Yes, you read that correctly. Happy World AIDS Day, much like you might wish someone “Happy Birthday,” “Happy Anniversary,” etc., I wish you a Happy World AIDS Day.
To some this may sound crazy, but please allow me to explain.
Being HIV+ for the last 25 years has led me to a certain perspective on life. I do not view the world and life in general as most 48-year-old women do. My experiences are different because of HIV – not necessarily better or worse, just different. As I watch my non-HIV+ contemporaries navigate the world, there are vast differences. I see my friend’s posts on Facebook referring to children, grandchildren and retirement and I am always curious. I wonder what that would be like but they are NOT my experiences. In my world, a lot of energy goes to medications, co-pays, education and support; my focus for years was just staying alive and mourning those unable to succeed at this. Now that I have more confidence in living to enjoy wrinkles and gray hair (yikes), I focus a great deal of energy on HIV/AIDS education, helping folks LIVE with a positive diagnosis and doing everything in my power to erase the stigma attached to this disease.
Believe it or not, this focus has provided a full and rich life. Educating, speaking and mentoring others with HIV/AIDS is so rewarding that I can’t imagine my life any other way. I often wonder what it would be like to post about children and grandchildren but I truly can’t even imagine it. Instead, I reflect on what I DO have in my life and all of the joy, all of the wonderful folks and of course the experiences brought to my life because of HIV/AIDS and I have to scream from the rooftops: Happy World AIDS Day! I am grateful for this virus and the opportunity it gives me to help others. On World AIDS Day, I take time to regroup and recommit to prevention and helping others live with this virus. I recommit to fighting the stigma and reminding the public that no one is untouched by HIV/AIDS.
My favorite holiday is not Christmas, my birthday or even Valentine’s Day. My favorite holiday is World AIDS Day, which I celebrate as a reminder that I have made it another year, a remembrance of those who have passed, and in hope that we are one step closer to a cure. Happy World AIDS Day to you!
Valerie Wojciechowicz is a certified fitness instructor and an expert speaker about living with HIV, particularly the importance of exercise in managing the disease. She has contributed to POZ Magazine and featured in HIV Positive! Magazine. A 2009 winner of the Junior League’s Women in Strength Award, she can be found at 4HIVhelp.com.
To recognize World AIDS Day, Planned Parenthood of Southwest & Central Florida is offering reduced-cost rapid HIV tests – $20 with results in 20 minutes – at its health centers today and tomorrow (days and hours vary). For more information, or to find the health center nearest you, go to MyPlannedParenthood.org or call 1-800-230-PLAN.