Living Out Loud
I’ve been asked quite a bit lately how I became an advocate.
There are advocates of all kinds. And while there is no right way to be an advocate, there is also no one way of going about becoming one.
I also found myself with what felt like the biggest secret in the world. The only people who knew were my soon to be ex, the medical team, and the linkage-to-care case manager working with me. It wasn’t till a few months in that I told my mom and a few friends.
Those 3 letters felt as though they cast the longest shadow. The weight of the secret felt so heavy that I didn’t know how long I could hold it to myself without bursting.
Inspired to be open about my HIV status
That December, we lost the incomparable Carrie Fischer. I like so many watched TV as her incredible life was memorialized. She lived her life so courageously, sharing her mental health journey with the world. I watched several interviews where she shared about her own struggles that have their own heavy stigmas attached.
It inspired me to do the most millennial thing I have ever done: I wrote a novel of a post on social media. I stared at that post button for what felt like an eternity before sending it out, telling the world that is my social network that I wasn’t going to live life in the shadows, that I was going to live my truths no matter what they are.
An overwhelming amount of responses
I never imagined the overwhelming amount of responses I got. There were the expected family and supportive friends. What I wasn’t expecting was the number of messages and private conversations with people who lived - for years - in shame due to their HIV status. The folks in the corner of the bar who felt as though they didn’t belong due to some insane hierarchy of HIV status that has been built out of fear and misinformation.
I had so many moments where people who I knew were brilliant, incredible individuals who shared with me in secret that they had been hiding a part of themselves from the world for fear people would think differently of them.
Say out loud what others whisper
It was then I learned the power of saying out loud the things that others fear to whisper. Instead of becoming a victim, I had suddenly found myself with a platform and a voice I didn’t know how to use. I have - in no way - done it all right. In fact, it wasn’t till I began working in the field that I felt that I had any right to be in this work.
Stay true to yourself
Although I didn’t imagine that I’d be here when I wrote that post, I wouldn’t trade a single moment and the incredible individuals I’ve met living with HIV all over the world who inspire me every single day.
So if you are reading this wondering how you can be an advocate, my only advice is this: Be yourself, find your own lane, and stay true to who you are. That will lead you to the place you are meant to be.
Do you live in the Southern US?