POZ Stories : Owen C.

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August 9, 2013

Owen C.

Owen C
Palm Springs, California
Positive since 2011

I spent 25 years fighting AIDS, volunteering, being a caregiver, getting involved in walk-a-thons, feeding people, etc. I lost three partners to AIDS from 1986 to 2002. I buried all the gay friends I came out with, and those I grew up with back home. In my forties, I started feeling like I was immune to the virus. I had been exposed to it a few times and never got infected.

Then I went through a huge personal derailment in life. I lost my home, my investments and all my income in the California housing crash. I acted out sexually to quell the depression and despair I felt as I kept loosing things. I felt like a huge loser.

Finally, I lost my health status. I got lazy and complacent with having safe sex. I stopped using condoms. I only used them if someone asked me to put one on. Was it self-sabotage? Probably. Nonetheless, I was shocked to test positive after evading HIV for so long.

The first thing I learned about myself was that the whole time I was negative, I was prejudiced against HIV. I didn't realize it until I was waiting to confirm my results after testing positive for the rapid test.

I was at the AIDS clinic and was told to take a seat with the other HIV-positive people. I said, “No that's OK, I'll just wander the hallway,” because in my head I was thinking, ”I can't sit over there, someone might see me and think I have AIDS.” And then it hit me. As long as I was negative and helping [others], my conscience was clear. I realized what I really thought about HIV and the people with it.

Now I had to face the mirror and say, I was one of them. HIV wasn't real until I was at the pharmacy getting my first batch of medications that I would need to take the rest of my life. I cried my eyes out in the car as I swallowed my meds. “Now it's real,” I thought. No going back. From now on, you're positive.

Living with HIV is not easy. I found out the world is still against us. The gay community thinks of us as dirty and unclean people. People still shudder and say ignorant things around me when they talk about HIV.

I was 50 years old and needed to start over. So I moved to a community that had a huge positive population. I got a place I could afford which is in a beautiful complex. I created a steady income for once. I got a membership to a very positive-friendly gym, owned and operated by positive people. I decided I couldn't hide and isolate myself. I reached out to the positive community and got help and support.

My life has mostly been extremely "positive" in every way. I finally lost weight and took care of my health. I changed my attitude about a lot of things. I got involved with groups online, like the POZ Forums and Personals. The POZ Forums saved my ass in the beginning. I couldn't sleep so I started asking questions and stating my fears. I got a lot of help from people who had gone down this road before me. Someone even explained my phenotype test, which checks for resistance to medications, which I had misunderstood completely.

Being positive made me further grow up and take responsibility for my actions and it made me live with the consequences of my actions. I dropped as much anger and stress as I could in my day-to-day life. I stopped fighting with people who annoyed me. I started fixing all the things that were wrong with me but I was ignoring medically.

Along the way, I found out a shocking realization. I wanted to live my life just as normally as I had before I got this news. I found out I can adhere to a schedule for my meds even while traveling the globe, which I do for work. I discovered that I was going to be all right after all and I could decide whom to tell and not tell. Not everyone deserves to know my health matters. I stopped treating HIV like the scarlet "A" letter pasted on my head. I disclose only when I know someone is about to ask me out or kiss me.

I stick with more positive people than negative. I still separate, "us” and “them," but I'm trying to make it a “we” society again. Not quite there yet...

I pay it forward. I got a lot of help from people, friends and eventually my family. I give it all back whenever I get the opportunity. Right now, I'm partially paying for someone’s move who has AIDS and needs to start his life over because he's been struggling the last few years and the stress has taken a toll on his health. I'm also going help him pack and move.

I believe even more strongly now that we have to help one another and not just people we know. Anyone who needs help needs to see a hand coming to help them so they can pick themselves up. My motto is "Get into action." Help a stranger. Do random acts of kindness with out mentioning it. You'll feel better and you’ll make someone's life a bit brighter or happier because they'll know they're not alone. We all just want to be loved and to have someone think we’re OK just the way we are.

What three adjectives best describe you?
Honest, helpful, confident

What is your greatest achievement?
Staying healthy

What is your greatest regret?
Not using a condom

What keeps you up at night?

If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
Having to use disorganized services that are supposed to help me

What is the best advice you ever received?
In life if you accept anything but the very best, that's what you end up with. Use a condom and wear clean underwear when you go out.

What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
My closest friend Eric who has been positive for 25 years

What drives you to do what you do?
It's my mission to be of service to others unable to help themselves.

What is your motto?
Karma. Enough said. Get into Action.

If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My medications, wallet, passport and jewelry

If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
Elephant. They are wise and have a good memory. And big and strong

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