The latest edition of the journal, Achieve, is devoted to HIV over fifty. I contributed on stigma entitled: Managing the Triple Threat: Strategies for Older Gay Men with HIV. Here is the link to the publications page where you can download volume 7, number 3.
When a woman with HIV realizes that she’s lived longer than she ever expected and begins to rebuild her life, that’s an aha moment.
When a doctor and patient sort through the complexities of HIV, the medications used to treat the virus, and the realities of aging to identify an effective treatment, that’s an aha moment.
When a group of gay men acknowledge how the AIDS epidemic has impacted every aspect of their lives and start the healing process together, that’s an aha moment.
When a politician recognizes that AIDS is not over and funds programing to meet the challenges of HIV and aging, that’s an aha moment.
In the past two years since the release of Aging with HIV I’ve met many amazing men and women who are living with HIV longer than they ever expected. Throughout the country we’ve created conversations that have expanded our understanding of aging with HIV. Together we’ve exchanged information, shared experiences, processed feelings and built communities. It’s been a real learning experience filled with aha moments.
That’s why I’ve decided to start the AHA Project (Action for HIV and Aging) to facilitate discussions that empower people to define for themselves what it means to optimally age with HIV.
In the coming weeks agingwithhiv.wordpress.com will become ahaproject.org. I appreciate your patience as I develop the site to reflect its developing mission.
In today’s New York Times Austin Considine writes about gay marriage and the bittersweet victory it represents for men in midlife who have lost loved ones to the AIDS epidemic. Considine interviewed several gay men who share their feelings about this previously unimaginable day in New York history. There is happiness and rejoicing, but also sadness and grief. I talked with Considine about my experience and how even successes can trigger old feelings of loss. I think that many gay men will relate to these men and find support in their stories.
As a kid, I occasionally overheard my mother talking to herself doing chores around the house. She was a single parent and often came home from a day’s work to an evening of responsibilities. One phrase I remember her using as she opened bills or couldn’t get a stain out of the carpet was, “This too shall pass.”
I came to understand that she was reassuring herself that whatever challenges she faced, no matter how taxing or mundane, would be resolved. I didn’t know that she was quoting the Sufi poets who believed that all material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary.
Today, I thought of my mother and the phrase she uttered when overwhelmed. After several days of rain, I just couldn’t get myself going. I knew I had chores to do this morning before I went to work, but had no energy to accomplish them. So, after a great deal of procrastinating, I dragged myself onto my yoga mat and did a few sun salutations.
In the middle of my routine, stretching my body, breathing deeply and regularly, my mood lifted. And, quite by coincidence, but still remarkable, the sun came out.
In my psychotherapy practice I often counsel people who are afraid of talking about their anger or reliving sad memories. They fear that they will get mired in those “negative” emotions. I tell them, that in my experience, feelings come and go. Sadness, deeply felt, passes, and leaves room for joy. And, happiness too can’t last forever. When we try to hold onto any feelings we set ourselves up for disappointment (and sometimes compulsions and addictions.)
But, good advice is sometimes easier to give to others. So, I’m writing this entry, in the hopes that I can remind myself that no matter what challenges we face (large or small) they will pass and if we remain flexible we will be able to withstand our current experience until the next one arrives.
Its that time of year. The end of January. Snow is falling. (A lot of it in New York!) And, your New Year’s Resolutions are on the verge of becoming history.
This week I’d like to encourage you to reconsider those resolutions. Perhaps they need to be altered. But, it may not be time to put off those goals for New Year’s Eve 2012.
What do Resolutions have to do with Aging and HIV?
Living with HIV into midlife and beyond requires adaptation to a great deal of change. There have been changes to your body, career, family, your friendship networks, and to the world around you. Optimal aging with HIV involves flexibility as you develop new strategies to cope with aging. Often this means discarding old patterns that no longer work for you and beginning the difficult task of learning new ways to care for yourself.
You may have used the new year to reflect on what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past, and developed some ideas about what you want for yourself in the year ahead. You may have made an intention to change the way you eat, to exercise more, to address your drinking, to make new friends, to join an organization, to look for a new job, or get yourself out there in the dating world. You may even have come up with a plan to reach those goals.
Well, now is the time to review how that plan is going. If you are still on target, then read this post in order to help you look for warning signs that your resolution is going awry. But, if you are anything like me, your commitment to change is starting to waver, and you are at risk for giving up altogether. If that is the case, let me tell you about my New Year’s Resolution.
At the end of December I realized that I had been gaining weight. In fact, a step on the scale revealed that I was the heaviest I had ever been. So, I resolved to lose weight in the new year.
I had helped many others through similar challenges and knew what pitfalls to avoid. For example, I knew that I needed a reasonable goal. If I tried to lose too much, too quickly, I would just feel deprived and give up. So, I decided that I would set a goal of 1-2 lbs per week. I also knew that I should not only change my eating habits, but also increase my exercise, so I joined a gym.
Great plan. (Do you see where I’m going with this story?) Well, its the end of January, and as of yesterday I have lost 1 lb.
This is where I want to say, “what’s the point? My metabolism has slowed and no matter what I do, I won’t be able to lose that weight!”
But, since I’m writing this post to help you, I have to take the following advice:
Don’t Give Up!
When a plan doesn’t succeed, it just means there’s something wrong with the plan. In every failure there is a learning opportunity.
So, first, before you dismiss the commitment you made to yourself, remind yourself what you wanted to accomplish, and why.
Do your reasons to meet that goal still seem rational? Then, you have to find a way to make it work.
Next, assess the steps you took to meet that goal. Did you do what you said you were going to? If not, ask yourself, why you didn’t.
Maybe the goal makes sense, but the way you are going about it is faulty. For example, I could have joined a gym near my apartment. But I don’t get home until late every evening, and am usually too tired to exercise then. It would be better for me to find a gym near work, where I can go during a break in the day.
Once you know why your plan hasn’t worked, you can make changes to the plan and try again.
I often hear clients who have given up on their resolutions only to discover that the goal they set for themselves was unreachable. In my case, I set a very reasonable goal, but I got a cold and missed one week of exercise. I also didn’t consider that I would have to build my stamina slowly, having been away from the gym for some time. And, there was a learning curve, as far as my diet was concerned. It took me some time for me to learn what foods I could, and couldn’t eat, in order to stay on target for my weight goal.
Backing off is different from giving up. Its being honest with yourself about what you are, and are not, willing to do to accomplish your goal.
Ask for Help
There may be obstacles in your way that you are unaware of. If you have rethought your plan and are still getting nowhere, it may be time to get some help. Talk about your goals with a friend, your doctor or a counselor.
Change is hard. We develop patterns of taking care of ourselves and relating to others. Sometimes those rituals are deeply ingrained in our sense of ourselves, our memories of friends, and our families. Food, for me, is one of those issues. I still eat the same meal for breakfast that I did as a child. Changing my diet means changing my relationship to food, and that can have emotional meaning, as well.
Sometimes you just need a buddy. Share your resolution with a friend. (And, they can share theirs with you.) By including someone else in your plan, you have someone to support you, encourage you, and to hold you accountable when you want to give up.
On the resources link (above) there are a list of agencies that may be able to help you reach your goal.
I hope that this post helps you to recommit to your resolution, reassess your objectives, and get the help you need to achieve your goal. Please let me know if you set an intention for the new year, and how you are progressing on that goal.
Welcome to the forum! This page is currently under construction. When it is completed we will have a description of the book, the authors and endorsements from professionals in the field. The site will have links to resources in your area and a section where you can add your thoughts and get feedback and information from other people living with HIV in midlife and beyond.
Look for Aging with HIV: A Gay Man’s Guide in your bookstore soon! Publication date – November, 2010.