Two Choices: To Cope or Not to Cope
It’s a new year and the world seems to have gone crazy. I fear for our country: for minorities, the LGBT community and the 99% who are all justifiably worried that our social fabric is unraveling.
In the midst of this, I still struggle with my diagnosis, though it’s been several months since I found out that I had HIV. It’s difficult not to go back in my mind to the shock, disbelief, anger and fear that I experienced when I first found out. How could my partner have done this to me? What did I do to deserve this? How am I going to deal with my reactions to these harsh drugs that make me so sick? How – how – am I going to cope?
A long time ago, when I was going through a crippling divorce, a very wise therapist told me, “You have two choices: to cope or not to cope.”
I chose to cope back then, and I’m choosing to cope now. You see, I’ve been blessed. I found BABES. Even though I live pretty far from their meeting place, I attend meetings whenever I can. I listen to their incredible stories of how they’ve been living with HIV for 20, 25, 30 years or more. I feel their pain, and they feel mine.
When I’m unable to show up in person, these wonderful women reach out to me to check on me and ask how I’m doing. They seem to intuit when I reach a low point, and give generously of their time and caring.
Without them, I would have floundered completely. I have a long way to go; I’ve barely started my journey. But my hope is to find acceptance within myself and move on, to focus on my healing, my supportive family, and my own creativity. With the encouragement of my group, I feel hopeful that I can keep going.
Thank you, BABES.
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Moving Forward with HIV in America: Drawing Strength from Our Past and Empowering Today’s Leaders
I was invited by a PWN-USA sister and PACHA member to attend an Office of National AIDS Policy event to commemorate World AIDS Day, which is held annually on December 1. This event would be the final public event under the Obama Administration. It was youth-focused event seeking to channel the energy and wisdom that brought AIDS out of the shadows and to achieve the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy through 2020. The event featured multiple generations of HIV/AIDS advocates, spanning leaders from the beginning of the epidemic through the present day.
The programming started with a welcome from Amy Lansky, the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). She then passed it along to the person who put this event together, George Fistonich, the Policy Advisory for ONAP. He reminded some and educated others on looking back at the past eight years of change. He went through this very informative infographic blog by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, called What We’ve Done to Address HIV/AIDS in America during the Obama Administration. I would definitely advise everyone to read this post and share it widely! Amy came back to briefly talk about the National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2016 Progress Report and the five things we should know, which are:
(1) Made national progress on nine key indicators.
(2) Established three new developmental indicators.
(3) Completed 76% and initiated 22% of 91 Federal actions planned for 2016.
(4) Implemented the Strategy in communities across the nation.
(5) Addressed challenges to meet our 2020 goals.
Learn more about the National HIV/AIDS Strategy at aids.gov/2020.
After the presentations, we had an emotional and interactive dialogue with four panelists and two moderators, White House staff members Raffi Freedman-Gurspan and George Fistonich. Panelists included Jeffrey S. Crowley (Program Director of the National HIV/AIDS Initiative at the O’Neill Institute), Dazon Dixon Diallo (Founder and President of SisterLove), Daniel Driffin (HIV/AIDS activist), and Kimi Farrington (2014 NMAC Youth Scholar).
The panel was structured around responding to clips from How to Survive a Plague, a film which follows the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts. The folks on the panel that were present during the ACT UP days reminded us what it was like then and the dramatic actions they took to be heard. During that time friends, lovers, and children were dying every day and no one was doing anything about it.
We also talked about how far we’ve come and one of the HIV advocates who has been doing this work for 20 plus years said she still felt hopeful that we can continue building and making strides towards change, even with the Trump presidency ahead of us. This person was not discouraged because she was very excited and proud of our up and coming young leaders who are doing and will continue to do phenomenal work in the many movements that change lives.
It was my first time watching clips from How to Survive a Plague and one day I will watch it in its entirety. It was emotional to watch those courageous people march around the National Mall holding the ashes of their loved ones and dumping them on the lawn of the White House as protest against the silence of the Reagan and Bush administrations.
One of the audience members spoke about the experience of living in the South where, as we know, a lot of southern states did not adopt the expansion of Medicaid, a huge resource for people living with HIV to receive the appropriate medical attention and make sure they’re insured so that their medications and doctors’ appointments are covered. This young gay black man said it’s a totally different story for him and his community who live in places in the South that are struggling with the lack of resources and opportunities. They’re not safe or supported to be able to speak up for themselves or others, which makes progress really slow.
He then challenged folks in the room to come where they’re at to witness what’s going on. He was right. I know the statistics and barriers in other states but I haven’t dealt with the same barriers living in Washington my whole life. Washington is one of the highest virally suppressed states in the nation and we’re one of few states that declared to reduce new HIV diagnoses by 50% by 2020 with our END AIDS in WA proclamation by Governor Inslee.
My big take away from the trip is that I want to work on doing more for other people in states that don’t benefit from the same resources and opportunities as I do. I see myself moving to the South, most likely to New Orleans, to start working towards this personal and professional goal of mine. I could risk losing a lot that makes my care very comfortable and my health being on top, but it’s the end game that’s more important. I want to help others because it was the help that I received that saved my life.
Check out this blog post in honor of World AIDS Day by Positive Women’s Network USA.
Written by: Tranisha Arzah, BABES Peer Advocate
“As a young girl, I ran away from home because I was abused. I found myself sleeping in cars, behind buildings, wherever I could find. I ran away from something awful and ran right smack into something else: addiction. I was sick. I had all of these symptoms. I was 86 pounds. I was disoriented. But, I didn’t care about myself.
Thank God, one day, someone asked me if I was okay. I didn’t know where or who I was or anything. I was taken to the hospital, and that’s when I found out I had HIV. I didn’t know how long I had it. When they told me, I just about died.”
I first met Dorothy in 2004. One of our BABES brought her to our support group. Then she disappeared for a while, but she eventually came back – and it was whole new Dorothy. She used to make fun of me about my “big butt” (hey, it’s not that big!), but now she was gaining weight. And we teased each other about that, laughing our way to a real and lasting friendship. Watching her return to health has been one of the highlights of my time with the BABES Network.
Your support of YWCA’s BABES Network means a lot to women like Dorothy. Thanks to you, she isn’t facing life with HIV alone.
“Sure, I still cry sometimes. I feel down. I don’t want to get out of bed or go outside. Most people don’t know what I feel or what I’m going through, but my BABES network does. These women are really in my heart. They accept me for who I am. They always have time for me. They go to doctors’ appointments with me. They come see me, and that makes me feel good about myself — that I can keep moving.”
BABES is the only program of its kind in our community, ensuring that women living with HIV and their families are connected to a strong network of friends, advocates, and healthcare providers. Each December, we ask you to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1st by wearing a red ribbon and investing in BABES like Dorothy.
You have answered our call in the past. We need you, more than ever, to answer this call again. Your gifts turn despair into resolve for the women who find their way to BABES, reminding each woman living with HIV that she can still fall in love, create lasting friendships, be a mentor to other women, have a career, and be a pillar of our shared community.
“Today, I love to babysit my two-year-old grandson. He can say his abc’s. He can count. I’ll read to him and he’ll grab that book, hold it upside down and “read” to me. I don’t know what he’s saying, but he does. He’s my pride and joy. I’m so grateful that I can be there for him. I may eventually tell him my story, but it will be just that to him: a story about his grandma that he’ll barely be able to believe because, years ago, a network of women believed in me.”
Thank you for believing in Dorothy. Thank you for believing in BABES!
P.S. Please use the enclosed envelope to make your gift today, or you can donate at www.ywcaworks.org/donate.
Be sure to designate BABES as the recipient, and thank you for your support!
Annual Harvest Dinner
Thursday November, 17th
YWCA Multipurpose Room
Laury McKean, RN will come and talk with us about Treatment Evolution and then we will have a Q and A session.
We will have a full thanksgiving style meal and invite you to bring a guest with you to learn more about HIV.
Please RSVP to 206-720-5566 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to Gilead Sciences for making this event possible.
This year’s Stella Steps Out was a big success – together with 146 dedicated members of the community, you raised nearly $53,000 in support of BABES Network-YWCA! Take a look at some photos from the fun-filled evening.
Thanks to the community members and BABES friends for your ongoing support. Huge shout out to Lakesha Johnson for allowing us to share what a day in the life of an HIV+ women is like. HIV does not define you! Check out Lakesha’s day here!