Ignorance MUST Be Bliss

Last week my Sister and I went to get tattoos on Fremont St at Rockstar Tattoo, while on vacation in Las Vegas.  Mind you this is my third tattoo since I was diagnosed HIV Positive.  Anyways, as always I like to make the tattoo artist aware of my status because, well, I know not many people do and I want them to be aware that anyone who walks in that door could very well be HIV Positive and simply not tell them. Plus, I just wouldn’t feel right not disclosing my status to someone who is going to be exposed to my blood so intimately. Well this time was a little different from my previous two experiences…

The tattoo artist had me fill out a short health questionnaire and one of the questions was “Are you HIV Positive?” Of course I answered the question honestly and handed him the form after I had completed it. He then asked me if I was nervous and I replied yes and informed him that I was Positive and asked if that was going to be a problem? His response literally broke my heart. He shouted across the shop to another tattoo artist, “Hey, whats our policy on tattooing people with HIV? And what’s the set up for that?” Well this shocked me and quite frankly embarrassed the hell out of me! Tears just started streaming down my cheeks, you see I cry when I get angry, sometimes I wish I didn’t because it prohibits me from saying the things I would really like to say. I looked over at my sister to see if she was hearing this and yes, yes she was. I guess I wanted her to march over there and kick his ass for me but I think she was just as shocked as I was. She asked him if he was joking because I mean he had to be joking right? Um no, he was not joking, not at all. He then proceeded to tell me that he was not comfortable tattooing someone who is HIV Positive. This comment was like salt on the wound and only made the tears come faster! Eventually I was able to compose myself enough to ask him if he really thought I was the first HIV Positive person to walk into this shop and get a tattoo? His response left me speechless, he said YES I was the first person. All I could think is how stupid could you be? I’m just the first person to tell you! You flipping idiot!! He then proceeded to tell me that he has tattooed thousands of people and I was the first HIV Positive person to ever walk through the door. I think what pissed me off the most was that I found myself trying to explain to this imbecile that I take medicine everyday and I’m undetectable, it was like I was trying to make excuses for myself. It was horrible. Absolutely horrible.

Thankfully another tattoo artist came to the rescue and said he had no qualms with doing my tattoo. Had he waited another 30 seconds we would have walked out and taken our business elsewhere. The Artist named Ray who did my tattoo for me really did a great job and I am thankful for him.

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Getting Back Right Part Deux

It has been five weeks since I shared my bout with depression with all of the world and I figured maybe it was time to give a little update on all of that.

Well first off let me say, I am feeling much better! I haven’t broke down in tears for at least three weeks and that is pretty huge considering I was crying everyday for pretty much no reason at all. Actually, let me stop fibbing. There were a couple of reasons I was able to come up with.

At first, I thought one of the reasons was really dumb until I told my therapist about it and she told me it wasn’t dumb, that it was “normal” and that I wasn’t crazy for feeling so extremely sad. You see back in January when I wrote my post about dating with HIV there was one guy in particular that I really, really liked! I mean, I really liked him. I was super excited about him because he was different than all of the guys I had ever dated before. We did different things, we went to the movies, coffee shops, church, grocery shopping, out to dinner, out to dinner with his friends, we went to his parents house, we texted each-other everyday and we talked for hours. Yea I get those things may not seem so different but the difference was we were never physical. We never even kissed each-other. We were also brutally honest with each-other about EVERYTHING. I honestly believed he would be different than any guy I had ever dated before. I truly respected what he was going through and was thoroughly enjoying the friendship we were building. Then one day out of the blue he called me and said he could no longer see me. This broke me. I am usually very careful with men and I usually treat them as suspects who have to pass a rigorous test proving their good intentions, but in this case I was 100% sure he was an honest man who would not let me down. I carelessly let down all of my walls and let him in only to be crushed. I am only now getting back right from this experience.

The second reason I was able to come up with was that I came to the harsh realization that I was not as important to one of my very best friends as I thought I was. In life you will only make about a handful of friends that you will want to keep close to your heart for your entire life and when you realize that you are not as important to them as they are to you, it is heart breaking.

Thanks to my awesome therapist and my amazing family and friends, I am feeling much better and am looking forward to even brighter days ahead.

Rachel is finally roaring in the face of her days again.

Getting Back Right

It took me awhile to decide to share this part of my journey. It seems ridiculous that I would be so open about my HIV diagnosis but so ashamed and embarrassed to come out and say that I am clinically depressed. I know that sharing my journey with HIV gave me strength and helped me to start the healing process. The emails I have received since starting this blog have been phenomenal. All the way from people newly diagnosed asking for advice to people needing a pep talk because they were scared to go get tested. I know from the emails I have received that I am not the only HIV positive person suffering from depression. Hopefully by sharing this part of my journey I will help someone else feel not so alone.

A couple of days ago I was asked to speak at a woman’s retreat this coming September. Specifically, I was asked to speak about a significant life experience and how I came out on the other side/better side of it. Although I am still in the process of trying to figure out exactly why I am feeling so depressed my hope is to have this under control by September so that maybe I can inspire some of the women at the retreat who may be feeling the same way I am to seek help. No one deserves to feel this way and no one should have to deal with this alone.

Just this week I went to see my therapist and she said I was sadder than she has ever seen me before. It is hard to believe that I could possibly be anymore sad than when I found out I was HIV positive and my life would forever be changed.

Thinking back to the first six months of my diagnosis I guess I would describe that as a mourning kind of sadness. Much like the stages of mourning the loss of a loved one. 1.) Denial and Isolation, although I never really expierenced  any denial about my diagnosis, I most definitely did isolate myself. For several months I only spoke with a very select few people. The less people that knew, the less I had to deal with the emotions, stigma, pity, and all of the things that come with telling people you are HIV Positive. 2.) Anger, Oh the anger… I felt rage in my soul that I never knew existed. I literally wanted to break things. I once had the opportunity to throw some dishes at a brick wall and honestly it felt so relieving! In fact, I would do it again if given the chance. Sometimes I would scream at the top of my lungs while driving (so no one could hear me of course), and sometimes I would just cry, because that is what I mostly do when I am angry. 3.) Bargaining, If only I would have used protection… 4.) Depression, Of course I was depressed when I found out, although it is nothing like the kind of depressed I am now… 5.) Acceptance, I do believe for the most part I have accepted that I am HIV positive, but I know I still have a ways to go. 

I am hoping that within the next few weeks of seeing my therapist and coming up with a plan to get out of this funk I can start to get the old Rachel back. Quite frankly I’m tired of crying and worrying about things that aren’t  even happening or may never even happen. 

I want to be the Rachel that wakes up and roars in the face of the day and does everything she possibly can to make a difference. Not the Rachel that swirls about in a black cloud.

Stigma, Don’t Let It Stop You From Helping Yourself.

Recently I took notice of how many Facebook friends I have compared to how many of my friends have liked my WeAreHIV.Org Facebook page and it dawned on me that the people who did not take the time to “Like” my FB page are probably scared of the Stigma that may be attached to “Liking” a FB Page dedicated to HIV & AIDS… That or they really just don’t care about a girl on a mission to single-handedly end the HIV/AIDS Virus. OK, OK, I realize I will probably not be able to end the spread of HIV. But hey! A girl can dream.  I’ll admit, it kind of hurt my feelings at first, then the more I thought about it, the sadder I became. Not because I’m missing out on 144 “likes” (which would put me well above 500) but because they are probably the same people who think this could never happen to them…
Maybe they are married or in a committed relationship or maybe they just think they are invincible. Well let me tell you that is most definitely not the case. I don’t want to scare anyone. (Well, maybe I do want to scare you just a little bit. I mean sometimes a good scare can really get you thinking in the right direction!) Let me tell you a story about my first group meeting. I was absolutely appalled when I went to my first meeting for positive heterosexuals and met married couples who had been married for years and one of them cheated on the other and brought home a little gift called HIV (Insert Sarcasm). Not only by cheating on their spouse but some also brought it home because they were using drugs and sharing needles. It is sickening to me because if there is one place you should feel safe and not have to worry about contracting HIV it is in your marriage. But, human beings are not perfect and it does happen.

That my friends is why everyone should get tested.
Knowing your status is better than not knowing your status. Some of the people I met ended up getting really sick when they were first diagnosed because they had been married for 20 plus years and no one thought to check for HIV. Some of them had full blown AIDS by the time they figured out what was wrong with them. Most of them are lucky to be alive today!
Please do not let the Stigma scare you away from educating yourself and the ones you love. Don’t let your loved ones say, “I wished someone would have talked about HIV with me. “
Don’t forget: We Are HIV.

This is my story, I am Joshua Middleton, and I am HIV +.

My name is Josh and I was diagnosed HIV + on June 5, 2012. At this moment I had already been through a very trying time of my life. I had survived death twice with separate issues regarding my leg, including necrotizing fasciitis and suffering from septic shock after a surgery where my kidneys began to shut down. After my second surgery I was hospitalized over 30 times in a two-year period due to reoccurring cellulitis in my left leg. For someone as young as I was, I shouldn’t have been having all of these issues. I found myself in the hospital setting almost every month being poked and prodded like cattle.

In January of 2012 I found out that my girlfriend of almost two years from Tijuana, Mexico was cheating on me again after I had given her a chance to change. I started to really stress about things but knew deep down inside it was not going to work out. I thought she was the “one” from the magic fairy tales that we all hear so much about as kids however this was not the case. We were attempting to have a kid together because we thought this would “solve” the situation. After I found out she had cheated the second time with a cousin of a non blood uncle, it really hurt me deep inside. I had grown so close with her family over the years and even though I knew it was the right thing to do to break up, I didn’t want to accept mentally or emotionally what was happening.

We broke up shortly after and I began to search for the closure I was looking for in that part of my life. I began to party, going out with friends to have a good time, and in the end got more than I bargained for. I was constantly having sexual relations with females I had barely just met that night or known for a very short period of time. Sometimes when I would have sex with these girls I would meet, protection would not be a major priority. I was also going down to the legally ran brothels in Tijuana not because I wanted to find love or a relationship, but because of how my last relationship had ended I started to equate caring with sex. I always used protection while down there however it just goes to show how my life was spiraling out of control due to the simple fact that I couldn’t get over a relationship.

I had met my ex while doing missionary work in Tijuana and also while I found my passion for language. The fact that I knew her for over 7 years along with her family did not help the situation. I was broken inside and in my mind was trying to repair the situation and move forward.

In May of 2012 I started to get symptoms of pink eye which for myself was normal as I work in bail bonds and am constantly entering in/out of the jails. I wet to an appointment with my primary care provider and while I was there, also requested an HIV test. I had tested negative in November of 2011 without knowing because the test was ordered during one of my hospital stays. I thought to myself it had been awhile since I had been checked and due to my ex cheating (not knowing if she had used protection) as well as the one night stands I had after we broke up on top of recently having received a tattoo, I decided to get tested as a “just in case” type measure. Everything was normal and they took my blood, said they would call me in a couple of days with the results, and I left. I never received a call back which I found odd however figured they had simply forgotten.

On June 5th I had an appointment set up with my infectious disease doctor to follow-up with the issues regarding my leg. Since the two clinics are connected under the same network, they are allowed to share information with each other, and my P.C. had called my ID to inform him of my results and pass along the information. We went over the issues with my leg and how I was progressing which is when he told me he knew I took an HIV test with my primary care doc the week prior and didn’t I find it odd that he didn’t call me back. I then thanked him saying I had forgotten all about it and would call my doctor after I got out of the appointment to find out the results as I figured they had forgotten to contact me. That is when he told me that he had the results and they didn’t turn out so good. I thought to myself well how did they not turn out good ? Could they not read the blood and I would need to go for another test or what exactly was the issue? He then said “Josh, I am sorry but you came out HIV +”.

I sat there in disbelief, stared at the wall for a couple of minutes trying to escape the news I was receiving, and when it finally hit me what he was telling me, I broke down into a river of tears. He explained to me about treatment and how medically advanced we are now compared to the 80’s, assuring me that treatment would allow me to live a long and healthy life. Everything he said went in one ear and out of the other. He then started to ask me about my relationships within the past 6 months and how to protect others from myself and the virus that was now living within my body. I then went to get the confirmatory western blot test and I was in complete shock. The nurse asked me why I was crying so much and when I told her I came out positive she just stated how sorry she was. I had to sit down for 15 minutes after and drink some orange juice so I wouldn’t get up and collapse.

I began to drive to work as I was scheduled at 2 pm. I was in complete shock of what had happened. I wanted to crash the car the whole way and say goodbye to this world but luckily something inside me told me not to do it. It was the hardest day of my life having to work through being newly diagnosed with HIV however from the start I began to tell my coworkers and try to get some sort of support. Everyone was very understanding, shocked as well, but stuck by me. I wanted to keep working to keep me distracted, keep my mind off things, and not ponder what my new life might be like.

I was contemplating not telling my parents as I thought it would hurt them more than help the situation however after seeing my mom’s face, someone who raised me and loved me since birth, obviously knowing that something was wrong, I couldn’t hold back. I told my mom first and we sat and cried for hours. The first thing she asked me is if I was gay, because in their minds, that was the only group that they had known to be contracting it. Later that night I told my dad before he left to go to work where we also embraced. They both assured me that no matter what, they would be there to support me. I had much education about it but never thought it would happen to me. Together we started to educate ourselves even more until we knew absolutely everything about this new “member” of the family so to say.

I got the confirmatory test results a couple of days later via my primary care doctor on the phone. My lymph nodes in my neck had began to swell and hurt in such a way that I had never felt that kind of pain before. During this time I was still holding out hope it was a false positive, it was all I had to cling onto. This was not the case my doctor informed me and said that my western blot also showed positive. I cried so much during the first week that I literally had no more water in my body to cry anymore. I didn’t know any of the girls that I had been with except my ex therefore I made the hardest call of my life. We had been separated for over 4 months or so now so she was very surprised when I called thinking I was wanting to amend the relationship. When I finally was able to get out the reason that I was calling “Amairany, I am HIV positive” I said in Spanish, she let out a blood curdling scream that I had nightmares about for the following months. She said she was going to get tested which gave me some sigh of relief, I knew she had never been tested. Her mom called me up the next day and was so pissed that I have never heard someone cuss so fast in Spanish before in my life. I had been faithful in the relationship but in their eyes I had cheated and now brought home HIV to one of their family members. I was not sure who I had contracted it from, nor when, therefore I was calling out of love because it was the right thing to do. That was the last I heard from her and never heard back since. I have since found out that she is negative however do not know if I truly believe it for the simple fact she comes from a very traditional family and out of pride/shame I know she wouldn’t tell anyone. I started to get involved in educating myself more, watching fellow activists on YouTube and how they got through it, and within a week of being diagnosed I started on HIV ARV treatment after finding out I had a 28,000 VL and 350 CD4. I had to make the decision of how to proceed with my life and I decided I would not let this virus destroy me. I kept a positive and optimistic attitude which I still carry to this day. Seeing other activists making a difference and helping others really wanted to make me get more involved in sharing my story which I have.

Everyone knows about my status and I try to show my face and share my story wherever I go so people know that this disease truly does not discriminate. We are all human, we all make mistakes, and there is no reason ANYONE deserves this virus. I just happened to have an unlucky hand at life in one sense however this journey has grown me so much mentally, emotionally, and spiritually that I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am currently undetectable with a great cd4 count and wanting to make a difference in this world when it comes to HIV/AIDS. There is so much stigma, so much hate, so much discrimination, and the numbers continue to stay constant here in the US. I continually promote the use of protection and education to ensure that HIV stops with me.

This is my story, I am Joshua Middleton, and I am HIV +. I have a blog that I regularly update at http://www.pozitivehope.com and try to share videos every once in a while on YouTube to give hope to others. My goal is to see a HIV/AIDS free generation however we might be far away from that day, until then I want to do my part in putting a large dent in this epidemic.

www.pozitivehope.com

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HIV, Comfortable? Um, No.

Just this past week I had someone tell me that I seemed “comfortable” with my diagnosis. Ha, comfortable is not the word bird! I do not think anyone is “comfortable”  being HIV Positive. It’s just that I spent enough time being sad and upset about my status that I finally decided enough is enough! Yes, I have accepted my diagnosis but I will always grieve my old life.

This has been a very difficult week for me because I now realize that finding a life partner may not be as easy as I had initially thought. Yes I had some good dates and no one seemed scared of me but those have gone and now I stand here alone. I wish everyone knew that just because I am HIV Positive that does not mean that I do not deserve to be loved. You can love me, I promise I am not contaminated.

The same person who thought I was “comfortable” having HIV also finds it hard to believe that I would put my story out there for all the world to see. But if I don’t who will? I have already had two friends tell me they are positive since I shared my story. I have had countless emails from people who are scared to get tested, people who recently tested positive and people that are nervously awaiting their HIV results. I try my best to console and educate those people the best that I can. I know I am helping people and that was my goal when I started this website. To help and educate people to the very best of my abilities. Once again, I had no idea that this would ever happen to me…

Below is a message I received via Instagram today. It is messages like this one that keeps me going. Keeps me posting and keeps me trying my best to educate as many people as I possibly can. Instagram Message

My Second Birthday, A Second Chance

One year ago today on March 19th, 2013 I found out that I was HIV Positive. For the last week I have been contemplating what I should refer to this day as? I guess some would call this day the anniversary of my diagnosis, but honestly I feel as if it is almost like a second birthday. A second chance to truly appreciate every moment that has been given to me. A chance to appreciate all of the wonderful people in my life. A chance to make better, healthier choices. An opportunity to be the best Rachel I possibly can be. Everything has a new meaning to me. Friends are more important, my family is more precious than I ever knew, and my happiness is my key to living MY awesome life. It is your life, do not let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong. If you are not happy then you are squandering your days. Please do not squander your days, they are all you truly have.

Before I was diagnosed HIV Positive I can honestly say I took life for granted.  Now I look at life and realize how precious it truly is. I guess you could say I am one of the lucky people who caught their diagnosis early before it turned to AIDS or worse…  I have not had to deal with sicknesses or be worried about catching the common cold. I have had to worry about myself though. I’ve had to worry if people would still love me, care for me, or if they would whisper behind my back. I am sure there are some people who whisper or assume certain things but I have also learned to let that go. People are always going to talk and some people will always judge you, it’s up to you to let them affect you or not.

 As I’ve said many times before and will probably say many times again, I had no idea that this could or would ever happen to me.  I started my website for two reasons, 1.) To share my story and hopefully help to end the Stigma that is held against so many HIV Positive people and 2.) To encourage everyone who reads my blog or stumbles across my website to please get tested.  It is so much better to know and be able to do something about it than not know and wind up infecting others or getting really sick yourself.

Although the last year has by far been the longest, toughest, saddest most trying year of my 30 years on this earth, I have learned so much. I have learned that anything can happen, even things you never dreamed of. We are not invincible therefore we must take care of our body, mind, and spirit. I am working on these things every day. Yes I still get devastatingly sad sometimes but I always try to remind myself that HIV does not define me. Yes it is a part of me and yes that may scare away some people but I am not ashamed nor am I embarrassed. Everything happens for a reason and perhaps this happened so that I can warn all of you that yes it can happen to you too. No one wants to think about it, or even talk about it, but we must. We must talk about it! Please make sure you talk to your children, your friends and your family. As dreadful as the conversation may be. Trust me, contracting the virus is much harder on a person than having a conversation. A conversation that may change the way some people live their lives.