Sunday, May 19, 2013
Gifts of Living with HIV
Recently, a man, I have never met, wrote a letter to the Chico (CA) Board of Supervisors, stating and I quote: “Kelly Patterson is a transvestite prostitute with AIDS from West Virginia, the land of the wild and wonderful WHITES." For the record, I am from KENTUCKY! A close friend was brave enough to tell me she was worried she might get HIV from sharing nasal spray with me. And just today, someone who is not living with HIV said to me, “I feel for you having HIV.”All recent woeful reminders of the fear, ignorance, and stigma still around the topic of AIDS, in the United States, in 2013—Wow?! Are we STILL here, world?!!
Since the topic of HIV/AIDS has been coming up for me a lot recently, I decided to look at how living with HIV has benefited me for the past 20 years.
In my experience, there are many BIG gifts to living with HIV:
1. Since I was exposed to HIV, at the age of 19, by the same needles they used to treat me for malaria (while doing volunteer work in East Africa), and told I only had about 10 years to live, I did not get sucked into the “American Dream Trap”—you know, mortgages, $10K weddings, materialism, credit card debt, student loans, car loans, insurance plans, taxes, etc. Instead, I chose to bounce freely around the globe, pretty much doing whatever I wanted, trying to experience as much from life as possible—from working in foreign slums to climbing sacred ruins to participating in Ayahuasca ceremonies to living in an ashram and then some.
2. I have no fear of DEATH, which allows me to saunter into some of the most “dangerous” places on this planet and assist others less fortunate than I. It also allows me to gleefully cliff dive; do category 5 rapids; SCUBA dive; ski; couchsurf; travel/move to foreign countries alone; and other activities that some people label as “dangerous.”
3. I do not waste time, energy or words being bitter, angry, boring, critical, or unhappy. If I am unhappy, I change my perception of the situation, change the situation, or leave the situation entirely. *I have learned that if I allow myself to be depressed, self-piteous, or angry too long, it will ALWAYS show up as an illness in my body.
4. HIV reminds me to take care of myself. If I am neglecting myself in ANY way, my body will stop me in my tracks and remind me, “You need to take care of yourself right now!”
5. Gives me carte blanche to tell people to stop bitching about their illnesses, aches and pains because I can always pull out the, "Well, at least you don't have AIDS!" card. *It never fails to make people stop complaining. ;)
6. I have genuine empathy for the sick and the dying.
7. I know the men who have loved me over the years (including two husbands!) REALLY loved me! *Plus, disclosing your HIV status to a potential romantic partner INSTANTLY weeds out the people who just want to fuck you from the people who really want to get to know you. Priceless.
8. The shock factor alone is priceless! I know every time I share I am HIV+ with someone, I am educating that person and perhaps even breaking a stereotype he/she may have of people living with HIV/AIDS.
9. I confess, more than once I have used HIV as an excuse to get out of work or something I did not want to do. HIV makes saying NO to people, especially people you love, easier.
10. I am showing the world, through example, that not only can people live FULL, fun, adventurous, loving, happy lives with HIV/AIDS (anywhere in the world!) but you can do it for a long time, without taking medications!
Sometimes, I think I am the lucky one!
Kelly N Patterson (aka, the Goofy Guru)