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Apr13

Trauma of AIDS epidemic impacts aging survivors

Sunday, 13 April 2014 Written by // Guest Authors - Revolving Door Categories // International , Living with HIV, Revolving Door, Guest Authors

News of a group from San Francisco for long-term survivors looking to reconnect with others and to kick ASS (AIDS Survivor Syndrome)

Trauma of AIDS epidemic impacts aging survivors

This is an excerpt from an article by by Matthew S. Bajko that first appeared in the Bay Area Reporter here. 

The nightmares terrorized San Francisco resident Tez Anderson for years. He would dream he was buried deep underground and wake in the middle of the night feeling panicked.

"It felt like I was in a lot of danger. It was not so much about death, it was more that I was in peril," recalled Anderson, who turns 55 this month.

Three decades ago Anderson learned he was HIV-positive and, like many other gay men of his generation, witnessed what felt like a holocaust as he watched countless friends, lovers, and associates be felled by AIDS. Anderson survived to see the introduction of antiretroviral therapy in the 1990s, turning what had been a death sentence for so many into a now manageable chronic disease.

Yet the traumas he witnessed exacted a psychological toll as he aged. It began with the 2000 death of a lover, Gary Lebow.

"He was in and out of a coma. One day he opened his eyes to me and said, 'You know how much I love you?' He then closed his eyes and I said to him, 'It's okay to go. Your mom will be okay; I'll be okay,'" recalled Anderson. "It was a very powerful gift to me that I was with him when he died. It got me over my fear of death; I wasn't afraid of dying anymore, I was afraid of living."

Within five years Anderson said he had taken "a wrecking ball" to his life. He ended friendships, became agoraphobic, and "hibernated" inside his apartment.

"It was like trying to catch a waterfall in my hands," he said. "I was drowning."

The advent of online hookup and chat sites for gay men led him to meet his now husband, Mark Ruiz, seven years ago. The two "became a unit," said Anderson, and Ruiz "was part of my healing process."

Over time he started to slowly venture back out into public, spending time at Cafe Flore bonding with other men he met at the Castro district coffeehouse who were also long-term survivors of the AIDS epidemic. Those conversations showed Anderson he was not alone in feeling adrift.

"When the AIDS tsunami receded, the people left behind were left wondering what just happened," said Anderson.

In November 2012 Anderson and Ruiz decided to form a new group they called Let's Kick ASS, which stands for AIDS Survivor Syndrome, for long-term survivors looking to reconnect with others. A secondary goal was to advocate for services and programs tailored to meet the needs of people living with HIV or AIDS as they age.

"We have needs and situations that are different," said Anderson.

For one, a whole generation of gay men grew up not knowing if they would see their 40th birthdays, let alone age into their 50s, 60s, and older. That began to change within the last decade, as life longevity became a new reality for people living with HIV or AIDS.

To read the rest of the article go here