A Girl Like Me

I recently encountered the harsh reality of the stigma that goes along with being HIV+ once again. One of my bestest (lol) friends was accused of being HIV+ because she hangs out with me. I often forget just how horrible people see me sometimes until it creeps up like this. I have to remember that being open about my status, in hopes of opening some eyes, there are sometimes consequences that tag along with this. People are STILL very ignorant to the subject and choose to not educate themselves because they don’t feel they have to. My biggest fear is that my children will be ridiculed for having a mother that is HIV+. Kids tend to follow what their parents teach them and by what they see.

This is going to sound REALLY crazy but I can remember at the age of 14-15 my mom had “The Talk” with me…

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Why It Matters

Tonight I had an epiphany of sorts. I’ve often been troubled by my interest in HIV/AIDS. Why do I now care so much? I’ve been tempted to think it’s for the selfish reason of I am HIV+. As far as my health goes I’m well taken care of and have little to worry about. Why do I care to put so much energy to a cause that seems so minuscule in comparison to some of the other health issues we face? Many modern diseases seem to effect so many more people than HIV/AIDS…. cancer, MS, autism, diabetes… the list goes on and on, and this is only considering the health problems we face, let alone the problems with the world economy and such. Often times I feel guilty and selfish to be advocating for awareness for a disease that *seems* to effect so fewer people than many others that we are faced with. I can’t explain it really, but it sucks to feel this way.

I had a great night out tonight with a dear friend. His father committed suicide 5 years after being diagnosed with AIDS. That is his connection with HIV/AIDS. It’s always impressed me how much he puts towards awareness… how much money he donates, and how important it remains for him to fight. We had dinner at the restaurant of a friend of his. Turns out her brother died of AIDS a few years back. After a couple glasses of wine and some heart to heart discussion by the end of the night it became clear. While showing me a video of an Annie Lennox (who’s brother died from AIDS) singing “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” it clicked for me. HIV/AIDS is one of the only big-time diseases we face that can honestly change someone’s opinion about the type of person you are. No other disease seems to cause the “shame” that can come along with HIV/AIDS. I’m not very good with words, and I’m struggling to put my feelings down here. What about my friend’s dad? What about all the ways it has affected my friend and his life? What about our friend who owned the restaurant? She can’t go a day without missing her brother. What about Annie Lennox… and the way her life has been affected by HIV/AIDS? What about that 19 year-old young man I saw last week who’s family has disowned him after finding out he was gay and HIV+? What about the hemophiliac, like Ryan White, who contracted the disease through no fault of his own, but still had to face all the shitty stigma and hatred that comes along with it. These few examples come nowhere close to describing the hurt and extreme pain that has been felt because of HIV/AIDS. Imagine having a happy life when all of a sudden every friend you have, literally EVERYBODY around you and in your community suddenly begins DYING because of an unknown sickness. Imagine the fear! Imagine living through that only to catch that sickness 20 years later because of a stupid mistake that most everyone makes. Now imagine all the families around these people. All not only effected by the sickness and loss caused by HIV/AIDS, but also dealing with the fucking stigma and hatred that comes with it. Seriously, think about how that must feel!

I’ve had it extremely good. I am beyond blessed to be HIV+ and have it as easy as I do. I say this with tears in my eyes…. that is why I care… and that is why I’m thankful for my experience. I could not imagine going through what some of the people effected by this #*%@ disease have gone through. For me to be given this experience and the gifts that I have and not use them to, in some small way, make it better for those who have it hard now, or to continue the fight that so many before me have fought would make me a pathetic, and in my opinion, useless person.

Pedro Zamora… another life changed by HIV/AIDS resource centers.

While looking for info on the The Names Project/AIDS Memorial Quilt I kept coming across one of the quilt panels with the name ‘Pedro Zamora’ on it.  Tonight I researched his story a little… and spent much of that time on the verge of tears… with inspiration welling up inside of me.  This is a man we can learn from.  Pedro was a cast member on The Real World: San Francisco in 1994.  He was openly HIV positive.  Pedro was a junior in high school when he was diagnosed Nov 9, 1989.

Despite the devastation of his family at the news, he decided to redouble his efforts to graduate from high school before he died, though he did not give much thought to his health, as he was still in denial. He graduated high school in 1990, a year early, but five months later, he suffered a severe case of shingles that covered the entire right side of his body and face. With medication, the condition subsided after two months, but it inspired Zamora to join a Miami-based HIV/AIDS resource center called Body Positive, where he met others with HIV and AIDS, and educated himself about the disease, learning how to lead a positive life with it. Soon thereafter, he came to talk about his condition to others to attempt to raise awareness about the disease in his community.  –wikipedia.com

With just a couple Google searches it becomes very evident just how much awareness Pedro brought to HIV/AIDS.  He put a face to the disease and humanized it… greatly decreasing the false stigma that surrounds it.

Pedro found the resources and support he needed at Body Positive, an HIV/AIDS resource center not unlike Souther Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF).  With the support he found there Pedro went on to lead a positive, healthy, successful life regardless of the amount of time he had left.  His life continues to inspire us today.

These are pictures of Pedro during the filming of The Real World: San Francisco (Feb 12 – Jun 19, 1994).

This is a picture of Pedro a few days before his death on Nov 11, 1994… just five months after filming finished on The Real World: San Francisco.  Pedro died the day after the final episode of The Real World: San Francisco aired.

Organizations like SAAF are changing and saving lives everyday.  They give support, direction, and hope to those who feel devastated by their diagnosis… something I have witnessed personally.

My team ‘Run for Red’ is currently raising money for SAAF’s AIDSWALK Tucson 2011.  Please consider participating by either donating or registering to run/walk at AIDSWALK.

Click here to donate or register to run/walk.

Mom would not be happy…

Lately I’ve been pretty much failing at taking care of my body. I’m dehydrated and not eating enough… Or eating too much and of the wrong stuff. I can’t even tell you the last time I really ate some vegetables… Like an actual honest to god serving of vegetables. Drinking water… Meh, not to bad during the week, but the weekend I don’t think I drink hardly any. I’m not getting near the amount of sleep I should be… As evidence by tonight where I’m going to sleep at 1:00 am. The gym hasn’t been the most familiar place for me lately either. Last few weeks I’ve maybe made it to there twice a week.

I’m thinking much of this is due to work. It’s pretty stressful right now. At lunch time I just want to get away for a bit, and by the time I leave at the end of the day I’m ready to just go home. Once I get there I don’t even care to think about what I’m going to eat for dinner so I just don’t eat.

So this is my declaration of change! This week I’m going to eat better… I’m not going to Culver’s at lunch, and my diet is going to be balanced. After work I’m going to go to the gym every day possible. I’m going to make a point to drink plenty of water, and in the evenings at home I’m going to eat something* nutritious. I will do my best to get to bed at 10:00 to get a full eight hours of sleep. If I do this I’m sure I’ll feel much better come next weekend. It’s funny how we know we feel better when we take care of ourselves… But yet we still let ourselves go and then feel like crap because of it. What stupid creatures we are sometimes.

Fear, you suck!

Fear really sucks.  It can be considered a good thing that many times protects us.  However, it can also be very paralyzing.
I’m afraid of staying in Tucson… of staying here out of ease and not pushing myself to be better.
I’m afraid of moving to Pennsylvania (or anywhere actually) and falling flat on my face… and then being stuck there or stuck back at my hometown.
I’m afraid of believing in myself and then having to live with myself if I fail.  It’s funny that failing in that sense would be so embarrassing for a me when I usually have so little shame.
I’m afraid when it comes to my health care and medical coverage…  Starting meds and missing doses…  Starting meds and not being able to get them.
I’m afraid of not living up to my fullest potential.
I’m afraid that my fullest potential isn’t as full as I think it is.

See… fear sucks.  Right now I’m caught in this in-between.  I need to make a move, but fear has made it very hard.  When I try to remove the aspect of fear I end up fearing I’ll do something irrational.  Soooo… I feel a bit paralyzed.

Writing this I feel like I need to take a step of faith.  I need to continue pushing forward with moving to in October and starting school in the spring.  I need to believe in myself and know that I will do fine in school.  It’s a big change, but I feel it’s needed.  Above all else… this has to be something I do for me.

No fear!!