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.

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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 TheBody.com 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 http://www.thebody.com. Permission to share published content should be obtained through the original author and or Thebody.com**

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.
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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.

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Music

Music

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.

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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!

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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.

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Spirituality

Spirituality

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.

Pets

Pets

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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General Disclaimer: TheBody.com is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through TheBody.com 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.

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Relentless Adversaries: HIV & Depression

depressionA dark cloud hovering over the life of someone day in and day out like a bad dream that never goes away. It is like a tree that is receiving no water and is simply withering away inside little by little until it comes to a breaking point. The world around seems to be passing by while the mind is simply going through the motions to survive from one day to the next. A fatigued body that has been battered by months or even years of storms that seem to get bigger every time they roll in, shadow the mind from finding the true roots of the problem. You know something is wrong but you somehow convince yourself that if you just suffer in silence for long enough, if you simply toughen up, you can overcome this demon that has overtaken your life. Even when you recognize your enemy you feel helpless as countless attempts to defeat it have proven pointless. While it may be subdued for a short time you know the feeling when it creeps back into your life like a thief in the night, without warning or notice.

Your mind struggles to find a solution but due to a chemical imbalance becomes overwhelmed with the thought of facing the tyrant once more, and simply often surrenders in defeat. As a prisoner in your own mind, restrained in a bondage to depression, you have lost the love for yourself in the process. People know something is different about you but the front you put on makes it seem like as if everything is fine, they don’t know the true struggle do they ? The struggle of depression is real and can have drastic consequences in not only the individual’s life but the lives of those that surround them. It can turn into a downward spiral like an airplane that has lost its wing, doomed for disaster with nothing able to stop the inevitable. Depression isn’t simply a condition that can affect ones life, it can take over ones being and mind. The struggles of day-to-day life and constant obstacles including a major life changing event such as a HIV diagnosis, simply trigger the sleeping giant. Are you someone who is living with HIV & depression? I urge you to keep reading.

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Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest (Mayo) . It is an illness that has been spoken about in one form or another since the Greek physician Hypocrites in 1400 BC. Through the years those who have suffered from it’s rathe have been judged, stigmatized, and misunderstood. The medical history of coming to comprehend the true causes and mechanisms of how depression works have only recently developed within the last century. Some medical professionals would argue that we still truly do not understand to the fullest extent how depression works however scientifically we have much more information available to us today than ever before. It is an umbrella mental health disorder that contains many subcategories but in general carry the same identifying characteristics.

The World Health Organization’s most recent estimate from 2012 show that globally over 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Not everyone’s severity of depression is the same however it can range from mild, moderate, major, to severe. It has the potential to cause suicide which account for 1 million deaths a year. In the United States alone the number of depression is skyrocketing in percentages compared to other areas of the world however what is more alarming is the number of HIV positive patients suffering from depression compared to that of the general population. Those living with HIV are three times more likely to suffer from depression and one in every four living within the US has experienced some form of depression (CDC Study March 2014). Although the percentages vary for studies of depression in HIV + patients it is believed to be as high as 60 % of all patients living with HIV currently suffer from depression. They are two completely separate treatable conditions however if left untreated depression can lead to inability to adhere to HAART medications as well as quality of life & lifespans. Symptoms can differ in men and women in terms of prevalence however in general can encompass constant sadness, hopelessness, irritability, overeating, sleep disorders, and loss in interest.

It is an unforgiving condition that is can affect anyone and leave a catastrophe in its wake. I myself have suffered from depression ever since my mid teenage years but it truly went into full swing after surviving Necrotizing Fasciitis in 2010. I would classify my depression as mild however it is not to say that it has not been a struggle. As the years have went on and life has presented more obstacles depression has tried to take a hold time after time. My HIV diagnosis was simply another trigger that threw my mind back into the maze of depression that one can truly never escape from. With such a life changing diagnosis grieving is normal however when symptoms of depression begin to appear, it is a red flag to halt it in its tracks. It can bring the strongest athlete in the world to his knees and it has the ability to alter someones mind forever if left untreated long enough.

Although someone may be able to put on a front for so long eventually the reality of the situation has to be unmasked. Even after my depressive episode after being diagnosed in 2012, I thought I had been through the hardest obstacle of them all, I was wrong. Losing our baby in February re triggered those thoughts and put me back on the battlefield which I continue to fight on a daily basis. Although the enemy may try to persist I will not allow it to win. I am a big advocate of people speaking with their doctor about mental health and getting the proper referrals if needed. Speaking with a psychiatrist to explore treatment options, going to therapy sessions with a psychologist/therapist, and opening up about ones feelings is one of the most important steps one can take. In my own experience a combination of medication, therapy, and relationship with Jesus have served useful.

DEPRESSION NEWS

In conclusion depression is one of the most serious conditions one can face and the consequences if left untreated can be as severe as if HIV takes control of ones body. The first step is recognizing the problem and that can only be diagnosed by a medical professional. We need to learn that putting an emphasis on our mental health and addressing the root of the problems are as important as facing the triggers. This may take a course of time in your life when antidepressants are necessary, therapy may need to be in place to help one deal with obstacles facing ones life, but above all it takes the will to say depression will not run my life. We deserve so much more than what our mind wants to convince us we are worth. Living with HIV can be a major challenge but confronting other impedance in our life will help us not only to grow but to turn our mindset from a victim to a survivor. It isn’t an easy battle and I know this from personal experience.

No one can completely understand what you are going through except you yourself. You are capable of being able to love yourself again, begin to heal the wounds of the past, and move forward as a triumphant warrior. It is not to say that you will never face a depressive episode again because in all reality you most likely will, but with the proper therapy you will have the tools necessary to better fight it every time. If you feel you are going through depression speak with your medical professional for a course of action, take that first step in repairing the love for yourself. Don’t become another statistic but a shining light for others to know that surviving depression is possible. Share your feelings with someone close to you and let them know those thoughts that constantly are racing through the head. You are no stronger suffering in silence and no matter how much weight you try to carry on your shoulders, even the strongest need a helping hand from time to time. Make today the day you say that depression does not define you, there is hope, and yes even if you are HIV + and depressed. We are in this fight together so gear up soldiers , victory awaits !

Below are some helpful links for those who wish to learn more about depression including symptoms (NIH), as well as resources for seeking help. Simply click any of the logos below for more information. If you currently are suicidal and or contemplating suicide I would urge you to dial 911 (or local emergency phone number for your country) or dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline @ (800) 273-8255 . If located outside of the US please visit the International Suicide Hotline’s Page for resources near you. Thank you as always for reading my blog and I hope everyone has a blessed rest of the week.

CGMH+full name coloursCRISIS CALLNIH   SAMSHASPLifeline

I’m HIV Positive, Not a Criminal

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The presumption of innocence is something that we in the United States hold dear as one of the most sacred fundamental aspects of our Criminal Justice System. In courts across this nation hundreds of thousands of cases are heard ranging from civil disputes to criminal action alleged to have taken place. The justice system is a key element that holds others accountable for their actions and places punishment according to the laws enacted in an effort to keep order throughout the country. We entrust our judicial system to give everyone a fair trial balanced with the decision from twelve of our peers. The outcome of a court decision can change the fate of someones life forever including financially, physically, and in some states even the act of living itself. The courts play a vital role by upholding the laws on the books but what happens when the courts enter into the bedroom? What happens when there are laws on the books that the courts are upholding that target those living with HIV/AIDS?

In 35 states across this great nation including 2 commonwealth US territories, people’s lives are being turned upside down for failing to disclose their HIV status. This is not only an issue that we face here within the United States but a cause for global concern as various countries have enacted similar laws. The original goal for these laws are often well-intentioned however the impact these laws have in terms of people’s lives and ongoing prevention efforts far outweigh any benefits of them remaining on the books. These laws have taken the conversation that should be happening between two people within the bedroom into a public forum of debate. We must decide as a nation whether accepting personal responsibility for our sexual actions is the correct method or wether we will continue to place our own health in the hands of others.

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As I enter the world of social media on the daily, I am seeing more and more cases where people are being sentenced to decades if not more in prison for failing to disclose their HIV status while having sexual relations with others. These laws vary from state to state and in many cases are not even current with the medical information available to date. Wether protection was used, the viral load of the HIV positive party, the actual transmission of the virus, and whether a verbal disclosure happened are irrelevant in many scenarios. Unless one has a written contract or acknowledgement that one has been told about ones HIV status then the ability to defend against these allegations are often extremely difficult. The courts have taken on the role of moral police when interpreting these laws and have entered into an area that has devastating effects for all involved. The risk or actual transmission to someone else is not what is important, it is simply sorting out whether disclosure took place or not.

I am completely for giving others the choice before having sex with someone who is living with HIV. Do I believe it is the government’s duty to get involved in this conversations? No. Of course there are cases of intentional infection but proving intent is much more than having sex and failing to disclose. When you are having sex with someone then you should be asking the questions regarding HIV status including the presence of other STD’s from the very get go. The responsibility of disclosure does not outweigh the responsibility of taking an active role in your own sexual health.

These cases often turn into a case of who the courts find more credible and trying to convince a jury of 12 that someone willingly exposed themselves to HIV is about as hard as it can get for a criminal defense attorney. These cases not only challenge the issue of disclosure but the long embedded stigma seen within the majority of America when it comes to the topic of HIV/AIDS. The HIV + defendant is guilty from the start due to this overwhelming stigma and people’s misconceived notions of how one contracted the disease. When added to various other factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and lifestyle it is an uphill battle that seems almost impossible to overcome.

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These laws not only discourage people from getting tested as at that point they can be held legally accountable for their actions  however they also open the door for our government to be more deeply involved in the most intimate part of our lives. I have personally always disclosed to every one of my partners and encourage others to do so at all times when it gets to any point where intimacy is inevitable however that is as far as my role can go. Disclosure is a complicated issue and people’s reasons for not disclosing can be vast and complex. In my opinion disclosure is the right thing to do because I would never want someone to ever go through what I have went through. People should not be intentionally trying to spread this disease and as an activist my goal is to see an end to this epidemic once and for all.

New laws are on the horizon such as H.R 1586 REPEAL HIV Criminalization Act of 2015 which would aim to end these laws once and for all. Brave organizations such as CHLP & Positive Justice Project continue to pave the way alongside many fellow HIV activists & allies to see a day when HIV is treated as a condition, not a crime. This is obviously a very brief overview on HIV Criminalization and I encourage you to do your own research on the matter. It is astonishing that in todays day and age with all the medical advancements we have made, these laws have remained in effect. It is a complex issue that we must map through in order to get true justice for all however we can do it together one step at a time :).

HIV Criminalization Fact Sheet

Poz.com HIV Criminalization

HIV Is Not A Crime

Support H.R 1586 Repeal HIV Criminalization Act of 2015

Individual State HIV Non Disclosure Laws

Half The Battle Is Mental

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HIV/AIDS is an emotional journey that I have been on ever since 2012. It can be stressful, exhausting, and at times extremely difficult to deal with. As with anyone, HIV negative or positive, we all have our ups and our downs. When we are positive it brings out a variety of emotions in us including sadness, anger, fear of the unknown, guilt, and confusion. I have spoke in the past about accepting ones status however even once someone has done this, every once in a blue moon, these feelings can still arise. The continued issue of stigma and discrimination serve as a constant reminder and a trigger for these feelings to return. Their have been studies done to show that patients living with HIV/AIDS can often suffer from PTSD, a disorder usually seen from someone who has went through a life threatening or violent event such as witnessing war ext…. HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence however the diagnosis alone can be enough to make or break somebody, depending on their mental attitude and approach that they take towards this virus. 

The mental aspect of living with HIV/AIDS is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle. It is what will decide the direction that a person will go. Starting on treatment and consistently adhering is a very important aspect however without the right mental attitude then it is null and void as it might cause the person to not take their medicine as they should be. One has to be ready to start on this journey, accept their status, and move forward much like a warrior would on the front lines of the battlefield. It is perfectly normal and healthy for someone to grieve and give themselves time to come to terms with their new life of living with HIV/AIDS. For some it may be considered a drastic change as they now have to go for constant blood draws, doctor visits, and deal with possible side effects from the life saving HIV medication we have available. Some stay in a stage of guilt for a long time, beating themselves up inside, thinking that they put themselves in this situation. It is true we must accept responsibility for those of us who contracted this virus through unprotected sex however there is no reason to beat ourselves up or to live in that state forever when in reality we did something, human. We just happened to be the unlucky percentage that contracted HIV, plain and simple. Guilt is like a poison to the soul and can drag us down causing us to lose sight of our self worth, beauty, and attributes. 

We know that HIV/AIDS can have a major impact psychologically and mentally so what can we do about it ? I always suggest to seek out a support system of others living with this condition and that way it helps you come to terms with HIV/AIDS. Wether it be an in person support group in your area or one of the many HIV groups online/Facebook, bottom line is you need someone to talk to about your feelings. If what you are feeling inside is causing you to think of any self harm, professional help through the form of a psychiatrist or therapist is always helpful. Through speaking with others living with the condition and surrounding yourself with a support system of friends and family, you WILL grow to accept this condition. It will make you realize though some things have changed, life is in many ways no different than it was the day before you were diagnosed. The stigma and discrimination only have power over you if you let them, it takes thick skin to live with this virus. Don’t worry or care about what others think about you, be yourself, and live for you.

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This virus has grown me so much mentally, spiritually, as well as emotionally. I have a better since of who I am and what direction I want to take in life. It is not to say that since I have accepted my status the bad days are gone, I still have them sometimes, but it gets to a point where the good overwhelmingly outweighs the bad. You are worthy, you are someone who deserves to be loved, you are much stronger than you think. In my opinion everything happens for a reason. Their is a reason that all of this happened to me and I have went through what I have, it has grown me into the man I am today. Don’t let HIV/AIDS define you for the worst but rather let it be a stepping stone to something much greater in your life, an inner strength you’ll find that you never had before. It is not an overnight process and does take time however their is no rush. Take care of yourself in all aspects including physically, mentally, and emotionally. No one else is going to walk your journey for you, don’t expect the trail to be cleared out in front of you, rather go where there is not a trail and leave one. 

Thanks for reading and please check out my continued sponsor http://www.positivelite.com. They are an amazing group of activists who are sticking up for all PLWHA. On their website you can find many different articles, video interviews, and blogs of different people just like myself who are living with this virus day in and day out. 

HIV/AIDS is not the end but simply a new beginning, mentally accept that, and start the new chapter of your life 🙂

Sincerely

Joshua D Middleton

http://www.youtube.com/pozitivehope1

http://www.facebook.com/pozitivehope

pozitivehope1@gmail.com (feel free to email me any questions regarding HIV/AIDS, everything stays confidential, I am not a doctor and do not offer medical advice but all I can do is offer you insight from my experience, much <3, all stays confidential) 

http://www.instagram.com/pozitivehope 

http://www.twitter.com/pozitivehope 

Why Is The Age Old Condom Message Not “Penetrating” Rising HIV Infections In North America?

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Condoms are something that have been around in a variety of cultures since the Renaissance in Europe to Eastern Asia in the 16th century. They have obviously changed continuously over the years as has their usage rates in each country and culture throughout the world. Condoms started to be used at the beginning of the 19th century more frequently however as the years progressed, their use rapidly declined. By the 1960’s many were practicing “free love” and having sexual relations without any protection. Though the study of STD’s and STI’s have been around long before the current age, they were previously more frequently referred to as VD’s aka venerial diseases. In the 1980’s upon the onset of HIV/AIDS, condoms started to be heavily promoted as it was seen as the most effective method of protection from STI’s including the newest virus that had made its presence known. So here we are over 30 years later and we still have rising HIV infections in many parts of the world. This blog will mainly focus on North America and more specifically the US because that is where I live and have the most knowledge on as far as statistics ext…. In the US alone we have had a constant rate of HIV infections, over 50,000 per year, for a number of years now. Some of the hardest hit areas of Africa have better rates of reducing HIV infections than here in the US, it leaves any activist to ponder the question, why is this?

Why is it that we have so much information about how to prevent HIV however new infections continue to happen across the board? Is it because of ignorance, miseducation, or lack of trying to promote the message? In some populations here in the US, the number of HIV infections is heavily on the rise including the gay community. Some studies show an alarming amount of 50 % of gay men do not use condoms or fail to use them consistently. In the hetero community numbers are just as staggering with condom use being almost as low as our lgbt counterparts, with lower rates of condom usage amongst impoverished heteros as well as a disproportionate number of African Americans/Latinos. So across the board it is safe to say that people are not using condoms as consistently as they should, why is this ?

Well one of the driving factors of people not using condoms, despite knowing the consequences, is the lack of fear that exists now regarding HIV/AIDS. Before I was even born, many were watching their friends and family die of AIDS left and right. The faces of those living with AIDS were plastered across the news while the government did very little to further causes to help those in need. The images of those battling pneumonia, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, and bodies riddled with purple lesions of kaposi’s sarcomay have long left the minds of many. Though we have many currently living in North America who are considered “Long Term Survivors” aka LTS’s of HIV/AIDS, the images of those dying by the millions from a new emerging virus have vanished from every day conversation. For those who saw these things happening first hand in front of them, it is something that will never be forgotten, however, for the overwhelming majority of North America, it has become nothing more than part of history. Part of the reason for this is the ongoing battle that all of us who are living with HIV/AIDS constantly fight to show people that one can continue to live a happy and normal life while living with this condition. We have done such a good job at defeating this stigma and enough people have shared their stories to make it appear as a more “normal” chronic condition than ever before.

People are now so confident that living with HIV is as easy as 1,2,3 that they are becoming careless and not using what we know is the best method for prevention. People do fear what they do not know but many feel they have become so “educated” about this virus over the years, that condoms are not of importance. This couldn’t be further from the truth, condoms are of the upmost importance. We have to find the balance between fighting stigma while still having an element of that fear. Yes we currently have treatment that helps us all live long and healthy lives but we also know that a very small percentage of people in North America are currently on ARV treatment with undetectable viral loads. The medicine has greatly advanced over the years however we know the staggering numbers of people that do not know their status. We are aware that many are aging with HIV/AIDS today and it is becoming a new issue at hand however without medicine this virus is still just as deadly as it was over 3 decades ago. People are receiving much “misinformation” which they think is truthful about this virus and thinking they are not at risk. We have “categorized” people living with HIV/AIDS due to government funding while saying to people that these people are at the highest risk, then this group, then the following… We are all at risk ! We need to get risk groups out of our mind, it is doing nothing but hurting the cause. Fear is not something that we should try to promote however an element of it keeps people from contracting HIV/AIDS. Finding the medium between these two campaigns is one of the keys to getting people to use condoms as they should be doing.

We currently have many in North America and across the world speaking up and sharing their story, this is absolutely fantastic. More people daily are starting to realize that this is a condition just like any other one such as cancer, alzheimers, or diabetes. Their is no shame in speaking up or trying to be an activist, however, much more need to be doing this to really be effective. It is a personal decision for each individual person living with the virus wether or not they are going to speak up, I personally have made that choice, and am very happy with it. I have a passion to help others and prevent new infections, not everyone has that in them, and that is OK. However many people cannot relate to those of us living with HIV/AIDS because they don’t know anyone living with the virus. In the LGBT community here in America it is a little bit different because from my experience of friends in these communities, usually, someone always knows of “someone” who is living with the virus. In the heterosexual community this is not always the case, before I was diagnosed, I didn’t know one person who was “openly” living with it. I may have known many living with it however they didn’t know their status.

Being able to relate with someone who is currently living with the virus and knowing their ups and downs helps greatly in encouraging someone to protect themselves. That is one of the reasons that I am an activist because their is such a lack of hetero activists in this part of the world speaking up and letting people know this truly can happen to anyone. When we share our stories people have to be able to relate to us to really connect. I will have a lot more of an effectiveness speaking to a group of hetero college students than someone who is LGBT just as someone who is LGBT would have a lot more of an effectiveness speaking to a group of LGBT youth than I would. It is not to say it is bad when anyone attempts to speak to a group that they don’t necessarily relate to and share their story, we all have something in common we can find in each other, however relating goes a long way in terms of prevention. When I was in human sexuality a couple years before being diagnosed hearing an HIV positive gay man talk to our class about prevention, it didn’t feel like it applied to me, if anything it added to the stigma I already had in my mind. It didn’t make me want to go out and buy a pack of trojan condoms because in my mind it only happened to some and not all. I am obviously much more educated now and know better however point being, we need more people to speak up. We need people to speak up from all demographics, sexual orientations, races, cultures, languages, and walks of life. The more people we have speak up, the more people we can reach, the more that will use protection. It is not always easy to be the face of this virus however helping others is well worth it and in my opinion, we need more of that.

The third reason that I believe condom use is not penetrating the rising infections is their is something that doesn’t seem “natural” about putting a barrier in between ourselves and our partners. We know that most people who are married don’t use condoms consistently because we are taught that is what you do when you are in “love” with someone. The truth now days is that if you truly love someone you will protect yourself and them, it is the right thing to do. Even condom companies are consistently promoting new condoms that are thinner and thinner with names such as “Ultra Thin”, “Bare Skin Barriers”, “Extra Sensitive”, and others…. We have it engrained in our minds that using a condom just doesn’t feel right, having bare sex feels much better. I am not going to disagree that having sex without a condom compared to a condom doesn’t feel better, I am sure most of us would agree it does, however knowing that both myself and my partner are safe feels a whole lot better to me. Condoms can still be pleasurable and with all the different designs they are currently producing, their is no reason that this should be a valid excuse. When I contracted HIV I was trying to have a child with my ex girlfriend, at the time we obviously weren’t using a condom because no baby comes that way. It felt like we were in love, for the first time I thought I had found the one, then came my diagnosis months later after I had found out she cheated.

Their are a number of other different techniques now known as “risk reduction” strategies such as PreP/PeP, Sero Sorting, and Sero Positioning that are becoming increasingly popular. The effectiveness of these studies boast their results while still stating that it is not a replacement for consistent condom usage. As we know all of these are great techniques in “reducing” the risk but they are not “replacements” for the latex barrier that has become so common in todays day and age. Many people even some activists I know, are unintentionally promoting these techniques in the wrong way. Their is an over abundance of activists who have “given up” on the prevention method for lack of results in an attempt to reach the other 50% of people choosing not to use condoms. So is the problem that the message of condoms is flawed? Is the prevention effort many have worked so hard to promote over the years not working any longer?

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I would say that the message is not flawed and prevention needs to be of the upmost importance. We can’t just simply give up on something we know to be so effective because people feel it is not giving the expected results fast enough. We need to truly look at how we can adjust the message to the current day and age. Hook up sites both gay and hetero are also another trending issue of why HIV is becoming so rapidly spread, sex has never been so easy to find. It is as easy as downloading an application, logging on, and finding what one is looking for. The idea of risky sex is becoming more popular which is scary. I am not going to tell someone who is having unprotected sex that it is wrong, they know it is wrong, however I can offer my story and why prevention should be implemented. If I can even reach one person with what I have went through over the past couple of years with this virus then my mission is complete, if I can reach more, great. The message itself is not the problem, its the issue of people not knowing how to implement an age old method with the current generation. It is the lack of fear, the lack of people speaking up that others can relate to, and the overwhelming thought that protection is just not something you do when you care about someone. The risk reduction strategies currently in place are certainly a step in the right direction but their is a reason that the majority of the scientific and medical community are not supporting them, condoms are the best, plain and simple. We as activist have to conform to how to get the prevention method out their across the board today however trying to “skirt” around the condom issue and act like it hasn’t helped anybody is naive. We must use our brains and help all that are sexually active and at risk for STI’s including HIV/AIDS. It is a matter of will, we can’t just give up, so please I urge you as always, PROTECT YOURSELF <3.

Thank you for reading yet another blog on PozitiveHope, I hope you enjoyed it. As always a big thanks to one of my biggest supporters to date, http://www.positivelite.com , for continuing to share my blogs/vlogs and giving an importance to the HIV + hetero perspective which is missing in much of our fight today. Make sure to check out the articles on their site as well as the other contributors who are fighting for the cause. Remember we are all in this together, one person at a time, we can end this epidemic. We need to continue to encourage people to get educated, tested, and use protection consistently. We have to teach people that they must love themselves enough to use protection.

Hope everyone is having a great day and if you have any questions regarding HIV/AIDS please feel free to email me. I am not a medical professional and never want people to misinterpret what I say as medical advice, I am simply someone who has experience living with HIV and want to share my story to whomever will listen. Stay in contact with your doctor and as always, stay healthy.

Until next time please take a moment to subscribe to my youtube channel and like my videos, I promise more videos are on the way. I would much appreciate it. Check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Sincerely

Joshua D Middleton

http://www.youtube.com/pozitivehope1

pozitivehope1@gmail.com

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