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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Adding Life to Our Years

By Philip D.

July 7, 2010

The road is long ... with many a winding turn,
that leads us to who knows where ... who knows when.

-- The Hollies

Maybe it was pure coincidence that I had just begun working with a Life Coach several months before being diagnosed HIV positive, but then again you never know. Since I had no therapist at the time and was still unsure of who I could disclose my new status to, the hours that Geary and I spent on the phone "coaching" were precious and pivotal in the months that followed. In fact, I'd like to dedicate this post to the man that has taught me some fundamental lessons, more valuable than a year's supply of HIV meds. One in particular I'd like to run past all of you.

In the process of life coaching, Geary first had me make a handwritten inventory of what I valued most (which surprisingly proved more difficult than I predicted) and then ask myself if the decisions I was making reflected those values. He showed me that when those two are in conflict, trouble is sure to follow. Sounds simple enough, right?

But what I discovered was my values are constantly evolving and my goals should stay current as well. Although being diagnosed HIV positive rocked my world, being touched with a potentially fatal disease has also given me a crystal clear vision of what I hold most dear and lately, I've been living in discord. Tsk, tsk, Philip.

It seems to me that many of us, after receiving a positive diagnosis, have a primary goal of returning to leading a "normal" life. Maybe start meds, get our viral load down, our T-cells up, hopefully continue with a gratifying sex life and get on with it. Now I'm down for that, but learning firsthand that your time on earth might be shorter than planned should, if nothing else, cause each of us to reach for a life that is far richer than those who haven't had the insight that you and I do, and perhaps discover that "normal" is that last thing we should try and return to.


You heard me. The very last thing.

I've heard so much about how modern medicines have added years to my life but recently I've been far more intrigued about the idea of adding life to my years. What if, rather than trying to see how long I can exist, I focused on how fully I could live, instead? In the past, too often I've overlooked the things that I valued, trying to stay afloat in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. My family has seen so little of me since I headed west; and vacations have been too few and far between just so that I could afford my piece of San Francisco real estate. My niece and nephew are growing up fast, my parents aren't getting any younger and I believe there's nothing that stings quite like regret.

As you might imagine, my financial planner is most frequently called on to help his clients live as comfortably as possible for as long as they can. But see if you can also imagine the look on his face when recently I asked him how well I might live if I cashed it all in right now and set my sights on living just 25 additional years. (for those who must know, that would be age 71). The silence was deafening but Peter, my financial planner, knows me well enough to know that I've always marched to the beat of my own drum and that this was not just me thinking out loud. I'm strange but serious.

Now more discerning readers might be asking about winding things up at exactly 71. To that I will simply say that you go ahead and live until 105. From what I've observed, sometimes I feel like 71 years on this planet (and almost 30 with HIV) will be plenty for me. What if I discover that's not the case when I arrive? I guess that'll be a good problem to have and I must have done something right. To be perfectly honest, I'd much rather leave a boring show that's running too long a bit early, than get stuck in a mob trying to get home, only to see a predictable, final act.

Some of you, OK most of you, will find this talk crazy. But if you think about it, it's not a completely ridiculous concept to consider. Let's say you do want to live until you can't go a day longer. You might still ask yourself, am I just adding years to my life or am I striving to add life to my years?

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See Also
10 Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being
Depression and HIV
Feeling Good Again: Mental Healthcare Works!
More Personal Viewpoints on Coping With HIV

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Gisele V (Winnipeg, Canada) Mon., May. 30, 2011 at 9:41 am UTC
Dear Philip, a kindred spirit! A lot? most? many? people with HIV seem driven to run their life race as long as they can, no matter what they have to endure with their meds and medical concerns.

I'm a 53 yr old widow with 3 adult children who has lived with HIV for 27 years. Most of them without any anti-viral meds. I made the decision to live with my HIV after watching my husband die in the early 80's of AIDS. He and the medical team spent most of the little time he had left, taking tests, counting T4's and of course, being treated like lepers as was the norm at that time.
I made up my mind at that early stage, that I would stay as far away from hospitals and treatments as I reasonably and remain well enough to raise my children.
I was elated to read your blog; especially impressed with your perceptive line: are we adding life to our years or just adding years to our lives?

I didn't struggle in any way to live as long as I have. It just happened this way. Sometimes I take it as a gift from the gods. Other times I believe I've been cursed. My family and I have said our goodbyes, our final words, shared all our secrets because the medical system, the media certainly have a lot of us thinking that death is just one infection away from doing me in.

I write a blog for the website: a girl like me. But I've been having difficulty coming up with topics and ideas for an audience that is half my age. Fortunately, I found an excellent article right here in THE BODY, that discusses issues of the 50+HIV population and how large it is.

Joy! I'm back in the game, my new place in this epidemic is in AGEISM. Who would have believed, 30 years ago, that anyone with HIV would still be alive? And best yet, able to determine how they will live all those years. Once again, we need to talk about the quality of life we want, and not settle for the quantity we can squeeze out of ourselves.

Thank you Philip, you've made my day. peace, Gisele
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Comment by: dwb Sun., Apr. 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm UTC
diagnosed in 1991 and still adding up the years lived. Thank you for a new perspective. Heres to many more years well-lived.
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Comment by: chasetta s. (Atlanta Ga) Thu., Apr. 7, 2011 at 1:29 am UTC
living with hiv for 1998 to 2011.thank you.And have to boys 13 Autism and 17 jeff.
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Comment by: tim candy (australia) Sat., Mar. 12, 2011 at 12:40 am UTC
hi mate i recon your on the right track i cud not argee more . sounds totaly sensible to me . take care...tim
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Comment by: kevin (new york) Tue., Jan. 11, 2011 at 6:50 pm UTC
I enjoyed your story. I will live fully!!!!
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Comment by: ka fam (melbourne, australia) Tue., Sep. 28, 2010 at 8:57 am UTC
wow! adding life to my years! thank you :)
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Comment by: Bryan (world wide) Sat., Sep. 4, 2010 at 6:00 pm UTC
i have been thinking like this way before my possible exposure, im not sure if im positive or not. but this post have encourage me to find put my status, whatever the outcome ill know how to handle it. i have been procrastinating this hiv test for a while, i havent slept with anyone since so if i am positive im not spreading. this is a great post phillip, even if im not positive ill still read your post on the body. im a strong supporter behind hiv and other deadly diseases for a cure and preventions. thanks again
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Comment by: Evan (Brazil) Wed., Jul. 28, 2010 at 3:06 pm UTC
Got your point, gonna start adding life to my years right now, thank you for your words, theyve really helped me somehow, although Im a quite young inhabitant of the hiv world. thanks a lot.
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Comment by: Saad (Falls church , VA) Sun., Jul. 18, 2010 at 11:55 am UTC
Hi, everything you have said, was so easy for me to relate to. I have thought about things exactly the same way. I think, it is very realistic to think that way but many of us are afraid to wanna think that far ahead and just live with a fals pretense that I am gonna live forever. Now, I often think and try to figure out these things, ok this is where my finances are and how far it could take me without having to work all the time and add some life to the years ahead. OR, just keep saving and working and wait till 70 to start living a little and next thing you know, you can't do much anymore, even though you have saved and stashed away all that cash for years. I constantly fight that delimma.Thank you so much for sharing the true phenomenones of life.
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Comment by: (Boston) Fri., Jul. 16, 2010 at 11:09 am UTC
Hi, I am wondering if Zinc and or selenium is recommended as a supplement for people taking Atripla?

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Comment by: cna training (China) Fri., Jul. 16, 2010 at 3:07 am UTC
Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!
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Comment by: Kevan (Hampton Roads, VA) Tue., Jul. 13, 2010 at 5:40 pm UTC
My god, I read this article as it was written specifically for me. Having been positive for over 15 years I often wonder what the future has in store for me. I often wrestle with the question should I live for today, or save enough so that I have money for my old age. In actuality I have probably chosen the middle ground but it still does not feel right. Having just turned 50, and started a new company at which I spent much time and energy ( high stress) am I going about this the right way? I have always wanted an awesome boat, is that what I should do now with my savings, or wait until I am 65 and probably too old and worn out to enjoy it. Having no childeren or other family that depend on me, besides possibly my 15 year younger Boyfriend what am I to do? My father was a tremendous worker and yes he died at age 60, never being able to enjoy his golden years. I feel he was cheated, and am afriad I am going down the same path.

The thought of setting a marker appeals to me. Why save enough to be a 100 if the odds are against you? Maybe a more realistic goal may be to make it to 65, in which case I can stop saving and start enjoying.

I am so torn on the issue that it drives me crazy
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Comment by: Chris (London, UK) Tue., Jul. 13, 2010 at 8:14 am UTC
Thanks for your posts Phil.
I feel the same!
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Comment by: jc (chicago) Sat., Jul. 10, 2010 at 10:49 am UTC
Philip!!!! you are right, the most important things are to spend the time with our loves ones either they know or not our secret. life is short no matter if living a 100 or 60 maybe is not a big difference. but always doing what is right is the most important think. we have another chance in life to do that.
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Comment by: Kirk (Dallas) Fri., Jul. 9, 2010 at 9:36 am UTC
Philip D., as always, the message was wonderful. The message was also needed. I believe in living a full-life, which means number of years have little to do with it.I have had that perspective for many years now and I think it has made my living so much richer. The "life-coach" experience is interesting. I think I will do the same exercise. Well, best of luck to you and thanks for sharing your life. It helps me.
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Comment by: Srini Thu., Jul. 8, 2010 at 8:26 pm UTC
I feel the same philip, I was also diagonosed in 2007 and was down to earth during end of 2008 & 2009.
Its been 3 years and I feel I can do to a lot better?
It's great to hear from you!
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Comment by: Mike C (Jackson, MS) Thu., Jul. 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm UTC
People have always given me a strange stare when I say that finding out I was positive SAVED my life. 39 years old at the time, it did take a couple of years to get that focus in life back, but I cleaned my life up of the clutter that was holding me down. I forgave myself for past indiscretions, and then I began to love myself once again.

Allowing others to take advantage of me was no longer acceptable. My body became important once again. My mind became whole. Sure, there's times depression sets in, but that's a battle I've always had, so I give myself that time.

I fully understand your mantra, add life to my years. I've done that in a different way. I've reconnected with my Dad. I've become a better father to my sons, and 'Pappy' to my two grandkids, no longer hungover from nights of partying and too many partners to remember. I found the love of my life, and we share our health concerns daily.

He's not the reason my life has changed, rather he's the benefit. While I can't 'cash in' on a financial level, I've done so on a life level. We're building our dream home together. We travel to places we've never been before. He loves my family, and my family loves him.

Yeah, I've added life to my years.

Thanks for the insight you've provided. We are out here, and we do listen.
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Comment by: fogcityjohn (San Francisco, CA) Thu., Jul. 8, 2010 at 6:07 pm UTC
Philip! Thanks for another wonderful and thoughtful post. I don't always comment, but I never miss one of your blogs. This is both beautiful and provocative in a very good way. And you're so right -- nothing quite stings like regret. So to this post, I can only say, "Amen."

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A Positive Spin

Philip D.

Philip D.

After testing HIV positive in 2007, I promised myself that I would make something "good" from all that I was handed. From the very beginning, each time I was presented with an obstacle or challenge, I also received some help. Usually in the form of a person, sometimes an opportunity; but I have grown so much, it has made it impossible for me to call the past few years "bad." Although I've never written much of anything before, I have been so incredibly fortunate, I feel like I must pay it forward somehow. Maybe by sharing my experience, it will help those starting later in the game, on the fast track to HAART, or anyone that's feeling a bit isolated or "stuck" with their diagnosis.

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