“In these days of no regrets
I keep mine to myself
And all the things we never said
I can say for someone else
And nothing lasts forever but we always try
And I just can't help but wonder why
We let it pass us by”
Beautiful Goodbye by Amanda Marshall, - such an amazing song. The lyrics, the music, it sends shivers down my spine.
My friends don’t understand my love for Amanda Marshall. They always laugh at me when one of her songs comes on my iPhone and I get uber-excited. She has such a unique voice.
You are probably wondering, why I am talking about this. I have a reason, a very specific reason. Beautiful Goodbye makes me think about living with HIV. It makes me think about how I had to say goodbye to my previous life - not a past life before I was born, but my life before I had HIV.
The life I had before HIV and the life I have now are quite different - or are they?
What made me think about saying goodbye to my old life? I went through a group therapy program last year and during it I realized I had never said goodbye to a friend. My friend also suffered from depression. He always seemed happy go-lucky, until near the end he started doing drugs and sleeping around a lot. He tried to kill himself. Doctors told him he drank enough anti-freeze to kill seven grown men. He was put on anti-depressants and started seeing a therapist. He seemed to be getting better. His parents were keeping a close eye on him.
One day he wanted to go for a walk and he never came back. I assumed he killed himself. It's three years since he went missing. In group therapy they had me talk to him as if he was there, standing in front of me. I said, “ I’m angry with you. I’m angry that you left me, that you thought your only option was to kill yourself. Why didn’t you reach out, ask for help? I miss you. I spend nights driving by your house, hoping you will magically appear. I miss those nights when we would all get together, make drinks and play board games. I’m angry and I’m sad that you took that away from me. I’m angry that there wasn’t a funeral and I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. I hope you're at peace, I miss you and love you. Goodbye.”
It was an extremely hard thing to do. There were a lot of tears, but it was necessary. After that I found I didn’t need to drive by his house, hoping he would magically appear. I was at peace.
That brings me to saying goodbye to my old life. In the group therapy program, saying goodbye to my dead friend led me to an epiphany. How am I supposed to move forward without mourning my old life? I need to mourn my life without HIV and I need to say goodbye. Until I do, I am always going to be holding on for dear life., hoping a time machine will appear and I will be transported back in time, the time before having HIV. (Where is the car from Back to the Future when you need it?)
I worked through this in depth in the therapy program. When I was diagnosed with HIV, it was like my world crumbled around me. I felt like my hopes and dreams were violently taken away from me, and I was going to spend the rest of my life a miserable lonely man. I thought I was going to have ongoing health problems and side effects from the medications. I thought I would have trouble holding down a job and that I would become a hermit. I thought that no man would ever want to be with me and that I would be viewed as damaged goods.
The truth is my life without HIV wasn’t like that. I was depressed all the time; I hated my job and felt lonely all the time. I dealt with it by sleeping, eating fast food and having sex. What was I supposed to be mourning then? I was mourning the life I wished I had. I wished I had been happy and found enjoyment out of the simplest things. I wished I were healthy, mentally and physically. I wished I had the energy to hang out with friends and family all the time and not to feel lonely around them. And not only did I have to say goodbye to my life without HIV I needed to say goodbye to my life without mental health issues.
Those issues started in high school. The first time I remember having a bout of depression was in grade ten. I wasn’t sure why I was depressed, I just was. Looking back I can now see why; I went from being a super-fit kid with friends, to an overweight high school kid, living in a new city with no friends. My self-esteem was gone and I felt very lonely.
My childhood was an intense one. My dad was an alcoholic and mom dealt with it by hiding out at work. When I was seven, a neighbor physically assaulted me; when I was twelve I was raped in a public washroom. I could go on, but the point is there are a lot of events in my life that contributed to my mental health issues. The point is, too, that I need to embrace my new life. Yes I have HIV, yes I have mental health issues but that doesn’t mean I have to let them hold me back. I can choose to embrace all the good, all the bad and find positives in a bad situation - or I can choose to be negative and continually hold myself back.
So I said goodbye to my old life without HIV, I said goodbye to my life without mental health issues, I said goodbye to the negative aspects. Saying goodbye doesn’t mean forgetting, I can draw from my old life and learn from it. I now say hello to my life with HIV, and hello to my life with mental health issues.
My new life won’t be an easy one. It will be challenging, but it will make me a stronger person. I look forward to continually learning and helping others. I look forward to using my illnesses, my disabilities and turning them into opportunities.