"These are but shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "They have no consciousness of us."
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
I've started to wonder whether or not I am a three dimensional being or a cardboard cut out. In my work I organize and attend activities, I make sure people living with HIV are meeting others and connecting, but where am I in this? Am I only a community worker, or am I Michael?
I think that when we're involved in the work, we're often seen as the work itself. Like an artist or composer (or even a writer), the words, images and sounds are only a two dimensional piece of the person creating them. These do not tell you about my feelings in the moment, or give you a sense of who I really am - they are reflections, shadows and they aren't complete.
When Tschaikovsky composed The Nutcracker, he was at his most depressed. Pretty surprising given the happiness and joy in the music. When Mark S. King posts a video on Youtube, there is only the flat screen and what he tells you - is there more to him than that? Of course, but all of Mark is not reflected in the video, only the part he chooses to share.
And so, when we're involved in the work, there is the danger that we're seen as only the role we play: counsellor, supporter, administrator. Any love we feel or pain we suffer is not revealed through our job titles or in the work itself. Our specialists often look at our blood results and as long as that's okay, we're good to go - never mind that we might be feeling horrible or lonely.
How can we shift this? I don't know. I think it's part of being a support person that we're seen as "different" and part of that point of view is that we make ourselves different. We take on a "professionalism" that separates us from our whole selves. We behave differently and talk differently than we do in our personal lives. We live up to the expectations that are placed on us and that we embrace.
I try to be me when I'm doing the work, but people are often looking for someone who is stronger and more solidly-based than they are. My role becomes to be strong, even when all I want to do is cry. I put my thoughts and feelings on a shelf and respond to the needs of others. I fade away until I can retreat to my private life and talk about me with people who understand and accept that I am not always strong, not always reliable, not always "happy".
Perhaps that's the key for those of us in HIV work. We must find others like us, who can listen and be there and let us vent and cry and love and feel things deeply. Without those connections we are at sea in a world that cannot see the part of our personal iceberg that lies below the surface.
We are shadows, but it's others that have no real consciousness of us.