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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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