It started as alone as I ever imagined a diagnosis could feel. For three weeks, while waiting on confirmation, I wore a pitiful mask in public.
I became hyperaware of how vile we all were about HIV by the comments I saw and read online–one moment when my incredible best friend leaned over to tell me the guy that I just checked out walking past us at the club was “dirty.” It literally made me feel nauseous. It wasn’t the judgement or gossip, but rather, it was me awakening to the type of stigma that is carelessly thrown around by gay men about gay men. The exact words I had said prior. I felt shame. I knew it was ugly.
I was sicker than I had ever been, literally drowning in night sweats and choking on my own saliva because of the 30-plus mouth ulcers I housed–making me intentionally not swallow. I was tired. I had a headache. And I kept listening to sad music–begging God to do the right thing and swearing that I would never, ever have sex again. I was broken. I was devastated and disappointed.
But I was alive.
Since learning my result of the HIV screening, my life changed. And that is still hard to understand. It’s like I have been in a marathon, but on a treadmill. Running a long time, and never moving an inch.
5 years after the day that I thought I lost my life, I understand that was a lie. 5 years after being on the ground, mourning the expiration of my worth to gay men everywhere, I realize that was a lie. 5 years after closing my eyes and hearing the words “positive viral load”, I am undetectable and not capable of transmitting the virus to anyone. 5 years after dying to myself, I’m more alive than ever before.
But I’m human.
And that means I’m far from perfect. But, I’ve learned so much.
I have flaws for sure… many. I try to hide them like most people. Character flaws, bad personality traits, a lacking of compassion probably more than I like to admit, and sometimes I say the right stuff the wrong way. I sometimes cringe at how I said something. And sometimes I don’t even realize what I did. I’m a terrible writer. You all know this! Ha!
But my heart is unmistakably turned towards attempting to tell people living with HIV that they still matter. That they still have a purpose. That they will still be able to laugh, make love, and fall in love. And LIVE!
I try to step toe-to-toe against stigma, shaming, misinformation and share my gratitude towards allies, long term survivors, and the many people and organizations that are smarter and more experienced in HIV awareness than me. I will call out anybody that comes against these things. And I mean, I open a can on them on social media. It’s fun.
I do this solely because I can’t NOT do it. I have to try and do something–advocating mainly. And, I can’t shut up. I can’t NOT give a damn anymore and it forces me to keep going. It makes me resonate (hopefully). It is what it is.
And it keeps me alive.
I get it though. My story gets recognized and people say nice stuff and I appreciate it–but I don’t care about any of that. I’m not a hero, or special. I just made a choice to speak up and that choice was right for me. I wanted to, and I could. I never feared speaking up. And I didn’t worry about losing friends or family. If I couldn’t live how I wanted to–as openly as I wanted to–I questioned the point. And I still do.
And I’m sure I’ve been wrong many times. I accept that and apologize for it.
But, I’m proud of this space, humbled by the people I’ve met, and look up to so many that give me strength. I’ve learned to share gratitude for these people, because I need them. I’m lucky to have them.
But I am still human.
When I appear out of line with what I say–judge my heart and offer some benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, I’ve earned a little. The only thing worse than learning I’m living with HIV would be told to shut up. That… would kill my spirit and that would suck.
Thank you all for joining me on this journey that I have to do. Just remember, I have never believed it was EVER about me. It’s about us all. “I’m Still Josh” because you allow me to be me– flaws, corniness, outspokenness– and I HAD to speak up and try to make a meaningful difference for a few others. Sometimes it works, and most of the time I just recognize the potential. We have tons to do!
I love you all. Let’s keep on keeping on–together. And let’s keep raising all kinds of hell against stigma along the way! That’s the feisty part of me.
Happy 5 year anniversary to my little blog I named: I’m Still Josh. But happy 5 year anniversary to me feeling empowered enough by you to finally be FREE from hiding and just crazy enough to start speaking!
After 5 years, I humbly say–I ain’t finished yet. I must “keep living.” And I have to keep encouraging you all to do the same exact thing.
We are gonna beat this thing together.