This month marks my 9th year of living with HIV. Wow. Wait, this month marks my 9th year of living with HIV? I had to write it again because who would ever have thought I'd be here? The wild part is it took until two days ago for me to be triggered by the thought. That's a small wonder because usually by mid-August I'm getting all up in my feelings and having crazy anxiety. I don't have that this year. I'm triggered but not in the same negative way.
Co-incidentally, my 49th birthday is next month. Being diagnosed just before 40 meant I was less focused on that milestone than I may have been. I don't clearly remember what I did and felt when I turned 40. I know I took a 3-day cruise. I was too tired from the virus and distracted with hiding my new truth from the friends I was with to enjoy it. I even stayed on board the ship and didn't even go into Mexico when we docked. I can see the strain in my eyes, and the lie in my smile in pictures. I was very much caught up in shock mode and trying to come to terms with how I felt about the potential of death (I still thought I was going to die at that point) as opposed to celebrating the joy of 40 years of life. I do remember distinctly thinking that fate could kiss my whole entire ass because 40 was supposed to bring the sense of freedom and wisdom and transition all my older friends told me about. My self-esteem was supposed to get a boost and I was supposed to be having the best sex of my life. Instead I got fear, shock, and the beginnings of what I recognize now as putting one foot in front of the other in survival mode. Like, living by reflex instead of intention and purpose.
I know I'm not quite at the milestone of 50 yet. Not quite. Not quite the milestone of 10 years with HIV either. Thank the tiny black baby Jesus I am no longer living in survival mode from HIV. What I am this year is, I don't know… reflective maybe? Meditative? I'm involved with a project regarding aging with HIV. I'm on a board of directors that focuses on research for people living with HIV and aging. Close to 50 percent of people diagnosed with HIV are over 50, did you know that? At this age and with nine years under my belt, I am definitely aging with HIV. I have the knee, back and hip pain to prove it! I'm at the age where 20 and 30-somethings are calling me "Auntie" and asking for advice. I'm all of a sudden parenting again (my grandchild). I am most definitely, regretfully (and resentfully I might add) NOT having the best sex of my life. I'm not a nymphomaniac by any means, but eh-hem, cough, cough, if nothing else, 40 damn sure came with a plethora of those hormones my girlfriends warned me about. Laugh if you want, but I'm irritated by not having great sex. I've earned it, darn it!!!! It's a healthy thing that's good for a woman's physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
In taking stock as I write this, what I DO have at this point in my life and my journey is a greater sense of self and others that I may not have had if not for HIV. My self-esteem has actually been bolstered since I worked through the hard parts because I realize that I am still who I am in spite of HIV, and stronger for it. It makes you look at your life in a different way.There is life experience to fall back on, practical things that make me feel more resilient. I have a solid community of people made of different races, genders, sexual orientations, backgrounds, experiences and triumphs I wouldn't have if not for HIV. I have a purpose found through helping and caring for others. I didn't become a nurse until after my diagnosis. Who knows if I would have done it otherwise? I said once upon a time that my goal was to reflect a little light so that other people didn't feel so lonely. I have gotten that back in spades. As for the sex… well… since we're friends and y'all are part of my village, let's just say my battery-operated boyfriend is a stand-in until I find Mr. Right. Which I will. Eventually.
Blessings. Be well.