As an HIV-positive activist and writer, I have written over 100 pieces on how to live with HIV in a modern world. From dating advice to coping skills, I’ve covered seemingly every topic there is to cover, which is why I decided to take a break and let new voices take center stage. Yet even now, after five years of writing almost exclusively about HIV, I am still asked the same general question over and over again.
“How do you make it look so easy to live your life with HIV?”
I typically respond with a variety of pep talks that I’ve developed about learning to be confident and why it’s so important to have a support system. I talk about telling your friends before trying to date, and making sure you never judge yourself or let anger ruin your life.
But now that I have taken a step back from the constant discussion about HIV, my answer has become painfully simple.
If you want to learn how to live with HIV, you have to run toward it.
No matter the situation, whether it be your health, your dating life, or your social circle, you cannot avoid your HIV diagnosis. It’s always going to be there, and it won’t just get easier if you wait to deal with it. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Hiding your HIV diagnosis is like ignoring cancer: the longer you wait to address it, the more it spreads. Eventually it will take over your entire life, weakening your confidence, and damaging your self-worth.
You may not be able to rid yourself of HIV by running toward it and addressing it head on, but at least by doing so, you can render it benign. It took me six months to first muster the courage to share my story with the world. I wasn’t necessarily all that special or unique. I was 28 years old, and I got lazy in my safer sex methods after a bad breakup. It can — and has — happened to many.
The part that matters, the part that now makes it look so “easy,” is that I shared it in the first place. I opened up and ran toward my diagnosis instead of concealing it. It was uncomfortable and scary, but it was also the one thing that released me from the stigma that we often place on ourselves for living with HIV. I must say, my life is easy living with HIV, but only because you already know about it by now.
Not everyone can or should pen an op-ed sharing their most intimate details. But everyone can share their story in their own way. Join a support group or volunteer with your local HIV service organization. Or simply start with telling your friends over a bottle of wine. Everyone’s experience is different, but we all have an outlet that can give us the relief we need.
HIV will always be a part of my life, just as it will always be a part of yours, but by running toward it, you can decide exactly how you want to live with it.
I choose easy.