December 2, 2010
As an action-packed year for the HIV/AIDS community draws to a close, TheBody.com takes stock of 2010 in a new series of articles, "HIV/AIDS Year in Review: Looking Back on 2010 (and Ahead to 2011)." Read the entire series here.
When I was asked to write a wrap-up blog my first thought was: Well that's just silly. It's still aaaages till the end of the year. That clearly shows just how out of touch with time (and maybe a little bit of reality) I have drifted. I returned to South Africa nearly three months ago and it almost feels like I never left. My travels, the experiences and wonderfulnesses I experienced feel a little like a beautiful but distant dream to me now.
I started off in London in January, where I met two people who were both part of magnetic couples. From there I went to Thailand, jungle-trekking and island hopping, via Australia and New Zealand to Argentina. Here I spent a whole month not speaking yet strangely still understanding a whole lot of Spanish, climbing a glacier, snorkeling with sea lions and realizing for the first time that HIV doesn't need to dominate my thoughts, my marriage and my life, too. I whizzed through Peru and Bolivia (lots of colours, amazing food and freedom to let my mind and soul truly rest and wander). I was joined by my siblings for the three-week, 7,500-mile road trip through Canada and the U.S., attempted kite surfing in the Dominican Republic and had my aura cleansed on the same day I was scammed out of an airplane ticket in Mexico. All in all a fantastical, life-changing, thought-provoking and liberating journey.
One of the most amazing things about this trip is the people I had the privilege to meet along the way. Many I met in passing in various countries: at train stations, in busses, while eating Pad Thai or braving my way through a Taco with way too much chili, or simply asking for directions. But some of the most important encounters I made were with people that emailed me after having read some of my blog.
First of all, it feels wonderful to know that there are people that share my experience, the insecurities over how to support a spouse and get support for oneself, and the fear of this unknown yet powerful entity that will continue to be part of our lives whether we like it or not. I received some extremely brave and honest accounts of spouses who struggled with feeling a sense of guilt over remaining uninfected or were struggling to figure out how to deal with their partner being HIV positive, how they got infected and not knowing how they felt about it. These taboos are rarely if ever spoken about and until I heard back from all these wonderful people, I had no way of knowing if it was just me who felt all these confusing things or whether others did, too. It was an enormous relief to hear from others that were wondering about the same thing!
Unfortunately I did not manage to meet up with many magnetic couples in person, since my travelling schedule turned out to be quite erratic (I clearly hugely underestimated some of the distances involved when travelling the world). Nonetheless, it is safe to say that I no longer feel alone in this. There is a whole community of magnetic couples out there, in every country, in most cities, going through the same thing right now. And I would like to encourage anyone who is part of a magnetic couple to keep in touch and send me your experiences, just as I have and will continue to share some of mine. Trust me, whatever you are wondering about, worried about, angry about: Someone else has been there, too. And even if you do feel lonely going through this, know that you are not alone.
So, after eight months of wondrous, amazing, introspective and eye-opening travel I have finally returned. Returned home, returned to my husband and, most importantly, returned to me. I never thought that I would get to a point where HIV no longer plays a leading role in the film of my life, yet here I am. I truly noticed that when, the other day, my husband and I were having a pretty major conflict about some life decision or another (well, safe to say that the Zen-like state of bliss achieved whilst travelling had a bit of a limited shelf-life upon return). But while we were dishing out and dodging the arguments, I realized that for the first time since the diagnosis, HIV played no part in it. It simply did not feature in my thoughts, my fears or even latent resentment. It had simply become a sidelined bytheway as opposed to taking centre stage. Finally, HIV who had been the ever-present mistress in our lives has been demoted to the level of an annoying relative you're responsible for (You know, the one that criticizes your garden for being too wild or your kids for being too loud; the one you acknowledge and respect by greeting but let them be otherwise).
Obviously, being diagnosed and living with HIV is far more complex, painful and life-altering than living beside a pestilent fellow citizen. However, for me it does feel like I have, at least for now, left behind the mistress who had seeped into every aspect of my thoughts, my marriage and my life, and claimed all these things back for myself. To mess with as I please.
Happy World AIDS Day and a beautiful Festive Season to everyone. Don't forget to look after yourselves and each other.
Magnetic Mama is a 27-year-old psychologist and the uninfected half of a magnetic couple (i.e., her husband is HIV positive). She is not revealing her name in order to protect the confidentiality of her husband who is not open about his status.
German by birth, and a long-time resident of the U.K., Magnetic Mama currently lives in South Africa where she has been working for an organization that provides services to children and adolescents as well as their caregivers infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.