The Years of the Rabbit
I'm a casual fan of astrology; the coffee shop, newspaper dabbling variety. Please forgive any ignorance on my part. What I'm confident in is that my sign is a disease (Cancer) and I'm a Rabbit where the Chinese zodiac is concerned.
Under the Chinese zodiac there are a total of 12 signs. Your sign is determined by your birth year. Each sign enjoys a 12-month spotlight every 12 years. What's not to love about that?
I learned about and leaned into the Chinese zodiac a little bit at age 21. I was inspired after I noticed a peculiar parallel between my medical challenges that have occurred during each of my years of the rabbit...
Let's get to it!
1975: The birth of a rabbit
When I was born, my family and doctors had no idea I had a rare bleeding disorder. As far as the rabbit thing goes, one of the first tell-tale signs that I had a bleeding disorder was the fact that I wouldn't crawl on my knees because they bruised too easily.
Too bad I couldn't just hop, right?
Things finally made sense after we found out I had hemophilia. Of course, I don't have much recollection of my debut Year of the Rabbit, but I know it was tough on my parents. As well as my brother. He was always shoo'd away or scolded when he was just trying to play with his little brother.
Things got much easier for everyone once we knew what the challenge was, and I enjoyed a pretty typical childhood... Until, the next Year of the Rabbit rolled around!
How much did your doctor tell you about HIV when you were diagnosed?
1987: The fear of the rabbit
If ever there were a year that contained a plot twist that would impact the rest of my life in very profound ways, this Year of the Rabbit is it. In March of 1987 I was diagnosed with HIV, which sure wasn't anything like hemophilia. A nosebleed was a very clear indication that I had a blood-clotting disorder. I couldn't look in the mirror and see HIV.
It’s bittersweet. I'm crying as I type this and leaving this part in as I edit because, as tough as that year was, there was a lot of magic that happened, too. For every terrible thing I went through because of stigma - like getting kicked out of school - there were acts of love and support for me and my family.
I would be remiss if I didn't reflect on my second Christmas in a Year of the Rabbit. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles all feared it could be the last we all got to share this holiday together. As a result, I received the single largest haul of presents ever recorded in central Virginia. Thankfully, we shared more Christmases and, naturally, the gift total returned to normal.
Being able to look back on the most difficult year of my life from a grateful adult perspective is, undoubtedly, the greatest gift I have ever received.
1999: Hopping on HIV treatment
In my 20s I had found my voice; the days of quietly living with my medical conditions were over. I was even writing funny stories about living with HIV for a magazine. To make matters even better my new love, Gwenn, moved in with me. Not only that, she was also a Rabbit!
Just as there were health challenges in previous rabbit years, 1999 proved to be no different. That was the year that my health crashed and I had no choice but to start taking HIV medications.
I feared the side effects, which were awful, but the treatment worked like a charm. My t-cells rose, I played gigs as a one-man-band at goth night and Gwenn and I started to educate together about HIV and sexual health.
My new doctor was also great about taking my side effects seriously. The second combination I tried worked just as well as the first without impeding my daily quality of life. Goodbye, stomach issues!
One year after I was at my worst health-wise, Gwenn and I were hopping on planes to go educate about sexual health. Though 1999 was a difficult, it was undeniably the most magical Year of the Rabbit I have ever had thus far.
2011: Unlucky rabbit's paw
This one I had to research, and one of the first pictures I found was of me sitting in a wheelchair at the airport. On the occasion that the picture was taken, the pain in my left ankle was so bad that I couldn't stand up. Wheels were the only way to the gate.
Most of the time my bad ankle didn't bother me. But years of traveling made those times of respite shorter and shorter. The pain level also increased. When I saw that picture, I kind of winced in a moment of déjà OUCH. Around that time, X-rays revealed the issue.
Years of bleeding had significantly reduced the cartilage in my left ankle joint. Which meant I had no real protection. My bones were like sticks being rubbed together to start a fire, basically. I'm totally fine with being fire on the dance floor, but fire in my ankle as I'm waiting to board a connecting flight to Fargo is absurdly lame.
Overall, my health was incredibly stable where HIV was concerned and I was on my way to taking better care of my ankle. As was the case on my debut Year of the Rabbit, discovering the problem went a long way in helping. I started going to see a hematologist for the first time in years, which sounds bonkers now! And I got a custom-fit ankle brace. If my ankle felt tender, the brace provided excellent stabilization, which helped a lot while traveling.
This Year of the Rabbit is the first one where I actually realized I was a rabbit living in that special year. In real time. It’s a significant one because it was the first full year without my mom - the original caregiver.
Although she passed to spirit in June of 2022, I have felt her presence ever since. She got to see her little rabbit hop along to more years and adventures than she thought was possible. I'm thankful that she taught me not to fear death. In adulthood, not too many years ago, she said that her own mother talks to her from beyond the grave, "It's when I'm baking - I always tell her to get out of the kitchen because it always messes me up!"
I definitely feel her guidance. I also have to, occasionally, give her a classic line she heard countless times growing up, "Not now, Mom!"
The tax of survival, really, is seeing people you love head off into the next great unknown before you.
Whether you are a fellow dabbler in astrology or a skeptic, I hope this helps you see - and feel - some of the magic in your life. Now, I think I'm going to see if my amazing rabbit partner, Gwenn, will whip us up some carrot cake!
What resource do you turn first?
Have you ever been unhoused or insecurely housed?