I am my Brother/Sister’s Keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS

As February commences, we all have a lot to celebrate: Valentine’s Day, Black History Month and the fact that we have a 29th day this month!

With all this in mind, we must also remember that this month, our community will also be celebrating National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7, 2016! According to the Center for Disease and Control, in 2014, 44% of new HIV diagnoses in the United States were among African Americans showing that this community is disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Now in its 16th year, the national HIV testing and treatment community mobilization initiative focuses on the Black community in the United States.

2016 Theme:

I am my Brother/ Sister’s Keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS

Awareness Day includes four areas of focus, urging people to get:

1. Educated: Inform Black communities about the basics of HIV and AIDS.

2. Tested: Get tested and know your status. This supports the prevention of HIV, specifically those who are considered high risk.

3. Involved: Host and participate in Black Awareness Day events in the Black community– from organizing testing events to supporting AIDS organizations and providers.

4. Treated: Connect those who have been diagnosed with HIV to treatment and care. This will keep people healthy, living longer and reducing the chances of transmission.

How will you encourage people from ALL communities to get involved and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS?

For more information, please visit: http://nationalblackaidsday.org/

Coping with an unexpected pregnancy

As any person living with HIV knows, it is always a balancing act to keep your health on an even keel. For some, the littlest gust of wind can disrupt the balance while for others, it might take some mighty waves to push the keel over. I had a mighty wave situation of my own a couple months ago when I found out I was pregnant. With or without being HIV positive, I had made up my mind a long time ago that I never wanted children. To hear that I was now expecting one shocked me to my very core (I think I blacked out for a second). I’ll be honest, my first thought after I received the news was how soon could I get an abortion (the nurse had just left the room). I was more than willing to throw in the towel and give up, not even try. Telling my boyfriend, the father of the baby, was not easy but I knew that he had to have some say-so in the decision-making process. He was very ecstatic and excited, according to him he’s always wanted to be a father. Having his support and encouragement meant a lot to me because I was not ready or prepared to do it on my own. It still has taken awhile for it to sink in that I’m actually going to have a baby, and that my nice, peaceful, orderly life will change forever. It took a lot of deep thinking and soul-searching, but I finally came to the conclusion that it was time to stop living for myself and time to live for somebody else for a change.

There is still a big part of me that is disappointed in myself for not protecting myself better, there is also that fear of actually carrying and having a child, and uncertainty as to what the future now holds. Thankfully, my health is probably the best it’s ever been, and my viral load has been undetectable for quite a number of years. All this will keep the baby safe from contracting the virus. Of course my pregnancy is still classified as high-risk because of my positive status, but everything seems to be going well so far. I can now say that I’m honestly excited for this next stage in my life, unexpected and unplanned as it was. I know this baby is going to have lots of love from the many wonderful women that are in my life. I know that I will always have unconditional support, encouragement, and love when needed. I am extremely thankful for everybody’s kind well-wishes and their concern about my health. I am really looking forward to sharing this journey with all of you!!

Pay It Forward

It’s a new year! “What you can do for others in 2016?”. Here are some of our ideas:

 
“Become more involved as an advocate in the HIV field- advocate for women and others living with HIV.”

“Educate and advocate. Educate the unknowing- especially in rural Central Florida.”

“Try to get more women to come to meetings and spread LTAI to other counties.”

“Helping others balance mind, body, and spirit.”

“I expect to get to know others and the women in the group. Communicate with my pen pals.”

“Help with changing HIV criminalization laws.”

 
One of the LTAI ladies explained her notable motto, Pay It Forward. It is an inspiring way of thinking about why we need to serve others. Here are some of her sentiments:

“I want to give back to others. When I first found out that I was diagnosed HIV positive, because of the lack of research available on the virus, some health professionals were afraid to touch me. But there were those very few who still treated me like a human being- which made living with this virus okay. If we can focus on achieving optimal mind, body, and spirit, we can be in a better place where we can help women and potentially be a domino effect for the good. Paying it forward.”

 
In the New Year, how will you pay it forward?

2016 is OUR year!

Resolutions, new beginnings, and a fresh start- it’s that time of year!

We started out this year asking ourselves: “What are some expectations you have set for yourself in the new year?” Here are some of our reflections:

“To take care of me first.”

“Practicing yoga, being more positive about life. Focusing on the mind, body, and spirit- helping my fellow women who are living with this illness.”

 
“Go back to school.”

“To love myself more, to love others more, to help more, to stay positive, to smile more, to journal efficiently, talk more, laugh more, share more, face advocacy with an open heart, and try to work on my disclosure in a way that represents others, as well as myself without feeling guilty.”

“Form healthy habits in my emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellness.”

One theme that seemed to resonate with all of us this New Year is that they were committed to putting ourselves first!

Before an airplane takes flight, the flight attendants go over emergency procedures. If the plane has an emergency, they always advise you to put your oxygen mask on first, before you can help others to put theirs on. You have to help yourself in order to help others.

In this New Year, what will you do for yourself first?

Reflections on World AIDS Day 2015

While having a wonderful meal with friends and members of Let’s Talk About, the following reflections were shared:

“1987 is when it began. We have come a long way baby-medically, accepting who we are-we still have a long way to go.  We are still trying to put stigma in its place.  Hard to believe, but women at this table, we are trying to kick it out. Thank God that I am positive- it has opened my eyes and I see myself and other people in another way. I respect living, giving back to my community.  Life is great.”

“We are celebrating World AIDS Day. I’m celebrating 5 years as a survivor.  It doesn’t define me. We are celebrating life.”

“I am thankful to be here, to be able to pay it forward to others. Who knew 32 years later I would be here living, strong, helping other women, being the voice for the voiceless.”

I am glad for the opportunities that being positive has given me.  If I hadn’t been positive I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have met these people or have had the opportunities I have had.”

“For a person who has not had AIDS, but is a caregiver or friend, we learn that everyone has a status. Thinking about awareness, we all need a place like LTAI, even for negatives, so that there won’t be the stigma, so we would all be together and there would be education about it- no hush-hush, cause it is like private. It’s talked about a lot, but it’s not talked about much with people with their status. So that’s what I feel about today. My aunt was passing from AIDS and she did enjoy life and she taught us how to enjoy life and how to be aware. Before I was sexually active I was aware of that. That AIDS was out there and could take your life. It was really brought to my home in an early age. But she also taught us how serious AIDS is and you don’t play with that. I’m educated, I learned a lot. That’s all I want to say.”

 

What does World AIDS Day mean to you? Send us your reflections.

 

 

 

HIV Criminalization Workshop in Tallahassee

Another LTAI member and I were fortunate enough to attend a workshop on HIV Criminalization in Tallahassee this week. I learned so much and again I was energized by the ambition and strength of these people. Many of them we had met at the Conference in Fort Walton Beach in September. These people work tirelessly toward all our goals against stigma and criminalization. We had some great speakers and I think we may have gained some more much needed support in Tallahassee. And I can not forget to mention our wonderful friends from Iowa. From SERO Sean Strub, Tami Haught, and Jordan Selha. This group of people have accomplished so much in Iowa toward de-criminalization of HIV. We’re very fortunate to have them all showing us the steps we need to take toward our own state laws in Florida.

Bringing more people together with different views and ideas including their accomplishments is extremely helpful.


Thank you Sean, Tami, and Jordan. We love you guys.  😉
I can’t wait to meet you all again.

Friendship

I was sitting and thinking, what’s wrong with me? My answer, nothing that I see.

I asked myself that question because I noticed that the older I get, the less people I need in my life. I think that is because I have realized that I just can’t have people in my life that aren’t positive minded. I find that it is harmful for my health.

I have 2 girlfriends and they are as differently made as pencil a marker. You see, one is young, just learning how to become a woman, mother, worker, and friend, all the while not knowing the order that it goes in. News flash…you must be a friend to yourself firstt. This friend, I love her, but she is a self-centered, non-listening, know -it -all, whom I have not disclosed to. If I were to do so I already know the things that would come out her mouth, but I still love her because I am her friend The second friend is older, and we have more in common than the firstt woman. This friend knows all about me and still loves me.

No matter what kind of friends you have, maybe you should sit down and do an inventory of your relationship so that not one person is to blame. Friendships are relationships too.  So, we must do a pros and cons and inventory to see what can be done to make it better and more sincere. The ones who know all about you and still love you. The ones who call and ask you, “how was your day” and allows you to just talk and all they do is just listen. The ones who write you back when you write, just because they care.

What kind of things would you say to your friend while doing an inventory?

Inspiration at the Positive Living Conference

I recently got the chance to attend the 18th annual Positive Living Conference in Fort Walton Beach,  sponsored by OASIS (Okaloosa AIDS Support & Informational Services, Inc.).

I was fortunate enough to be able to go with a group of women that embody the spirit of empowerment and sisterhood, and all of us being able to attend together was an experience that I’ll never forget.

The conference was held in a hotel that was located right on the beach, and it was gorgeous! The main focus of the Positive Living Conference was to help, guide, teach, empower and support those that are HIV positive and their caregivers. There were many workshops offered that had to do with finding the positive side of living and being positive: motivational speaking, growing older with HIV, learning about laughter, a visual history of HIV/AIDS, etc.

The workshops that particularly interested me the most though were those that focused on the criminalization of HIV and the laws that can help perpetuate this criminalization. Florida alone has 4 different HIV statutes, and most of these seem to be aimed at targeting and punishing those who are positive. The Deep South has some of the most archaic and misinformed laws in the country regarding the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

I attended all but one of the criminalization workshops, and these workshops were put on by the Sero Project, which fights for people living with HIV and against the criminal prosecutions that people can often face for a perceived lack of HIV disclosure before a sexual encounter occurs. Hearing about these laws, and meeting and hearing the stories of people who were prosecuted under these laws, really opened my eyes and gave me a sense of what I would like to do in my life. Seeing how much these laws need to be changed really gives me the motivation to help make it happen.

The terrible stigma that surrounds HIV is not going to magically disappear one day. Laws that help encourage the stigma hurt the cause by keeping people in the dark and afraid to come out, and by furthering the spread of the disease because people are too afraid to get tested.

In conclusion, I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to attend the conference. I learned a lot, met some of the most interesting people and had a great time with the women. I look forward to attending again next year.

Comments, thoughts…? Let us know if you would like information about any of the mentioned organizations.

This Journey Called Life

We all have a story to tell. Our lives are our story.  We can either use our life experiences to help others on this journey called life, or we can stay victims and be bitter and hate the world for all that we have endured.

I chose to pay it forward, to use my life’s experiences to help others- not to stay a victim, because we are all victims of our circumstances. The key is what we do with our stories. I find such a incredible sense of healing and freedom to not stay a victim to the cards I have been dealt; to pay it forward to help others not to stay stuck feels so liberating.

We do not need to share every detail of our lives, only what is truly needed to disclose, to let others see we understand, we’ve been there. This is how I choose to deal with the circumstances, whatever it may be. To turn a negative into a positive, remember even the butterfly starts in its cocoon.

When we keep ourselves healthy- mind, body and spirit, we can help others more effectively. If we are balanced in these areas we can be more productive. So ladies, let’s break out of negative patterns. I tell you once I finally started realizing that I was creating my own hell, I had a choice, I started to look at things differently.

I then realized if we change the way we look at things, the things we were looking at can change for us –that was my light bulb moment. It was not easy by a long shot, anything good takes practice and patience.

FOOD

Today, I was sitting and thinking about one of my favorite things; Food! I love to eat it, cook it, bake it; did I mention, Eat It! I came from a family where cooking was a big deal. I started to learn to cook when I was 8 years old. I don’t know if it was because I am from the South or it is just in my blood.
As I grew up, I noticed that food became a friend that I, at times, wished was not so. I became overweight and didn’t know what to do. I tried everything!  Now that I am at this stage in my life, with being Positive, I find myself reading all the websites and articles about what to eat, what not to eat and why I should do so. I decided to ask my doctor about what I should do and he told  me that as long my numbers are good and I am getting proper nutrients, my weight is not his main concern. I already do the things that am suppose to do, such as, eating proper portions, drinking plenty of water, and even exercising regularly and I only get the pleasure of losing 5 pound and then I gain it back. Not as significant as I would like. This stresses me out.
 
As I know all to well,  stress is  killer and it truly affects those of us that are Positive. Stress makes me sick. I get depressed, and I eat too much and that makes me sick. I get tired of that, so I don’t eat enough and that makes me sick.  I quit!  Worrying about food that it is. The only thing I worry about now, is what I will be cooking for dinner.
 
I have decided to fill that time that I worry about food and weight and put it to good use, and do something that I love to do and it makes me happy. I take good old-fashioned recipes, recipes that I get from t.v and others and making it my own by adding and taking away ingredients. That is what makes it fun. I do this until I like the way it tastes. The goal here is to please yourself and that in turn will make others happy by your creation!
 
Cooking and baking is not a punishment and that is the thing that we have to realize.  It is a beautiful way to express yourself. Eating the finished product doesn’t have  to be a burden and we can enjoy it in a healthy way. We all have a creative side and we all have to eat. Why not use that creativity you have inside to cook or bake something. This is how I started healing and using it to my advantage and have fun. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to make it that way.
 
I would like to share a recipe that I use, and it is simple, fun and yummy…oh and healthy…here we go:
                  Lemon Flavored Asparagus
                  1 bundle of asparagus
                  2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
                  sea salt
                  black pepper
                  lemon juice
                  
Wash the asparagus and dry thoroughly. Cut the bottoms off (the hard square parts). Place asparagus in a foil-lined baking pan.  Evenly pour olive oil over the asparagus and place in the oven. Set the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 15 minutes or until almost soft, but still firm. Once the asparagus has been taken out of the oven, sprinkle sea salt and black pepper over it. After plating, pour one capful of lemon juice over the hot asparagus and serve. 
 
I hope that you enjoy the recipe and remember make it your own. Have fun with it.
 
What are some of the recipes that you may use to express your creativity?