Aging with HIV
"And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." Kahlil Gibran In our society we tend to push our senior citizens aside. We forget that they still have a lot to offer. It's called AGEISM. I haven't written a blog for a while now; due to a stubborn infection that required numerous doses of antibiotic and its effects to get it under control. Furthermore I was finding it difficult to find a topic to write about. I was feeling more isolated than usual, and more depressed as well. Then one day, I found an article in a newsletter called http://www.thebody.com entitled : What's so Hard About Living With AIDS When You're Over 50? My spirits were immediately lifted. I'm 53, and have lived with "the little bugger" for 27 years. I don't hear or see a lot of information or images in the media about the over 50 HIV crowd. The most visible figure we see is Magic Johnson. His fame tends to glamorize HIV, as he has the financial and social means to be applauded everywhere he goes. Though he does provide a positive boost to the stigma of AIDS in a way that most us can't; hence his contribution is most welcome. Living over 50 with HIV is no longer unique, 1/3 of people who have HIV (in North America) are 50 years old or older. This figure will grow to 1\2 by 2015; due to improved treatments. On the other hand it is discouraging that the numbers are growing. I have to say that this was news to me. I tended to feel even more isolated than most because I'd been around so long and I didn't seem to fit the more youthful model of someone with HIV that is often portrayed in the media etc. Now I feel I belong to a group; a group that experiences life much the way I do. The realities of growing older with HIV are not always positive. We get to deal longer with the stigmatization, the medications and the regular aging challenges. Older people are often not as educated about HIV, tend to have low self-esteem; are more isolated, feel less useful. Much of the information that is put out there is geared toward the younger generation. When we consider that older adults will be the majority of people with HIV in the next decade; are we ready to meet those needs? I mean when I was diagnosed, my doctor plainly told me I had 5 years to live. It is a popular saying that you should live as though each day were your last. I could write a book about the ridiculous decisions. I've made with the idea that I might die tomorrow. I've run up my credit cards so many times it's absurd. Who would have thought that people with HIV would live long lives? We need to change that thinking. I need to change that thinking for myself. This is what ageism means. The medical system has to accept the fact that HIV has a place in the whole bag of illnesses that come with aging. But who will care for them? Like myself, most 50+ live alone, their families have grown and moved away. They don't receive enough emotional support, or practical support with daily chores. For example, I still haven't had a home-care person come to my home, to assist me with housekeeping and laundry. Vacuuming is a workout, leaving me with little energy to do the things I enjoy, like painting or even visiting with friends. I have fallen a number of times due to my poor balance. When I think of the energy I used to have 10 years ago, teaching, driving, preparing meals for 3 children, maintaining my home....so where are all the caregivers for older adults living with HIV? My poor doctor, who is lovely and sympathetic in every way, doesn't seem to know what to do with me. He keeps me pain-free, bless him. I get a nursing visit once a week, and as long as I'm vertical , it would seem that things are good. But things aren't good. I live in an assisted-living senior's complex (though I'm not officially a senior till age 55), it's the best the medical system can do right now. Of course, even to me, this just sounds like a lot of complaining; I don't have a lot in common with the much older people in this building; I was supposed to die 3 years ago when I was placed on Palliative Care; so I've said all my goodbyes, many times over to many people in my life. Up until I read the article in thebody I thought of myself as a dying person, all the people around me, think of me as a dying person. Somehow, this has to be changed and re-examined. What may have been true 30 years ago is no longer true today. Now I'm so grateful to hear people talk about their age and the years they have been HIV+ I am an aging person, not exclusively a dying person. So, how do I change my thinking, after all these years....suggestions? Peace~Gisele
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