I attended the 2023 USCHA conference in Washington DC last week. All I can is wow...what an experience. Backstory: I have been out of the HIV loop for quite a few years. (My other life took over.) However, I could never forget that HIV is a big part of my life, as much as I subconsciously put it on the backburner. I received an email from the lovely Porchia Dees, encouraging me to apply for a scholarship to attend. I quickly looked at my schedule and made a plan in my head on how it could work (time off request, sitter for my daughter) and applied right away. Those were always my barriers to getting involved in a lot of things, let alone travelling away from home for a week. I decided that I wanted to be a part of this and I'm so glad it all came true.
Arriving at USCHA and seeing the huge crowd of people that were "just like me", I immediately felt free. But finally meeting all the lifetime/dandelion survivors that I have been communicating with for years via social media and/or zoom calls but had never met in person... that was the highlight of my life. It is a very surreal feeling to be around people that really understand your journey. Yes, there are plenty of long-term survivors that can relate because we have the same chronic illness, but it's nothing compared to sharing the life experience of being born HIV-positive with others that were also born HIV-positive. Managing HIV as children and into adulthood is an experience and a bond that is difficult to describe.
For many years I didn't think I would be amongst such a crowd of people like me, sharing our stories that were very similar but different in their own unique ways. To work with my peers on a strategy session of how we can be more visible and be included in this HIV community was amazing to say the least. Being onstage providing a glimmer of education and visibility to our population within the HIV community, chanting "WE'RE STILL HERE."
I am so honored and blessed to be a part of it all. Although I know HIV isn't all that I am, it is certainly a big part of my life. HIV can bring good things, people, and opportunities into your life, but it can also be a very lonely place. I still struggle with disclosure even after 39 years of being HIV-positive, so it was such a freeing feeling to not have to worry about that anymore. I am excited to continue this journey and become as involved as I can be.