Monday, June 30, 2014

Sometimes I cry in the shower

When I started speaking to high school classes I was an extremely shy and introverted man, scared to death to stand in front of a group of strange teenagers and tell the details of my life story.  Still, I was determined to help as many students as I could learn about HIV prevention and what could happen if they failed to protect themselves and the ones they love.
My first few classes went well, only a couple questions at the end of each class and those questions were not hard to answer.  Then, as my confidence grew, as the day progressed, in one of the last classes of the day, a question was asked that made me really stop and think.
With only about five minutes left in this class I asked for any more questions.  Slowly and silently a hand went up in the back of the classroom.  A petit blond quietly asked, "With all your health issues that AIDS caused, your pain and your suffering, do you ever want to just sit down and cry?".  Suddenly, with that simple question, all of the walls I had put up around me, all of the barriers that shielded my vulnerability and my inner soft core, were threatened.  I thought for a moment, do I answer truthfully or do I continue to hold up those walls I had so carefully built over the years. 
I took a deep breath and answered, "Well, yes.  In fact, sometimes I cry in the shower.  Why the shower?  It is simple.  I cry in the shower because no one is there to see me cry.  No one can hear if I let out a sob or two.  Plus, the shower will always wash away my tears and as those tears go down the shower drain so do the reasons I cry.  The water not only washes away my tears but it washes away my sadness, my pain and my weaknesses leaving me fresh and ready to face whatever will come that day."  There was silence.  Then slowly I began to notice smiles on the faces of many students.  Many more nodded in agreement.  By being total honest and totally vulnerable, I had reached a majority of the students in this class.
It was then that I made the decision that I must be totally honest every time I speak about my life with HIV and AIDS.  I must not only show my strengths but I must be willing to show my weaknesses as well.  I must be willing to answer the difficult questions with honesty no matter how that will make me feel.  If I am totally honest all of the time, the students will know and will be willing to listen even if the subject matter is difficult for them to hear.  And, if I reach just a few students per class, if just a few will change their behaviors and stay HIV free, I have done what I set out to do.  And then maybe the tears that are washed down my shower drain, the tears of sadness, pain and weakness, will be mixed with tears of strength and joy.

A little about me...

I was born and raised in Rochester, MN.  In 1986 I met the love of my life, Jim, and we moved to Minneapolis to start our new life together.  Also in 1986, before I met Jim, I was infected with HIV.  The problem was, I didn't know it until 2002 when I was rushed to the hospital near death.  There I was diagnosed with Pneumocystis Pneumonia and AIDS.
I have worked in a nursing home, hospital, clinic and then for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, first with the MinnesotaCare Program and then with the HIV/AIDS Division.  Unfortunately, my health forced me to have to leave my job and retire in 2007.  Now I spend my energy and time trying to educate high school and college students and their parents about my life with AIDS and HIV prevention. 
So, this blog will be about my fights, the fight to live with AIDS, the fight to educate people about life with HIV and AIDS, the fight to end HIV and the fight to end the stigma and shame related to life with HIV and AIDS.
Please follow along my journey, share with your friends and family and please feel free to ask questions and share your suggestions.  Thank you!!!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Scream with me...

This past weekend Jim and I watched HBO’s “The Normal Heart” written by Larry Kramer. If you have a chance, I highly recommend that you see it. It is so very well written and acted! Watching it the tears flowed freely and often as I reme...mbered those early days of the AIDS crisis and saw that from my point of view, after 33+ years, not a whole lot has changed.
After watching “The Normal Heart” I realized that we are still fighting to stop the spread of this stupid virus called HIV. We still deny there is a problem and we are still afraid to speak up, no, still afraid to yell, no, we are still afraid to shout it at the very top of our lungs and scream until we have no voice left that there is a problem here. People of every age, every color, every gender classification and every sexual orientation are still being infected and at alarming rates! And, people of every age, every color, every gender classification and every sexual orientation are still getting sick and are still dying in numbers too large to comprehend after all this time.
We know how HIV is spread. We have known for years. We know how to prevent the spread of HIV and we know how to treat those who are living with HIV and AIDS and again, we have known for years. Yet, HIV continues to spread and people living with HIV and AIDS continue to die. Why is this happening?
I have spent the past 12 years of my life fighting. I fight every day to live with this stupid virus called HIV and an AIDS diagnosis! I fight to stay as healthy as I can. I fight to teach those in schools and their parents to be safe, to do all they can to stop the spread of HIV and to protect themselves and those they love. I fight to take my pills on time every day. I fight to end the stigma and shame that goes with an HIV or AIDS diagnosis. And almost every day I feel that these fights are for nothing. It often seems to me that almost no one wants to help and almost no one wants to fight along side of me and a few others like me who are fighting to end HIV. And again I ask why is this happening?
Just in the past couple of years, my relationship to the person I love has become recognized as a true marriage, a true and loving relationship. It took years of fighting and often during the fight it seemed like we would never win. Yet now here we are, Jim and I are truly a married couple, recognized by both the state and country we call home. Marriage equality is now a fact and not just a dream for us and thousands like us.
Now that the fight for marriage equality is won, can we please turn our attention to the fight of the epidemic that has taken so many lives and cost so much money, time, pain and sorrow? It is an epidemic that began over 30 years ago and continues to devastate the lives of so many. Can we please start talking, no, start yelling, no, start screaming from the top of our lungs until we have no voice left that the time to fight to end HIV is now? Can we please do something together so that I will not have to feel as if I am fighting these fights alone? Can you, my friends, my family, my fellow human beings help me fight? Will you start screaming with me, please?

The politics of the day.

     As most of you may know, my political affiliation leans strongly to the left, more liberal side.  Although I do not believe in everythi...