Handling Depression and Having Pride After an HIV Diagnosis
June 28, 2012
Wow. That's lovely. So now, did you come out in high school? Like, in high school did you totally know that you were gay? Or did it take till after high school?
I think I knew something was up. I mean, I had a girlfriend in high school but just something wasn't right. And so I didn't come out, per se, in high school.
I ran away from home when I was 16. I came home one day from school and my parents had found gay materials of the sexual nature. And they were out in the living room, which is not where I had left them. I had left them hidden in my room. And so they had found them.
Looking back, they were probably looking for drugs, which -- I didn't do drugs in high school; that was to come later. But I was really depressed. I look back. I can see that now. I was really depressed in high school. I had moved away from all my friends, out to the suburbs, probably deep down, knowing I was gay and not realizing it yet, not knowing anyone. So, super-depressed in high school, trying to fit in. It wasn't really working. Still overweight.
So at 16 I ran away from home. And I couch surfed for a few years, not having a place to stay, working. But I guess to backtrack, actually, when I was in the process of living at home and realizing something was wrong -- and I say wrong in the sense that I knew something was different about me -- at the time, growing up Catholic, I remember asking God, "God, why? What's different? What's going on? Why do I feel different?" And not getting an answer. So for me that was the moment when I moved away from God, in the sense of what religion says God is. And I moved, started moving towards what would become later my spirituality.
Once I moved, once I ran away, I don't know, it was like there was no coming out. There was just, like -- I was gay. It was just like instantly, "OK, I'm gay."
Now, when you were couch surfing, did you have friends in the community? Did you have friends that were also gay? Was there a Chicago queer youth place to go? Where did you find support in that time when you were living away from home?
So, at the time, there was a place called Horizons, which would later become the Center on Halsted, as it's currently known. And I remember -- and I don't know how I found out about it, because I was in the city -- I was couch surfing, but not really with a friend. It was just someone that I met online; he let me come stay with him, a very nice person. Like, I didn't have to sleep with him to do it. I was just literally sleeping on his floor. He lived in a studio.
And I found this place called Horizons. But I was scared, because I didn't know what was happening. There were youths running around in there, but there was no welcoming committee, if you will -- nothing that pulled me in. So I just left. I just continued on my own.
So I feel like it's something important. A takeaway message is resources. So I walked into this youth space; that's what it was there for. And because they weren't rolling out the red carpet, I ran away.
And so it's like, don't run away. Keep pushing. That's something I finally learned. Ask for help if you need something. Keep pushing till you get what you need. And if you're not getting what you need somewhere, then go somewhere else. But don't just try to figure it out by yourself. It's been done a million times over by a million people's mistakes, blood, sweat and tears. So learn from those, and then you'll have a better place to start from.
Absolutely. So, now, fast-forwarding again, what do you do to keep healthy now? You said that you run marathons and all of that stuff. How did you get into that, basically?
So, yeah, health is so much more than physical health. So mental health for me is about managing boundaries, especially because I love to do for others. I love to give. I love to help make the world a better place. I love to support people's fundraising and help them grow as a person.
But for me that means knowing what I am willing and not willing to do. I'm not willing to do something that emotionally drains me, because then I'm no good for myself, and I'm certainly no good for you, and I'm no good for the next person. So managing boundaries is really important for me. That's my mental health.
Physical health, I was still partying. And in 2006 I had seen an ad for the AIDS Marathon, which was a training program that (it's a charity training program) is now called Team to End AIDS. And they have sites here in Chicago, and in Los Angeles, and in D.C., and all over the country. And they will train you to run a marathon, or a half-marathon, or a triathlon. And you fundraise for them.
So I filled out the application, but I didn't do anything with it; I just put it away. And then fast-forward to a year, to 2007, I, full on in my partying mode, saw an ad for the training program again, and decided -- there was an info meeting coming up -- so I decided that I was going to go to the info session.
It literally happened, like, on a Tuesday, I saw the ad for the training program. Went upstairs after, I decided, "I'm going to go to this info session." Went up, got high. And that was on, like, a Tuesday. Partying, stayed up. Crashed out. Slept for whatever amount of hours. Woke up on Thursday. Went to the info session. Decided to do it. Signed up. Never looked back. Never touched crystal meth again, which had been a whole process for me of talking myself into not doing it, deciding all the reasons why I didn't want to do it. And that's a whole other Positive Life interview, or a subject of choice.
But I quit cold turkey. Stopped doing; stopped partying. And I started training with the marathon. And every Saturday was my long run, with my group, where you meet with a group and you guys go for your run.
That became my touchstone, my support group, my six steps, whatever that program -- the 12 steps. That became my group, my program. And it kept me sober. And I just never looked back. And I never stopped running, figuratively. I've run six marathons, about to run my seventh, in Hawaii. My fastest marathon time was 3 hours and 28 minutes, which is about a 7-minute and 10-second pace per mile. I've completed three 200-mile bike rides to raise money for HIV/AIDS services.
And these things have led to becoming a spin instructor. It led to my current job, director of athletic events. I produce an event called the Ride for AIDS Chicago, which is a fundraising event that raises money for Test Positive Aware Network, and other community partners, here in Chicago.
It has all steamrolled from that. If you roll it all back, it all started from a place of wanting to be OK for myself; wanting to live a life where I felt comfortable with who I was, and being OK being positive. And I'm out there with it.
I'm not ashamed of being positive. I'm proud of it. It is what it is. And so I use my status to educate others, to be a guiding force.
Because for those of us out there that are OK with being positive, we are the minority. We are not the majority. We are the 1 percent. And so it is time for us to step out of our shadow, and to say, "You know what? Being HIV positive is OK." Be OK with it. If people reject you, let them. They're toxic. They don't need to be in your life. You're beautiful. I'm beautiful. Being HIV positive is A-OK.
Wow. Beautiful. All right. Just a couple more questions. In closing, how do you feel that having HIV has changed you?
HIV has changed me for the better. You know, we're all going to die. And HIV has forced me to come to terms with that. And so I realize that I've got things to do. I've got a life that's worth living to live. So that means not wasting time sittin' around and watching TV, and just getting drunk all the time, and hanging out and doing nothing.
I want to hang out and talk about ideas. I want to talk big ideas, talk about how we're going to change the world, and get excited about that. It's made me realize that I have a purpose. And my purpose is to make a difference in the world, in any way, shape that I can.
And to anyone that's willing to do it with me, come along! I do things for HIV and that's my thing. Your thing doesn't have to be HIV, but I want you to have a thing. Maybe your thing is cancer; maybe it's the Earth; maybe it's recycling; maybe it's cleft palates, or puppies, or kittens, or orphans or whatever. But have something. And you're going to find that having something fills you with such joy and light that people that are drawn to you have that same desire. And you become this magnet for change.
Wow. Is there anything else that you'd like to share? Any answers you want to give to questions that I have yet to ask?
Always ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask questions. And don't be afraid to ask the question, "Is this OK with me? Am I happy with this?" If you're not happy with something, then change it. And if you change it and you're still not happy, then change it again.
And even if they're small changes -- they can be tiny, tiny changes -- but don't be afraid to stop pushing. Don't be afraid to stop growing. Don't be afraid to stop wanting more than what you have, because you're worth it.
Olivia Ford is the community manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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