The writer of the note explained that, in his experience, some friends wear “kid gloves” around their out poz friends: They quiet their voices, become very still, only to bleakly ask, “How are you? ... Are you feeling all right? ... Is everything OK?”
A poz man as well, the writer recognized the goodwill behind these “kid gloves,” but also that poz folks may not want special treatment: Sometimes they feel good, sometimes they feel bad, just like everyone else.
In my last article, I referred to the “psychological sanctuary” poz folks often retreat to, where they can weather imminent waves of pathos brought on by the perpetual process of reckoning their HIV status. While the triggers for these pathological storms are insignificant in nature, they can quickly devastate even the sturdiest of psyches. One such trigger resulted from the previously described, however well-intended, scenario: that your status has the potential to transform mirth into melancholy upon your arrival.
While the situation with friends and kid gloves and all can be tricky to traverse, navigating the caprices for the human heart is nothing short of a lifelong enterprise. Even if poz folks’ friends treated them without kid gloves, and all other elements in their lives felt at peace, those crappy days and equally crappy states of being engendered by their status will continue to trouble their otherwise placid souls.
This is the reason why psychological sanctuaries exist. In all reality, there is nothing unhealthy about having a sanctuary for temporary retreats, but it can be problematic when that place becomes one’s primary residence, then turns into psychological isolation; where one, out of a fear of unending despair, begins to indiscriminately cut off attachments to people and their own self-interests.
An isolated psyche and a peaceful psyche are especially hard to distinguish from one another, particularly in more introverted poz folks (I’m a blustery, emotional blabbermouth, so this is somewhat unfamiliar territory for me). On the outside, people with isolated psyches seem functional and at peace, going through the motions of their lives with relative grace. But on the inside, the once-fulfilling aspects of their lives are in atrophy.
If this atrophying continues, it can make volitionless servants out of dynamic people, inclining them to make poor decisions regarding their health, career and social life. Happenstance and crowd behavior become their silent masters as their sense of autonomy slowly shrinks.
In the shadow of this isolationism, open dialogue with friends about the throes of poz life could ostensibly reverse the due damages. But it’s more complicated than that: Isolationism of this brand doesn’t entirely arise out of sorrow for one’s HIV status, but from past memories and regrets, to which sorrows from their status have wedded.
Think of it like this:
You’re in a relationship. Something insignificant your partner says or does inspires a disproportionately greater reaction in you. In a matter of seconds, you become angry or despondent, and can’t understand why some little gesture or whatnot caused such a violent change in your mood. In reality, you weren’t reacting to anything your partner did, but something older and greater that the gesture triggered. And it works similarly with triggers in poz people’s lives: when pathos, seemingly brought on by something involving HIV, is actually tapping into a deeper disturbance — something that has yet to be resolved.
For myself, being poz made me realize how much trouble I have loving myself and, too, believing that others love and care for me. I had believed — and still do, to some extent — that I had to try twice as hard as the next person to prove that I’m worthy of love. This belief made me feel lonely — so excruciatingly lonely — that I erected more palisades along the moat of my sanctuary, thinking I could never truly commune with another, that no one would ever understand me.
I could name several reasons for why I feel this way, but all of them — prompted by my own volition or happenstance — are in the past, and therefore unchangeable.
There is something, however, that I did gain. I could now see myself for what I really was, virtues and vices alike. And with that clearer sight of myself — because I accepted the sight — I could change, and have faith in myself.
Faith is like a muscle. Contrary to what some movies or books say, great faith does not suddenly dawn on a person, like a magic spell or a luminous awakening. It grows over time, but only if you exercise it. Little by little, by trusting that everything will be just fine, you can learn to weather any storm of pathos outside the walls of your sanctuary.
We’re all in this together, folks. Now get out there and talk about it.
Aaron Stella is former editor-in-chief of Philly Broadcaster. He has written for several publications in the city, and now devotes his life to tackling the challenges of HIV in the 21st century. Aaron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.