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George's LGBTea: My Pill. My Poison. My Power.

I wake up every morning with the same routine. I wake up around seven and get a good cup of coffee going. If it’s a gym day, I head there. But most times it isn’t so I get set up for a day of writing. Turkey bacon and eggs become my food of choice unless I'm just in the mood for a bowl of cereal. After breakfast, I assess what my day is going to look like. The pitching of articles to places, the scheduling of meetings, and logging into Twitter to see what foolishness has erupted for the day. Oh, and then there is the pill: that once-a-day reminder of my state-sanctioned, oppressive health disparity. And also my saving grace from a life that was in a downward spiral.

“God grant me the serenity”

There was time when I refused to go on medication and decided that whatever the universe had in store for me was part of its divine plan. I was going to just hope for the best and let the virus do what the virus does. I was uneducated and living in Richmond, VA, which at the time had one clinic and one hospital that everyone was referred to for HIV treatment. I remember going and having my first blood draw and not being able to get through it without crying. There was a Black nurse who told me anytime I was dealing with something that I couldn’t change that I needed to deal with it. That day, she taught me the serenity prayer, which I carried with me throughout life even if it took me time to fully accept it in practice.

“to accept the things I cannot change;”

It wouldn’t be until 2013 that I was ready to take that full dive into taking medication and having that constant daily reminder that I’ll never be the same again. My pill became my enemy. There would be days where I would start out saying I would take it every morning at eight, and then by 11pm say that I would try again the next day. I kept working at it, though. I kept taking the pill and making it a part of my daily routine. It is a “tough pill to swallow” when you know that the pill that is saving your life may also be harming you in the long run. However, you reconcile that with the thoughts of life you would be missing without it. Going back and forth with whether the quality of life matters against the quantity of life.

“courage to change the things I can;”                

The poison was the thoughts that went through my mind that were connected to the taking of the pill. No matter how well I felt or how good my labs came back, I felt like I was poisoned. I felt like I had poison in me and was fighting one poison with another type of poison. The poison made me sick, and it caused me to have stomach issues that I dealt with for years. The poison made me struggle with disclosure and owning that I had survived what was trying to kill me. The poison was the thought that I was dying a slow death, at one pill a day. It took me until early 2017 before I took hold of the serenity prayer and actually understood what it meant to take control of the situation – that which I had within my power.

“and wisdom to know the difference.”

My power came through reflection and understanding of several things: what it was that I was going through, being accountable for myself and my community, and fighting to ensure that others would not have my plight. Taking control over my own health outcomes was empowering, and I came to accept the fact that even if I had to take a pill a day, I didn’t have to contribute to its toxicity and I could in fact reduce it to ensure that I lived to the maximum of my life expectancy.

Power came in taking back control of my situation and regaining agency over my body that, for some time, I felt HIV had stolen from me. I began to ask questions about my health and to make demands for meds that would be less harmful to me. I realized that the poison of society, and discrimination, and criminalization, were all stacked against me. But they were only able to defeat me if I relinquished the power I had in being informed, educated, and resistant. Resistant to being told my life had to look a certain way because I had become the one in two Black Gay Men who would become infected with HIV in their lifetime.

But most importantly, I became resistant to my own self-indulgence in providing pity to myself when I should have been supporting the revolutionary steps I had taken to survive another day that the world tried to take me out.

Some days I still think about the poison. But that is outweighed by my concerns for the children who should never have to know a world that exists with new HIV infections.