During my teenage years my family was rooted in its deepest dysfunction. My mother was widowed at a young age, which was very hard for her. Then she got involved with an abusive man who had an uncontrolled addiction. Because of this, her attention was consumed by him. We felt like our mother had abandoned us. Home wasn’t a safe place for me so I decided to spend as little time there as possible.
I came out when I was 17. My family was fairly conservative but I had two gay uncles who made the process easier for me. They helped me engage with the gay community in Philadelphia and even build friendships. I am still incredibly grateful for the support my uncles offered me in those days.
I was diagnosed with HIV when I was 26 and I assumed I would be dead before age 40. AIDS was very common in the gay community at the time and I had already suffered the loss of many friends. Because of this, I wasn’t overly surprised when I received my diagnosis.
Even before that, I was battling severe depression. My lowest period came when I lost my job, I didn’t have health insurance, and my living situation was extremely unstable. I didn’t know where to turn. I’m a person who grew up believing in self-sufficiency. It was very hard for me to ask for help but I learned that we all need support sometimes. Fortunately, I ran into a friend who very kindly and sensitively steered me to FIGHT.
FIGHT helped me in ways that I didn’t think were possible. They helped me get rid of the shame I had been carrying for years. They treat me with dignity and respect in a life-affirming way. I came to FIGHT with a T-cell count that was critically low. My provider put me on a regimen that has been successful and now my viral load is undetectable. I love that FIGHT is comprised of people from all walks of life, which brings to the table an incredible variety of experience and wisdom. FIGHT has the power to heal you; you just have to allow it.
I decided to share my story now because I want people to know that it’s okay to ask for help. Support is out there and everyone is deserving of it. Today, I trust myself and believe in the person I am. All of my challenges helped me realize that home is a place within myself. So wherever I am, I am home.