Since becoming public with my HIV status just this last fall, I find myself in a place of discovery. What does my life look like without keeping HIV a secret? How does the vulnerability uncovered become an asset to my gifts sharing in a world in much need of safe vulnerability? How do I extend to others while not lessening self care of less stimulation and information from social media? Aging with HIV- what is the best support for my own mental health?
I am grateful to Howard University, Who Can You tell? program, The Well Wisdom Project, Positive Women’s Network and more recently NAMI, “National Association for Mental Illness. These organizations provide inspiring Peer Support. Peer Support utilizes one’s life experiences as a gift to listen and share with others hopes, dreams, loss, disappointment and despair. Living with HIV for 20 years, I’ve done “therapy” many years of my life, and the exchange of Peer Support has been remarkable. Peer Support is an exchange between peers with similar lived experience. These “undesirable” experiences strengthen personal resilience to be an ally for others that are experiencing difficulty. I don’t have to have the exact experience of another to have common feelings of separateness, despair, not being enough, or without community. Peer Support holds space for another’s challenges, sees them as a worthy human being, and knows they have capacity to live life with joys and grief, and that there is hope in living a more joyful life.
I live with the grief of great loss. To have my feelings normalized in Peer Support exchange softens my pain and is a lesson that one cannot escape loss when we love with the courage and passion required to open our hearts to another. Our human experience is to be endured and expressed in its wholeness. I will no longer pathologize my feelings.
My experience with Peer Support exchange connects me with others in sharing life challenges, joys, humor, and hope that encompasses a full spectrum of the human experiences and in community! That’s what my support looks like! In times of darkness, my Peer Support groups hold my tears and joy, inquiry and humor with an acceptance I have longed for, and feelings of belonging, wholeness and “I’m going to be ok” are strengthened. I am not separate, alone without purpose or insignificance. I move through darkness and return to the light I am. Connected, in community, making a difference in sharing my vulnerability and fine tuning my gifts. Peer Support exchange is a blessing in a world with heightened depression, anxiety, chaos, isolation, and less than adequate mental health resources.
I recently completed Peer to Peer support training through NAMI. I take this 2023 step to learn new skills to be Peer support for those living with mental illness and HIV. I embrace the opportunity of my life experience living with HIV to serve others and end HIV Stigma. To support others in seeking treatment, being in community, lessening isolation and increasing self-esteem to grow to be the best version of yourself you can be, I continue my discovery of living openly with HIV.