I REALLY DON’T think too much about it now. But in the beginning, back when I was newly diagnosed as HIV+, I must have been the loneliest dude I could imagine.

Well in 2003, on my Birthday, instead of my favorite Vanilla Birthday cake, I got my HIV positive diagnosis.

That was in April, but by Christmas I was depressed and lonely, separated from my first wife (now deceased), living in a shelter, feeling like – who’s gonna love me now?

I felt at the time I had lost family and friends. On one of my doctor-visits, the nurse told me about Philadelphia FIGHT, an AIDS Service Organization. She jokingly told me she had no time to answer my many questions about HIV/AIDS. So, she made me promise I’d go and speak with the folks down at FIGHT.

I promised and yeah, I went there and scheduled and orientation into a sort of AIDS awareness/support group. The problem with me was, I viewed and felt that I was all alone, living with this disease. Then, I was homeless, living in this shelter, newly diagnosed separated from my wife, friends and family. So, that first Christmas with HIV was the hardest Christmas I had ever experienced.

 

I was feeling the stages that came along with HIV/AIDS; the shame, loneliness and pain that comes with being scared and alone.

I must say I clung to the Church despite my turmoil with the new diagnosis. It was something I could walk into any church and feel as if I was not alone.

Well I started hanging around Philadelphia FIGHT. They had an AIDS Library; maybe the only one in the world. Through speaking with folks, I began to realize I was not alone. Any facet of this disease; I was not the first and would not be the last but I needed education about this disease.

I had this thirst for knowledge about this disease, this disease has I guess, molded me into who I am.

I am a Father, Husband, Brother and Son. I had to find the careful balance to existing in myself. I had to put myself under the microscope and deal with my inward stigmas about having HIV, first to find-out how I would deal with shame, but the more time I spent with people like myself the more I began to build a seemingly normal social life.

The therapeutic value of one person helping another was revealed to me. I could not had done this transformation all alone. I did not know how my thought process always made me feel that any passerby on the street could see I had HIV. That was so untrue, no one could tell by looking at me. I continued reading in the AIDS Library and attending now an AIDS Education/support group and became empowered, wanting to change how the world viewed people living with HIV.

Over the years I would have to say I developed a tougher skin and gained acceptance of my positive status. And life continued to show up and I became an AIDS activist with ACT UP Philadelphia. I was the face of the Heterosexual male father living with HIV/AIDS, while Christ ordered my steps.

So today, this Christmas morning, I say a prayer for myself first and then for the many folks who have died in my life- time, living with HIV.

Christmas has a special meaning now than it did before it meant new life and starting over, and now 14 years later, though I still fight for a right to live like anyone else, I live my life with a purpose and clarity that I did not have before I contracted HIV.

I love who I am and the people I have met on this leg of my life’s journey because I am still that Father, Brother, Son and Grand-father, living my life and just happen to have HIV.

And so today, Christmas Day 2017, I am grateful just for my life, my health and sanity, a roof over my head, married to a loving wife, my medication that has me Undetectable with a CD4 of 1500, no real health problems associated with HIV.

And I trust that Jesus will continue to walk with me and talk with me for the rest of my days.

Tujipange African Media