The Unexpected Gifts from HIV
in The Year of COVID
LOFT Blog Editor, Jeffrey Guard Shares His Journey with HIV in 2020
12/1/2020: World AIDS Day
Jeffrey Guard (@jeffrey.guard)
The craziest thing about life is how suddenly and dramatically it can all change without warning.
That’s where I found myself in 2020. This wild and deadly year gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life. What had once been my deepest shame had now become my greatest superpower.
By late Spring, COVID had slammed into my area like a tsunami, killing thousands. Businesses shuttered, the economy went into shock, most of my freelance work and business evaporated.
On top of that, horrific images of racial injustice and police brutality ignited demands for social justice that would lead to convulsive waves of mass demonstrations and protests. The world had become a giant snow globe being mercilessly shaken and everyone was feeling it.
That’s when on a walk, I received a DM from a social media follower asking me, “One of the reasons I follow you is because of how positive you are.... I’m losing my mind....Can I ask you, how are you doing it? I’ve seen a ton of fake posts...but you’re different...I think you have something figured out...How are you staying so centered with all this happening?”
The message struck me with a eureka moment; this wasn’t my first time. It was one of those moments where the answer is so obvious it just appears: COVID wasn’t my first pandemic, HIV was (and is). I was taken back all those years ago to when I was given the news that I had seroconverted and had become HIV Positive.
I remember that moment so clearly, my entire world changed. I felt myself plunging into a chasm so deep with despair that there was no trace of light. I was in total darkness. Crying, I remember my doctor telling me that someday I’d be able to see a silver lining from all of this. I remember looking at him like he had rocks for brains.
At the time, that comment felt so bizarre to say to someone in my state. He went on to tell me that I was also lucky: medication was more powerful and safer than ever, and that if I took care of myself, I could expect to live a long and healthy life.
It turned out to be true: well, so far, so good (fingers crossed).
The worst thing about having HIV in 2020 is the psychic burden (the suffocating shame, the stigma, the discrimination, the depression)—all things not caused directly by the virus. I spent more than two years proverbially clawing my way out of that horrible chasm. In the process, I found sobriety, and bit by bit my world, that the virus had turned upside down, was starting to settle, re-forming itself.
The beautiful thing to emerge was my life had become better than the world I once had, before becoming positive. Now, my viral load was completely suppressed with no long-term damage to my immune system, I had become undetectable. My career had taken a new and exciting turn, my husband and I moved to the country. All of this had deepened our love and respect for one another. I was truly at peace, and grateful, and sober, and healthy. Was this what the doctor meant by the silver lining?
That's what I had thought until I read that DM.
I played all those years back when it slowly dawned on me: HIV had activated within me a super-soul-strength that had guided me all these years, that fought its way out of the darkness to emerge. This was about me, my extraordinary strength, my light—brighter than it had ever been, that emerged from this ordeal. I was finally able to see and honor that.
HIV had given me the gift of a strength and foresight I had never known. It was this psychic fortitude that somehow made me immune from COVID’s psychic burden that is currently wreaking havoc with the world right now.
When COVID hit, I knew how fast people’s worlds were going to change. I knew that the virus wouldn’t stop with just infecting people, it would trigger a cascade of events that would rewire a person’s entire life. I also knew what I needed to do to prepare and protect myself and my family. I knew how to keep my head on tight and right, and what to do when things began to fall apart (and they did!).
That’s when I shared with this follower the story you are reading right now. The silver lining was realizing in each of us is a personal strength so extraordinary, that once it’s activated (usually by something like HIV or COVID) it changes you forever. There’s no going back, once it’s out, it’s yours to use.
What I know for certain is that someone somewhere out there needs to read this. There’s someone out there who’s been infected with HIV or COVID (or both!) Like so many of us, they’re going to know that feeling of falling into a bottomless chasm. They’re going to find themselves in complete darkness and terrified. I know I am not the only one.
For me, therapy, support groups, good friendships, and places like The LOFT were lifelines that played a supportive role that helped ignite within me, my inner warrior. If you are in the beginning, reach out to others who can help you. You’ll be glad you did.
And I know that sharing my story provides light to those trapped in the dark. I’m here to let you know that you are not alone. You might feel trapped by stigma, shame or the disease might have you physically down, but you are not alone. And what I know for sure is that if you regain your physical health, you can find your way out again, and you can come to know the extraordinary power that lies within you.
Best of all, there will be nothing on this earth that can take away knowing that feeling of extraordinary, personal power. You will always know that you’ve always been the light and you can shine it upon others who are struggling too.
World AIDS Day is different this year because of COVID. People who lived otherwise uneventful lives now are forced to know the vicissitudes that come with living in a pandemic. In a way, I feel that it’s a gift to all of us: It can be something that creates global levels of empathy, compassion, and connection to one another.
That’s something that I would consider to be a big, silver lining.
Jeffrey is the Outreach Specialist and Blog Editor for The LOFT. Please direct questions to [email protected]