Of Lessons Learned: My Day(s) With HIV

How do you feel about being HIV positive? Do you feel good? Bad? Scared? Maybe you don't care ... for me, HIV is there. It's something I think about a lot, but I'm not scared of it. Not like I used to be. I used to be afraid of dying. I used to be afraid of people finding out I was positive. I used to be afraid I would pass it to someone else.

Since being diagnosed in 2002, I've learned some things (in no particular order):

  • I've learned that accepting my own mortality has nothing to do with waiting around to die.
  • I've learned that accepting my own mortality has nothing to do with my HIV.
  • I've learned that if I don't stay healthy, I'm more likely to die of a stroke, then from HIV.
  • I've learned that people will reject you.
  • I've learned that people will reject you for being short, overweight, skinny, white, black, and yes, HIV positive.
  • I've learned that it hurts just as much when you are rejected for being short and overweight as when it's for being HIV positive.
  • I've learned that if you use condoms, you can stop the spread of HIV.
  • I've learned that even though it's scary, telling people you're HIV positive can be a very freeing experience.
  • I've learned that the more people I told, the more powerful I felt.
  • I've learned that the more powerful I felt, I realized that other HIV-positive people around me felt powerless.
  • I've learned that with great power comes great responsibility.
  • I've learned that I need to help other HIV-positive people free themselves from the shame and stigma of being HIV positive.
  • I've learned that we are stronger together than we are apart.
  • I've learned that sometimes it just takes one step at a time.
  • I've learned that change can be scary.
  • I've learned that change can be wonderful.
  • I've learned that if you are willing to fight for what you want, you can have it.
  • I've learned that sometimes just because you fight for it doesn't mean you'll get it.
  • I've learned that being so open about my status can be very tiring.
  • I've learned that being so open about my status can be a lonely road.
  • I've learned that being so open about my status can be very rewarding.
  • I've learned that asking people to do things that make them uncomfortable can produce wonderful results.
  • I've learned that if you don't ask you don't get.
  • I've learned that HIV has made me the person I am today.
  • I've learned that I am extremely grateful for that.
  • I've learned that my biggest goal is to leave my mark on this world.
  • I've learned that each day is a new opportunity to leave that mark.
  • I've learned that I am going to make mistakes.
  • I've learned that making mistakes is OK.
  • I've learned that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission.
  • I've learned that sometimes doing before asking has consequences.
  • I've learned that the learning never stops. I'm happy for that.

This blog entry came from a desire to share with you an event that is coming up. On September 21 we will celebrate A Day With HIV. The premise is simple: Whether HIV negative or positive, we are all affected by HIV. In an effort to raise awareness and to help erase the shame and stigma of living with HIV, you grab your camera or smartphone and snap a photo of you in your everyday life. You submit that photo to photo@adaywithhiv.com. Last year, my photo was of me on the way to work because, well, that's what I was doing on that day. Just a regular guy, headed to work. I'm asking you to participate in this with me because WE CANNOT BE FEARFUL! We must celebrate our status. Yes, celebrate! I will not be ashamed of being HIV positive. HIV is a part of who I am, but it is not who I am. For more information, visit the site at www.adaywithhiv.com. Join me on September 21. Together, we can help others feel more comfortable with being HIV positive. Together, we can make a difference.

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Be well and live with intention,
Richard