Living with HIV and Defaulting to Healthy Is Achievable
In my seven years of HIV activism on digital and social media, I have seen how much people want to be healthy and live long lives. But it can often be difficult to default to healthy living.
We have roadblocks all over the place hindering our journey to the ultimate health nirvana. From the food and drink choice decisions we make every day, to the relationships we make with our medical providers, to thinking about the health issues that come with age, it can be overwhelming to find that balance of living in the moment and making healthy, impactful decisions.
Since I was diagnosed with HIV, making my health a priority means that I have to recognize the warning signs of when things go wrong and also really consider how to make things go right more often. It starts with remembering that I am not invincible and that I need to start thinking about all the preventable health screenings that are needed as I continue to age. These include checking on my weight, my cholesterol levels, my prostate, and being mindful of my mental health.
Why take these health screenings?
Heart disease is the most common cause of death in males. Heart disease and stroke are most commonly caused by high cholesterol. And the only way to know whether I’m treading on the riskier side of things is to get screened and see where my levels fall.
I need to reassess where I am with my life and the goals that I want to accomplish, and then consider if my behavior is aiding or hindering my success. Specifically, am I drinking too much, eating out too often, drinking enough water, exercising enough? Have I set myself up for the types of relationships and friendships I want?
And it’s not just my own health I need to consider. I, like so many, have family members who are also living with chronic illness that requires attention, empathy, compassion, and patience. I have had to learn how to care for those close to me, while being realistic of my own limitations. That cliché of “you have you put your own oxygen mask on first” is true, and it also serves as inspiration. By keeping on top of my health and well-being, I’m more available to help loved ones who need it.
All of this means that I need to be extremely comfortable with my medical providers. My relationship with my doctors is key to my ability to default to healthy. I have to talk openly and honestly about my sexual health. I have to share the most intimate parts of my sex-life with them in order for these healthcare providers to know how to respond to any potential issues.
Sadly, this openness and honesty requires bravery on the part of patients like myself. Yes, bravery, because sometimes, providers aren’t as queer friendly we need them to be.
For LGBTQ people living with HIV, it’s critical that we find providers who are queer-affirming, non-judgmental, and who are up-to-speed on treatment and preventative options like PrEP. These providers can be hard to find, especially if you’re not in a big city, and I think most LGBTQ people have a story about an uncomfortable or traumatic medical encounter, either due to a provider’s ignorance or, worse, outright prejudice. Encounters like these are harmful, as they may discourage the regular visits, check-ups, and screenings that are needed to maintain one’s health.
In a perfect world, there would be a button or filter option on major patient matching sites, so we could easily see which doctors are LGBTQ-friendly. That’s the call of the ongoing campaign, #WeNeedAButton, launched by DatingPositives.com, a dating site for people with STIs. At DatingPositives.com, we also are concerned with the issues facing those managing STIs. Going to the doctor makes us vulnerable to being stigmatized twice. The campaign is designed to keep all of these elements in mind, with a simple solution: a button to identify queer-friendly doctors.
But, for now, the burden is on us to find these doctors. Queer-friendly doctors do exist, and once you find a provider who is right for you, the rest becomes so much easier. It’s worth searching for, and hopefully soon we will have that button.
Josh Robbins is a spokesperson for DatingPositives.com, an award-winning sexual health advocate, and author of the site imstilljosh.com. He was nominated for a GLAAD media award in 2017 and recently won the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association’s Excellence Award in the blogging category.