The Importance of Being Social
The women of Being Alive have organized 2 wonderful socials for HIV+ women. The ambiance is pleasant, the food; excellent, the atmosphere; cozy, the company; friendly. I give the socials 2 thumbs up. The women who attended had a delightful time, as many expressed as they were leaving the first social, then they returned for the second one. It makes me wonder! Where are the rest of the women? Having volunteered at many HIV related events in the community, and attended "Friends for Life" parties and support groups for the last few years, I know there are many more HIV+ women in Los Angeles who have not attended the socials. Why is that? Do women not want to unite and form a community of HIV+ women? Are they afraid of recognition by association? Are they afraid to invite HIV more into their lives? Is it easier to live with it by pretending it isn't there most of the time? Perhaps, but don't you know what you're missing in the process?
It is important to know that there is a safe place to discuss issues that may not even be exclusive to women. A friendly environment can motivate all kinds of discussion. We know that HIV manifests itself differently in women. What better place to discover how the ailments affecting us may have traditional or non-traditional treatments than at the rap session held after the social? As there is very little accurate medical information available on HIV in women, often the only way women can access information is by sharing personal experiences with each other. Did you know that most of us have more difficult menstruations? I do, because it was casually being discussed by some women at last month's social. I was relieved to find out I am not the only woman who lives half of the month as the Good Witch Glenda and the other half as the Wicked Witch of the North! And, that other women cancel social activities on the first day of their menstruation because they're in too much pain. You won't find this in the medical books and if you think your male primary physician will mention it, keep on hoping. Nope - if you're looking for accurate information, you have to talk to other HIV+ women.
There is also a sense of belonging, being part of a group. I used to work at an AIDS organization, and I felt the need to quit and return to my career and a "normal" life. After resuming my life as a woman (who, oh yeah, has HIV) rather than an HIV+ woman, I realized that HIV+ people are my peers. I had much less in common with my friends who are buying houses and having children, and more in common with my friends who are discovering new alternative therapies and remedies, or experiencing symptoms. I am not suggesting that you give up your HIV negative friends, merely widen your horizons to include others living with the same situation.
After my fiancé died 3 years ago many of my friends abandoned me. Not necessarily out of fear or contempt, but mainly because most of them "didn't know what to say". My HIV+ friends knew what to say. Even though many had not been through the same exact experience, they could relate to my suffering and lent me the unconditional shoulder to lean on. Through my relationships with HIV+ people I learned how to live with what had happened. It is more common to find a young widow or widower in the HIV community than anywhere else. As time passed, my grieving became less and my friendships with these women grew. Today, some of my closest friends are the ones who I have met since that turning point. I met them at support groups, socials, conferences etc... and the one thing we all have in common is our HIV status. That one common denominator can keep the bond strong. We occasionally discuss the fact that we have little else in common yet I don't know where I would be without them. We developed more things to share. They helped me through my first bout with PCP, and I helped them through taking their first anti-viral, or dating crisis. And, more often than not, we enjoyed movies and dining out together and talking on the phone about any subject. These are the friends I can rely on - they will always be there for me, and me for them because we understand. It always irks me to hear people say, "AIDS is the best thing that ever happened to me." I always feel like replying with, "AIDS is a potentially terminal disease - Get real!" But I can honestly say, through AIDS I have met some of the best friends a person can ever want.
We are almost a race of our own. Women are among the fastest growing population of newly diagnosed HIV cases. Last year's conference on Women and HIV will attest to that. The organizers expect this year's conference will be even larger. Events such as conferences and socials provide a place where women who have been living with the virus longer can offer information and suggestions to those newly diagnosed or can learn more about their symptoms and treatments. We can help each other and have a good time doing it.
There is so much we have to learn from each other and enjoy in each other's company. Take the time and attend the next social. Try it, you may like it. The women's social is the first Sunday of every month.
This article is dedicated in no particular order to my friends: Linda, Mary, Nancy, Suzanne, Jackie, Dina, Ann, & Jayne (RIP my sweet).
The Third Annual Los Angeles Women and HIV Conference is open to the public and will be held this year on Saturday, November 13, at the Hyatt Regency at 711 S. Hope in downtown Los Angeles from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.
This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.