It’s a hard time to talk about gratitude. It’s overused this time of year. Well, maybe not ‘overused.’ That seems a ridiculous thing to say, how can gratitude ever be overused? I was going to talk about how grateful I am to be a mother and grandmother, or to not receive a second diagnosis like cancer. I had repeat mammograms in the past few weeks with enough time between appointments to be gravely concerned there was something wrong with my great tits! Gratefully, it was benign, and I just have great dense tits!
But, as I started to write this article, I immediately remembered all the poz women and men who have come before me—the advocates for dignity and medication in the early days, and those that carried the burden of burying so many. Talking about gratitude is almost overwhelming. I have deep love for those who were (are) outcast, demonized, and ostracized, and am reminded tearfully of those who had no idea what to do or where to go and were dying. I have gratitude that they fought with their lives, to live and die with dignity, so that those who came after them could live. Refusing not to be heard. It is for their voices and their efforts that I am living the life I do with HIV today. I am grateful for those who know so much more than I, and that would be far too many names to name.
Talking to someone with HIV is like talking to your other blood family, pun intended.
Some of the HIV-positive women that changed my life did so by answering a phone call and talking to me about living with HIV, about the stigma we faced and helping me adjust to life. They grounded the disease in lived experience. This was important for me because, more than anything, I needed to know persons who were living with HIV. Peer support was, in the beginning, and continues to be, a part of my support system I am most grateful for. There is a common shared denominator that crosses so many identities, like race, or gender, sexual orientation, or culture, or socio-economic status. HIV is non-discriminatory that way. Talking to someone with HIV is like talking to your other blood family, pun intended.
On top of all that, I won the lottery ticket in healthcare, being born in Canada and living in Vancouver, British Columbia, where I have access to world-class HIV research, free medication, as well as a plethora of free holistic complementary health and education programs, and where the stigma, though still present, is far less than many, actually most, provinces in Canada. My health care providers are amazing women and men—inspiring, dedicated, and driven to see the stigma catch up to the science. The women I have met in the HIV community are the strongest and most resilient humans I know.
When I back out of my microcosm environment and look at the bigger picture, the gratitude I feel is truly overwhelming.
That said, I remember first, however, I am a privileged white Canadian woman. Not financially, that’s for sure. But in all other ways, I have won the cosmic lottery when it comes to managing my HIV; living in relative safety and security, having food on my table, a roof over my head, social assistance, free medical care, a magnificent city and country to explore, a positive community of women and men who walk part of this walk every day with me and talk to me when I reach out and participate, and in turn give back. And sometimes, I forget that. Not for very long, but I do. When I back out of my microcosm environment and look at the bigger picture, the gratitude I feel is truly overwhelming.
I had the honour of going to volunteer for 6 weeks in Kenya last year, and that experience left a forever mark on my soul. One cannot go to anywhere in the world and not be changed in my humble opinion. So, now when I look even further at the much, much bigger picture, and that Canadians are only 70,000 people of the 36.9 million people with HIV (that have tested!) pie, I feel infinitesimally small, and the only emotion that comes with that sense of smallness is gratitude.
I am going to be “ancient” soon according to my 4-year-old granddaughter, and day by day, I am more grateful than I have ever been in my life. And not because of the holidays and this ‘be grateful’ time of year. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the smallest of joys, and being grateful and saying ‘thank you’ makes me feel a part of this crazy messed up world.
I am so proud of being a woman, and how far we have come as women living with HIV in the past four decades. Thank you all for allowing me to share my stories and films this year. This website is such a welcome addition to the global community of women living with HIV. I believe in the power of life and I believe in the power of love… stay tuned, the best is yet to come.
May the very best of the holiday season find you, with gratitude, peace, harmony and joy.
By Wynne ST
This blog was originally posted on Life and Love with HIV on December 17th 2018