Mental Health Association of Northwestern PA
On December 4th, the MHA had a World AIDS Day service at 11:00 AM. About 45 individuals were present, filling more seats than what we had originally set up for the day.
The service, while simple, was powerful. Eric, one of the interns here at the MHA, read an article about HIV/AIDS. Jenai and Eric read verses from Psalms while I led the prayer of petitions. We had a guest speaker on the subject with Pastor Rhodes leading the service. He gave a sermon about how something that "dirties" a person can help make that person become clean, and the benediction.
What was really interesting was the story our guest speaker gave that day. She told us about how she became infected with HIV and how long it took her to become sober (she was a narcotics user for many years). Then she counted her many blessings right in front of us: having a place to live, basic bathing, clean clothes, friendships, and stability. As she told us this, I kept wondering the reason for it instead of the process for her becoming healthy. Then it dawned on me. All of the wonderful events in her life are wrapped up into that process. Each of those events and privileges supported her decision. Furthermore, she is very open about this and she wants to use her experiences to help others grow.
As I think back on the fourth, I keep thinking about a fairy tale modern and gay twist on the story of Rumpelstiltskin that I listened to on YouTube: The Miller's nephew contracts HIV. Rumpelstiltskin tells the nephew this in order to steal his happiness. The moral of the story is that while it is a horrible disease to contract, it is not a reflection of his morals or where his life should be. That's the same theme that our guest speaker made over and over again. HIV does not control her, she controls HIV. She doesn't let it stop her from living her life and helping others. The same point can also be seen in a few videos on the YouTube channel, I'm From Driftwood.
What this brings me back to is education. Yes, HIV and AIDS are terrible diseases that can create major problems for individuals due to the manner it affects an individual's immune system, energy level, and the stigma associated with those diseases (to name a few issues). And the side effects of the medications do not help either.
Thankfully, Pennsylvania is a state that helps individuals living with this disease by providing those life-saving medications. This fact is something that Gaudenzia's Shout Outreach program knows quite well and how to navigate the system to help individuals obtain those medications. This makes HIV/AIDS a manageable disease?an opposite outcome to the image it created over 24 years ago. This is true provided one is medically compliant and takes proper care of oneself.
So I leave this reflection with these thoughts: Do you know your status? How well do you take care of and protect yourself from STDs? And finally, how many facts about HIV/AIDS do you know instead of myths?