From Needing Help to Helping Those Newly Diagnosed With HIV
While visiting Maui on a solo vacation, I made a new friend at the resort where I was staying. During one of our text conversations about a year later, he asked me to call him because he needed to talk to me. I found it a bit odd, but I knew something was wrong, so I called.
"I'm HIV positive," he said.
I immediately went into crisis counseling mode and never once considered anything other than helping him. Fortunately, he was already on medication and figuring it all out on his own, but wanted to tell someone, someone who would understand what he was going through. I get it; I've also been there, and I've also reached out to people who would know what I was feeling.
But I couldn't help but think back to what had happened when we met on Maui. We immediately hit it off and began spending our time together. One afternoon, we were in my cabana by the pool and were on our phones comparing our Grindr apps to see whom we had been talking to during our stay.
At one particular moment, he showed me a profile and told me how hot this guy was, but it sucked that he was HIV positive. Then he said something to dismiss any possibility of meeting the guy. My heart skipped a beat, and I felt awkward because, little did he know, I was also HIV-positive. We were just on a friendly level, so it didn't need to immediately come up, but that sinking feeling in my gut when he laughed off what he had said still comes up when I encounter similar situations. And honestly, I didn't blame him -- because at one point in my life I had similar feelings and probably said similar things.
My new friend eventually discovered my status months later when we became social media friends, since I put my life out there for everyone to read. And I was able to be there for him when he found himself in need of help.
Months later, I received a private message though Facebook from someone I had met only once. We shared a mutual friend, so his message wasn't completely unexpected, but it did catch me off guard.
"I just found out today that I'm positive, and I need someone to talk to," his message read.
That sinking feeling in my gut was back, and I quickly responded with whatever words I could come up with at that moment. This was practically a stranger, but he was coming to me for help. Somehow it just felt right, and apparently I had all the right things to say to help him through that initial shock of finding out.
These were two different circumstances where people needed to be comforted by someone who truly understood how they were feeling and what they were going through during their respective experiences. It made sense. I wish that when I had just learned the news I had known someone to reach out to.
It made me realize that I had come a long way. Seven years after my diagnosis, I was now in a position to help others, mostly through personal stories and experiences that all led to one conclusion: Everything was going to be OK.
Through the articles and essays that I have written over the past few years, I have received a countless number of emails and messages from strangers all over the world, mostly thanking me for writing something that they could connect with, and some -- from more sheltered parts of the world -- asking for someone to listen to them and be a friend to them.
I recognize that I have a voice when I take the time to submit something to a publication, and I am thankful each day that I am able to reach so many people and hopefully make some positive difference in their lives. But the reality is, I am just one person.
Everyone who has gone through the experience of being told that his or her blood test came back positive for HIV has a voice. It might take some of us longer to find that voice, but the moment we start showing the world that we are doing just fine and living our normal lives, that's when those who need our help will reach out.
It took me years to realize that I was going to get through this and not be ashamed of my HIV status. Trust me, it's not an easy realization to come to, and there were many hurdles leading up to it, but I now know it to be the truth. There's something rewarding and life-changing about being able to comfort and help someone, especially when they have no one else to turn to, and they have chosen to go to you for help or advice.
So, if you still need that help to get you to the next level, reach out to someone and get the support you need. And if you have gotten to a place where you are comfortable with being that person someone can trust with his or her feelings, put it out there and be receptive to whoever comes your way -- you never know who's waiting to send you a message or text.