Posts Tagged ‘life challenges’

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Ken Williams

There are a few things I want you to know about my positive experience. Whether you’ve worked in HIV for decades or are new to the epidemic, we all start somewhere. I’m a filmmaker and, ironically, my first introduction to the epidemic was through film. It was film where I started and film where I continue to this day.

Well before I became positive, my first in-depth look into the HIV epidemic was through the lens of a film called Philadelphia. For two hours I watched Tom Hanks’ character die on screen. What I took away from watching Philadelphia was that the typical HIV positive experience can be one of rejection and discrimination. It can be a stigmatized and demoralizing experience. Some people may think that your fate is considered your fault. As a person who has been living with HIV for four years, I now know this is not true.

The truth about my positive experience is that my life can often be seriously impacted by the social and physical implications of living with HIV. Almost every day, living with HIV means something different to me. Some days I feel hopeful because I take my medications and stay in care, while on other days, I feel shame because I am confronted head on by the stigma that is associated with living with HIV, leaving me feeling that I need to remain silent about my disease for fear of ridicule; the expectation that I must be dangerous because I am living with HIV. Having tested HIV positive just 4 years ago, I am still adjusting. Adjusting to how best to deal with stigma; how best to understand and manage what is happening in my body; how best to keep moving forward.

Much of this adjustment, for me, at least, is best handled by practicing optimism instead of fear. Optimism brought on by scientific advances; optimism brought on by my own personal growth and understanding of how to live a healthy life with HIV; and optimism that we are now talking about the real possibility of a generation free of HIV/AIDS. I learn daily and I listen to the outpouring of similar stories in my community and I take my meds and I live! I live despite the stigma. I live despite the fear. I share my story behind and in front of the camera and through these stories and connections I stay hopeful. I hope for an AIDS-free generation and a generation free of the stigma and fear and blame. I hope for a generation where I can continue to share my truths. My optimism drives me to want to see that generation.

What are you doing each day to bring us all to an AIDS-free generation?

– See more at: http://blog.aids.gov/2014/08/the-truth-about-my-positive-experience.html#sthash.1A8VLl08.dpuf

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Image  April second through the fourth saw 55 young black men from across the nation to meet in Atlanta, Georgia for the YBGLI’s second Policy and Advocacy Summit. When I confirmed to my parents that I was gay so many years ago they warned me that my life would be very difficult, and that it would be full of barriers that would require me to be the very best in everything that I do. This belief stayed within and made me believe until more recently that if I was not perfect or the best in whatever I was attempting then there was no reason trying to pursue.

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  While on my flight heading to Atlanta so many thoughts were running through my head. I really wanted to work hard to learn as much as possible and network. I am not going to lie when I felt as if the summit would be the same as any other conference, which would be information overload and maybe some opportunities to network. We all met downstairs to talk and network before walking over to the location we had our first session waiting for us. It was a great opportunity because it was a happy hour. This allowed us to begin the process to truly get to know each other. It was truly great to see old friends but have the ability to start the process of making new ones. Our first night had us at The Evolution Project. The Evolution Project is a drop-in community center for young black gay/bisexual men and transgender individuals between 18 and 28 years of age. There we got an overview of the drop-in center, listened to representatives of AID Atlanta and the state health department, and got to hear from Jose R. Rodriguez-Diaz who is the CEO of AID Atlanta. We then received a presentation on the Affordable Care Act and then had a private screening of Blackbird by Patrik-Ian Polk.

  Throughout the next day and a half we discussed health disparities, policy, advocacy, HIV prevention among Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men (YBMSM), research, leadership, Feminism and its importance to Black Gay Men, and personal development & personal branding. The always-fantastic Testing Makes Us Stronger Team gave a presentation on their program to us before the Twitter Town Hall that will forever remain one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

On the final day, we had two very special events and both of them I will cherish for the rest of my life. We had the pleasure of having Dr. Theo Hodge, whom is a provider in DC, yet shared his story about his experiences in the district during the AIDS epidemic. Hearing him tell the stories of having clients taking HIV medications in the handfuls, the effects of AZT that were physically noticeable, and more importantly reviewing the timeline of then to here. The recording of the presentation needs to happen so it has the opportunity to play for every Young Black Gay Man (heck everyone) who is not familiar with the history of HIV. Our group truly enjoyed his charisma and his ability to convey such a serious story in a way to continue to engage us throughout our time together. Finally, the last session of the summit was one where Dr. David Malebranche, Dr. Sheldon D. Fields, Robert Miller, and Mr. Bernard Owens each gave us their stories and additional encouragement. I cannot tell you how much I saw the future me in these men. Each of them made me feel so comfortable I was able to break down my walls of protection and cry on their shoulders. I finally was able to let out my internalized stress and express my frustrations in a space where I felt as if I did not have to be either politically correct or forced to give some bullshit pageant reply like “I just want world piece.” It is truly a blessing to be in this position; however, it sometimes makes me feel extra diligent to stay on my Ps and Qs (even if that means saving those conversations for ‘kitchen table talk’). Immediately they offered their experiences and friendships and I am happy to say that post YGBLI’s Policy and Advocacy Summit we are still in contact and their words and perspectives have been invaluable. Having this opportunity would have been very difficult to achieve outside of this space.

This summit was definitely a success and far exceeded my expectations. The participants were very diverse and came from different geographical areas and professional (not just HIV). Topics were set but we had the ability to truly dissect what we were discussing, even if it transitioned off-topic for a bit. Having the ability to speak to representatives of our government agencies (CDC, HRSA, SAMHSA, and the Georgia Department of Public Health) gave us the ability to voice our concerns, thoughts, and ideas. The lack of job vacancies/internships and leadership positions, slow approval times for marketing materials, lack of funding to rural and other low socioeconomic communities that are seeing a rise in HIV, lack of cultural competency, and a vast array of others issues that were mentioned during this time period. I concern I had was that many of the representatives on the panel were white and only two members participating were Black. This is a perfect reminder that we need to have more opportunities to have Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men (to include those who are HIV-positive) to fill these seats in the future to ensure that decisions made for us are created by and come from us. A huge shout-out though goes to Mr. Harold Phillips of HRSA who saw a need to address our questions due to the lack of time/ability of those reps on the panel to answer them. He graciously volunteered his own time to say back lack from 12am-1am to answer any of the questions he could. During this time, our awesome Organizing Committee Members took who concerns down and later brought them up with Douglas Brooks, the New Director Imageof the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). Feeling as if we had a voice was very empowering. Having that experience has and will continue to ensure engage my government on concerning issues.

The Policy and Advocacy Summit allowed for the formation of new relationships and partnership .It was like a beginning of a new brotherhood. From my end, there were phenomenal conversations and I cannot wait to announce fantastic news in the coming weeks! Addressing surviving as an YBMSM professional, leadership, and more importantly branding made me look at myself and analyze ways I can still to this day continue to seek self-improvement. This summit created a space where we could exchange stories, ideas, experiences, and more importantly continued support for one another. To this day, I am still in contact with many of my new friends and colleagues as we check in or support each other through the struggles of being an YBMSM in a society that has serious issues accepting us as social norms.

Coming to a close of the summit Daniel Driffin, Chair of the Organizing Committee for YBGLI said something that we all took back to our homes, careers, and everyday lives. This was that our voice does matter, no matter where we were, no matter how hard the struggle was, and no matter how muchImage we felt like our voices were unheard. This can seem very frustrating at jobs or ASOs where our advice or knowledge isn’t used; we continue to be disenfranchised; we deal with disrespect or ignorance from Cisgender white men (even gay) who do not truly understand the struggles and barriers of being a young Black Man who loves Men. These men still face a huge war within our own communities, to include mainstream society. His words really were soothing and helped to bury anger and resentment I had from some of those situations. In the end, I truly hope that this summit continues and wish that many more could take place across the country. If we can get more YBMSMs to go through a program like this, our community would see an increase in advocacy, activism, enlightenment, and progression toward more solidarity.

 

A very special thank you goes out to NGBMAC, NASTAD, The City of Atlanta, AID Atlanta, The Evolution Project, Testing Makes Us Stronger, Sphere Lab, The Red Door Foundation, Inc., AIDS.gov, Gilead, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Georgia Department of Health, Impulse Group, AHF, Hudson Grille, Patrik-Ian Polk, HRC, Broadway Cares, Levi Strauss Foundation, Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel, Summit Faculty, OC Members, and more importantly the participants for making this event happen.  For more information check out www.ybgli.org

New Year New Us!

So bringing in 2014 there will be many of our loved ones, friends, family, colleagues, and strangers who will be ready to begin their New Year Resolutions in hopes of completing them all by the end of the year.  Let’s be honest though, who ever completes every single New Years’ Resolutions?  This year I plan to do something different that I think will be successful and I invite you all to do the same.

I often tell people that my HIV diagnosis two years ago involved me going through a sort of metamorphosis.  During this process I evolved as a person, on very physical, emotional, and spiritual levels that were all for good.  I saw things more clearly and made a point to go forward with any dreams I had.  Can anyone relate?  As an 18 year old in high school I wanted to do it all.  From an officer in the United States Coast Guard, a professional tennis player, entertainer, author, a business owner, and married to the most perfect partner with the most phenomenal family.   I honestly wanted to have it all.  As time went on and my dream of not making it in the military and my tennis lacking success, I began not to day dream as much about those potentials.  Days that were once spent always day dreaming about my potential future became replaced with more “realistic ideas,” that were more fitting of survival in this world.  When I was diagnosed with HIV my eyes flashed before my eyes.  Like I talk about in one of my first videos I could have easily not have opted to test for HIV.  By not testing my plan was to remain in denial for the rest of my life.  Due to this life-changing event I made a choice to look at all of my dreams again and find ways to make them happen.

How is this relevant many of you may ask?  Well it is simple.  As Brian Litrell says, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  I looked at ways I can give back to my community (advocating and speaking out about different things that negatively affect it).  Although there are policies that prevent me from serving in the military there is hope, and we should definitely continue to pressure Congress and the Department of Defense in allowing individuals living with HIV to serve their country.  I also started playing a tennis league and also starting to look for opportunities like using YouTube for my video blogging, singing, and other projects like the MTV documentary to entertain individuals from around the world.  In 2014 I will also be focusing time on my book and creating a line of products I hope you all will enjoy.

I think it is important that we all reach out for our dreams and wants, no matter what they are.  Illnesses or even failure should not keep us from fighting what we want.  If we pray on our dreams, continue to work on them, and have affirmations then they will happen.  Affirmations are very important and Dr. Harra explains this very well in her Huffington Post Article.    Even if you are completing them at 50% that is better than never thinking you can.

  My three challenges for you all this year is very simple:

  1. 1.    Be there for others because there is always room to do more in this department.  Even by giving a friend a hug, a text during the day saying you are thinking of them, a nice thank you message to your boss (even if they are incompetent), and even saying congratulations or liking a comment of a rival are ways you can be there for others.  Volunteering your time or even donating to an AIDS Service Organization (ASO) or Community Based Organization (CBO) can be a way to give back.  A database of such organizations can be found here.
  2. 2.    Patching up issues with adversaries.  This is something that is very hard for me.  This will be tough for me because I may forget about the past but never forget, which can affect my actions.  We should learn how to forgive people for what they do and say.  No one is perfect so apologies are definitely fitting.  Our egos can be huge barriers at times where reconciliation can take place.
  3. 3.    Personal Growth can take place is so many different forms.  This can be traveling more, taking more vacations, learning a new skill, making new friends, soul searching, and even getting to a place where you can be more open about your HIV status. Personal growth can also include things professionally.  There is always room for self-improvement and we should always look at ways to better ourselves.

These three simple things can reach literally every goal people make each year.  I also think that to be able to accomplish these goals we have to have more realistic expectations.  A perfect example is how in the first of the year gyms see an increase of activity that soon tapers off by February/March.  By easing into to being physically active and going to the gym on a more consistent basis you start of small with goals like going at least 3 times a week for an hour or so, and then increasing it weekly with an additional day until you are going at a frequency that balances out in your everyday life.  Writing my book has seriously resulted in nothing ever happening past a few sentences a quarter; however, now I will dedicate a few minutes out of the day to brainstorm and write a few things.  The following month I will increase my writing to something more consistent and realistic to completing by the end of the year.  Fixing interpersonal issues can take place with exes, ex-friends, lack of a father-son relationship, etc.  They may not be enemies but I think that working on improving communication and ending conflicts helps to relieve stress and drama in one’s life.

In 2014 will you work on reaching the moon by having reasonable expectations and progress that will take place over time? Or will you rush into something head on, burn out, and give up halfway through?  Again HIV does not mean we cannot accomplish our dreams, so we must make sure that we don’t give up if we hit a brick wall.  Breaking through that wall and overcoming our fears and anxieties about such possibilities will result in us having success on some level.


IMG_0766  In this New Year and beyond it is important to simply do what is best for you.  Also, keeping in mind that this also includes doing what is needed to manage your HIV and all other outside sources that may influence it.  If anyone has issues with you or the healthier choices you are making to better yourself, then be the fabulous person you are and keep on strutting into the future!

  Check me out being featured on Edugaytion’s live stream.  This can also be downloaded via the iTunes store under podcasts!  Don’t  forget to check out Edugaytion!

ImageSo I know many of you have wondered where I’ve been.  Well, after a year phenomenal year of amazing events and opportunities that has opened up for PozLifeofPatrick and me.  These opportunities would not have happened without others seeing my potential and giving me a chance.

On December 18, 2012 I created the blog to chronicle my life living with HIV and to provide opportunities for others to lend their voices.  Being open with my status allows me to help educate others, break down stigma, and break the silence that so many of my positive brothers and sisters live in. Many living with HIV lay in silence because of the fear of stigma and discrimination based off of their status.  I have worked very hard and seen success in my mission to decrease stigma and increase understanding around this virus that affects so many.  On the other end of the very sharp double-edged sword I continue to see a lack of understanding and openness to HIV, even more prevalent in my dating life.   Call me strange or too young for love, but throughout this year I helplessly made myself vulnerable in an effort to try to find a significant person to be in my life.  As I approach a 2014 I can report and say that at this moment in time I am very much single; however, my priorities have changed.

Image  By being able to start my new career in the non-profit sector is where everything started.  I was able to interact with many individuals through community HIV outreach, education, and testing.  Also, working with NMAC with their Youth Initiative to End HIV/AIDS in America, and its HIV-positive Leadership Working Group of their National HIV Health Literacy and Wellness Initiative.  This year I was also given the opportunity featured alongside another fabulous HIV advocate, Guy Anthony on Blackmenrise.org where we talk about in more detail about our lives.  Through NMAC’s Youth Initiative I was able to travel to New Orleans, Louisiana for USCA 2013.   There I learned more about HIV and those who are affected by it, networked with so many different individuals and organizations, moderated a discussion on storytelling and HIV, made new allies/friends, and overall took away an amazing invaluable and indescribable experience.

Image            Throughout this year I was also able to be brought on as the Testing Coordinator to The Fredericksburg Area HIV/AIDS Support Services (FAHASS) where with the help of a dedicated prevention team helped to test, diagnose, and link more individuals to care then we ever have.  With being given a special grant called CAPUS, we will be able to reach more affected populations to educate, test, and link any individual who is HIV-positive into care.

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Also, I was featured alongside other youth in an MTV Staying Alive Documentary, “My Sex Life and Everyone Else’s.”  This

documentary may not have been rainbows and butterflies for me, but it gives me a stage to continue the dialogue of what it is like to live with HIV and deal with the struggle to get out of the stages of grief and guilt.  Looking back now I can honestly say that I am light years away from that time period in my life.

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           Other highlights of my year was running The Marine Corps Marathon and Anthem Richmond Marathon back-to-back, and helping to raise almost $20,000 for The Grassroots Project’s Team Grassroots.  Also, working with ACCESS AIDS in the Hampton Roads region to help further the discussion that needed to take place to people of color.

            There are many things that I can rant on about but I already feel like folks may think that I am being narcissistic; however, this is more about showing people that if I can do this in one year then why can’t you, a community, or a nation.  I have said it before but I am serious about making pozlifeofpatrick more about others in 2014.  I started the process of having my live show, PozLifeLive, where I bring on others to share their stories, experiences, and work for the world.  Also, by opening up my blog up for others to share it gives the opportunity to have an even greater experience when you visit my website or channel. Image

So for the past couple of weeks I have come down sick.  At first my nose was running, which made me think it was just allergies or something.  Well two weeks later I am sitting here not able to breathe and dealing with a lung infection.  For me it is so strange and I can only attribute it to my HIV.  Before I would feel like I was coming on with a cold and  take some vitamins and a DayQuil and wake up the next day at 100 percent.  I tried the same remedy this time around and I woke up the next day feeling worse.

You see I don’t have the same immune system like I had before.  It has been severely compromised.  My T-Cell count was 116 when I was diagnosed.  Thank God I am at 240 and with an undetectable viral load to this day; however, a normal CD4 count in other negative individuals can be up in the thousands (usually between 800-1400 but average around 800-900).  So I went to my doctors office at Whitman Walker , which is apart of my four week check-in for the clinical trial  I am on (cobicistat), to give some blood for some tests to be run (which check my CD4 count, Viral Load, sugar levels, kidney function, and cholesterol).  They take about five vials of blood and it is quick and easy (I as well as many other HIV Positive people quickly get used to this part).  They take your vitals and ask you questions like when did you last take your medication and how you are feeling.  At this point I tell her how I was not feeling well and she told me to mention that to the physician that was scheduled to see me.  So to fast forward I saw the doctor and had my physical.  Also, I was told that my lungs were indeed infected.  So I was prescribed some medication and sent along my way.  Now for the next few days I am stuck taking multiple pills (2 Prezistas, 1Truvada, 1 Cobicistat, 1/2 Zpac/Antibiotic, 1 Pill to help with coughing, 1 vitamin) which really is not a big deal (one would think it would depress however not so much on my end).  Image

I guess I always fear that I will relapse and end up sick like I was when I was first diagnosed. The fear that my medical regiment to keep HiV at bay will not work is something that is always visibly clear in the back of my head.  I know that in life everyone goes through something rather it is financial, emotional, physically, etc. The bigger picture is that we all have our flaws but how we work to overcome these short comings or life changes is what really matters.

Even as a child I equated life to something similar as  “The Circle of Life.”  We are always out of something, about to go through something, in something, or just getting out of something.  This is a continuous cycle that never ends.  A phase may stall or take longer but it will continue at some point.  WIth all the good and the bad that has come with being positive I have become fixated more on instant gratification.  I want to do so much before the end of my time; however, I truly struggle slowing it down.

Regardless if we are rich, poor, healthy, sick, black, white, gay, straight, or whatever comparison you want to give we will all meet our maker at the end of the day (some later than others).  So all good things must come to an end.

-Patrick