I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

And Forward I Go...

Wow! A whole 8 months has passed since I last visited this blog. As I wrote in my previous post in February, I have reached a point in my life where HIV no longer affects my daily thoughts, actions, or life in general.

And now, I may shock my readers with how much I've moved forward in the last 8 months...get ready...

On May 25, 2014, my boyfriend proposed to me. The specific timing and location of the proposal came as a surprise, although the proposal itself was not too unexpected. We had been discussing it for a few months, and had a solid understanding and belief of where our relationship was taking us and the future we both envisioned together. So, needless to say, I said YES!
We both agreed that there was no need for a lengthy engagement. We were serious in our love, commitment, and decision to spend our lives together. So, we chose our date, and immediately went forward with the planning. So I spent my summer months working through all the tedious tasks of wedding planning... making and sending out Save the Dates (and later the Invitations), finding a dress, caterer, DJ, photographer, etc. Fortunately, I did not work during the summer and had lots of time to dedicate to the planning... in between our vacations of course. (We managed to squeeze in a 7 day trip to Punta Cana and a 7 day trip to Hawaii this summer!)
When August, and the start of the new school year approached, I prepared to go back to work again. This involved a new school, as well as a promotion. At the same time, we also happened to be knee deep in house hunting.

By September 1st, I had started my new job, he had merged with a larger company and started his new job, we purchased and moved into a brand new home, and we were just about done with the wedding plans! As you can imagine, it was a time with lots of changes and lots of stress. But, we held tight to each other, pushed forward, and made it on through...
 On October 25, 2014, I married my best friend and love. We had a beautiful backyard ceremony and reception with 60 of our closest family and friends. The whole day went perfectly and in my husband's words "was way better than I ever even imagined it would be". From the weather, to the decorations, to the food and photography... all the details came together to make for a magical evening. We rounded out the week with a stay at the beach for a few days. Although, our real honeymoon is scheduled for Christmas Break, when we are taking a 7 day Caribbean cruise. We are now at home happily starting our life as a married couple. Life is good.


 If you happen to be reading this and are in a time of struggle, please have faith that you can move forward. No matter what you may be dealing with right now, I hope you can reach deep down and find the strength to keep going. Don't look back. Don't focus on what is or what has been. Just look forward and know that there is always more ahead of you. Stay positive (wink wink), and just keep going, one step at a time. I did it. And you can too.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hello 2014

Hello to all of my readers, new and old. I have not abandoned you completely, just taken a bit of a break.

You know, I've always quoted from the beginning "HIV is a part of me, but it does not define me".

At this point in my journey, I don't feel like this quote really does the situation justice, and I've been pondering how to make it more fitting. The best I can come up with for now is "HIV is a part of me, but it does not affect me".

For the first couple of years, it really did affect my daily life, my job search, my relationships with others, my mental and emotional stability, etc. It was hovering in the background and weighing heavy on various parts of my life.

But, after 2.5 years I can honestly say that I feel free of it. It does not affect my daily life. It does not affect my job. It does not affect my relationships and friendships with others. It does not affect my mental and/or emotional state. It does not affect my physical well-being. In fact, I would estimate that 95% of the time, I forget that I even have it. My life has gone forward, and I have moved on.

Yes, there are isolated situations that have and will continue to come up over the years regarding my HIV. But for the most part, all HIV means to me right now is a 6 month check up.

As for my current life... my job is going great and I am considering options to move up or grow in my career... I have an amazing boyfriend that I love very much and he loves me, and I am looking forward to growing our future together... I am planning some big vacations for the summer... and I am also toying with the idea of starting to write my book...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Update on HIV in the Peace Corps

I recently received an e-mail from a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). She shared an amazing story with me, and some important information that I need to share with all PCV's, RPCV's, and future PCV's. This amazing woman was born with HIV and has lived her whole life with the disease. After hearing Elizabeth Tunkle's story, she had the courage to apply for the Peace Corps and see if they would accept her. Guess what! They did! 

The Peace Corps doctors in DC talked with her and worked with her to find an appropriate country and placement. The Peace Corps Medical Officers in her host country were also always supportive of her and proud to say that she was one of their healthiest volunteers. 

I am happy to share that this HIV+ woman has now successfully served and completed her two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer! 

I applaud this brave woman and all future volunteers that have the courage to go for their dreams, without allowing any disease or medical condition to hold them back! I also applaud the Peace Corps for being open and willing to broaden their acceptance of applicants with HIV.

Here is a quote that this brave HIV+ woman asked me to share with all of you:
 
"I could never have served 2 years in the Peace Corps without Jesus Christ.  He has opened more doors for me than I could of have ever opened myself. Our community was one of the furthest away from the capital. Our community also had unclean water. My husband, who is HIV-, got really sick twice from bad water. I didn’t.  I give glory to God that there are ARVs to keep us HIV+ people alive to do good for others. HIV is not a curse in my life; it is a opportunity for the Lord to show his mercy and great love. He has a good plan for all of us HIV+ people!"

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Have a Boyfriend! And a New Bracelet!


I know that my updates on my dating life are probably confusing you by now. Don't worry! They have been confusing me too!

So, here is the plain, simple, concrete truth:

I have a boyfriend! A real, true, live boyfriend! And it is someone that you all already know about. Yes, it is my kickball guy. The one that I first disclosed to back in June. The one that I dated for months. And the one that came with me to my doctor's appointment. The one that I remained close friends with even after we stopped dating. The one that I said a "Difficult Goodbye" to a few weeks ago.

Well, it has all come back full circle now. I guess I was just too good to let go of ;-) He is finally ready to commit and have a relationship. And he wants that relationship to be with me. He is now opening up and sharing in a way that he never did before. Please pray for us and our future together!

P.S. The bracelet picture was an after thought to this post. But, I realized it was a good symbol of turning over a new leaf in my life. My boyfriend gave me this bracelet/watch months ago, and I love it! Isn't it interesting how we can hold tokens such as these so close to our hearts?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Update on Online Dating

Written on 10/18/13
If you remember, I decided back in August to "come out" to my kickball friends and also to the online dating world. Immediately after deciding this, I added a paragraph to my online dating profile stating:

I spent a year living and working in a village in Zambia, Africa, with the Peace Corps. I have always had a drive for helping those in need. While I was serving in Zambia, I contracted HIV. I have now been HIV+ for 2 years. I am extremely healthy, on medication, maintain an Undetectable Viral Load, and have a high CD4 count. HIV is a part of me, but it does not define me. If you are willing to be open and accepting of this, or are interested in learning more about it, please message me. If you would like to read my story, just google "No Going Back. There Is Only Forward".

So... what have the reactions been? Overall, I think I have received fewer messages (although I don't know for sure). The messages that I have received are the typical short/vague "Hi, hello, you are cute, i like your profile" type things and NONE of them have mentioned HIV... making it unclear as to whether or not they actually read my profile.

So has my decision to openly expose my secret been detrimental or beneficial? So far, the jury is still out... it has not made a difference either way...

Update: 10/21/13
I have been messaging with a guy that has definitely read all of my profile. We have discussed my time in Africa briefly, although not the HIV specifically. Apparently he seems to be okay with it if he contacted me and is taking the time to talk with me though.

Another guy was apparently upset by my not responding to him and he told me that I need to get more serious and make it obvious I am looking for a man "especially because of my situation", and there are many good men who will care less about what I got and more about how good a person you are- if I am real and straight and not playing games.
I don't think I'll be responding, as I don't really need/want to hear anything involving "especially because of your situation".

A third guy sent me a message letting me know that he read my profile and has the utmost respect for me and would be honored to get to know me.

***Interesting side note: All of the above men are black, and at least two of them are from Africa or have parents/family from Africa.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Difficult Goodbye

I know that I posted back in August that I stopped dating my kickball guy. In reality, the "friendship" continued on long after that, in an up and down, back and forth sort of way. No matter how much I tried to control my emotions and not get too attached to something that I knew was not defined or committed, I of course was not always strong enough to do so. I valued our friendship and time together too much, so I tried to stick around and wait it out, trying to see if things would somehow eventually work out. Earlier this week, I finally decided that enough was enough. I admitted to myself that to remain in the pattern we were in would just lead to more insanity and heartbreak. I had to force myself to let it go. It was hard and it was painful, but I forced myself to say goodbye to him and our friendship. I've had some rough days since then, but I just need to stick to it, and I'm sure it will get easier with time.

Friday, September 20, 2013

If I wanna have a baby...

I am 27 years old. The majority of my friends are getting married and having babies by now...some are even on #3 or 4. I admit that I have a bit of baby fever going on. It is no secret nor anything I'm trying to hide. I really thought I would have had a couple already by this point in my life.

Anyways... on this topic of having babies... I would like to share with you part of a recent e-mail I received. After my (unfulfilling) doctor's appointment a couple months ago, I reached out to a Pediatric HIV Nurse friend to get some better answers about the specific risks and processes involved in a HIV pregnancy. This information comes from a nurse practitioner who follows the children in the clinic who either have HIV or have been exposed to HIV either through childbirth, sexual assault, needle stick injury or some other potential exposure. She follows all of the babies in a 17 county radius who have been exposed in utero to HIV.

"I have researched for the latest data to give you and I find that according to the CDC as recently as 5/2013, they state that as long as a woman knows of her HIV status either prior to the pregnancy or early on in the pregnancy, receives appropriate health care (especially prenatal care), get their viral loads to undetectable and avoids breastfeeding, the rate of transmission is less than 1%.  From 2007-2009 the rate of babies diagnosed with HIV went from 0.8% to 0.1% in Caucasian women.  The rates for Hispanic and African/American babies is a bit higher.  Some of the reasons given for increasing the risk of transmission were lack of appropriate prenatal care, lack of prenatal HIV testing, lack of prenatal antiretroviral medication,  not performing Cesarean delivery for women with a viral load greater than 1,000 copies per mL and not educating women on the avoidance of breastfeeding.

Given the information that you gave to ******, I feel that your risk would be in that less than 1% of transmitting HIV to your baby.  I have worked with this population for 12 years now and in my experience I have seen 2 babies become positive from maternal transmission.  In one case the mother was absolutely awful with taking her medications and had a very high viral load.  This was all despite aggressive education and concern by numerous different staff members from the OB service, our service and mom's care providers. In the other, I suspect that was the case as well, but I don't have specifics as the child was adopted from the hospital.  I do know that this mother was a drug user and the child had drugs in her system at birth.  Because the biological mother never came to see me, I could never get permission to get her records so I had very little information on her actual medical care and all that I have I have needed to piece together from bits and pieces that I have gotten over the last couple of years, but from what I can tell she probably did not take her medications well, if at all, and I do know she did not seek care until late in her pregnancy.


It is the standard of care for mom's to get ARV's during the pregnancy.  The official recommendation is that the woman should have a regimen that includes Zidovudine in it and I usually recommend that if I am asked, but I have seen many women without Zidovudine and as long as their viral load is low the baby is fine.  It is then standard of care that once a woman goes to the hospital she should get an IV started with Zidovudine running from the time she goes in to deliver, until the baby is born.  If scheduled for a c-section or induced labor, that is factored in and started about 2 hours prior to the section or the start of induction medications.  If the baby decides to take matters into his or her own hands and comes either before the medications can be administered or before the full dose is in, as long as the  mom was undetectable and had good prenatal care and did everything correct, I am never concerned about it.   After the baby is born, he or she should receive zidovudine for the first 6 weeks of life.  That should be started as soon after delivery as possible, but most definitely within 6-8 hours of birth.  If the mom's viral load is high or if we do not  have that information because mom was a late care seeker, etc, we also give another medication called Nevirapine.  That is given 3 times within the first week of life and shown to help to prevent transmission when there is a high viral load.  It has not been shown to be any more effective in babies born to mothers who have undetectable viral loads so we do not give it as an added precaution in babies who do not have that added risk.


The site that I accessed the information from was http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/gender/pregnantwomen/facts/index.html if you are interested in reviewing the information yourself."

I am so thankful for this updated information and statistics. I hope you find them as enlightening and encouraging as I do!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

HIV Romance Novel: Hot Mess

A few months ago, I mentioned that I was reading and providing feedback to an author for the novel she was writing. I am happy to announce that this novel "Hot Mess" by Anne Conley has been published!

I am so happy and honored to have had the pleasure to read the novel and provide feedback to Anne during her writing process. The story features a HIV+ main character, Rachel, and allows you to share in her journey as she steps back into the dating scene for the first time since her diagnosis.

I should have posted this quite a while back, please check out the book!

 http://amzn.to/1aXs2nE

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Let Me Rephrase My Doctor Visit

After a conversation with my mom, I realized that my previous posting about my doctor's visit may have come out more negatively than I intended. So, I want to try to clear some things up... because if my mom misunderstood what I was trying to say, then I know some other people probably did too...

The doctor was super duper extremely positive and optimistic about the outlook for me and a partner in a serodiscordant relationship. To give the clearest picture of what was discussed, here is an outline of some of the ideas she presented:
  • With continued medication and Undetectable Viral Load, I have the same life expectancy as any other normal person. There is no reason to expect my Viral Load or health to change or diminish over time as long as I continue to take my meds regularly. As I age, I will have no more/greater health concerns than the average person. The only difference between me and any person sitting next to me is that I take a pill each night.
  • HIV is a very hard virus to catch- it is not as contagious or easily transmitted as other viruses (Hepatitis, etc.). Even with direct blood to blood contact, the percentages of transmission are very low.
  • With an Undetectable Viral Load it would be very difficult for me to pass it on. I am not really all that contagious since I have very little HIV in me to begin with.
  • Female to Male transmission is much less likely than Male to Female transmission. Semen contains a much higher viral load than vaginal fluids. Vaginal fluids typically contain very low amounts of HIV.
  • It would be highly unlikely to pass it through activities such as digital or oral sex on either partner. Take more caution if fingers, genitals, or mouth has open cuts or sores.
  • If we were to want to have babies, we could either try the low-risk traditional way, or no-risk alternative methods (turkey baster, inside out condom, etc.). Either way, it should not be a big deal. Many couples have sex with condoms normally, but risk having sex without condoms just when they are trying to get pregnant. PrEP could be helpful during this time.
  • If I get pregnant, I should stay on my medications throughout the pregnancy and all should be fine. There is a less than 1-2% risk of the baby contracting it. A natural birth or a C-Section are both equally acceptable and safe delivery options.
  • As far as a possible recommendation for him to take PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) as a method of prevention, she does not feel it would be necessary. With the combination of condom use and my Undetectable Viral Load, she again repeated that I am not really very contagious and this really isn't very risky.
So, that was the information we got, with lots of smiles and positive attitude all throughout. The information was totally optimistic, and I was happy to hear it (and as I later found out, so was my guy).

However, even though all of these were great general ideas presented... what we actually wanted (and did not receive) was the research and exact numbers behind all of these general ideas/statements/opinions. I know that for some of our questions, an actual specific number may not exist. But I also know that there are numbers for some of the other questions, and this doctor just wasn't as up on her information as she could have been.

Long story short... I was happy for the information the doctor provided. I don't doubt the validity of most of it. But, we were hoping for additional factual and statistical evidence to help settle our fears/concerns.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Good News & Bad News & My New Plan

We will start with the good news...

I had a doctor's appointment on Friday and got back my latest lab results. Viral Load remains Undetectable, my CD4 count is 821, and CD4% is 37%. I am very happy with these results :-)

My guy also came to the appointment with me. We had some questions that we wanted to ask the doctor, so that we could make sure we were the most educated as possible about risks, safety, etc.

Unfortunately neither of us was totally satisfied with the doctor's responses. She was extremely optimistic and positive about how very small the risks were, and overall seemed to have the opinion that this should not really be a big deal for us. She was very confident in my stable health, medication, and lab results, and feels it would be highly unlikely for me to transmit to someone else. However, in all of her talking, she really was not able to present the hard statistics, numbers, percentages, research that we were both hoping she would be able to give us (she either didn't have them or she was trying to pull vague numbers from memory). In short, she just really didn't sound like the most educated and up to date HIV doctor- I felt like we were more up to date on current research studies than she was.

So, here comes the bad news...

I am no longer dating my guy. He called on Saturday morning to end it. He gave me two reasons:
(1) not totally comfortable with the HIV
(2) my seeming loss of self-confidence the past couple weeks (and he found my confidence in the beginning to be one of my most attractive features- therefore when I have not been so confident, it has not been so attractive)

I am of course very disappointed in this turn out. With regards to HIV, I have felt so completely shocked, surprised, amazed, and just blessed that he accepted it and me from the moment he first found out. He has been so open to it the whole time. It is really hard now to know that, after further deep consideration and time, he is no longer so comfortable with it. It is hard to know that the doctor gave him such optimistic and positive responses, but in the end it was not convincing enough. It is hard to accept that this is probably not the last time I am going to have to go through this situation and rejection. I am not angry or upset at him for this. I understand how hard and scary it must be. It just sucks. I was hoping and praying for more.

As for the loss of confidence in myself recently, I admit to being uncomfortable and less confident the past 1.5 weeks. You see, we have been having a little commitment issue/discussion lately. Basically, we have been dating for a little over 2 months, and I'm tired of "dating", I'm ready for it to be a "relationship". And he was not ready for that. We discussed it in depth and both expressed our feelings on it, but the conversation still kind of ended in an "agree to disagree" kind of way. However, I did try to explain to him that it was probably going to be difficult for me to continue on as is without pulling away a bit or starting to put walls up, because I feel like I'm putting myself into it and making myself more vulnerable than he is. Anyways, we attempted to just keep on going as normal, but obviously that didn't happen. Obviously, I didn't feel as confident in what we had, and as a result started to lose some confidence in myself. I really don't feel like it should be that surprising... when a girl really likes a guy, but he doesn't want to commit to a relationship with her... I think many women would naturally either lose confidence or lose interest or a combination of both.

Well, so that's that. I'm back to ground zero.

Ironically, I got a text Saturday evening from my HIV+ friend in the area, and he needed to talk to someone. He had just disclosed to a girl and she did not take it well. This is his 3rd straight disclosure that has not turned out well. Please, as you think of me in my situation and pray for me, please pray for him as well. This is a hard life we are living.

As I was on a 2 hour drive this morning, I was reflecting on my situation... and I came up with a plan. It may be kind of a crazy one, but I am going to risk it anyways. Because, as I thought about it and planned it out in my head, I felt my confidence coming back. I've decided that I am tired of still hiding from select groups of people (i.e. my kickball team, dating world, school). Why put myself under the stress of hiding, keeping secrets, and obsessing over disclosures? So, here is my plan:

(1) As of today, I am accepting friend requests from kickball players and whatever they happen to find on my Facebook linking to this blog is okay with me.If they don't want to be my friend after finding out, oh well.
(2) I am re-writing my profile on the regular dating site and I am going to include my HIV status. I have seen gay men do this, but have never seen a straight person openly do this. It may be a huge risk, but I'm going to go for it. Maybe I'll get 0 messages, or maybe I will get the RIGHT ONE.
(3) I am not going to announce myself to the school. However, I am going to tell my one co-worker who is also a kickball player, and therefore I knowingly open myself up to the risk of gossip being spread to others at the school. If the school or someone else doesn't like it, then we will just have to see what happens.

Thank you ***** for giving me my power (confidence) back!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

More on Dating with HIV

Time has been flying by lately. I guess that is why people say "time flies when you're having fun". My life has been very busy and very happy this past month.

I am still dating my guy. It has been more than a month since I disclosed "my secret" to him, and he  still has not run away. He continues to amaze me with his acceptance and patience. It has not been easy. It is not something that we can talk about once and then forget about. It is an ongoing conversation that comes up daily. New questions come up. New feelings come up. New situations come up that we hadn't thought about before. It is all new... for both of us. We continue to research and talk and learn together. There is no guidebook. There are not always clear cut answers to our questions. The numbers and risks are not always specific enough.

Sometimes it is scary. I am scared for me. And I am scared for him. I am scared that we will mess up and take a risk or make a mistake that could put him in harm's way. I am scared that he will decide it is just too complicated and not worth it. I am scared that others will influence his feelings about it.

I thought disclosing would be the hardest part. Now, I'm not totally sure. There is so much more that needs to be addressed and figured out now. I wonder if it will always be like this? Or if, after we get everything figured out initially, we will get more used to it and comfortable with the way things are? Not that we are doing a bad job now... we are actually doing quite a good job I think... but like I said, it is not easy.

I plan on doing a series of posts on various topics specifically relating to serodiscordant (+/-) relationships, so that I can share more with you about some of the challenging situations that may come up. I am already doing research on this stuff, so why not share what I've found with you? I would also like to share how each topic relates specifically to me and my relationship, but will be careful (for his sake) about the personal information I share.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

National HIV Testing Day- Tomorrow, June 27th!


June 27th is National HIV Testing Day. I am urging you, daring you, and pleading with you all to go get tested. No matter who you are, how old you are, what kind of relationships you have or have not had, what risks you have or have not taken, you should get tested. HIV does not discriminate. HIV can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time- no matter your age, race, sexuality, profession, intelligence, etc. If you have had sexual contact of any kind with another human being, you should get tested. Do not live in fear or ignorance. Take a stand for yourself and your life. 



Use the link or widget below to find testing sites near you:

http://hivtest.cdc.gov/ 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My First Dating Disclosure- Continued

So I went home that night with my nerves calmed and quieted, but definitely not gone. I was relieved that he took the news so well and did not freak out. I even thanked him for not slapping me (I do have a friend that has been slapped when he disclosed his status to a girl). However, I still had no idea where this left us. I had no idea what would come next. Maybe he wouldn't talk or hang out with me again? Maybe we would hang out the next time and he would tell me that he still liked me as a friend, but just wouldn't be able to date me? There was nothing to do but just wait and see.

Somehow, even with all these things in my head, I ended up sleeping great that night. I guess the whole event had just exhausted me- physically, mentally, and emotionally.

As I arrived to work the next morning, I received a good morning text from him and a wish of good luck on my first day of summer school. Alright. Smile on my face. This was a good sign.

Then, as I was driving home from work, I received another text. He was done working for the day, and wanted me to please bring over the HIV information/literature I had collected for him. Wow. Awesome. This was a great sign. I was so pleased that he actually cared enough about it to take the initiative to ask me for the information. He wanted to read it.

So, I raced home, grabbed the folder I had prepared, looked through it one last time, wondering if there was anything else I should add in there. This was a big deal. This could make it or break it. I had to give him some good stuff to start with. (What did I include? NY State 100 HIV Questions and Answers booklet; various Fact Sheets from Aidsinfo.net; a power point presentation on HIV Basics from a conference I attended; recent study results on Undetectable Viral Loads and Serodiscordant couples; and about 5 key posts printed out from my blog)

I didn't know what to expect when I arrived at his house. I was ready to just drop the stuff off and leave, but again, things went better than that. I went inside and we sat down on the couch and started talking- but not about HIV. It was just like normal, except for the folder sitting on the couch between us. Eventually he asked me what I brought for him. I flipped through the folder and just quickly showed what each thing was. He seemed excited about it and put the folder in his room to look at and read later. Then we sat there and continued talking, this time moving into topics about HIV. I was able to explain a bit more of the factual kind of information. I talked more in depth about my medicine and my numbers and what exactly undetectable meant. He asked a few questions of his own and asked for clarification on a couple things that I had mentioned. It turned out to be a great talk. I didn't have to cry during this talk, I had gotten that out of the way the night before. Now I was free to just be me and share what I knew.

I received a text later that night saying he had read my blog printouts and he was very impressed. I continued to smile.

This all happened a week ago. And we have been hanging out almost every day since then. We have been able to talk openly about it, share our feelings, and discuss various questions/concerns. There have definitely been some awkward moments, but we are both able to admit that this is new to us and we are doing the best we can. It is going to be a continual learning and growing process, for the both of us. I continue to be in awe of his openness, patience, and understanding.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My First Dating Disclosure

I did it!

And I survived.

And he survived.

And it went better than I could have or would have ever anticipated.

So, for all of my planning and preparation and obsession, it finally kind of happened on accident. Well, not on accident, but not as planned either. It turns out that I'm just a little bit too transparent and not at all good at keeping secrets (I know, you all are completely shocked, right?!?!?).

We were of course watching the basketball game at his place. He had just gotten back from a weekend out of town, so we had not seen each other for a few days. We were just laying on the couch catching up and talking about various things. We were having some really good conversation, touching here and there on some more serious topics, taking some risks and sharing things that might not just come up in daily conversations. There was a level of comfort and trust developing there between us and it felt good.

There were a couple of points where I had to avoid a complete answer, promising to give him a better answer "some other night". One of the moments had to do with my ex, because I had mentioned that we were remaining good friends and that there was a "significant reason" for us to remain friends. We had also already had a previous conversation where I could not tell him where/how my ex and I had met, or why we were together (being that my ex and I don't seem like a likely match). This all added up to seem a bit suspicious to him, and he decided that I must have some kind of important secret. He teased me for a minute about my secret, and I kept saying that I would tell him, but not tonight. He asked me if I had a kid that he didn't know about. I laughed and said no. He decided to give up and drop the "secret"... at least for awhile.

Later in our talking, I happened to share that I had a fear of ending up alone. And that made no sense to him, because I was an attractive, intelligent, fun woman, why would I end up alone?!?!? Thus he was reminded of the "secret" again and he figured that it must play a role in this fear of ending up alone.

A couple of minutes later he said he had a question for me, but that I may not like it. He got really nervous and embarrassed and wasn't able to ask it right away.

I asked him "Is your question related to my secret?"
He said "I don't know. It might be or it might not".
Then I asked "Is your question related to sex?"
He said "Yes."

I started panicking inside. I knew what the question was going to be. And I figured that he probably had a good idea of what the answer was going to be. I took a deep breath, snuggled deeper into his chest, and braced myself for what was coming next. I told him to ask his question.

"Do you have any STDs?"

"Yes. And yes that relates to my secret." Breathe. There. It's done. It's started. No going back. There is only forward now. Breathe.

The next couple minutes were hard. I couldn't stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. He didn't say anything. I didn't say anything. We just laid there. The secret was out, but there was so much more to tell. The basketball game was just in the beginning of the 4th quarter. I told him that I was going to talk, but we should wait until the game was over so there would be no distractions. But time was going painfully slow, and it was just too weird, so we eventually decided to talk anyways with the game still on. I told him I had never done this before. I asked him if he was ready.

Then I told him my story, beginning with falling sick in my village, the hospitals and tests, medical evacuation, and then being diagnosed with HIV. I told him about my current health, my numbers, and my medication. I told him about my blog and other advocacy activities I've been involved in. I told him how I met my ex at an HIV conference. I told him he wasn't at any risk from kissing me. I eventually back tracked and told him the story of how I had contracted it in the first place. I told him I had information and literature for him to read, but it was at home, because I hadn't planned for this conversation to happen tonight.

His reaction? It was more of a non-reaction. He didn't really have any questions. He didn't really say much of anything, other than he wasn't completely surprised, as he had started sensing and thinking something along these lines. He said I had made enough references over time to some sort of a secret, that he knew something was going on. He said he would be happy to read whatever information I had for him. He continued to lay there and hold me and hug me and comfort me when I would start to cry a little bit again.

I started to go numb. He was being so nice and comforting. He wasn't freaking out. But the only thing going through my mind was this other blog I had read where the girl was talking about how after she disclosed, the guys would be all nice and comforting and hug her that night, but then never talk to her again after that. So here we are laying there, and he's holding me, and I'm thinking "This is too familiar. He's just being nice. But this is it. I might as well say goodbye now."

So I got up to say goodbye and leave. And then the most amazing thing happened. He pulled me back down on the couch with him so that he could kiss me. And not just a peck. It was a real kiss, and it felt like he meant it.

To be continued...

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Couple AIDS Jokes

A friend of mine e-mailed me the other day in response to my "Awkward Magic Johnson moment". He proceeded to tell me of one of his own awkward moments recently. In a college class, someone in a role of authority decided to tell a couple jokes...

"How do you give CPR to an AIDS patient?"  He started stomping on an imaginary person on the ground with his foot, and blowing in the air from a standing position.

"The AIDS diet is pancakes because they can be slid under a closed door."

This friend of mine said that in response to each joke,  "A room full of my friends cheered and applauded. Again riotous laughter from my peers."

I do not share these jokes with you so that you can go out and use them in your own social circles. I share them in order to call attention to some of the mean and hurtful things that can be and are being said. Can you imagine being an HIV+ person sitting in a college class, where the teacher and students (who you expect to be educated and have a little bit of class) are jointly making these kinds of jokes and remarks? Yeah, of course they don't know that you are sitting there and have HIV. They don't know that it may be personally hurtful to you. But that's the point! They don't know! None of us can know for sure who in our company may be HIV+, or may have a family member or close friend who is HIV+ . So, watch what you say! It is just ignorant and in poor taste.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dating Update 2

More dates with the negative guy from Kickball... including more dinners out and in, watching the basketball games, hanging out at the pool, breakfast, and doing an oil painting together (yes seriously).

I'm not sure what else to say. Things are going good. We get along well. Too well. To the point that after an entire day together having breakfast and then hanging out at the pool, I walked into my house and cried. I cried because I'm having such a good time, and because I have absolutely no faith that it is going to last or lead to anything. I cried because I feel like I'm having panic/anxiety attacks the past few days just thinking about telling him. I cried because I'm scared and I don't want to have to deal with this...

P.S. It is my Birthday today. I am 27.

                        (We celebrated my B-Day on Saturday night by going out dancing!)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Awkward...

Just wanted to share an awkward moment with you...

So here I am on a date, relaxing and watching the basketball game last night... and during halftime my date says, "You know who that broadcaster is, right?" (he's kind of messing with me because I don't know all that much about basketball).

So, I'm like, "ummmmm... nope... can't think of anyone. Give me a hint."

So he says, "AIDS."

And I go into an instant state of silent shock and a "Oh ****" in my head.

Taking my silence as ignorance, he says, "Magic Johnson! Come on, you gotta know that!"

AWKWARD...

Learn About Magic Johnson Here

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Dating Update 1

I promised you I would keep you all updated on my "adventures" with dating....

Well, I have gone out on a few dates with a few people in the last couple weeks.

I went on a date with a guy from the HIV dating site. He was a nice guy, and it was nice to hang out with someone without having to worry about any secrets or judgements or anything like that. It was also nice to be able to discuss/compare/share our stories and various feelings and experiences so far with HIV. Right now we are just keeping in contact as friends.

I then went on about 3 dates with a guy from my kickball team (someone I have known for about 5 months now). We had fun going out for dinner, drinks, the beach, and hanging out at my house. We talked a lot and went through all the normal "getting to know you" conversations. I felt uncomfortable a few times as the conversation steered too close to coming back from Africa or how I met/got together with my ex (as those things are both related to the HIV). After hanging out a few times, we decided to just be friends, as there is actually a VERY big age difference between us and we decided it was just too weird.

Most recently, I went on 2 dates with another guy from my kickball team (I've also known him for about 5 months). We had a very eventful 2 dates, including homemade dinner, drinks, yardsaling, canoeing, dinner out, casino, and relaxing watching the basketball game. We have hit it off pretty well so far. Again, there have been some uncomfortable/awkward moments where I feel like I have to tiptoe around things to omit HIV related topics. It is a horrible feeling to be sitting there trying your best to get to know someone and let them get to know you, but the whole time feeling guilty because you are hiding something HUGE. Well, regardless of how guilty I was feeling, we still had a very enjoyable time and we ended up cuddling and kissing....which I am now having mixed feelings about (as I really did not intend to even kiss anybody before I tell them my "secret").

So there you have the details about what has gone on on the outside. Now, for a little more insight to the inside....

As I mentioned, with both of the negative guys, there were multiple times where it felt awkward and uncomfortable, or where I felt I needed to change the direction of the conversation in order to avoid certain topics. They of course want to know all about Peace Corps and Africa (but every time I talk about Africa, all it reminds me of is contracting HIV). They want to know where/how I met my ex (at an HIV conference, but I can't say that). They want to know why I don't accept friend requests on Facebook (because none of my new friends, kickball team, or co-workers know my status and I don't want them to find out). And so on...

So, the whole time I am with them, and when I am at home on my own, my thoughts have overwhelmingly been stuck on how and when I should disclose. I want to wait long enough to make sure that I really like the person and the person really likes me, and that there is an honest intention of the relationship going somewhere. I also want to wait until I know that I can trust the person with the information, regardless of whether they stay with me or not. This is especially complicated because the guys so far are from the kickball team, and I definitely do not want the information to be passed to the whole team, nor to one of my co-workers who is also one the team, which would then give it a chance to be passed on to my workplace. But at the same time, the longer I wait the more guilty and unsettled I feel. I hate hiding things. I hate lying to people. I hate feeling guilty just because I kissed someone before telling them.

I want to know WHEN it is going to be the right time. But I don't think there is a clear answer. I don't feel like it is going to be something I can schedule or plan for in advance. I think I am just going to have to take it day by day and conversation by conversation, and when I suddenly feel like it is right, I will just have to somehow find the guts to go for it.

Stay tuned for more updates...
                            (getting all dressed up for my friends' wedding last weekend)

Monday, May 13, 2013

A New Adventure

For those of you that do not know, I have had a boyfriend almost the whole time I have had this blog. We met at an HIV conference that I attended within a month of me returning home with my new diagnosis. I even talked about this conference and new group of friends in my very first posting on this blog (World AIDS Day 2011). And yes, since the conference was for HIV+ people, it is safe for you to assume that he is also HIV+.

Unfortunately we just broke up 2 months ago. Yes, I am okay. We are both okay. We are still friends and will always be a support system for each other. I do not plan to delve more into our personal situation, but I wanted to give this basic information as a prequel to any future posts.

You see, I am now single...and now faced with a whole new open can of potential stresses and dilemmas as I step back into the dating scene for the first time as a HIV+ woman. I know this is an area that people have an interest in and will have questions about. So, I intend to try to keep you up to date on my adventures (I'm calling it that in an effort to keep myself feeling more positive about it, even though I am not).

To give you some foundational information..... I am currently researching in both directions...."poz" people and "negative" people. I have an account on an HIV dating site. And I also have an account on a regular dating site. So far the fishing pool is very limited (and often depressing) on the HIV site. The pool on the regular site is humongous, but terrifying! The fear of rejection is so overwhelming that I can feel myself shutting down and shying away before I even let something begin.

I happen to be reading a romance novel right now featuring an HIV+ woman entering the dating scene and finding love and acceptance from a new (negative) partner....and I'm thinking in my head....yeah, if only it was so easy....

But I guess I won't ever really know until I get some guts and actually try it....

Friday, May 10, 2013

Poll Results

Should Jessica tell her school about her HIV status?

Yes        12  (21%)
No         45  (78%)