March is a special month for me. This year marks 26 years that I have been living with an illness that could have killed me before the life-saving medicines were available.
Without those life-saving drugs, I wouldn't be here sharing my story today. Plus, I would have been a tragic statistic.
One thing that I've learned in all these years is that there is still a lot of life left to live, and I don't take a single day for granted.
I get that HIV is an illness that affects us physically, which can turn into AIDS, and the complications of opportunistic infections can eventually kill us. To me, HIV is more than that. Over the years, I have gotten colds, the flu, and even pneumonia. But the greatest sickness I have had to battle is how this disease makes me feel mentally and emotionally.
Life is a roller coaster of emotions, but living with HIV takes me places that made me want to end it all several times.
My state of mind can go to a very dark place in a hurry if I let it go that way. I can fall into playing "the victim," making people feel sorry because they feel bad for me. This isn't easy for me to tell you all. I have been a hot mess with my eyes full of tears, sobbing out loud because I get to a sad place in my mind. Whenever I cry, it cleanses my soul. I now know exactly what a female friend of mine meant when she said a good cry makes her feel better. It's a type of personal therapy if you will.
To look at me, you would see a man that stands 6'3" and weighs over 275lbs. Who would think I have emotions, feelings, and cares about his fellow human beings?
Being in prison all these years I learned that you have to be cold as steel, never appearing to be weak. But this tough exterior was formed long before I even got arrested. As children, I was taught that only girls show their feelings and cry.
I say that is crap!
I am human, and I have emotions that need validation from those that care about me. Go ahead and laugh if you will, but I'm hurting inside!
When I first hit the penitentiary in 1994, people would ask me "Are you that guy dying of AIDS?" To those of you HIV positive in the early 1990s, how would you answer that question? You are alive now reading this, so would you have said you were dying of AIDS or living with HIV? How are you living with HIV today? What quality of life do you choose to live with?
Looking back over the years in prison and living with HIV, I have been through a lot inside of my head and dealing with issues outside of my control. We, as humans, can endure more than we think we can in the long run. We'll tend to catastrophize a situation because this will be a disaster that we can't get through. Somehow we do.
That is when I was willing just to give up wanting to end my life. When the "stuff" in my life looks too high to climb in my mind, I will jump into my bulldozer knocking that mountain down turning it into a road. I've found that navigating a long road with potholes is easier than climbing a mountain I can't see the top of because I refuse to open my eyes. Not opening my eyes is a metaphor for refusing to face the challenges that life throws at me.
I don't know if it was the prison, getting older or being HIV positive for all these years that has given me the courage to face whatever comes at me no matter how difficult it is? Being HIV positive has made me stronger mentally and emotionally. This illness has shown me how to appreciate friendships and not taking people for granted. I find myself loving people close to me deeper than I would ever before.
In 2016, testing positive for HIV with the medicines available and all the alternative remedies available you can live a long, high-quality life. Your state of mind has a huge impact on your physical health, I've discovered.
Through my experience, I have learned that you are reading this have to keep yourself mentally fit which will save your life! Life is not over for us, it is just beginning, so enjoy!
I want to thank those of you who have emailed me telling me what my words have meant to you. Please know that your stories and words mean a lot to me too. Also, thank you to the staff at TheBody.com for letting me get my words out! I am filled with gratitude and happiness.