My HIV journey was no “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” — it was more like “Ebb Tide,” rushing in and rolling out. I remember being told that good things come to those who wait. This turned out to be true for me, but it was impossible for me to believe in my twenties.
I moved to San Francisco in 1979. I put my infection about the winter of ’80-’81, but it may have been a few years later. I worked as a bank secretary in the main office of Crocker Bank in San Francisco until it was gobbled up by Wells Fargo in 1984. It all went downhill from there. I went into a depression and a period of drug use and bathhouse life. I thought, when am I going to die? Hanging on by fingernails is kind of impossible to live with. Finally, in 1988 I got a job at the busiest Blockbuster Video in San Francisco and did really well. That was the first period of going down, and then going back up.
After the 1989 earthquake, I eventually moved to Seattle and experienced my second down period of clinical depression. I participated in a day program for HIV+ people at Bailey-Boushay, where I got good counseling that helped me decide where to go next in my life.
In 1994 I finally got tested. Because of my distrust of the medical system and the hostile politics, I would not get tested until there was a Democratic president. I remained a non-progressor until 2010, living almost 30 years without medication. After moving to Oregon, I devoted myself to the world of community theater, and in 2010 was promoted to conductor of the orchestra. My numbers took a drop and I got a bad a case of shingles. I must have made myself vulnerable because of all the stress I’d taken on.
I want to praise the LKA swim parties. I’m glad to be among other folks who actually see each other, our bodies and our smiles. We get to see the damage that this virus has done to our bodies without any shame or judgment around it. I feel good about that. I like being unclothed, or wearing little clothing, but there’s always this voice of doom in the head about, oh, what you look like and how dare you. It’s nice to have that totally eliminated at the swim parties.
My message is it gets better, hang in there. I kept examining myself, trying to decide what to do with myself, what to change. It’s better at this point in my life than ever before.
Sharing our stories helps all of us feel less alone. In our “Knowing Me, Knowing You” feature, we’ll get to know one of our fellow members. We encourage you to email us at news@LKAPS.org to contribute your story.