Si Se Puede: Speaking Up as Allies to Latinx Communities

“Si se puede” or “yes, one can,” a term coined by Dolores Huerta, could be heard in speeches by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in the early 1970s. It’s a slogan that not only served to unify Latinx people, namely Mexican Americans, but also raised awareness around the plight of farm workers. It is still used almost 40 years later for various causes. Little did we know that a decade after the saying became popular, the world would face a health epidemic — HIV/AIDS — it had never seen before, and Hispanics would become a disproportionately affected group.

For the past twelve years, my life has largely centered on this very group, even though I myself am not Hispanic. At 14 years old, I began to take food and clothes down to a local orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, through missionary work with my church. Almost immediately, it was apparent that I needed to learn the language if I wanted to be effective. I learned formal Spanish including reading and writing in school, while I learned what we call “street” Spanish from monthly visits to Mexico.

Later on, Tijuana would grow to become like a second home. It’s where I met my now ex-girlfriend and possibly the very place I contracted HIV. It was in this border town, a melting pot of both U.S. and Mexican culture, that I learned about life. The people, ways of life, and spirit of helping fellow humans I’ve seen in Tijuana has always inspired me. It’s also opened my eyes, educated me with real-life experiences on the plight of undocumented workers and given me a bird’s eye view on the rippling effects of poverty.

Josh at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington D.C. September 2016

Although I am Caucasian, I have continually immersed myself in Mexican culture. Whether it is television, food or music, I am “Tijuanense” — Spanish slang for someone from TJ. I was given the Spanish nickname of “Juanito Perez” (a name I got after working as a painter in my early teens) among others such as “Miklo Velka” and “Güerro.” I may not be Mexican by blood but I often say I am at heart.
My love for the Spanish language and knowledge of the culture has served especially useful in my HIV advocacy. I help moderate the largest Spanish-speaking international support group on Facebook, Grupo Internacional para Personas con VIH/SIDA y las Personas Afectadas, founded by fellow HIV advocate Maria Mejia. With over 18,000 members from across Latinx America, the group has given me a unique perspective not only of HIV here in the United States, but also on the challenges faced by the Latinx community across the world. Whether it is antiretroviral shortages due to the political situation in Venezuela or a lack of one-pill-a-day treatment options in countries such as Mexico, change is necessary.

Culturally, this virus remains a highly stigmatized and hush-hush subject within the community. Far too often, the voices of Hispanics go unheard, in some cases due to fear of social rejection due to the simple act of being open about one’s status. As discussed in the group on Facebook and elsewhere, various factors that can contribute to the stigma, including male machismo, lack of education/awareness, religious beliefs, language barriers, immigration status and poverty. I have great regard for the power of these issues, informed by my personal experiences and my efforts to appreciate the diverse cultures the Latinx community. I am committed to being a strong ally.

To those of use who are not Latinx, I urge you to put the term “si se puede” to use by uniting with our Hispanic brothers and sisters to look beyond our differences and break the stigma. At a time when Hispanics make up almost one-third of new HIV infections and the alarming news that one in 36 Latinx men (and one-quarter of gay Latinx men) will become HIV positive if current trends continue, it’s more important to speak up now than ever. We must support the work of Latinx leaders to get information about treatment as prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) out to the Hispanic community. By doing so, we are not only chipping away at the stigma, but also saving lives along the way.

A battle isn’t won with a single soldier but rather with an army, a team in which each person’s role contributes to the overall group goal. It’s my hope that as an ally I can continue to lend a voice to the voiceless and a helping hand to a community that often lives in silence, alienated from the HIV/AIDS conversation.

If you are a Latinx person living with HIV or know someone who is, I would encourage you to visit the HIV/AIDS Resource Center for Latinos at by clicking here. If you are in search of a Spanish support group online check out Grupo Internacional by clicking here.

**This article was originally written by Joshua Middleton for Permission to share published content should be obtained through the original author and or**

Original Article Link can be found by clicking here


My 10 Step to Do List for Enduring Depression

This blog was published for The Body and original weblink for article can be found by clicking here.

My 10-Step to-Do List for Enduring Depression A plan of action to combat depression is necessary. While we may never be cured of this condition, we can take steps to suppress it. Some of these things may make us feel uncomfortable or at times seem down right pointless; however, I promise the more you do to actively combat your depression, the better you are going to feel in the long run.

As someone who has lived with depression for many years, I have learned there is no magical one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s my hope that implementing even one of these steps can help you on your own journey.
Credit: PixelEmbargo for iStock via Thinkstock.

Physical Activity and Diet

Physical Activity and Diet

Study after study has shown that exercise can help fight depression. It increases the endorphins or “feel good” chemicals flowing throughout our systems.

 I started out slow and am still not where I need to be, but have taken a step in the right direction. As the old saying goes: “The only bad workout is the one you didn’t do.” I push myself to go to the gym every other day, approximately three to four times a week, and do thirty minutes of cardio along with thirty minutes of weight training. Over time, I will increase the amount I work out, but for now, it’s just right for me. It energizes and motivates me to keep pushing forward.

Eating healthy is also important. I won’t sit here and say that I am a health nut; however, especially lately I have been trying to incorporate a more balanced diet into my health plan. I still fall prey to an occasional temptation for a sweet now and then, but overall, I feel better when I eat more healthfully. Cutting out soft drinks and junk food while increasing your intake of fruits and veggies are simple things you can do to set your diet back on track.

Credit: artpaseka for iStock via Thinkstock.



Music is said to be the pathway to the soul, and I agree. Nothing gets my blood pumping more than uplifting music. As someone who has an hour commute to work every day, I have to find a way to keep myself occupied. Music invokes emotion, and while that can be counterproductive at times, it’s often helped me push through the depression. Soothing and relaxing music triggers good feelings and puts me in a peaceful state. As someone who has a love for the Mexican culture and the Spanish language, this incorporates the majority of what I listen to. Listen to whatever you enjoy because it will get you out of your mind’s thinking trap and take you to a state of being where your emotions have a voice.

Credit: Katerina_Andronchik for iStock via Thinkstock.

Build and Maintain a Support Network

Build and Maintain a Support Network

Building a support network is a big step that everyone living with depression should have in place. Whether it is a close friend, significant other, beloved family member or therapist, we all need someone we can trust and talk to. For me, a combination of all of these networks helps. At any given time, if I start to feel depressed, I know I have someone I can call and speak with or even visit to express my feelings. Make it clear with your networks what you want in return when you express how you are feeling. Most of the time, I just want someone to listen. And I am fortunate to have a great support network that will do just that.

Credit: aelitta for iStock via Thinkstock.

Get Creative

Get Creative

Whether it is writing, painting, drawing or singing, do something you love that can let your feelings flow. For me as a blogger and writer, that come’s in the form of written words and poetry. Putting my thoughts on paper is a way for me to fully work through my emotions and express what I am feeling inside. It’s not always the finished product but instead the process of writing that helps. Whatever might work for you, take up a creative hobby, and if you don’t know what yours is, begin the process of exploring one. You won’t regret it!

Credit: print10 for iStock via Thinkstock.

Connect With Nature

Connect With Nature

The beauty of the outdoors brings a sense of mindfulness that I’ve found effective in my journey. Whether it is relaxing at our family cabin in Big Bear, swimming in the Pacific Ocean or exploring the beauty of Alaska aboard the annual HIV Poz Cruise, nature is important to me. I forget about the depression and for that moment focus solely on the beauty that surrounds me. It’s a very therapeutic exercise and fun at the same time.

Credit: Purestock via Thinkstock.



Whether you are a born-again Christian like me or hold no religious views, spirituality is something that can be beneficial to anyone living with depression. Spirituality is simply connecting with something bigger than us — connecting with our surroundings in a search for the meaning of life. Religion aside, it’s something that all humans experience on one level or another. It helps us to look at the big picture because, when we do, our problems do not seem so overwhelming. It helps us discover our purpose in life, which in turn inspires hope within us that, although we may be going through a tough time, things can change for the better just as quickly as they did for the worse. I personally practice praying, reading bible scriptures and focusing on improving my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Credit: cihanterlan for iStock via Thinkstock.



It is well known that there is a close correlation between those living with depression and our pets. I always had animals growing up; however, I never experienced a stronger bond than in the years of enduring depression. I have two dogs named Lobo and Lacy; they both play a vital role in my health care and have been there for me through my worst. They simply want to love and to be loved, the most basic principles of life itself. When I feel down and drained of energy, seeing the smiles on their faces is an amazing feeling. They define what it means to live in the moment, and simply by being with them that energy transfers to me. Nothing like a good fluffy hug to lift my spirits.

I love the story of six-year-old child who asks his parent why dogs die at such a young age. The boy says, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The child continues, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

Credit: Shedevrator for iStock via Thinkstock.

The Power of Positive Thinking

The Power of Positive Thinking

I know this step seems cliché, and I agree that it is not enough to shake the depression at times. However, I have realized that surrounding myself with positive people and filtering out the negativity and toxicity changes how my mind thinks. Sometimes it may seem as if there is nothing positive in our lives, but I guarantee you there is if you would only look for it. I suggest writing down three things you are grateful for. Regardless of how big or small, over time this will change the way you see the world. This is more of a mindset than an individual practice, but when implemented, you will notice the change.

Credit: Jeremy Webster for Hemera via Thinkstock.

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

Depression and isolation often go hand and hand. It’s actually something that I’ve practiced in the past because I don’t want others to suffer. I’d rather block them out, ignore them and fall into a state of nothingness. It’s easier to do that than to accept that, to fully get ahold of my depression, I have to interact with society. As a social media advocate, this also means taking a break from the digital world. Although inside I may not be feeling it, the benefits of physically interacting with others are enormous. It could be as simple as hanging out with friends or giving to someone who is less fortunate. Doing these things serves as a distraction, as the focus and attention shifts from my own thoughts to the lives of others.

Credit: dalebor for iStock via Thinkstock.

Recognition and Acceptance

Recognition and Acceptance

Awareness and recognition of what triggers my depression is important. This not only helps me better understand my condition, but also helps me formulate a better response the next time it happens. For many, recognizing when depression is sinking in can be a hard task. For me, I now know almost automatically. It’s been a learning process to get to this point; however, I can now accept when it is hitting and implement the steps above to suppress it to the best of my ability.

Credit: EgudinKa for iStock via Thinkstock.

General Disclaimer: is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your health care provider.

San Francisco, CA, USA

Cada 40 Segundos (Version en Español)

Cada cuarenta segundos

“Necesitamos crear conciencia de la otra epidemia-depresión”

Por Joshua Middleton

Este es una translacion literal de un articulo que fue escrito y que es propiedad de  A&U:America’s AIDS Magazine : El enlace original del articulo se puede encontrar aqui. Translacion cortesía de Kraus en 

Soy VIH-Positivo y, si, también vivo con depresión. Es correcto, lo he dicho. La gran palabra con “D” que nadie quiere decir. Permíteme compartir contigo mi perspectiva sobre una epidemia posiblemente mucho más grande que cualquiera que hayamos visto antes.

Joshua pedaleando a través del Golden Gate en un viaje reciente a San Francisco. Foto cortesía de J. Middleton


En un viaje reciente, mientras pedaleaba sobre el puente del Golden Gate, la realidad de lo que se ha vuelto un tema tan tabú realmente cobró sentido. La obra maestra arquitectónica que es visitada por enjambres de turistas anualmente también se ubica arriba de un cementerio donde miles han sucumbido a la aparentemente interminable batalla contra los problemas mentales, en específico la depresión.

Mientras el lecho marino empieza a levantarse, me asomé a mi derecha hacia otro icónico pedazo de historia en el Área de la Bahía, la infame prisión de alcatraz. Imagina estar encarcelado en tal lugar. Cuatro paredes confinándote de la libertad con solo un vistazo del mundo exterior. Un lugar que tiene entradas y salidas, pero, a pesar de saber cómo salir de él, no pareces ser capaz de lograrlo. La felicidad y alegría son tomadas de ti y la realidad es la extensión de tiempo que esta frente a ti. Parece que solo estas siguiendo la corriente. La peor parte de ello es que, nadie habla acerca de lo que estás pasando; como si no existieras. Se te deja con un sentimiento de aislamiento, rechazado por la sociedad. Ahora sabes cómo es para alguien que vive con depresión.

Irónicamente, ambas están localizadas en San Francisco, una ciudad que ha estado afectada mayormente por el virus desde el inicio de la epidemia de SIDA. Aunque algunas estadísticas muestran que el sesenta por ciento de los individuos que están viviendo con VIH también están viviendo con depresión y que somos tres veces más probable que nos deprimamos, la sociedad como un todo no le importa hablar de ello. Es incomodo, extraño y lejano a ellos que no lo han experimentado.

Sus efectos en alguien viviendo con VIH van desde casos extremos de suicidio a otros problemas como una disminución al apego al tratamiento, abuso de sustancias, y una reducción en general de la calidad de vida.

¿Sabías que el suicidio es una causa principal de muerte? Tan solo en 2014 hubo poco más de un millón de muertes al año, lo que se reduce a una muerte por suicidio aproximadamente cada cuarenta segundos. En dos-tercios de los casos, la depresión fue un factor subyacente al momento que terminaron con sus vidas. Por el momento que termines de leer este artículo en teoría cinco más se habrán ido porque no pudieron aguantar más. Fueron fuertes por demasiado tiempo.

Así es, fuertes. No leíste mal ni hay errores. Soportar la depresión requiere fuerza. No es un signo de debilidad y es el mismo estigma que nos dice esas cosas y que está manteniendo a tantos en las sombras del silencio. Necesitamos un nuevo enfoque sobre como miramos esta condición. Necesitamos animar a la gente a hablar y buscar ayuda cuando sea posible.

¿Cómo podemos esperar que la gente se adhiera al tratamiento cuando tomar una pastilla parece tan difícil como subir una montaña? ¿Por qué no estaría al alta el abuso de sustancias cuando la gente se siente tan mal en sus vidas que encuentran un modo de estar temporalmente bien y enmascarar su dolor? ¿Cómo podemos decirle a la gente a que vea lo positivo de la vida cuando el mundo parece estarse desmoronando tras ellos?

Entendiblemente, el VIH es un diagnóstico que cambia la vida. Es un virus que ha sido estigmatizado desde el principio y por varias razones puede activar depresión. Un cuidado integral tanto de la salud física como mental desde el inicio del diagnóstico es vital. Hay ayuda ahí afuera, pero la gente solo la busca cuando están listos, pero son frecuentemente retenidos por el estigma.

¿Qué puedes hacer tu para ayudar a alguien con depresión? Escuchar. Sí, es así de simple. Date cuenta que un oído imparcial y que no juzgue es crucial. Una que no esté ahí para ofrecer opiniones no solicitadas o consejos pero que solo ofrezca una línea simple de comunicación y dar un abrazo cuando sea necesario. Con este paso sencillo. Habrás validado los sentimientos de ese alguien en saber que no hay vergüenza en decir, “tengo depresión y está bien hablar de ello”.

¡Si vamos enserio acerca de alcanzar nuestra meta cero entonces debemos empezar por hablar de depresión!

El cambio inicia con una conversación y reconocer el problema – ¡Eso empieza aquí!

¿Estás buscando servicios por salud mental/abuso de sustancias? Llama la línea directa nacional SAMHSA gratuita al 1 (800) 662-HELP. ¿Estas experimentando una crisis de salud mental justo ahora o te sientes suicida? ¿Necesitas a alguien con quien hablar? Por favor, llama gratuitamente al 1 (800) 273-8255.

Joshua es un blogger de redes sociales, educador y orador público que aboga por crear conciencia del VIH y salud mental. Como alguien viviendo con VIH y depresión el mismo, él sabe lo difícil que puede ser, pero también cree firmemente en el impacto de relatar y apoyarse entre sí por medio de compartir su propio viaje personal con el mundo. El ayuda a inspirar esperanza en otros a través de este blog,, al mostrar consistentemente a la gente que “el cielo es el límite: hay vida más allá del VIH”.


Every 40 Seconds

Every Forty Seconds
“We need to raise awareness about the other epidemic—depression”
by Joshua Middleton

Article written for and property of A&U:America’s AIDS Magazine : Original Article Link  can be found  by clicking here 

am HIV-positive and, yes, I also live with depression. That’s right, I said it. The big “D” word that no one wants to say. Let me share with you my perspective on an epidemic possibly far bigger than any we have ever faced before.

Joshua bicycled across the Golden Gate on a recent trip to San Francisco. Photo courtesy J. Middleton


On a recent trip, as I bicycled over the Golden Gate Bridge, the reality of what has become such a taboo subject really hit home. The architectural masterpiece that is visited by swarms of tourists a year also sits above a graveyard where thousands have succumbed to the seemingly neverending battle with mental health issues, namely depression.

Just as the marine layer began to lift, I peered over to my right towards another iconic Bay Area piece of history, the infamous Alcatraz Prison. Imagine being imprisoned in such a place. Four walls confining you from freedom with only a glimpse of the outside world. A place that has entrances and exits but, despite knowing how to get out, you can’t seem to accomplish it. Happiness and joy are taken from you and the reality is the vastness of time that is ahead of you. It seems you are just going through the motions. The worst part of it is, no one talks about what you are going through; it’s as if you don’t exist. You are left with a feeling of isolation, cast out from society. Now you know what it is like for someone who lives with depression.

Ironically, both are located in San Francisco, a city that has been majorly affected by the virus since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Although some statistics show that sixty percent of individuals who are living with HIV are also living with depression and that we are three times more likely to become depressed, society as a whole doesn’t care to talk about it. It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and foreign to those who haven’t experienced it.

Its effects on someone living with HIV range from the extreme cases of suicide to other issues such a decline in treatment adherence, substance abuse, and an overall reduction to quality of life.

Did you know that suicide is a leading cause of death? In 2014 alone there were over one million deaths a year, which breaks down to one death by suicide approximately every forty seconds. In two-thirds of the cases, depression was an underlying factor at the time they ended their lives. By the time you finish reading this article theoretically five more will be gone because they couldn’t hold on any longer. They were strong for far too long.

That’s right, strong. You didn’t misread and no it wasn’t a typo. Enduring depression takes strength. It’s not a sign of weakness and it’s the very stigma that tells us these things that is keeping many in the shadows of silence. We need a new approach to how we look at this condition. We need to encourage people to speak up and seek help whenever possible.

How can we expect people to adhere to treatment when taking a pill appears as difficult as climbing a mountain? Why would substance abuse not be on the rise when people are feeling so low in their lives that they find a way to get a temporary high and mask their pain? How can we tell people to look at the positives in life when the world seems to be crumbling before them?

Understandably, HIV is a life-changing diagnosis. It’s a virus that has been stigmatized from the very beginning and for various reasons it can trigger depression. Integral care of both physical and mental health from the beginning of diagnosis is vital. There is help out there, but people will only reach out for it when they are ready but are often held back by the stigma.

What can you do to help someone with depression? Listen. Yes, it’s that simple. Realize that a nonjudgmental and impartial ear is crucial. One that isn’t there to offer unwanted opinions or advice but just to offer an open line of communication and give a hug when needed. With this one simple step. you have validated someone’s feelings in knowing that there is no shame in saying, “I have depression and it’s okay to talk about it.”

If we are serious about reaching our goal of zero then we must start by talking about depression!

Change starts with a conversation and recognition of the problem—it starts here!

Are you in search of mental health/substance abuse services? Call SAMHSA National Hotline toll-free at 1 (800) 662-HELP. Are you experiencing a mental health crisis right now or feeling suicidal? Need someone to talk to? Please call toll-free 1 (800) 273-8255.


#MyPozMsg Campaign / Campaña de #MiMsjPositivo

For years now, Kevin from RiseUptoHIV, has continually provided a platform for anyone living with HIV/AIDS to share their story. Wether it be the No Shame Campaign or #MyPozMsg campaign, RiseUpToHIV is touching hearts of tens of thousands across the world. I decided to participate in this campaign because it is my hope that through sharing my story it will inspire that same hope in the hearts of others to come to a realization that HIV is truly what we make of it. Will it define you or will it refine you? To view the entire video please click below. For the hearing impaired please click my YouTube Channel here .

Whats your #MyPozMsg? Share it by emailing Kevin from RiseUpToHIV at or message him on facebook.

Por años, Kevin de ElevateAlVIH ha continuado dar una plataforma a las personas viviendo con el VIH/SIDA para compartir sus historias. Si es la campaña de #NoVerguenzaEnSerVIHPositivo o #MiMensajePositivo, ElevateAlVIH esta tocando los corazones de miles de personas en el mundo. Yo decidi participar en esta campaña porque yo quiero brindar esparanza a las personas positivas para que se dan cuenta que el VIH no nos hace sino es lo que hacemos con el virus. Te delimitará o te refiniará? Puedes encontrar el video completo en espanol abajo. Para la comunidad sorda y personas con discapacidad auditiva visita mi canal de YouTube aqui para verlo.

Cual es tu #MiMsjPositivo? Compartalo con Kevin via su email en o mandale un mensaje en el FB.


Bow Ties and Butter Knives: Fighting Stigma Within Our Own Community

Speechless… That was my first reaction when I glanced down at my laptop screen and saw the following comment appear on my Twitter feed.


It was in response to a photo I had posted in support of The Bow Tie Movement Campaign; a grassroots initiative seeking to raise awareness for heterosexual HIV positive men. The words that first caught my attention were knife and neck. Was this someone reaching out for help or yet another stigmatizing comment from someone looking to put others living with HIV down? Then I looked further and what I found shocked me.

This tweet was published not only by another heterosexual HIV advocate, but also one well-known to the public eye. Dick Donato also known as @EvelDick, a reality TV star that appeared on Big Brother and Couples Therapy, shared his two cents on what he thought of the campaign in a series of tweets.


I won’t sugar coat it, his responses upset me. But more than the anger was a feeling of disappointment. As advocates people who follow our lives look up to us. We are being watched constantly and our words have a profound impact, whether we know it or not. I’m a believer in the age-old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.

If the man isn’t a fan of bow ties. Ok, I get it. But to put down a campaign that’s focus is to eliminate stigma by tweeting out stuff like this, makes me feel like we have taken ten steps back in the progress we’ve made to date.

To begin with, the idea of using a comparison of self harm to wearing a bow tie is just not right. Call me hyper-sensitive or say that I am overreacting but as someone who also advocates for mental health awareness, it’s just not appropriate. There is nothing humorous about it. I’ve written in detail about the mental health crisis we are in as seen in some of my previous blogs here and incidences like this don’t help the situation.

The conversation then began to shift…

I learned early on in advocacy that it’s important to stay focussed on one thing, why I wanted to share my story to begin with. Sure, it’s great to know that what I’m doing truly is accomplishing my mission by helping others. But it doesn’t mean that because I haven’t reached 133,000 people, that indicates what I am doing is worthless. What kind of message is that sending? That numbers are what are important? These are people’s lives we are talking about here.

Wether it’s one or one hundred thousand lives, a blog viewed by a couple hundred a month or a show viewed by millions, we all can play a part in this fight. Let’s not put each other down but rather build each other up. This isn’t a competition and the minute that it becomes one it is time we take a serious step back to analyze the situation.

A key component of being an advocate is being humble. While I commend Dick for the work he has done in HIV advocacy, I believe he dropped the ball on this one. Heterosexual men face an enormous amount of stigma and often stay in the closet due to this stigma. We expect it from the outside world that is uneducated and ignorant to our struggle but not from one of our very own.

If I was just starting into advocacy or thinking about speaking out about my status, this would have deterred me. A heterosexual male is going to look at this and say “Whoah, if that’s the reaction the HIV community, how will others react?”

The whole point of this campaign isn’t about bow ties. It’s about saving people’s lives! I am so thankful for the love and support I have received from fellow advocates, friends, and family. I truly do wish Dick the best and hope that this will serve as a learning experience that we can all grow from.

Advocacy isn’t about reality TV but rather real life. Lets put an end to the drama and focus on ending the trauma induced by the stigma that has followed this virus for decades. Wether you are straight or gay, like to wear bow ties or would never be caught in public wearing one. Let us never lose focus; reaching zero and a HIV/AID’s free generation.





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5 Valuable Tips to Bridge the Gap with your HIV Healthcare Team

Left: Laura (RN/MA), Left Middle: Joshua Middleton, Right Middle Dr. David Redfield (MD), Right: Kathy (RN)

Bridging the gap with your healthcare team can seem like a daunting task. After all, they are the experts who spent years of life in school and have all the answers. Right?  It’s natural to sense an us vs them mentality however this is not how the relationship should function. As the old saying goes there is no “I” in team and this is especially true in the world of healthcare.

Each individual member of your healthcare team has a unique role. From you the patient to the doctor, nurses, and medical assistants. Similar to a recipe, one cannot expect the finished product to come as desired if any ingredients are missing or not mixed together properly.

Here are 5 valuable tips I have found helpful in my time living with HIV and it’s my hope they can be useful to you as well. Since we live with HIV we tend to find ourselves at the doctor a tad more than our HIV negative counterparts. By taking these simple steps we can make the most out of our experience and continue to strengthen the physician – patient relationship.

1. Find a doctor that is a good fit for you

This may seem like a no brainer but believe it or not I have many HIV positive friends who stay in care with a doctor with whom they just don’t click. It’s more than just looking at a doctor’s experience in the field of HIV.

Maybe you prefer a male or female doctor? Possibly you would like a doctor who is older or maybe younger? Depending on your sexual orientation you might also choose a doctor that is LGBTQ friendly. Do you prefer someone who is more hands on or someone who is more laid back?

An HIV specialist should be someone that cares about you in the fullest sense and utilizes integral care to focus on both your physical and mental health. They are someone who listens, is punctual, has a good bedside manner, and has your best interest at heart as a person; not simply as another patient on his or her list of daily appointments. Although it may take time to find the physician right for you, when it’s all said and done, it will be well worth it.

2. Build trust and understanding

Any relationship in life requires trust and this  particularly rings true for the connection that doctors and patients build together. Although it can take time to build; it starts with an honest and open conversation with your physician. HIV is often a subject that involves topics sexual in nature and ones that understandably you do not discuss outside of the bedroom. It’s important to know your privacy and confidentiality are protected by HIPPA laws and that your doctor doesn’t need to know this information to pry or make you feel uncomfortable; but rather to provide you the best care possible.

It doesn’t mean you need to give over your black book of hook ups throughout the years or go into vivid detail of every sexual act you have ever engaged in however you should reach the point where you feel comfortable in talking with your doctor about your sexual health.

Take it a step at a time, however after awhile, it’s been my experience that it becomes much like a friendship. You can talk to anything with a good friend because you have that trust built. The same goes for your HIV specialist. They are a non bias third party and if they are not, get a new one.

It’s not just a one way street either where you spill the beans and are left feeling empty. Take some time to get to know your doctor. It doesn’t mean that you need to know their favorite color or who they rooted for in the last Super Bowl but even a quick minute spent together talking can make a big difference. It continues to help bridge that gap and sense of awkwardness that one naturally feels when visiting their physician. Doctors are people to and we often forget that.

3. Ask questions

Have you ever left your doctors office with more questions than answers? Did you have questions in mind you wanted to go over in the appointment but somehow along the way you didn’t get to them? Well, this tip is for you.

It’s vital that you ask questions. It helps me to have a list written down and that way I can go through them one by one with the doctor. I akin it to a job interview that much to people’s surprise, should be more like a conversation rather than a one person monologue. Don’t be embarrassed to ask or fall into a thinking trap but take the leap and let the words flow out. Chances are you aren’t the first person that has ever asked the same thing.

4. Get to know your support staff

The first person you see when you go into your HIV specialist’s office is most likely not the doctor. It may be a medical assistant, nurse, or other healthcare professional who’s duty is to assist the doctor. Since you will be dealing with them on a regular basis whether it be setting an appointment, requesting lab work results, or relaying messages to your doctor; take a moment to build a relationship with them as well. There is a lot of behind the scene work done by them that you don’t necessarily see but building connections with them is important if you want to get the most of the relationship with your healthcare team.

5. Become your own patient advocate

We have to become patient advocates because we are in control of our own health, not our doctor. This starts with educating ourselves about what we are up against. It doesn’t take a biology major or rocket scientist to understand the basics. Your doctor can help educate you and if you do your own research as well, then you are setting yourself up for success. has some great resources and even a Q&A section that can help you learn more about HIV.

Advocating for yourself doesn’t  necessarily mean taking an aggressive approach but rather an assertive one. I learned this practice myself a couple years ago due to my personal experience with the debilitating side effects of a certain HIV medication. Although it worked great numbers wise, I could no longer take the negative impact on my quality of life. I demanded a change from my doctor and assured him after over a year of trying to let my body adjust, it was now time to try something new.

Engaging with your doctor and using effective communication to address your concerns is going to help you both in the short and long run. We don’t just let doctors treat us. We have to teach them how we want to be treated.