I started Paxil not long after giving birth to my daughter. It was supposed to help me deal with the depression after finding out about my husband’s affair and with my HIV diagnosis. It was my first experience with mental health medication, I was 21 years old. It helped some with the sadness but did nothing to help with the anger and I was doing nothing about it myself. I did not seek out a support group I went to work at my 3rd shift job at Pretzel’s factory in Bluffton, Indiana like I did every night including the night I found out I was HIV-Positive. Work was my solace, my only true friend that I could count on during that time in my life.
My friends, Becky H. and Cheryl G. have remained my friends from grade school til now. Some things never change they just age gracefully and withstand the test of time. Thank you, ladies, for being real ladies. There are many others who were kind but that is not what this blog is for.
When I started medication it was not because of suicidal thoughts. I was not suicidal, I had a brand new baby there was nothing in my mind strong enough to hurt me at least not until my daughter was old enough to at least look after herself. I had that damn pamphlet Dr. Wanner had given me telling me the life span for HIV+ persons was only 12 years. Sami was 18 months old. I used to pray to God to let me please see her turn 13. I thought her first step into adulthood, please just let me watch that last step and I will be satisfied I did my job. I was wrong there is never enough to fill satisfied when your child is concerned. I started the medication because I was so sad with the realization that my husband didn’t love me as much as I loved him. He didn’t trust me as much as I had trusted him. I was just sad, I was hurt, and then I was angry.
Over the last 21 years, I have been on a few different kinds of mental health medication because I was aware I have problems with anger, sadness, and hopelessness. Before moving to Las Vegas I was taking Klonopin for a variety of reasons but mostly because my brain was flying at warp speed while the rest of me was still mostly here on earth. When I wasn’t daydreaming about what life after Indiana was going to be like.
I have been off all mental health medication since coming to Las Vegas because the first ID Dr. I saw Dr. Wiramu from UMC stopped all my medication after her and I had a disagreement about HIV and if ALL American women are promiscuous compared to women in Kenya. We had to have LAMBDA legal work it out and they decided I was right. That it does not matter how someone acquires HIV your fucking ID DR is not allowed to say that stupid shit or she gets into trouble. However, I ended up with all my medication including my HIV and mental health medication stopped because she’s the one still in control of my health. It took me almost 5 years of missed appointments to connect with a psychiatrist here in Las Vegas her name is Dr. Lazouski with Community Counseling Center of Las Vegas. She is amazing, I have only seen her twice but she is by far the smartest lady I have ever met, in my life. Thank you, Jim Foley, for recommending her!
These last 4 years have been awful for me and even worse for those around me. Many of you who only know me online saw the struggle I was going through with my anger. Those of you who live near me and saw me in groups would see it come out in the tears I was beginning to spill since finding support groups filled with people who understood and loved me even though I was angry. Sisters who took me into their lives into their arms and just let me cry all the hate out. Groups that led me to my mentor and friend, Jim Foley, who worked tirelessly keeping me in check. Encouraging my crazy ideas for keeping track of my MedTime, YouTube videos that I was watching last night and laughing! I was living in my car and I was angry and I was sad but I was trying so hard to make myself laugh and give you guys a reason to laugh at the crazy that life can sometimes be.
Six months ago I decided to change my resume to include my articles for A&U Magazine: America’s Aids Magazine that also include my bio with my HIV diagnosis and since then I have submitted over 100 applications with no replies at all. I am not submitting to jobs I am not qualified to work for and I am a trained professional employee, any employer would be lucky to get me. Yet, here I sit with no prospects at all. Did I set my standards too high? Do I deserve to be so bold and live so authentically? Even in support group this time when I brought it up everyone told me ideas about how I should remove the bio and just submit the article alone, no, I won’t. I am not going to lie about who I am or what I live with for anyone ever again. I want to be able to talk about HIV at work because that is where I meet the most negative people! There are very few advocates who live this boldly to talk about HIV where they work and that is who I want to be. I am not HIV but HIV lives with me and it COULD live with you too IF you do not prevent this from happening to you too! I am NOT RARE, I AM NOT A STATISTIC.
I am you with a positive HIV test.
Fast Forward to about 2 months ago now. Jim Foley had a group scheduled one afternoon at The Gay and Lesbian Center in Las Vegas on Maryland Parkway and after the group he showed me around and introduced me to Nicol the volunteer coordinator who told me to fill out an application online and she would begin sending me emails. So I did it because Jim said it would give me something to do to take my mind off not having a job. My first volunteer experience I was stuffing condoms for the clinic at The Center and the 2nd experience was the LGBTQ+ Prom for the High School kids who come to Qvolution group every week at The Center. It was so beautiful I ended up crying in the bathroom but only for a second I was on dish duty that night and omg there was like hundreds of kids, lol, oh and the Executive Director, Andre Wade, introduced himself that night as “Andre the volunteer” he totally undercover boss’d me, what a ham. Since then I began volunteering on Friday’s with Bob Radtke and found my new best friend. He knows absolutely everyone in Vegas I think. He is the only person I know who went out personally and got an HIV test on National HIV Testing Day this year, he is so cool. Outspoken, honest and caring. I have worked with many of the people who volunteer at The Center. The front desk staff is all volunteers and they are amazing! Somehow I am going to work out my life so that I can stay working here forever. That is the newest life goal for me. Mentally I have never felt so accepted at where I am on my journey than I have since beginning to come to The Center the very first day to volunteer.
Recently, Nicol asked me if I wanted more days to which I replied, of course, yes, please. She offered me volunteer executive assistant to the Executive Director, Andre Wade. What! What an honor, the life skills and experience I am getting are worth more than any job I applied at. I would never have applied to be someone’s executive assistant before I am qualified but I do not have a degree I didn’t go to college once I found out I had HIV it was about spending as much of that 12 years with my child as I could. Now that I am 21 years later and see that HIV is a manageable chronic illness I see my mistake.
Why am I telling you about “volunteer work” like it is so great? Because I was having suicidal thoughts these last few months. Mostly passive with no planning just wishful thinking about how much easier life would be if I didn’t have to do it anymore. I was going nowhere. The only bright spots were my daughter and grandson, my dog Sugar Bear and my blogging and writing. I felt useless for the first time in my life. I was always working at least two jobs in the past. I never had issues getting work. Until I raised my standards and demanded to live boldly to live authentically. I was about to give up and Jim Foley saw that and reacted. Someone else who reached out during this time was Garrett Pattiani from AFAN (Aid For AIDS of Nevada.) He asked me to help him a bit with the Black and White party this year. I am coordinating his volunteers for the evening. How exciting and how kind of him to reach out and offer since AFAN doesn’t usually have volunteer or paid peer advocates working for them any longer. I was very flattered and honored to be asked. Garrett also set up an interview with the magazine, Vegas Seven, about what the groups that I attend at AFAN have helped me and what AFAN means to the HIV community at large. I will say I wish AFAN would offer paid Peer Advocate positions like Community Counseling does because we do a lot for the HIV community too and we do it with little to no funds at all whereas an ASO gets all sorts of funding because of our signed names on the dotted lines. That is the only horrible thing you will hear me say but that is because as I did my interview for AFAN my bank account sits at negative almost $300 just so I can survive the month. I don’t tell you that to make you feel anything but the truth. I thank them and The Center for helping to save my life but unless these places get donations from those who can then those of us who depend on them just for support will die from our mental health issues. I really feel like another 6 months of sitting at home would have pushed me over the edge.
Mental health is important and once one is affected we are all affected. Please remember that the next time you are dealing with someone who has mental health issues. It is easy to share a care on Facebook but to give a care in real life that means something. So always remember to:
Say what you mean
Mean what you say
But don’t say it in a mean way