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How I'm Surviving and Thriving With HIV

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On my 43rd birthday, I am reflecting on my birthday also happening to be the anniversary of my HIV diagnosis.

Thirteen years ago, I was walking to meet a friend on First Hill in Seattle for a birthday coffee and I collapsed while walking uphill. I’d had chronic bronchitis that had recently progressed to pneumonia, but I thought I was over it. After an accidental exposure maybe nine months before, I’d been tested and the test was negative, so I thought I was OK. Shortly after, I was prescribed immunosuppressive medications, which unbeknownst to me caused me to progress from HIV to AIDS really quickly.

Fortunately, I collapsed pretty much right in front of the emergency room entrance to Swedish Hospital, where the staff took really good care of me. I spent most of the next six weeks in the hospital recovering from pneumocystis pneumonia. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, within six months my immune system had recovered and my viral load was undetectable, where it’s remained ever since.

I’ve always been open about my status, because stigma kills and because HIV is not a death sentence, nor is it anything to be ashamed of. In fact, treatment for my HIV has, for a number of years, been simpler and easier to maintain than my rheumatoid arthritis (RA), fibromyalgia or pretty much any of the other chronic conditions I deal with. In fact being HIV-positive has made me become more in touch with my body and my health, and it’s taught me how to advocate for myself. It’s also been a wonderful way to weed out bigots and the ignorant when it comes to the dating world. In case you didn’t know, it isn’t possible to get HIV from sex with someone who is undetectable. Sure, I’ve experienced rejection from some guys who haven’t been able to look past my HIV status, but I’ve always felt like that’s their loss. Someone who wants to remain ignorant about something that’s a part of who I am, isn’t someone I want or need to be with anyways.

I’m certainly not “glad” I have HIV, but today, on the start of my 43rd year on this earth and the 13th year of my HIV diagnosis, I’m genuinely grateful for the lessons that living with this diagnosis has taught me. I’m not ashamed, I will never hide in the shadows, and I hope that my story inspires others to get tested and get treated, because even with HIV, you can still live a full, proud and enriching life. Don’t let fear keep you from getting tested. Don’t let fear keep you from starting treatment. And if you’re newly diagnosed and have questions, or you’re overdue for an HIV test and you’re scared, hit me up. Message me, and we’ll talk about it. I won’t judge you, I won’t shame you. Because there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Much love to all of you.

Photo by Margot Pandone on Unsplash

Originally published: June 1, 2021
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