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.

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.

My Dad

Oh where do I begin? My Dad was so undeniably amazing that I know there are not enough words in this world to describe him with the justice in which he deserves.

Tomorrow marks the two year anniversary since his passing. Needless to say this has been an incredibly rough last few days. I try to remind myself that he is in a better place and one day I will see him again. It is just hard knowing he is not here to watch over me, protect me, listen to me rant on and on about boys and love, and last but definitely not least to buy me the god awful ugly flowers he always sent me for Valentines Day. No matter how hideous the arrangement was I always loved them so much because I knew he loved me and he did his best to pick out what he thought were the prettiest flowers :))

I was so lucky to get to call LeRoy Moats my Dad. Lucky I say because he chose me to be his daughter! When I was 25 years old he legally adopted me. That was by far the best birthday present I could have ever received.

There is something to be said about a fathers love.  I spent most of my life not knowing what a fathers love felt like. I only knew that it was important and that I yearned to have a Dad. LeRoy showed me what a real father was like. It was such a humbling experience to know that if there was ever anything I needed he would be there for me.  Be it just an ear to listen or some fatherly life advice he was always there. From buying cars to taking tequila shots, to listening to me cry for hours I could always count on my Dad.

When I found out I was HIV Positive I really wished he could be there. I was so scared and knew little to nothing about HIV. I knew if he was there he would have figured it all out for me. There would have been blueprints, graphs, books, it would have been figured out real quick! Anyone who knew my Dad knew he was a planning man, he would have had everything planned out, laid out, and hell he would probably be working on a cure right now.

Anyone who ever got the opportunity to meet my Dad just fell in love with him. He was just that type of person everyone was drawn to and if you didn’t just absolutely love him then you probably didn’t have a soul…  He loved everybody! And would do anything to help you. He definitely helped me out on several occasions…

I wish he could have been here through my diagnosis and even more so I wish he could see me now! I think he would be very proud of me.

I love you Dad and I miss you to the moon.

The Importance Of Support

From the very moment I found out that I was HIV Positive I have been surrounded with support. I started out attending a support group for people with HIV and even saw a therapist on a weekly basis. This helped immensely! I was able to deal with my diagnosis in ways I never knew, nor had ever imagined possible.

Just this last week my therapist informed me that I am doing such a phenomenal job that I no longer need to see her on a weekly basis and we will now only be meeting once a month. This made me a little sad but over the past few months I haven’t even shed a tear or shown any signs of sadness during our hour long meetings (and most of the time was spent talking about boys, I guess I knew it was coming).

Even in my work and home life I consider myself to be very lucky when it comes to support. I am surrounded by supportive, caring people and that has helped make my journey with HIV so much more bearable. Before I found the courage and strength to tell people what I was going through it was a very dark and lonely road. Now that I have shared my story and gained the support of all of my friends, family and coworkers I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I cannot stress how important it is to have a support system. Especially when dealing with something that has such a huge stigma attached to it.

It always amazes me when I meet someone who is HIV Positive and they tell me they have only told a select few people and maybe a couple of family members. I realize everyone deals with situations differently but I personally could not imagine keeping this a secret. When I first found out I tried to keep it a secret from several of my friends and family but in my case it only drew me further away from them. I began to close off and I knew it wasn’t fair to them. Maybe it’s the burning feeling in my gut to share my story and help end the stigma or maybe it’s just that I have a big mouth and find it impossible to keep a secret. Either way I am glad I shared my story and I am very thankful for all of the wonderful family and friends whom have supported me through my journey.

No, HIV is not going to kill me.

Since I have decided to tell the world I am HIV positive I have been asked many questions.  The most popular question being am I going to die?  My answer to that question is yes, I am going to die, we are all going to die.  Is HIV going to kill me?  No, HIV is not going to kill me.  I am more likely to die getting hit by a bus than I am from HIV.  I take medicine everyday and as long as I adhere to my medication I will live a perfectly normal lifespan.  Maybe not a perfectly normal life, but hey what is “normal” anyway?

Since I am by no means a medical professional I am posting a link to a website with some basic questions and answers regarding HIV.

HIV Basics

I hope this will help answer some of your questions. We should all educate ourselves the best we can. I will happily continue to answer all of your questions to the best of my ability.  In fact, I am really happy you guys are asking questions!  It means I am accomplishing what I set out to do.  Educate, bring awareness and help end the stigma attached to HIV are my main goals and even if I only touch a handful of people with my story, well then that’s a win in my book :)

Below is a photo of the medicine I take everyday. I am one of the “lucky” people and only have to take one pill a day. I take Stribild and have never experienced any side effects.

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Dating With HIV

Since I have started my journey with HIV I have met some very wise and amazing people,  one of which was a phenomenal woman named Terry Albritton.  When I was in my darkest days she brought me back to a place of hope…  She once said, and I quote, “Rachel you will have more “invitations” now that you are positive than you have ever had before”.  Boy was she right!  I can only assume that the confidence I  have gained has had something do to with that.  Whatever the case may be, she was definitely correct.  I have never had so many men want to date me in my life.  I don’t mean just date me, but actually want to have a real relationship with me.  One of my biggest fears was never finding anyone who would want to date a girl with HIV.  I cannot stress how much of a blessing those men have been.  Especially since I was convinced I would surely end up an “Old Cat Lady”.  The funny thing is now I do have a cat but I now know there is someone out there for me and God willing I will find him one day.

In the almost eight years before I was diagnosed HIV +,  there was one man who had my whole heart.  Sure, I “dated” other people but I would have dropped anyone or anything to be with him.  Unfortunately just a few months before I found out I was HIV + he decided he wanted to be with me and only me.  This was new to me and I was very scared and skeptical to say the least. Be it the list of women whom I knew had extreme interest in him or be it my lack of self confidence, either way after I found out I was positive the relationship fell apart.  I remember thinking why does he still want to be with me?  Who would want to be with someone they can’t even have sex with without worrying they would become infected with a virus they could never get rid of.  I was in such a dark place I think I actually convinced myself that he did not really want to be with me.  I will always love him and his family and they will forever hold a piece of my heart.  I feel as if everything happens for a reason and maybe, just maybe we were meant to be friends and not lovers.  Now that I have regained my confidence plus some, I have decided it is best if I move on and grow from that experience.

When I found out I was positive the idea of dating made me shutter with fear,  I remember even feeling sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

In the last few months of my journey my thought process has changed immensely.  I have went on several dates and even had a guy kiss me and after I told him I was HIV positive.  So far I have had no “bad” experiences when telling someone I am positive.  I accept that it could happen but it hasn’t yet and when and if it does it will just be another part of my journey with HIV.  At least I know now there are people who are willing to be with me and that makes my heart happy.  I may end up with a cat but I’m pretty sure I’ll end up with a husband too.

If I could give a newly diagnosed person only one piece of advice I would tell them to stay strong and face your fears head on.  Don’t just stand there.  Nothing happens when you stand in one place.  The world will not just come to you, you must go to the world.  Do what makes you feel right.

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This Article has been published at Positivelite.com http://www.positivelite.com/component/zoo/item/dating-with-hiv