Three Generations of AIDS
I have been in a state of confusion since the first of the year. Everything seems so surreal. It is amazing to me that I am still alive. Many of you must have experienced a sense of gratitude with the turn of the millennium just as I have, yet I still feel out of sorts, like I'm not in the right place. I almost feel like I shouldn't be here. And this has led to the confusion I am now experiencing as to where I go from here.
We have talked about post-traumatic stress disorder and I recognize this as a part of my experience. I also realize that today we are dealing with three generations of people who are affected by HIV disease. There are so few of us left from the first generation, the generation of warriors; we are the ones that were diagnosed in the early '80s, when everyone around us infected with this disease died. Today I understand that this experience has allowed some of us to develop survival skills, so we will continue to live as this pandemic has changed. The second generation of individuals were infected in the early '80s, and diagnosed in the middle to late '80s, when there were so few medical treatments available for HIV infection. This generation will be remembered as the survival generation of test subjects because of all the experimental treatments and clinical trials that many participated in. Now we are dealing with the third generation of people who are infected with HIV. Hopefully, this generation will become known as the "live well generation." This "post-protease inhibitors" group of individuals is faced with a different set of dynamics as there is now so many medical options available to inhibit the immune destruction by HIV.
It has become very clear to me that with each generation we have created and brought into our lives a unique set of survival skills. For those of us who are a part of the first and second generations, we have all of the deaths to remind us of how fragile our bodies are. Some of us have resistance to many of the medications that are currently available, and have the emotional, physical and psychological scars to show the years we have survived in this journey. I almost wonder if it was easier for those of us from the first generation, being told that we were going to die and that we had no options.
As I work with people who are a part of the third generation, I recognize that although the basic feelings and issues are similar, the circumstances and situations are very different from the experience we had in the early '80s. Not only has this generation been told that they can live full, productive lives with the right drug therapy, but they have also been presented with the concept that HIV is a manageable, chronic illness. I have also observed that they don't have the experience of accumulated loss to help them stay centered and motivated, as they pursue their own journey living with HIV and AIDS.
My hope is that we never forget where we came from. My hope is that we never take for granted where we are. Every day I am reminded of the frailty of humanity. I find it fascinating to spend time with someone who is newly diagnosed and have them share with me the trials and tribulations of their experience. Although we have come so far in medical research, these types of conversations provide me with the clarity to recognize how truly similar the newly-diagnosed experience is to what I experienced years ago.
It is a new millennium and what a wonderful gift for all of us to have: the opportunity to create new memories! Let us remember where we've been, so we will have the ability to cherish where we are, and the vision to anticipate where we are going.
Remember, cherish, anticipate. Live well, my friends.
(As a footnote: Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share with me your experience so I know that I am not alone as a person living with AIDS.)