Patient Blogs | HIV
Coming of Age With HIV
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Memories and anniversaries have always been a breeze for me. Generally speaking, I tend to remember most of the important milestones in my life pretty easily. But a little over 2 months ago, a very significant anniversary almost passed by without me even noticing. While there are several factors I could point to that led to me almost forgetting, the truth of the matter is that at the time I just happened to be terribly busy with work and artistic projects, all of which left me preoccupied. Once I eventually realized what day it was, I had to stop and do some calculating. What came forth at that moment was the realization that I had been living with HIV for 18 years. 

It was Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2004, when I learned that I was HIV positive. But last year in 2022, it wasn’t until the day after my “HIV anniversary” that it even dawned on me how much time had actually gone by. Given that Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day, I’m almost 100% certain that’s the only reason why this anniversary didn’t slip past me altogether. For me, it will always be the day after (I learned I was positive) that stays with me the most because I distinctly remember waking up that morning and feeling relieved (that I was alive) while also being seriously confused about all of what was happening. 

On that fateful day in 2004 when I learned of my HIV-positive status, I had just turned 30 years old less than a month earlier. Turning 30 can be a pretty big deal itself, but little did I know back then that there was an even larger, more significant milestone on the horizon that would essentially split me into two halves; life before and after HIV.

As is the case with every person who embarks on this journey, it’s always a series of baby steps one has to take at the start. Learning how to accept the situation and then slowly learning how to adapt and adjust can be the hardest parts of finding your way in the beginning. There are literal and figurative obstacles which can all seem impossible to overcome, especially without having some kind of mental and/or emotional support to take advantage of. 

In those first 5 to 7 years, every time my HIV anniversary rolled around I couldn’t help but to remember and celebrate having another year of life and surviving under my belt. Now, many years later I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment about coming as far as I have and figuring out how to successfully live with this virus. As time goes on and advancements with HIV/AIDS research and treatment continue to evolve, so do our opportunities to live long, prosperous, and healthy lives as HIV-positive individuals. Those are all reasons to have hope and be optimistic, which, of course, I am.

However, what has also started to happen is a blending of sorts. Some of the more turbulent and complicated parts of my journey with HIV have, over time, faded into the background almost without me even noticing until having a lightbulb go off in my mind a few months ago when the anniversary rolled around. The longer I’ve lived and endured the ups and downs of life and adulthood -- which we all experience as human beings -- my HIV status has simply become of less importance in the larger scheme of my life. What I think has really shifted for me (in the most beautiful of ways) is that I’ve forgotten the heaviest, most weighted parts of what so many of us inevitably feel early on when learning to live with HIV. More often than not, a positive diagnosis is fraught with fear, worry, shame, guilt and worst of all, uncertainty. I can say with full transparency that in the beginning, it all felt like a really bad dream with no end in sight. Fortunately, as I continued to lean into life as an HIV-positive individual, everything, over time, got a lot easier.

Although it felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders in 2004, today that weight has been lifted and replaced with insight, clarity, and resilience. Now at 48 years of age, having also survived the last 3 years of life in the age of COVID-19, I sincerely feel like I have come of age, largely due to how my life changed so abruptly 18 years ago. Recently, I was referred to as “a long-time survivor of HIV,” and while I’ll admit hearing that was a bit jarring at first, given all of the bumps, bruises, and storms I’ve overcome to get here, I can accept that label and wear it proudly like a badge of honor. 

Looking back, it feels like the first 18 years of my life after HIV were about survival. Now that I’ve got that under my belt, as I continue to live and experience all the rest of what life has for me, my focus is on thriving. 



Photo Credit: Ravi_Goel 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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