Of late, I have been struggling (no grappling) with the extent of control I have over my life. As I noted in an earlier post, my of this reflection has been the result of some major changes in my life. And, I admit, my default mode has been to look to my HIV status as some means to account for -- if not find solace in -- my feelings of powerlessness.
After all, I am no longer twenty-five, I am no longer new to world of employment and I'm certainly not as well-established as I might have expected to be at this point in my life. Don't get me wrong, HIV aside I'm sure I'm hardly the first person to find myself in this situation -- but I refuse to resort to the cliche "mid-life" crisis scenario. Not only do I find it hackneyned, but I think it offers a generalization that covers everything from hair loss to (perhaps) the loss of intimacy in many thirty-to-forty year marital relationships.
But I return now to my default mode if you will -- my almost immediate tendency to look to my HIV status as not only the source of many of my problems, but the inevitable precursor to a life of trials and tribulations that would plague me until my demise. Please understand, I say this with no objective of diminishing the very real psychological and physical health problems that those living with HIV face on a daily basis.
My only point is that there is a fact (if you will) to the burdens of HIV as well as a fiction to which many of us so willingly attach ourselves. We see the billboards, we read the literature, and we live our lives -- in so many, many cases HIV is NOT the DEATH SENTENCE in the developing world that it once was. This seems a very dangerous claim in light of claims made during the most recent IAC in Vienna -- again, at the risk of seemingly overly apologetic, it is NOT. If anything, for those who eventually find themselves with better access to HIV medications and more understanding and sympathetic governments and administrations, I would hope that you will find some wisdom in what I'm trying to lay out here.
Our health is, I would hope most agree, a multifaceted and complex thing that encompasses not only our CD4 counts (among other things), but also remains a product of a complicated series of psychological processes -- many over which we as individuals DO EXERCISE SOME CONTROL. Personal experience has demonstrated to me that HIV can become a burden at our own behest. In fact, I will go as far as to say that I have acquaintances who are willing to claim that they are "disabled" when in fact they consider it appropriate to do so.
These issues point to a very complex aspect of what it is to be HIV positive. Again, I am not attempting to reflect on the very real and devastating effects of HIV on a global level. I am pointing to the fact that what I have referred to as the "shackles" of HIV are also powerful psychological embodiments that can be called into play -- at times beyond our control, and at times that we can consciously invoke for any number of reasons. I once has a colleague (who will remain anonymous) who would joking state "ouch, my HIV hurts..." I think, in many ways, this sums up my argument perfectly.
We can never lose sight of the catastrophic effects of HIV -- both here in Canada and throughout the world. Yet I believe that we need also to take account of a subtler, and possibly just as insidious toll that HIV can take on us -- both consciously and subconsciously. If there is any validity to the claim that HIV need no longer be a death sentence, our psychological resources and supports remain equally important. I have discovered this on my own -- but I know that I am not alone.