Patient Blogs | HIV
Life With HIV Has Changed My Sense of Who I Am
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So much of what comes along with HIV can feel like a moving target. Living with this disease is an ongoing, ever-changing, evolving process that can feel damn near impossible to make any sense of in the beginning. Regardless of what age you are when you get a positive diagnosis, the information will uproot and impact your identity in many ways.

Although I had plenty of examples of healthy people living and thriving with HIV, none of that could shield me from the mental and emotional turmoil I experienced after receiving a positive diagnosis in the fall of 2004. On Tuesday, Nov. 30, everything about my life as I knew it changed forever.

Just a little more than 3 weeks after celebrating my 30th birthday, I got the life-shattering news that I was HIV-positive. For many, turning 30 can be a huge milestone -- making a somewhat more pronounced transition into adulthood. For me, that transition felt like a violently sharp nosedive into all things complicated, messy, and frightening.

Skeletons

As someone who came of age with body image issues, low self-esteem, and bouts of depression (even before I knew exactly what to call it), I spent the majority of my 20s living through an identity crisis. This meant learning who I was, unlearning all of those things I was not, and slowly gaining clarity and confidence in the young man I was becoming.

Just as I felt I had a concrete grip on some of that in my 30s, along came HIV. Knowing something and experiencing it are two completely different things. When I got the news, my life flashed before my eyes. Every initial thought I held was disastrous, catastrophic, and troubling. I thought I was going to die immediately. I felt stupid. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt damaged.

Most of all, I was absolutely terrified to tell anyone. In almost an instant, I convinced myself that no one would understand and, more importantly, that no one would love or want me around anymore because of what I had just learned.

Thankfully, I had two very dear people I was close to that I could confide in, because they had been where I was. While sharing and processing my news with them definitely provided me with some much needed comfort at the time, I still dreaded having to deliver the news to my parents, other family members -- or anyone else, for that matter. At that moment, all the self-work and personal development I had managed to accomplish meant absolutely nothing.

Just as I started to feel like things were beginning to come together for me in many ways, everything felt like it was also falling apart. Since my late teens, I had battled a host of demons and insecurities, which also contributed to multiple (thankfully) failed bouts with suicide.

Having already survived personal issues as a teenager, and years later coming to grips with and accepting my sexuality and identity as a Black Gay Man, any progress I made by the time I turned 30 went out the window upon learning I was HIV-positive. In the beginning, it felt like a darker and even more difficult process of disclosure I would have to relive, which I had no desire to repeat after the mental and emotional price tag I paid when coming out about my sexuality.

Starting Over

Although it didn’t happen overnight, with continued determination, the process did ease somewhat over time. Telling those closest to me was nowhere near as difficult or nightmarish as I had feared. With each disclosure I made, I learned. I discovered that the more calm and centered I was, the better the person or persons I was sharing with were able to receive the information I was providing.

Looking back, all of those experiences were definitely useful as I eventually mustered up the courage to disclose my HIV status to my mother and my father -- each at separate times. While those experiences weren’t exactly what I would refer to as comfortable, they were necessary and ultimately successful in making sure that my loved ones were aware of what I was living and dealing with. Most importantly, that huge fear that they would take their love away was quickly put to rest as I was embraced, supported, and affirmed by everyone close to me that I shared my news with.

After 3½ years of living with HIV, I officially began my mental health journey. At the suggestion of my HIV specialist , I started seeing a therapist.  It was the best decision I could have possibly made at that time. Having access to professional help to simply talk through what I was feeling, thinking, fearing, and processing was like life support.

As I look back on it now, nearly 17 years later, I can admittedly see some of the design and purpose in what I like to call my “HIV origin story.” Out of all that fear and confusion I lived through in the early years came a personal (turned public) testimony about what it means to understand, accept, and love yourself no matter what life brings.

For anyone -- at any point along the journey of living with HIV -- it’s imperative to know and to remember that you are each more powerful and capable of withstanding whatever challenges you may face. All you have to do is keep showing up.

 

 

Photo Credit: ZenShui/Michele Constantini / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections via Getty Images

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Monte J. Wolfe

Monte J. Wolfe

Diagnosed since 2004

Monte J. Wolfe has lived with HIV since 2004. He is a multi-disciplined artist, theatre professional, and graduate of the Howard University Theatre Arts Department with a BFA in theatre arts administration. Wolfe is the founder of Brave Soul Collective, an organization raising awareness around HIV/AIDS and issues affecting LGBTQ people of color through the performing arts. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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