On this eve of World AIDS Day 2016, I, as a 27-year survivor of the epidemic, am thinking back over the years and about how HIV continues to impact my life.
Twenty-two years ago today (November 30), I was experiencing a number of emotions. Fear, however, was the most significant, for I was about 24 hours away from a front-page newspaper story that would put my life on display.
Growing up and living in rural Tennessee, I was then 32 years old, and it was a time and place when HIV/AIDS was a hot topic. Nevertheless, it was something that most thought of as a concern in only the large cities elsewhere in the United States. I would shatter that belief when I made my announcement that I was infected with HIV and had been living with it, mostly in silence, for a number of years.
No one living in such a rural area had ever had the courage to step forward to bring HIV/AIDS out of the shadows, to shine a spotlight on the epidemic that had made its way to rural America. Courageous was not a description that I would have ever used for myself. Yet, it took great courage to stand before a TV camera and an audience and say that I was infected with HIV. I was heading into uncharted waters to say the least.
As I have moved forward from that day and lived openly with my status, I have remained a well-known face of HIV/AIDS, continuing to speak publicly to various community groups and students, among others. I also share a number of posts on my Facebook page about my health and the things I encounter from time to time, such as stigma and shaming. On more than one occasion it has been rumored that I have died. Image the surprised look on the faces of those who run into me after hearing that I am dead!
As we continue to live longer with HIV/AIDS, folks like myself sometimes struggle with the long-term effects of the meds we take, or have taken, and it perhaps sometimes forces us to "rethink" our outlook on life, in that so many of us were not supposed to have made it this far.
As I mark this anniversary of my disclosure of being HIV positive, and World AIDS Day, I pause to honor those still here and to remember those taken. Having lived my entire life in rural Tennessee, naturally I call it home. But, while on this HIV journey, my life has interconnected with those across the United States and in some cases around the world through the common thread of the AIDS epidemic and the impact it has had on our lives.
Journey on ...
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