At any given moment, we can mark our position on life’s timeline with an onslaught of questions. Where am I? How did I get here? Where have I been? Where am I going? How do I get there?
Before I became HIV-positive, the answers would rush back quickly without hesitation. My mind was clearer, and my social networks were somewhat established and reliable. Here, ten years in co-habitation with the virus, the question-answer response has slowed down and on some occasions, stagnated to a no-reply situation.
When you contract HIV, you kind of sign up unknowingly for a life transition. You can absorb all the facts and chart the responsibilities ahead to face the challenge. You can prepare for the journey, or gain support, by listening to a friend, a peer, an online article, a science update, a health-care professional, or maybe a conference session, but it’s the lived experience which gives you a more accurate roadmap.
On the outside, I can look like I am up-to-speed, managing my appointments and medications with reasonable finesse. But it’s the questions that circle around in my interior that pivot me in this transition. Seemingly overnight (ten years), I know I am not the same. My cognitive abilities are fuzzy, my bouts of fatigue unpredictable and when I look at the time and investment I have given to work in the HIV sector, I see diminishing returns. There are times, if you close your eyes and take a nap you may wake up to media frenzy over advancements in the too-soon-to-be-true vaccine developments. Am I dreaming?
-“You’re just getting older”
Try and share your internal questioning with someone and you might get the same reply I often hear-“You’re just getting older”. True…but not the full truth. I am, along with others, the first generation to age with HIV. It’s this complicated, life altering transition of living with an incurable illness that marches to its own drum. I suppress it daily with antiretroviral medications, and march on. In life, the “normal, predictable” markers of aging get skewed, even altered when coupled with the timeline of HIV progression.
So my questions continue to circle and I ponder over my decisions, my outcomes, my habits, my personal strategies. There are regrets, and missed opportunities. There are friends that have dropped from view. There are those who stand by me through thick and thin. There are some people I have accommodated just to have someone to talk too. There are also moments of brilliance when I am on top of the world and moments of anguish where I feel swallowed whole.
At the end of each day, I am grateful to be lost in transition. I know when questions surface, I will always be faced with possible change ahead. I would worry more if I didn’t have the dialogue in my head as my head hits the pillow. Without the questions, there would be no answers required. It may take a little longer to hear a reply but I truly can wait. No rush for the aging.