William: I was diagnosed with AIDS in 1997, when I was 47. I’m now 56. As I age, I’m finding out that I have to balance HIV with a lot of other issues. I have cerebral palsy, congestive heart failure and borderline diabetes, for which I’m taking various medications. I also take antidepressants–which have sometimes interacted poorly with my HIV meds. My age also makes it difficult to date. I’m bisexual and single; it’s hard to find somebody here in Michigan. Age discrimination is definitely an issue, especially among those of us with HIV. Everybody wants the 21-year-old, handsome hunk!
Rodger: I know how you feel. But despite all my health challenges, I am so thankful to be alive. I was diagnosed with HIV in 1984 and have had AIDS for 12 years. I’m 63, and I take five HIV medications, manage my diabetes with insulin and also take antidepressants. About nine years ago, I developed inflammatory colitis, for which I’ve had three surgeries. Still, we’ve come a long way from the days when young men here in San Francisco were walking down Castro Street with canes. Back then, I witnessed the death of probably 150 or so men.
William: You’re right—there are so many people, positive and negative, who have no idea what it was like to have AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic. For those of us who do, even less than perfect health can be appreciated. Each day, I do everything I can to ensure that I maintain my health for as long as I can. One major concern as I get older is how I am going to afford to take care of myself. I am currently on Medicare, but as the patient load burden on programs like Medicaid and Medicare increases, I wonder whether there will be money for me when I need it.
Rodger: I am in a different situation—I have supplemental security income (SSI), and the Medi-Cal program in California covers all my medical bills. So I have less fear about paying my medical bills as I age—but I recognize that surviving for a long time with HIV could make me vulnerable to a host of other medical problems as well.
William: I try to put it in perspective with my family. I’m focused right now on taking care of my parents, who are taking care of my 98-year-old grandmother. That’s why I’d like to have a partner, for support and to care for me when I can’t care for myself after my parents are gone. Though I’m not actively seeking a partner right now, it would be nice to have someone.
Rodger: I hear you. I have a partner that I’ve been with for 23 years. I’ve found support groups helpful for meeting people. My group, Thriving in San Francisco, works to get positive people—many of them older HIV positive men—off their couches and back into action.
William: When I talk to young people, I tell them that where they are right now, I’ve been, and where I am, they will be one day. We’ve all gone through this: you’re 19 years of age and you think you’re going to live forever. Then all of a sudden you wake up one morning and things are changing—you’re getting older.
Rodger: But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I feel as if my life is richer than it’s ever been. I have my partner, numerous friends and my family. I think people should tap into as much humor and joy as possible, whether that means working around the house, or working in your garden, or volunteering. For me, it’s doing things like staying active in the HIV community and practicing yoga. One of the advantages of aging is that I have become less concerned with what other people think of me.
William: You’re right; it can be more joyous. So many people didn’t prepare for aging when they were first diagnosed because nobody knew people could live this long with HIV; and, today, with all of the great things that are out there to help us stay alive, anything seems possible now.