Life with HIV, I am learning, is a lesson in understanding the struggles that others are facing. Why? Because, I know that other people can be struggling on the inside or have issues that have no “public face.” Yes – I have HIV. But unless I’ve told you, you cannot tell by looking at me (or any HIV-positive person).
I think for a long time, people around me who don’t know about my status have sensed that something is off. Indeed, my best friend told me that one of the things she found hard is when our friends would ask her about me – not to be nosy, but out of genuine concern – and she had to cover for me, saying “oh, he’s just going through some stuff.” I feel a bit of guilt for making her do that, and it brings up the feeling of hiding that I’ve discussed before.
It became stark that I had perhaps been off for some time when I was at work yesterday. Of course, anybody is going to be a little more perky when it’s Friday, but I did something that made a co-worker laugh. When our manager overheard, she said (somewhat jokingly): “What has you in such a good mood lately?”
I know there was no ill-intent behind the question, but it made me wonder… Have I really been that off for almost a year now, that I’m seen as the grumpy, disagreeable person in the office? Did I make a mistake by not taking time off work after my diagnosis? It was such an innocuous question, but it really made me wonder if I had damaged my reputation by letting my diagnosis gnaw on me and going to work while pretending everything was okay.
But I thought a bit more about things, and I realized that now that my health has stabilized, I feel like my old self again. I don’t have the fear of not knowing any more. My treatment is working, I am not constantly wondering about “what if”, and I’ve set firm boundaries with Alex. I’m feeling like what I always was and have been – me.
Chronic illness of any kind does not define a person – and that is something I learned just on my own. Since I started blogging, I have connected with other people’s journey – like Cass’ – and it again highlights what I’ve already said: so many people are struggling, and few people know about it. My illness doesn’t define me. It doesn’t slow me down. It doesn’t make me “damaged” or “different.” And realizing that has given me a different outlook and approach to life.
This article previously appeared on Josh’s own blog The Plus Side of Life, here.