Friday, December 16, 2011

Thirty Years of AIDS: The AIDS Alphabet -- H is for HIV

Thirty years of AIDS: The AIDS Alphabet -- H is for HIV

Journeys Through Darkness

HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a human virus that causes the weakening of an individual’s immune system by attaching itself to a protein on the T cell, called CD4. Once inside the T cell, HIV uses its own genetic material to make copies of itself. The T cell is destroyed in the process.

Much has been written about HIV/AIDS. I've written much myself--those interested can check out my most recent article on AIDS conspiracy theory. Therefore, for letter H (for HIV) of the AIDS alphabet I don't really want to talk about HIV but one of the many ways it has altered people's lives. Here's an excerpt from "Chapter Four: Self-Reflections" from JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS, a biography of AIDS including my own journey through HIV/AIDS. 

As always, thanks for visiting!
Alina Oswald
"Reflections" by Alina Oswald

AIDS, for example, isolates and stigmatizes its victims, while taking away their social life, their connection with their families, friends, and peers. But it doesn’t stop at that. AIDS continues by peeling off layer after layer of one’s life, until there’s nothing left. While the network of familiar faces (friends and family) may vanish first, the financial layer comes next. Patients are left jobless. With their bank accounts depleted, some are forced to live on disability. AIDS also attacks the most private layer of human existence, that related to the self-images individuals reflect on themselves and on others. The disease mutilates the physical appearance of its victims to such extent that it can permanently fracture this aspect of patients’ lives. The intimate connections, the physical touches people need especially when during tough times, disappear shortly afterwards. And so do the personal and sexual lives of AIDS patients, because nobody desires them and nobody wants to be with someone whose body is deformed or who’s sick and dying.
    The actual physical death happens only after a slow and painful process during which patients are forced to experience the death of several dimensions of their existence. Those who manage to survive are sometimes left with virtually no means to do so; they are forced, therefore, to come up with their own ways of staying alive. Some do that by developing their own survival skills, like learning how to live in the moment or informing themselves about AIDS and researching various ways to stay alive even if only for a while longer. After all, they have nothing to lose.
    Through it all, staying alive becomes an art in itself. Learning this complex process is not easy and not everyone has the kind of strength or inspiration required to attempt it.
    More than fifteen years after his AIDS diagnosis, Kurt Weston considers himself lucky to have connected with people who could help him quickly learn how to fight the disease, and who gave him the hope and strength necessary to keep focused on his surviving. The photographer believes that being around survivors at that stage in his life and his AIDS was a vital part of his winning the battle with his disease.
    While frequenting Test Positive Aware, Kurt was also completely taken by surprise to come face to face with people he’d known for a long time, in his pre-AIDS diagnosis existence. And he could read the same surprise in their eyes. And although it was obvious, every one would inquire what the other was doing at TPA, yet no one was willing to say anything more or tell the true reason behind their presence inside an AIDS service organization building.
    “Even in the gay community, if people knew you were infected, you were damaged goods,” Weston explains. “[They] didn’t want to have anything to do with you. It got so bad that friends I was going clubbing with, their first question was ‘are you feeling ok?’ or ‘have you been feeling all right?’”
    In general, people were attracted to the fun, the parties and the beautiful individuals attending these events. Nobody wanted to have to deal with other people’s burdens, especially when associated with HIV and AIDS. So, Weston and others like him didn’t really share their AIDS diagnoses with just anybody, but rather with only a few of the closest friends. It was a strange and at the same time sickening thing to do, but they had to constantly be aware of the aura of stigma and prejudice surrounding AIDS and those infected.