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Giving up a career in HIV work – but what instead?

Thursday, 28 April 2016 Written by // Don Short: life in transit Categories // Don Short: life in transit, Lifestyle, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces

Don Short with “From nowhere to now here” says “I have come home to myself and I’m experiencing clarity in my decisions and goals. “

Giving up a career in HIV work – but what instead?

You can feel it in the air…cold temperatures giving way to sunny, spring days.  Smiles return to people you pass on the street, barbecues are brought out from their storage, and you can hear the sounds of kids playing again outside.  I welcome all of it. 

Last year, I didn’t welcome spring. Weather was irrelevant and had no influence on my slump. I was experiencing an inner wasteland that was tricky to navigate. The desire for a breakthrough was alive and well, but imagining that kind of triumphant shift seemed a bit of a reach. The sun may have been shining but I didn’t let it warm my skin. 

Just like seasonal shifts, life offers times of transition.  

At any given moment in time, we usually exist in that place between a desired destination and the point of arrival. There is a chasm that exists between creating a goal and having that goal fully experienced. When first diagnosed with HIV in 2006, I had no idea where that would take me. It’s been ten years of major paradigm shifts. These bigger than life moments are supposed to happen only a few times in a person’s life.   

I have experienced one too many. 

My earlier onset of a diminished immune system, coupled with fatigue, brought me to a decision to stop a vibrant art career. My teaching schedule demanded energy that I did not have in reserve.  

My zeal to learn about the virus propelled me into HIV/AIDS work – trainings, peer work, board of director work, program development, program delivery, public speaking, etc. This translated into job acquisition in my home province of Newfoundland. I also knew my position at the provincial AIDS service organization would be terminating due to funding cuts. Here I was, acquiring a job in a new career path that wasn’t going to last long. So I moved geographically, said goodbye to close friends, created unwanted distance from my kids, and rebuilt my life again. 

These types of situations happen to most everyone (relocation, job acquisition. etc), nothing that special about it! But I came to a realization that I was surrounded by HIV/AIDS 24 hours a day – personally and professionally. It shaped my relations, responses, decision making, time allocation, postponement of things that mattered.  My eight years in HIV/AID work brought amazing opportunity to help others but also gave me a unique vantage point to discern between the good, the bad and the ugly.  

There is a shift in the HIV/AIDS sector that has reshaped program and service delivery to meet funding requirements. A corporate professional “feel” is heralded, and accountability is avoided on many levels. So once again, I had to switch gears and let go of a career I thoroughly enjoyed – the chaos and pitfalls that were almost a daily occurrence in the workplace were toxic for my well being – unwarranted, unnecessary and unwelcomed. For ethical reasons and health management, I walked away.  

When I left casework, it was unfortunately followed by a run of close, personal deaths - 12 in total – and all occurred in a 12 month window. This broke me down personally and threw me into a grieving wasteland. My daughter, who moved in with me three years ago, saw the effect of my debilitating circumstances, and my parenting suffered in the crossfire. 

Today, I am not so diminished and I choose not to slump in the land of “nowhere”. 

I have come home to myself and I’m experiencing clarity in my decisions and goals. I still get distracted and many times I wallow in past wastelands out of habit or fear. The most important thing is to not stay there. 

I am “now here” and that means possibility and reward is just around the corner.