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My Life With HIV
World AIDS Day 2013 is special for many reasons. Not only is it a day for pause and reflection on the lives and communities affected by HIV, but it also marks two years that I have been living with the virus. Like many other people I know who are positive, I often ask myself “what if?” What if I’d been tested sooner? What if I could live without fear? What if I could go back and tell the 14-year-old Patrick about the hell he’d endure due to an HIV diagnosis?
Every now and then I think about the potential of going back in time to visit that teenager who is becoming more interested and aroused by romance, sex, and experimentation. I’d like to say that the young Patrick would listen. He’d understand the seriousness of how HIV affects his community – the African American community, especially. He’d remove himself from harmful situations, utilize preventive tools such as harm reduction techniques, to remain HIV negative.
Truthfully, I don’t believe the message would be received. As badly as I want to believe that I would listen to my ‘future self’, something deep down inside tells me otherwise. Back when I was younger I believed that I was invincible and would never be hurt by another individual, let alone a virus. How many young people truly believe they are at risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections? How many have the forethought or time to examine their behaviors deep enough to avoid infection? Most have complex issues they are dealing with in their schools, homes, and communities; HIV is often an after-thought.
What if young Patrick did listen to his future self? How would his life be different? The Patrick many of you have gotten to know would be nearly unrecognizable. As a young person lacking education on HIV, I would have never taken this virus seriously. If I was HIV negative, you would never see me advocating for anything related to HIV, or speaking public about it, nonetheless. I would be working in the for-profit sector, potentially owning my own business. My energy would be spent on building material wealth, instead of appreciated the fragility of life and what a gift it is.
While my diagnosis has drastically changed my life and has brought on tremendous challenges, I have to acknowledge the fact that it has been a source of empowerment and strength, as well. Every day I wake up energized to continue to touch the lives of people affected by HIV. While HIV is a curse, the blessing is that it turned an apathetic, self-centered young man into a person striving to be a better advocate for all individuals facing not just HIV, but all forms of adversity. As we commemorate World AIDS Day 2013, I believe that if we examine our pasts thoughtfully to empower us today, we can make the vision of an AIDS-free world a reality.
Information on HIV testing nearest you can be found here.
Patrick Ingram is young gay black man who currently resides in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Being diagnosed with HIV in 2011 after noticing an absence of young people advocating about social issues he decided to dedicate his life to being involved in the LGBTQ community on issues surrounding social justice and health education. Patrick is on The Youth Advisory Committee for NMAC’s Youth Initiative to End HIV/AIDS in America.