. A year later I met the most beautiful, young French man I ever saw in my life. He was visiting a friend of his who introduced us. He's 20 years younger than me. He's HIV negative. He's not an alcoholic, and he is, in my opinion, the most beautiful man I've ever seen. We met and fell in love and we've been together ever since.

How many years have you been together?

We're in our seventh year now.

Wow. And he moved with you to Southampton?

Yes. He's here, and he's in college. He's much younger than me. He's going to college because we can't marry because we're gay. This country is very prejudiced when it comes to that, in my opinion. So the only way he could get here was through a student visa. He never went to college, so he's going to college here. So now it's seven years later, and he's still HIV negative.

How did you negotiate safer sex? Also, when you met people when you were trying to date after you got sober, how was disclosure for you?

In rehab, one of the most important things I learned was, you're as sick as your secrets. My secrets were making me so sick. After I came out of rehab, I was completely open about everything with everybody. My boss found out shortly thereafter too. I told my friends and family right out of rehab, "I'm HIV positive. I'm an alcoholic. That's the way it is."

How did they react?

"I told him, 'I'm really not the first person you've met who is HIV positive. I'm probably not the first person you've dated who is HIV positive. I am the first person who has been honest enough to tell you.'"

Everyone was very supportive, even people who I was dating. I would tell it right up front. I would say, "This is who I am."

Did you ever experience rejection?

I recall one person I met when I was in early sobriety who was just adorable. I told him on the first date. We had not had sexual intercourse or anything like that. We had just kind of fooled around. I told him, "You have to know something. I'm HIV positive." He was absolutely shocked.

He said, "I just can't do this, because I'm not HIV positive. I just can't. You're the first person I've met who has told me that."

I told him, "I'm really not the first person you've met who is HIV positive. I'm probably not the first person you've dated who is HIV positive. I am the first person who has been honest enough to tell you."

So that was made clear, but he didn't want to go any further. I learned from that. I'll just tell people right up front. If they have a problem with that, good, then I don't need to go any further. I don't need to waste my time on them.

So it's less painful to tell people up front.

Right, before anything goes anywhere. I don't believe in secrets.

Do you think that people found it refreshingly honest, or were they turned off?

No. We're talking about a positive life and it's a positive thing. To me, today, I think of it as the greatest gift God ever gave me. When I found out my status in 1987, it brought me to my knees with my other disease of alcoholism, so that I could finally find sobriety and find a higher power and find myself. It was an incredible gift, and I see it as such. I tell people, "I have been so blessed to have been given this gift, and to have survived it and to have seen all I've seen."

I see it as something positive, so I put it out as something positive. People respond positively to it, because I think of it as a positive. I am not ashamed of the fact that I'm HIV positive. People go around saying, "Oh, I have a cold today" and nobody seems to care. Well, I go around saying, "Yeah. I'm HIV positive, so what?"

What do you think about how HIV has gone back into the closet, particularly in the gay community? You probably know plenty of people who are HIV positive, but they're not telling anybody.

I see that. And I hear that. I get so many calls from friends who test positive.

First of all, I'm amazed, and I think, "Wow. OK." We talk about it. They don't want other people to know. I think it's more of an embarrassment. They're afraid of people thinking, "How could they? In this day and age, when everyone knows how not to get it, how are they getting it? Are they stupid?" That's more the reason they want to keep it a secret than anything else.

What do you tell people?

"I think that everyone should know I'm HIV positive because I think that someone needs to be out there saying, 'Look, I'm HIV positive. I have a full-time job. I volunteer as an EMT. I have a healthy, normal sex life with an HIV-negative partner who is younger than me and very hot.' I mean, I'm fine with being the poster child."

I tell people, "When you're ready, you will tell others. It's nothing to be ashamed of." I'm very, very, very open and vocal about my HIV. I think that everyone should know I'm HIV positive because I think that someone needs to be out there saying, "Look, I'm HIV positive. I have a full-time job. I volunteer as an EMT. I have a healthy, normal sex life with an HIV-negative partner who is younger than me and very hot." I mean, I'm fine with being the poster child who says, "If you take care of yourself, you'll be able to live with HIV." It's nothing to be ashamed of. It really isn't.

Have you convinced anybody?

Along the way, I believe, yes. I've convinced a lot of people to stay sober. A lot of people to come out with their HIV status.

So are you still active at AA?

Oh, yes. I'm still active in AA.

Did you ever go to NA [Narcotic's Anonymous]?

I've gone to NA. I'm more active in AA because there are more AA meetings out here where I live than NA meetings. I used to do a lot of NA when I was in the city.

What do you think is the biggest challenge of living with HIV?

The stigmatism -- that people seem to think that if you're HIV positive, you're an invalid. When I go out to speak for Love Heals and I go to high schools, I say, "Did anyone in this room know that I'm living with AIDS?" Technically, I got into that category, and according to the government, you don't get out. So I'm technically a person living with AIDS, because I was there since 1997, so more than 10 years. More than 20 years HIV positive. Ten years as a person living with AIDS. I believe that once you're in that category, the government doesn't let you out of it.

I say, "Look at me. First of all, who would have known by looking at me?" Because I don't look like I have HIV. "And second of all, I lead a normal life. I'm fully employed, and I always have been. This doesn't have to be the death sentence that it used to be. The medications have worked for me. I keep up with my doctor. I don't smoke. I don't drink. I eat right. I exercise. I do everything right, and I'll probably live a good, long life.


Dealing With More Side Effects

Have you ever had issues with lipoatrophy, facial wasting?

I don't have that.

Fat accumulation?

Yes, I have some lipodystrophy in my stomach, and I've been talking to my doctor about that. Basically, she's looking into some new diabetes medications that have shown some promise for that, but it's experimental at this point. [Editor's note: Since the interview, Jimmy started taking Actos (pioglitazone) for lipodystrophy. He says it seems to be helping.]

It doesn't bother you that much?

I've been able to suck it in, and I do exercise a lot. My arms have gotten a little scrawny so I exercise my arms and legs more to keep them from getting any scrawnier.

Does it bother me? No. I really look like I'm 50 years old. Most of the guys I know that are 50 years old have a bigger belly than I do, and have less hair. I look normal for my age, I really do.

What's your current treatment regimen?

Right now I'm doing Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC]. [Editor's note: Since the interview, Jimmy changed his regimen to Prezista (darunavir, TMC114), Isentress (raltegravir, MK-0518), Truvada (tenofovir/FTC) and Norvir (ritonavir).]

That's it?

That's it. One pill a day, in the morning. It's amazing. Although my doctor is concerned, because my viral load went from undetectable to hovering in the 5,000 to 6,000 range. For years, if it was under 10,000, I was happy. [Editor's note: Since this interview, and Jimmy's regimen change, he's been undetectable.]

How long have you been on Atripla?

I've been on Atripla for a couple of years now, but previously it was Atripla and Lexiva [fosamprenavir, Telzir]. So I was on Viread [tenofovir], Sustiva [efavirenz, Stocrin] and FTC [Emtriva, emtricitabine] -- which are the components of Atripla plus the Lexiva and Norvir. I was on five drugs total. I was undetectable for the longest time, and I said, "You know what, I want to go off those protease inhibitors, because I'm tired of having chronic diarrhea and feeling bloated and yucky."

My doctor agreed and said, "OK. Let's give it a shot."

I've been off the other drugs for about six months now and just on Atripla. She's monitoring me, and she is saying, "You know what? It was working for a while. It may not be now. We may have to add back in a protease inhibitor or two." So we just did a genotype, phenotype [drug resistance test]. I'm hoping to just stay on this. I love this regimen. I feel good all the time. There are no side effects.

Are you taking other things? Like supplements.

I take all the supplements. You name it, I take it.

How many do you take?

I have a drawer filled with nothing but supplements. I must take about 12 to 15 supplements a day.

What happened with your CD4 count?

My last was 1,000, which is phenomenal.

Pretty amazing. You started pretty low, so what pushed your CD4 count up?

What made it climb extraordinarily is the IL-2. Every time I did the IL-2, my CD4 count would double or triple. But those IL-2 treatments were brutal. I would be so sick and in bed with a fever and the chills, as if I had the worst flu in the world, from doing the IL-2. It was five days of that, but when I was done my T cells would double or triple.

Was your taking IL-2 part of a clinical trial?

That was part of a clinical trial.


Staying Informed and Volunteering for Clinical Trials

I understand that you do participate in a few clinical trials, now and again. It's one of your interests.

"I'm healthy and strong enough to join a clinical trial. The research that comes out of them is phenomenal, so why shouldn't I?"

I do, yes, because I feel that I'm healthy and strong enough to join a clinical trial. The research that comes out of them is phenomenal, so why shouldn't I?

I also did thalidomide [Thalomid], which wasn't a big winner. That didn't do so well. I did the gp160, which was the original vaccine. I did the precursor for Viread and FTC.

Are you thinking of joining other trials for the fat accumulation?

I'm currently involved in a trial at Stonybrook [Medical Center] for diabetes medication for lipodystrophy, because everything else is normal. My cholesterol is normal. I have a good heart.

Are you taking hepatitis B medications?

The FTC and Viread work very, very well against hepatitis B. My hepatitis B has been in check because of those. The FTC I want to keep, or need to keep, as part of my regimen because of the hepatitis B.

But you haven't had any problems with that over the years?

No, not really.

How do you stay on top of the latest information about HIV?

I read everything that I can get my hands on. TheBody.com is a particularly good one for current and up-to-date information on trials on HIV. I read everything.

Do you read conference coverage reports as well? Do you read the real research?

I do, actually. I try to get through them, but a lot of them don't make all that much sense to me.

So you haven't become a treatment geek. [Laughs.]

No. But usually they come with a summary, and I read the summary. At the conference, they go through so much information, and then at the end they summarize what they found was most important. That's what I read.

You told us a little bit about your dating history. I gather that you never really dated on the Internet.

I didn't, no. I'm not really that good with computers.

I ask because HIV-positive people who are dating are mostly using the Internet. You found a very nice partner and people are looking to do that. What advice would you give them?

Dating when you're HIV positive is as challenging as you make it. I've always put forth a positive spin on things. I love the fact that it's called "HIV positive," and this whole conversation is about living positive.

Everything I do has a positive aspect to it. I'll tell you something. When I first met my current partner, I thought to myself, "Is he flirting with me?" My first thought was very alcoholic. It was, "How could this beautiful, young, French, HIV-negative, non-alcoholic man be interested in an old, HIV-positive addict like myself -- a drunk? What could he possibly see in me?"

Then, I said, "Wait a minute. Take a deep breath here. I'm 10 years sober, and I am now able to see the light that comes from within. I know it's there, and I know that's what he's seeing, too."

I've had dental issues throughout my life from a car accident a long time ago. I've had to have my teeth replaced, and I went through this with him. I recently had to get implants.

I said, "Oh, this is going to be tough. I'm going to have these stupid plastic things I'm going to have to wear on my mouth. I'm not going to be able to smile." My partner told me -- he's so sweet -- "Honey, even without your teeth, your smile glows because it comes from within."

"Today you can live a long, healthy, normal life with this disease. There's so much hope."

That's what he sees in me, and I think that's what others see in me. I know that's an ability I have. I am also good looking, but I enhance that through the fact that I put a positive spin on things, and I see life not through rose-colored glasses, but as a gift. I see everything as a gift, and I've learned a lot. Life is beautiful.

That's all so inspiring. So what would you say to someone who was just diagnosed? What would you tell them about having hope?

They should definitely talk to me. I'll give them hope. You can put my e-mail address in here. It's been 20 years now. I'm in the process of buying my first home and settling down with a beautiful young man who loves me for the person that I am. The medications and the fact that I lead a healthy lifestyle have allowed me to live a completely normal life.

In this day and age it's not like it was 20 years ago, when it was so horrible and shameful and just a death sentence. Today you can live a long, healthy, normal life with this disease. There's so much hope. It's incredible. I'm so grateful that I've lived so long to see things come this far.

Jimmy and the love of his life, Mehdi.
Jimmy and the love of his life, Mehdi.
Jimmy with the other love of his life, Scooby.
Jimmy with the other love of his life, Scooby.
Jimmy's 50th Birthday Cake
Jimmy's 50th Birthday Cake

But I think the one thing that I would like to impart is that it's not something to be ashamed of. If you're going to be ashamed, it's going to eat you alive. It's like that old saying that I learned so long ago in rehab, "You're as sick as your secrets." If you're keeping it a secret, that means you're ashamed of it. And that's going to eat you alive. And when you're out there on a date, people are going to sense, "Hmm, something's not right. He's not telling me something."

When I come out with, "Wow, look what I've been through, and look what I have seen and this gift that has been given to me" people are very moved by it. And you know what? If they're not, I don't really want to have anything to do with them. [Laughs.]

So be authentic, love yourself and go out there.

Yes. You said it, Bonnie. "Love yourself." That's one of the greatest things I learned in rehab. I walked in there hating and loathing myself and I learned to like myself in rehab.

Then I learned, slowly but surely, how to love myself. And then, finally, at 10 years, I learned that I am a loveable person. Because I am able to love myself, others are able to love me too. And that's why I was able to meet this wonderful man who I am still with and who I adore.

So what did you do for your 50th birthday?

I had a big party. My sponsor, Jonathan, threw a big party for me in Manhattan. They had a big cake. He sent out an Evite to all the guys and 125 of my people came out to help celebrate. The Evite my sponsor sent out said, "Come help Jimmy Mack celebrate 20 years HIV positive, 50 years of a life well lived and 15 years living that life sober."

It was an extraordinary thing to have so many people show up from so many different parts of my family. My family, my friends. I get a little choked up, but it was amazing.

It's a major landmark.

All three of them! And on top of it all I'm buying my first home. Who would have thought?

Jimmy Mack, it's been incredibly inspiring to talk to you. It's really been a privilege. Thank you for your time. I'm sure lots of people will be contacting you.

Yes, it's jimmy.mack@hotmail.com. Feel free to e-mail me there; I'll respond to anybody that e-mails me. I'm always happy to put a positive word out there for my HIV-positive friends.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Since our interview took place, Jimmy's boyfriend won the Green Card lottery giving him full legal status in the U.S. Jimmy and his boyfriend are hoping to marry once (and if) gay marriage becomes legal in New York state.

To read Jimmy's blog, click here.


Copyright © 2009 Body Health Resources Corporation. All rights reserved.
This podcast is a part of the series This Positive Life. To subscribe to this series, click here.



This article was provided by TheBody.com. It is a part of the publication This Positive Life.
 
See Also
More Inspiring Stories of Gay Men With HIV

Reader Comments:

Comment by: jared m. (nairobi east) Mon., Nov. 26, 2012 at 2:17 pm EST
thax yur story is much encourang very that gives hope to +ve living pple.
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Comment by: Rohit P. (India) Wed., May. 16, 2012 at 2:55 am EDT
very touching story all the best for your feature and i pray for your pink health, God bless you!!!
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Comment by: TEJA (INDIA) Mon., May. 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm EDT
hi jimmy... i feel great to read ur story today unexpectdly.. its really great and i think ur enjoying the most in the world now. How is ur kid!!! a diaginsed tht i am hiv +ve a couple of mothns bak.. my age is 24 and about to go job i found this. i was cornered i dont wat to do. my cd4=79 & viral load=2400.. so please help me jimmy about how to proceed further for treatment and good life... i have no edictions... how can i contact u????
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Comment by: Emilia A (Outapi: Namibia) Fri., Dec. 9, 2011 at 5:03 am EST
Thanks very much Jimmy for what you have opening your mind and tell the nation about you life you are living.So, keep it up and keep on going and give us new information about living with HIV/AIDS Positive so that we can reach our goals and the vision of 2030.
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Comment by: JM (Tucson, AZ) Sat., Nov. 5, 2011 at 9:51 pm EDT
Thanks for sharing your very personal story. I was diagnosed in 1986. Since my closest buddies from back then are gone, for me it's always good to meet someone else still kicking. On a side note, yea, they had cd4/cd8 counts even back then.
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Comment by: Rod PA (New York, NY) Mon., Jul. 25, 2011 at 3:04 pm EDT
I was referred to the site to get a little insight, so to speak and started with Jimmy Mack’s interview. I’d forgotten about the journey each long term survivor has traveled.

The story was heart touching, filled my morning with tears and smiles thinking about the many friends we’ve lost - a long term survivor as well, I’ve lost a generation of friends to AIDS and the ravages of addiction we’ve bestowed upon ourselves.

I’m so thankful to be here; sometimes it takes a little jolt to remind us of our fortunes.
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Comment by: Penny (CT) Fri., Jul. 8, 2011 at 8:18 am EDT
In my case, telling everyone my status has left me in further hiding & humilation. When you get fired from volunteering because you don't fit in or "demographics" as it was said, you know you are a true loser.
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Comment by: Abby (Canada montreal) Mon., May. 9, 2011 at 12:25 am EDT
Jimmy you are an inspiration, you have become a healer and a Beacon of light. How amazing when we find our true path in life! Live long and happy :)
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Comment by: jennyfer (miami) Thu., Apr. 7, 2011 at 12:06 am EDT
ur story is amazing there is no word to discribe how i feel speechless but forgive me, im lost for words im hiv negative but look faward to become a phician and helping those that need my help god put u in this world for major reasons keep educating the world
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Comment by: Fernando (Brazil) Sun., Nov. 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm EST
So good to read this story and all others we can find at The Body.
The only fear I have in being positive is never finding a partner. I've had a bad experience and the thought of being alone really haunts me. But then his story showed me I should have hope and just be out there!
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Comment by: Robert z (Nairobi kenya) Wed., Nov. 3, 2010 at 3:46 pm EDT
Quite inspiring i just tested + last week
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Comment by: Suey (SouthAfrica) Fri., Oct. 15, 2010 at 4:25 pm EDT
Wow!!! amazing story it's good to know that there is still light at the end of the tunnel.Jimmy stay blessed u are such an inspiration Aids certainly wont kill u but age.
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Comment by: JIMMY MACK (SOUTHAMPTON, NY) Thu., Oct. 14, 2010 at 10:23 pm EDT
Thanks for all your wonderful comments and encouragement, all your words mean the world to me. Still going strong and loving loving life!
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Comment by: daniel (Palm Springs, Ca) Fri., Oct. 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm EDT
thanks for sharing your story, it is very inspirational, I look forward to find more positive long term survivor's stories it is so important for our community, and it gives us a lot of hope.
love to you and your partner
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Comment by: kloyhilde (namibia) Fri., Aug. 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm EDT
congratulation, i faced the same problem you went through be strong im 33 years know because of being infected by a men i got married to im scared of having another relationship
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Comment by: :) (NYC) Sat., Jul. 10, 2010 at 3:01 am EDT
Mehdi IS beautiful!!! You go girl xoxo
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Comment by: JAMES (LAGUNA BEACH CA) Tue., Jun. 29, 2010 at 3:33 pm EDT
HELLO EVERYONE I KNOW EVERYONE HAS A STORY AND I HAVE MINE SO IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE I WOULD LOVE TO TALK TO YOU IM A AIDS ACTIVIST HERE IN MY HOME TOWN LAGUNA BEACH CA

GOD BLESS YOU ALL!
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Comment by: Gary Miguel Gumbs (Anguilla) Tue., Jun. 1, 2010 at 9:46 am EDT
Keep up the good work and continue to share stories that will make a differnce in our lives and the wold today.
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Comment by: Sun., May. 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm EDT
Jimmy what a life changing and inspiring life story.I live on the small Caribbean island of Anguilla. I am also gay and has been HIV positive since 2001.
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Comment by: Secilia N.M.Gotlieb (Windhoek,Namibia) Tue., Apr. 27, 2010 at 11:33 am EDT
its true when they said, even if u r tested positive,still u r having a bright future.
Jimmy im wishing u more strength and i do believe that we can overcome HIV/AIDS.Congratulations dear!ALL THE BEST
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Comment by: nicole (namibia) Tue., Apr. 27, 2010 at 11:17 am EDT
u very strong...proud of u!
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Comment by: Jon Murrell (Austin, Texas) Sat., Apr. 10, 2010 at 1:17 pm EDT
Wow! I've been HIV+ since 1984 and had KS three times and still going. 650 T4 and undetectable. Your story is soooo familiar...Like seeing my life being led by someone else.
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Comment by: chris (white plains, new york) Thu., Mar. 25, 2010 at 5:24 pm EDT
I'm in tears. I'm inspired. What a beautiful story about being human. I did not expect to read such an amazing interview. The questions were brilliant and Jimmy has found freedom through the power of being honest. I can only hope that I am able find my own truth.
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Comment by: Charenee H. (Kansas, MO) Wed., Mar. 24, 2010 at 2:22 pm EDT
So inspiring of a person to be so open, honest and a beautiful story :) I love Jimmy and how he learned from everything. Good luck
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Comment by: Mon., Mar. 8, 2010 at 6:17 pm EST
I'm doing research for a global studies paper in school and I have read many, many personal stories like this. Although it doesn't help my research at all, I just couldn't stop myself. It is so compelling to read how people can be so strong and so amazing in the bleakest of times.I feel like a stranger, but my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected, either directly or indirectly, and I praise everyone for their strength and honesty. In particular, Jimmy, your story stood out to me, and I just want to say that you are a great person for being able to tell all that you did so that others might learn to love themselves a little more. Thank you so much, because I have learned more in your story, and others like you, then I could have ever learned from a global class (and you don't even know the half of it!) and you should know that people you have helped are always with you. Thank you to everyone. God loves you all.
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Comment by: Tue., Feb. 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm EST
This is an inspirational because im also living positive hope might all be motivated.andrew R.S.A
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Comment by: derek (norfolk,Va) Wed., Jan. 27, 2010 at 12:47 pm EST
congradulation,and keep up the good work,ur forever n my prayers
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Comment by: Dana (Vancouver) Fri., Dec. 25, 2009 at 2:37 pm EST
Wow, Jimmy, i hope u live to see a hundred! u r a very strong and amazing man.....keep growing strong and influencing everyone around u.
Love, Dana
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Comment by: Tue., Dec. 8, 2009 at 8:52 am EST
I envoy you Jimmy. I wish I was that courageuos to come out and tell people that am HIV positive. I can't and am scared.
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Comment by: Nomzi Bhengu (South Africa) Thu., Nov. 5, 2009 at 6:41 am EST
Very much impressed how you have tackled this worm, meaning that there is hope that we will over come it. You walk tall Jimmy you are an inspiration to us.
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Comment by: Ameka M (tobago) Wed., Nov. 4, 2009 at 8:57 am EST
Jimmy i am a young person and your story has opened up my eye 2 go and get tested and 2 the love of your life it take a real man 2 come out in the open and tell you that he is HIV positive so that alone tells you that he loves you. good lock in your life
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Comment by: Bradley Fowler (Rex, GA) Tue., Oct. 13, 2009 at 1:50 am EDT
This is a very uplifting story. So much, I am compelled to share my own,but time doesn't allow such. However, I too seek to be the poster boy for the African American community on HIV disclosure. I recently completed a book that is geared towards encouraging those who are HIV positive or living with AIDS to begin disclosing their status; by doing so, there is a greater chance of controlling the number of those infected with HIV or AIDS. Stay focused Jimmy, you are a great achiever.
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Comment by: sadden (connecicut) Sat., Oct. 3, 2009 at 1:47 pm EDT
jimmy i must say you are strong, and you have given me the courage to get tested. i got word from my doctor that i have hep c and they want to do a hiv test. I am afraid of the results ,dont want to take the test, but i know i need it, i to didnt have a good past, i been clean for 8 years now, living right now i get hit with this deadly decese. i hope i have it and not my husband i worry about that. also im in the health field i worry about my future in the health care field. theres so much going on please help me .
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Comment by: Sevierah (Botswana,Southern Africa) Fri., Sep. 25, 2009 at 5:52 am EDT
oooh what an exclusive interview Jimmy,i read from first to last,though im currently HIV- myself im highly inspired by people like you Jimmy,i try to learn and educate those around me that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence,i see a love of people breaking up because the other one has tested + and that just hurts me.i seek to be empowered as i try to explain to people that magnetic couples can live positively and happily together,that one should not loose their partner simply because of their status but unfortunately people around here dont see it that way.but i believe with people like you we shall win the stigma.Thank you Mr Mack and i wish u well you and your partner.
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Comment by: Annette (Germany) Mon., Jun. 15, 2009 at 2:45 pm EDT
I've (45) been through almost the same thing. I'm positive going on 13 years and taking med's for only 7. Virus load has been undetectable for years and my CD count went up to over 1.000. Only had to change my med's one time due allergic reaction. Did the alcohol and cocain after being diagnosed, didn't miss a party and said: "What the hell. I'm going to die young anyway". Until the day I broke down at a grocery store and been taking to the ER. My doc actually said to me: "You only have two choices here. You either going to start with your med's now or you will be dead soon! Frankly speaking I don't care 'cause it's not my life" I got so very mad at him and my reply was: "I'll still be around when you retire". Later one he said that he had to try to give me that kick in the bud so I wanted to come back to reality and to start fighting for life. I gave up the drugs and I still have a drink and smoke (cigarettes) once in a while. I'm not really a "healthy" eater and excercise is not my thing. But my strength and will-power kept and keeps my alive. My morale of my story is: Don't fight and punish yourself by giving up. The "thirst" of life is THE greatest and most important power of all. Without it no medication will help you - regardless. And the way it looks so far... I will be at my doc's retirement party... in 20 years from now :-)
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Comment by: JIMMY MACK (SOUTHAMPTON, NY) Thu., Jun. 11, 2009 at 10:56 pm EDT
Leo, I'm so happy to hear you have found sobriety. I know I wouldn't be alive today if i hadn't found sobriety and stayed sober all these years.
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Comment by: Leo Mondor (Los Angeles) Sun., Jun. 7, 2009 at 12:41 pm EDT
Jimmy:
Your story is not unlike my own. I am 25 years POZ and doing great; never had any secondary infections and only 9 years on meds. But I am in recovery for Meth. 138 days clean. You are an inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing your story. Regards, Leo
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Comment by: JIMMY MACK (SOUTHAMPTON, NY) Fri., Jun. 5, 2009 at 10:27 pm EDT
Thanks for all your supportive comments and for sharing parts of your journey! Please feel free to email me privately on my address in the article. Eddy, would love to continue our talk.
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Comment by: Eddy (United Kingdom) Fri., Jun. 5, 2009 at 4:42 am EDT
Thanks for your reply, Jimmy. I know Bray. It's a very beautiful and protected part of Southern England. I have had a couple of friends living along that stretch of The Thames. I hope you knew at the time though that it's Queen-loving Bishop-loving upper-class'ish public-school Tory territory? Very privileged and completely unrepresentative of life for most people in modern Britain. Nevertheless, the right place to experience a chocolate-box version of Olde Englande. //// As 24 hours have now passed since I read your interview here, you might like to know that I have reflected that the reason why I found it so interesting is because it details an extreme and addictive personality. I have never had an extreme problem with alcohol and I have never used drugs, other than poppers, occasionally, during sex. But I believe I am as addictive and extreme in my natural inclinations as you have been. For me, the drug was sexual pleasure. It still would be like a drug for me. I can't help it. It's the way my body is constructed. Sex brings me an abnormally high amount of pleasure, so intense that I want always to be "in there", feeling it. Because of this physical characteristic (it's all to do with my nervous system, physical sensitivity and so on), I enjoyed so much sex that someone infected me. Now, of course, I know that I cannot afford to become cross-infected or super-infected and so the only way for me to go is toward total avoidance of sexual opportunities . . . which means burying myself in other (non-sexual) pursuits. This means I have been very productive since I became HIV+ but it is also a fact that the erotic is a powerful trigger in the creative process and the erotic is necessarily reduced in my life because of my problem. //// Anyway, I just thought you might like to know why your interview was of great interest to someone with a very different type of addiction. Best Wishes.
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Comment by: Sergio (Southern Brazil) Thu., Jun. 4, 2009 at 3:09 pm EDT
Me and Jimmy have both a very similar story...I was diagnosed back in 1991 and decided to take the same medicine as him (alcohol, cocaine and any other drug that I managed put my hands on)...Later, in 1994, I went to my first NA meeting and I am clean ever since. I will complete 15 years clean and sober in next july, 22nd. I am HAART therapy since 2001 and have undetectable viral load and CD4 count of 626 (in 2000 I had CD4 count of 44 and almost died of pneumocistosys. I am married and have a 3 years old daughter. So, as with Jimmy, I am doing just fine!
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Comment by: JIMMY MACK (SOUTHAMPTON, NY) Thu., Jun. 4, 2009 at 3:07 pm EDT
Thanks, Eddy. I lived in London and in Bray from 2002-2004 (that's where I met my current partner) and was as open about my being gay and positive there as I am here and nobody seemed to have a problem with it. I learned in rehab the saying " you're as sick as your secrets" and it was those secrets that fueled my alcoholism/addiction, so today I have no secrets and I live a life beyond my wildest dreams!
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Comment by: John Ira (Chicago, IL) Thu., Jun. 4, 2009 at 2:08 pm EDT
Spectacular is all I can say. Much of Jimmy's life is a projection of my own. There were/are so many memories that his story brought back. I've been positive since 1986 and I too lead a very "out" life. It's just a part of who I am. Coming down with cancer taught me a great deal also. All of life is a gift: my partner, my extended family, our dogs, everything. We are all blessed. Thank you Jimmy for pointing out that the journey, be it good or bad at times, is well worth the effort. Fantastic!
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Comment by: Jose Adan (Costa Rica) Thu., Jun. 4, 2009 at 11:40 am EDT
SORRY my inglis is not great, but your history of life is absolutely unbelievable
I got Positive the last week
And read this kind of history help me to fell mush better
Hugs from Costa Rica (jose_cerdas@apl.com)
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Comment by: Eddy (United Kingdom) Thu., Jun. 4, 2009 at 6:15 am EDT
Thanks so much for this very interesting interview. I have read it from beginning to end. What a journey Jimmy has had. And what an inspiration his story will be and must be for many many other people in similar circumstances.

There is only one thing that I must comment on and that is the (unconditional)line "If you're keeping it a secret that means you're ashamed of it."

This line CAN be true but there are probably a good number of other reasons for keeping HIV status a secret. My own reason for "keeping it a secret" is most certainly NOT because I am ashamed of it, but because I know how certain other people, socially and at work, are likely to use the information. A few would unfortunately use it against me, and some others would share the information without as much discrimination as would be prudent. It would be incautious of me to place the information out there "in the public domain" as it were. Once it is out there you no longer have any control over it. You can't get it back again. In my own situation caution is wise, particularly given the frightening rising level of homophobia that has just been documented as occurring in the country in which I live.

That said, I applaud the above article and wish Jimmy and his partner much continued happiness and success.
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