Just move along; nothing to see here.
Today is World AIDS Day, designated on December 1st every year since 1988, as an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease. Several heroes in my life have died of this disease: Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Harvey Milk and Freddy Mercury, among others. Fortunately, today, because of advances in medicine, AIDS is not something that people die of as was the case 32 years ago.
Ignorance about HIV and AIDS today, however, is perhaps as it was then.
For that reason, I feel particularly motivated to share my own story with HIV.
It was on August 5, 2019, that my regular HIV test came out positive. After protecting and taking care of myself for all these years, the news certainly came as a shock. Even more of a shock was the reaction of a “good, close friend” who took the news personally when I told her, her own fear and ignorance outweighing my own reality about my health, which caused me to second guess my impulse to announce my news to the world.
Because, you see, on that day, when I received this “dreadful” news that no one wants to hear, my life was so completely filled with life, and light, and healing energy, that I never had one moment to fall into despair.
At dusk that day, the doorbell rang at Welcome Home guesthouse in Antigua Guatemala, and when I answered the door, I was greeted to a group of 6 Maximon, clothed images of the Mayan diety Maximom, each seated in his own little chair. They were accompanied by my friend Carlos Barrios, a Mayan Ajq’ij, or spiritual guide, and two of his friends, Juan and Miguel Cortez of Chichicastenango, also Ajq’ij and painters. They arrived to do a fire ceremony, coincidentally, to ask for healing for Juan who was then ill. In the Mayan tradition, when we ask for healing for one, we ask for it for others, for all. And so, quite perfectly, my sudden diagnosis was met with this magical ceremony performed by three Mayan spiritual guides—woweeee!!!
I immediately knew from this experience that the HIV had entered my life for reasons perhaps not yet clear to me. I felt that somehow, it had arrived not as an enemy, but as a teacher. Indeed, 15 months later, the virus is now Undetectable in my body, and I have learned a great deal about healing, how to heal myself, and the incredible healing power that I—that we all--possess.
Another happy surprise occurred at the National Hospital in Antigua where I was treated with an astounding level of care that surprised me, in a country that largely fails its own citizens when they seek medical help. Not only did I receive the medication I needed, I received comprehensive care that included nutrition advice and counseling. I received a referral for a psychologist at the hospital who is an absolute angel and has helped me so much.
Ultimately, COVID-19 changed all of that, as the whole health care system in Guatemala, as in many places, has had to dedicate limited resources to the global health crisis. Unable to complete my regular blood tests to monitor my health, combined with the stress of losing Carlos, and then being evicted from my home and losing my guesthouse business, made me choose to come to my family home in Idaho where I have been since late August this year.
When I arrived, I was admittedly a mess physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The amount of HIV in my blood was actually on the rise and I had a variety of troublesome ailments and symptoms. But, within one month, with new medication and a my complete attention on regaining my health, I was elated when the doctor called to let me know I am now Undetectable for the virus, meaning the virus can’t harm me, and I can’t pass it on to someone else.
This has been such great news, and a huge affirmation of my own willingness to accept my body’s ability to heal, and to create and promote wellbeing and balance in my physical, mental, emotional, and energetic bodies. And largely, I have really enjoyed learning about healing—with food, herbs, natural remedies, meditation, mental training, yoga, exercise, spending time in nature, journaling, and, gradually, sharing my experiences with the people closest to me. That is perhaps the underlying reason I share such vulnerable, personal information: it helps me find healing.
It's been an opportunity to receive the love and care of my family and friends, and to feel truly healed by that energy. Coming home to Idaho has been the happiest unexpected blessing of this year, feeling the love of my father, my mother, my family, and of the nature surrounding me.
HIV is not a death sentence. In some respects, you might even say it’s been a freeing or purifying experience for me, an opportunity to reset my body, spirit, heart and mind. And it’s been an encounter with angels. One of those angels is a woman named Jen.
Not long after I was diagnosed, I became reacquainted with Jennifer who I’d met when I first went to Guatemala, about 15 years ago. Jen came to spend her 70th birthday with me at Welcome Home and so we began a most interesting friendship. On a later visit, Jen offered me a foot massage that literally changed my life. It caused me to imagine butterflies on the soles of my feet, and reminded me of my stepmother who sought healing for her cancer. Jen offered to teach me the techniques she used on me, and in January of 2020, I had learned the basics and practiced enough to begin offering my services doing foot massage at Welcome Home. Somehow, Jen opened a door to my own healing potential, a pathway that I continue to explore.
My friend Carlos taught me many healing techniques in the year and a half that we knew each other, including sharing his wisdom of the Mayan fire ceremony and the 20 Chumil, or day-signs to which the offering is made. He came into my life before my diagnosis and never offered me any less than his 100% support, accompanying me to doctor visits and to the hospital when I needed someone, as well as teaching me how to activate my body’s own healing with techniques he learned from his teachers in Guatemala and in his worldwide travels. Perhaps most importantly, he assured me that I’d be healed of the virus, something I always felt, from the beginning. (He also encouraged me to write about my experiences, always gently nudging me. Thanks, Carlos!!)
This year the coronavirus epidemic swept into our lives and whisked away all semblance of normality. Like HIV, this virus has gained my respect as a teacher, activating my own healing and creative powers, as I am certain it is doing for many. It’s been an intensely creative year, and yet, for me at least, perhaps my least prolific production year to date. Of course, most of us have been affected by the sudden stop of all work. But more than that, the “art” project to which I’ve given most of my attention has been my self. Taking really good care of myself, a phrase often heard but seldom taken to heart, has become my main goal. Now, as the year is coming to a close and I find myself well and so caught up in the mystery and magic of fall and winter, that I am pleasantly unaffected by the cold climate I once dreaded.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It is also the cause for unleashing so much creative, healing power, something I'd say we desperately need on the planet right now. HIV has caused me to care and value myself and my creativity in new ways. This makes the uncertainty of the future a little less intimidating. Having HIV has given me many new perspectives on healing and health, and well as tools for creating a new future for myself.
I have made some fantastic new art this year, but I’m saving for a little later, to share with you soon enough. Today is World AIDS Day, when the art world covers its walls in honor of so many artists lives lost to this disease, so I’m leaving the art I made to show you for another day.