This article first appeared on the blog Socially Fit.
Meet Daniel Uy. A yogi by trade and fun-loving guy by nature. Very funny and honest. There is one thing that makes him stand out (other than his awesome personality), and that is the fact that he is HIV+. He has been living with the virus for fifteen years. Through yoga, fitness, and overall well-being he has reclaimed his life and here he is sharing his story.
I wasn’t an adult very long before HIV. I was never the modicum of vitality. I ate a lot and was extremely nervous. I was going out to gay bars for the first time and had only recently began to drink and smoke. It was a confusing, awkward, and uncomfortable time with a mouth as big as an ocean and an ego to match. Also with the frailties of one who feels unworthy. Know what it’s like to be with someone who is afraid everyone is better than him so he tries so hard to put you down to lift themself up? Yeah, I was that guy. I was fun at parties, but only under the influence.
Once I found out that I was HIV+, it was a relief! I had been thinking about killing myself from a very young age and into my teens. It was good to know I had an end date and it was hopefully going to be soon. I also remember watching my family doctor, that I’d been with since I was a teenager, who was the one who broke the news to me, cry in front of me. He also said words that I have never forgotten “It doesn’t matter how this happened, we are just going to take care of it”. I am truly blessed to have surrounded myself with non-judgemental people in my life. It was a mixed response. He told me, “we’ll take care of it” and at the same time I was happy to know I might be dead soon. That should let you know where I was at that point in my life.
I really felt included when I began yoga. I have never been the model of physical health. I was a fat kid growing up and actually did manage to lose a bunch of weight when I came out of the closet at 20 years old (going from 260-220 lbs). The only time I have ever been thin was when I was on the descent towards having full-blown AIDS at 27 and weighing in at 145 lbs. I felt safe in a yoga studio and in the practice room. The postures themselves were not that difficult and you didn’t have to do them for long. I started in hot yoga so you sweat, A LOT! I remember standing in tree pose with my hands in prayer and sweat dripping down each elbow and looking at myself in the mirror and thinking “God! I’m such an athlete!!”
The funny thing is I have just never really considered yoga to be a workout. It was a spiritual journey and I had a lot of questions! Somehow that made it easier to do. Since it’s easy to do, maybe I could do it too and it grew from there. Postures evolved, sequences and poses have ballooned to include things that I think are beyond my human abilities but still in my mind, it doesn’t count as hard or impossible, just something in this journey I may not have figured out quite yet. I really hope from now until the day I leave this plane of existence, there are still many postures that were on that list I was “working” towards.
Although it was the physical that brought me onto the mat, it was, in itself not enough to keep me there. I started to “wake up”. I became aware of things, and in the beginning, some of these revelations were so overwhelming that I couldn’t process them.
There was a family gathering about 4-5 months after I started yoga and there was an argument at the table. As it was happening I became incredibly aware of my breath. It was like it got louder in my head and the fight in front of me got quieter. It was the first time that I can remember where I was calm in a heated discussion. It felt like I had superpowers or something. I wanted to know more about that.
Being HIV+ means that the veil and illusion that life will last forever is gone. No fairy tales. No make-believe world. This sh*t is real! Where I am today is where I am today. It may not be like this ever again. It could be gone, it could get better or worse. I am an optimist and most may not see this as optimistic, but there is an incredible beauty in that.
Right now I am the strongest and most fit that I have ever been in my entire existence in this physical shell. There was a time when I was so weak and frail I could not stand or walk ten feet without fainting. All we have is this one breath. Right here. Right now. Inhale. Exhale. And being here right now, in this moment, is the best place that one can be. Other problems and worries fade away when one stays grounded in this moment. Close your eyes and take a full breath, in and out right now and savour it. I can wait.
I would like to think that I am in a place now where I can make a positive impact on the HIV community at large. I have never considered myself an activist. I am more of a lazivist! Up until last year, I had never “officially” stood out publicly as being HIV+. Everyone in my family knew, friends knew, employers and co-workers knew, but never my students or the average person. I remember when I was writing my bio for my website, www.danieluy.com, and I was sitting with the “how did I get into yoga” question and couldn’t avoid the HIV thing. I remember going should I or shouldn’t I when it came to disclosing. This was my question I was sitting with one week where I had made the decision that on Friday I would choose and that would be that. That very week I met not one, but two other yoga teachers that are HIV+ and both fairly new in their diagnosis. Hearing their stories it became quite apparent that the only question I was asking myself was “How could I not disclose it?” This became much less about facing my fears and much more about helping to alleviate theirs. If and when I ever question or doubt myself, I think of them and others right now suffering in silence.
It was also around this time that I happened to meet Brian Finch, Founder of PositiveLite.com, Canada’s Online HIV Magazine. Since I had already been writing some things for my own website, I thought perhaps maybe I could share some information to others like myself. I mentioned that I don’t know how professional I’d be. It’s been ages since I’ve worked in a 9-5 business setting, but they wanted my voice and style as is. Since August 2011, I’ve had articles posted, about twice a month. I have really come to love them. Through that I have been able to make new connections within the HIV community and help, one on one, some guys and gals on this journey.
A friend of mine reminded me a few months ago, people need to see that there is someone who has been going through this serious medical thing for 15 years, yet can still remain healthy and physically capable alongside some of the city’s best teachers despite it. I had never thought of that before. Sometimes it’s great to have someone on the outside remind me of what I really do. My favourite quote is from Ghandi, “My life is my message.” It’s that simple. If you want to see what I’m passionate about and believe in, watch me and you’ll see it.
I could probably do more. If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to e-mail me! Recently I was speaking with a friend about the idea of trying to incorporate yoga fundamentals into a workshop style practice/meditation for people in the AIDS Community and AIDS Service Organizations (ASO’s for short). I haven’t figured it all out completely but I really see it as being something that would have me travelling to different areas and communities as well as helping my brothers and sisters tap into something that I have been able to reach as well.
I think I have been fortunate to have been spared much of the insanity of the misconceptions and fears of others. It’s either that or I have an incredibly short-term memory so I don’t recall much anymore. It’s getting close to half my life living with HIV, so I forget. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between what is HIV and what is simply growing old.
I would be naive to say that the fears do not exist. I have a friend that said they’re ok with me having it, but then later I learned that if they ever went on a date with someone who was, they wouldn’t see them again. That hurts. Because I know what that kind of rejection feels like. It’s like you’re a leper – untouchable and unlovable. And it can sting. On the flip side, if the situation was reversed, I may possibly act in the same manner. We’ll never really know. One thing I do know is that if someone is on HIV meds and their Viral Load is undetectable, and sexual protection is used, the chances of passing it onto someone else are quite small. There’s a debate right now in the Supreme Court of Canada on Disclosure discussing this topic in great lengths.
As I mentioned, being who I am, and the size that I am, it has been quite rare that I have ever had to deal with overt judgement or discrimination based on my HIV status. Having said that, there is one place I taught (I’m no longer there anymore by my own choice on a different matter) that had a meeting and seriously discussed firing me because I had mentioned I was HIV+ and they didn’t feel I would be capable as a hot yoga teacher. It turned out I was the most popular teacher in that space until my departure. With the proper medication and lifestyle, the average life expectancy right now for someone who is HIV+ is now 75 years. HIV- people’s life expectancy is 82. We are not that different at all.
Right now, I am currently starting each day reminding myself of the word “Enough”. That I am enough and that there is enough. I sometimes allow my fears to drive me into doing and saying things I normally wouldn’t because of not being good enough, having enough, making enough, or being strong enough. Today, right now, I am enough and I have enough, period.
As for my future, I would like to get married. Maybe write some more, perhaps a novel or series of short stories. Physically, I want to get Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary Series nailed down and be on the Secondary Series by the end of 2012. There I said it. I hope my teachers read that because I’m going to need help! I want to own a home in the city and hopefully get to a place in my career which allows me more freedom to practice and play in my other pursuits. I would love to spend more time fire-spinning, learning to cook, learning to dance, or tea drink my afternoons away with good friends around me.
Strength is something much more than a physical measurement. It comes from someplace inside. It fuels you even when your body is spent and everyone around you says you cannot go on and you are done. Strength is not fighting and destroying everything you come up against. Strength is standing unarmed in front of an army moving tanks and declaring that they cannot and will not go any further. What are you willing to stand for?