September 15, 2010
Living with HIV is a constant fucking struggle. It's a struggle against yourself and the internal tapes associated with being positive. It is a struggle to deal with stigma perceived or otherwise. It is a struggle to master fear and fear of rejection. It is a struggle to just live your life like any other human being does or gets to do.
I have been trying to do some serious work integrating HIV and acceptance of it into who I am. Recently I taped a video interview talking about that process for TheBody.com. Since May, I have been writing for TheBody.com, and I have received some really amazing support and love from other poz folks in the world struggling with the same shit that I am attempting to deal with, and that has been truly a wonderful experience.
But, translating these thoughts, experiences, and feelings into daily actions is sometimes very hard to do.
All of this is complicated by semi-attempts to try and venture back out into the world and enjoy the benefit of being in an open relationship, to make connections with people (sexual and otherwise), to enjoy those possibilities, and to navigate what it means to be a positive individual while doing so.
The paranoia and fear around situations, even ones in which there has been no responsibility to disclose, has me at a spiritual and mental tipping point.
Then, on top of all that, add to the mix that I am a recovering meth addict. One of the loveliest and most fun long term impacts of meth use is a syndrome called PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome), which is basically the fun experience of having, from time to time, bouts of mild paranoia that can come on suddenly. This lovely by product of meth use can last for up to three years after use has stopped.
Hands down the only times that I have experienced PAWS has been when I have been worried about a failure to disclose (whether or not it was necessary to disclose) or some other circumstance where, to use a recent example, where I connected with someone, there wasn't a need to disclose, but he chose not to continue in communication.
Now, for most people, someone not calling you back after having a minor hook up with some heavy petting, would simply mean that it was a one night stand or dude decided after all that he wasn't interested. For me, my mind and spirit immediately jump to a place where he Googled my name, found my blogs, and is now waging a silent war against me for being HIV positive and not telling him. Even knowing when there has been absolutely no risk of transmission, I still end up in this place.
That is some fucked up shit.
And it really doesn't matter. I could hook up with a dude that never asks about my status, doesn't care, and has an entire collection of photos and video tapes of all the men that he has hooked up with and practiced unsafe sex, and I will still feel the responsibility of the world coming down on my shoulders for his choices and mine. I repeat HIS choices and mine.
I need to have my own conspiracy theory show. Because, really, this shit is better than anything on the Spike Channel or Lifetime.
So, being a Virgo and thinking logically, and also never wanting to go through another PAWS experience in my life (I can avoid PAWS experiences ... for the most part ... .I will never be able to avoid poz experiences ... that's just my reality), and knowing that most often my PAWS experiences are triggered by hook up situations or even just plain old dating situations where no one has lied to anyone about anything, but I don't know the other person's status, and they don't know mine ... I have come to the conclusion that the only way to avoid PAWS situations caused by a poz situation is to make a commitment to only date and/or hook up with other HIV positive guys from now on.
At this point in my journey into integrating my identity as an HIV positive man, I haven't found a way, yet, to bring up casually while negotiating a blow job from a hot guy at a party that I am HIV positive. And since not having found the strength or whatever it takes to disclose in a situation like that or any other random hook up moment, the best thing I can do is avoid them altogether until I can find a way to do so without having a complete and total breakdown.
And walking down the street sober and believing that there is a queer mafia out there watching your every move and judging you or somehow monitoring your computer usage or cloning your cell phone to read your text messages is not worth it. It just really isn't worth it. And, truly, I don't want to end up pushing a cart full of old cat bones up and down 10th Avenue talking to my invisible friend Buttons and singing the Star Spangled Banner every time a car alarm goes off.
Yes people, I am on medication. Zoloft is my bestest friend ever.
It doesn't really matter that these moments are rare. It doesn't matter that 99.8% of the time, I go about my life, eating, shitting, talking, praying, laughing, and loving. One single evening, like tonight, where the issues converge by a chance moment and grow into something so unwieldy, uncomfortable, and avoidable, is so not worth it.
Maybe six months or a year from now, I will have done enough internal work that I can once again open myself up to deeper physical connections with negative folks. Perhaps I will get over whatever it is in my life that will not allow me to see, own, and be responsible for just my actions and not the actions of folks with whom I have connected, but that day is not today.
But I also refuse to walk away from being a sexual being. That is what so many would have us do, stripping an integral part of our humanity away from ourselves or boxing in our choices for us. Also, it is what so many of us living with HIV do to ourselves, denying that we are inherently sexual beings and that having a sex life is critical to being a healthy person.
Dealing with the mental health impacts of meth use is no joke people. Struggling with addiction is no joke people. And living with HIV isn't either.
And, just to answer a question that has been asked by more than one person, "Why/How do you write about some of the things you write about so openly," and the answer is so simple: I am not the only person that is going through this in the world.
We hide anything to do with mental health. We pretend it doesn't exist. We judge and look down on anyone that openly acknowledges that they are living with a mental health diagnosis. I don't have to tell you that addicts are dehumanized (and we won't talk about the fact that 75% of all queer people are either active or recovering addicts or alcoholics). We do the same thing to people living with HIV.
And, because of the work I have done or the way people perceive me or the way I project myself or the education I have or the opportunities I have had, when I talk about my struggles as openly and candidly as I can, it puts a different mental image in peoples heads about who it is that lives and works and even thrives living with addiction, HIV, and mental health diagnosis (temporary or otherwise). It also lets people know that living is work and growing is work and sometimes it is hard work.
So I try to struggle openly. I try to share what I've attempted and how it turned out ... whether it is a recipe gone wrong or a date gone wrong. Just like with queer folks, the more of us that are living with HIV, addiction, and mental health diagnosis come out of our closest, the easier it will be for those that come after us to live better, healthier, and less stigmatized lives.
This piece originally appeared in Brandon's blog My Feet Only Walk Forward.