Leaving Unit 503 upright


I am surrounded by boxes, both packed and empty. This week I am changing units within my housing co-op, moving house for the first time since 1992.

When I re-located to this building 23 years ago I thought, with good reason, that my death was imminent; that I would be here a short time before being discreetly carried out, feet-first, in a black bag – as had been the case for several other friends with AIDS before and since.

Diane Frankling Co-operative Homes, formerly Bleecker Street Co-op, has historically given priority for its rent-geared-to-income units to people living with HIV/AIDS, persons with mental illness (I am, therefore, dually qualified) and women escaping abusive relationships.

Just one floor up and across the hall, dominant morning sun will be replaced by the afternoon’s; plants will need to be re-positioned accordingly. Rather than a view of Cabbagetown roof-tops I will look on to another apartment building and, to my left, a partial but exciting view of Toronto’s impressive skyline.

While I have purged a lot of stuff, and packed quite a bit more, the move just one floor up has me in a sense of suspended animation. Clothes remain on hangers because, well, they can be carried upstairs just like that. It’s the same with my plants.

What I can only pack figuratively are 23 years of memories from here – the early house parties, the cats which I have loved (Sujata is only beginning to suspect we’re up to something), the recovery from my 2003 crash (John Kerry, I so relate to your broken femur!), and the guests and uninvited who have plopped down on the dump-bound sofa.

The weight of these years is affecting me emotionally, positively and poignantly, but it is a marker of the new era of HIV/AIDS that I am leaving Unit 503 walking upright.

World AIDS Day 2014 has come and gone and something had me rattled


Here’s an excerpt from my Facebook feed today after I heard Shaun Proulx on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning referring to his blog on HIV Divorce.

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I have AIDS, and have had for many years. I can’t seem to walk that back, to HIV only, so I think of myself as surviving HIV/AIDS. While HIV may never lead to AIDS for some, for other old timers like me that genie seems out of the bottle. I’m rattled by Shaun Proulx’s call for a “divorce” between HIV and AIDS because they are linked and to leave AIDS apart feels further stigmatizing.

Vera Ingrid Tarman, Clare Nobbs, Marie Robertson and 12 others like this.

Lori Knight-Whitehouse See my comment in one of your later posts.

Kenneth G. Chaplin Saw it – and thanks!

Sandra Millar In my opinion, those of you who have been long-term survivors should be “revered” (is that the word?) because you have been through hell to keep going. What with changes of meds that cause your body untold havock and struggles to keep going, with every day a hardship, medically, emotionally and financially! The younger generation who are walking on your back, and others like you need to spend a day with you, to be even begin to have an opinion! And this from a friend and ally, who knows she has only scratched the surface of what this terrible disease does to this living with, and those affected by, who journey with friends whose struggle still ended in death and those friends I know struggle every day…with all the above and more, including some with survivors guilt. I rest my case, for today…but wish I was able to put this on everyone’s post. I KNOW that if I had to walk a mile in your shoes, I would not be so strong or resilient! My thanks for being you – to you and all the others I know…and have known, as just because they died didn’t make them any less in my eyes! hugs, Sandra Millar

Karen MacKay Llewellyn Wanting to affirm the remarks made by Sandra. You have walked the walk with such courage, Kenn. It has been and continues to be so challenging. You have taught us all so much by permitting us to accompany you on this journey. I am ever so grateful to have been invited to share in the struggle and the triumphs. Blessings, my friend!

Tammy Leslie hey buddy xxxxxxx

Kenneth G. Chaplin Such a gratifying feeling to read your support, Sandra Millar and Karen MacKay Llewellyn. Overwhelming!

Paul R. Gilroy Tx Kenn, I am glad to have the opinion of someone (yours) who knows and has experienced the full dimension of HIV / Aids and its impact. I had the same thought that the two are inseparable listening to Sean on the CBC this morning, it seems to me to be wrong to consider that HIV and Aids can be so casually divorced.

Clare Nobbs I heard the interview on MM this morning and was uncomfortable with what SP was saying. Didn’t seem right. It was an argument of privilege to me – and one that was filled with holes. Oftentimes, I think, such arguments come from internalized struggle. And that is not a good place to speak from as it is using the oppressor’s tools against one’s own/self. I can’t say I’ve delved into this too deeply, but I can say that I have the deepest – and fondest – respect for you, Kenn, and the road that have walked these many years I have known you. love, peace and respect to you.

Kenneth G. Chaplin Oh, so many hugs for and from Paul R. Gilroy and Clare Nobbs. Thank you. I have to remember that health outlooks are much different to today’s newly diagnosed by which I mean post-drug cocktail and the simpler treatments nowadays. Privilege, Clare, yes that rings true.

I’m Thinking, “This is Going to Hurt!”: On ‘How Not to Deal with Grief’


From my friend Betty Ann on her Facebook page:

“This article deeply moved me…as I suspect it will for any of you who have been impacted by the kind of grief associated with multiple loss, deaths due to overdose and or HIV/AIDS. Rather than just clicking on “like”, can you write a few sentences in a comment? Maybe just something about how this article landed with you? Guess I’m lookin for a little peer support here…”

I know there are many stories related to this piece which could be written. Don’t be afraid to jog my memory or ask a question.

I URGE you to click on the following link and read:

Guest Post – How Not to Deal with Grief

Remember those days when we couldn’t decide how to go to a funeral and make sure a dying friend was okay?  Open casket versus closed? Cremation versus traditional burial?  Would it be okay to go a little over the top in church?  Someone else is sick?  I thought he’d killed himself.

“…those days…come screaming back out of nowhere. I don’t live with it; it lives in me. It is a part of me and makes me what I am. That does not mean I want it. I am not alone in this. And I am not alone in finding that loss accumulates and is sticky and hangs together like lumps of tar and sticks and sand on the beach after a storm.”

“…these thoughts, the ones of dead friends and loved ones, are in the heap in the back corner. They lurk behind the door with a skull and crossbones saying; “Fuck Off, Asshole,” in 72 pica. Then in smaller type: “You know who and what’s in here, so why don’t you just walk the fuck away?” And every so often I walk through that door for whatever reason and it takes days to recover.”

“People died around you. Repeatedly. Let me emphasize: Repeatedly. There were no protease inhibitors. No Truveda. Just blind hope, determination, anger, solidarity, organizing, guesswork and gambling on whether to take a drug or wait for the big one that will work — and die waiting. This was not a time of long-term sustainability.”

“I am not perfect. But I have found some happiness in my life, not by achieving resolution, but by acquiring wounds, then healing some and developing scar tissue that will always be there, and by just keeping going.”

My laptop feels too small for what I want to write. I need a full-sized keyboard to spread out my fingers as on the keyboard of a grand pipe organ. I know the feeling of not wanting to go through personal items and photographs of friends lost. But I also know it’s an irresistible tug sometimes. I more often than not know what it means just to still be here when I could have, should have been dead, with only analogies of Vegas or God’s perverse selection process as explanation. I reject both.

I know that “just keeping going” has taken a lot of courage for many people, so why not me, too? I accept that there have been times when it seemed much simpler to die than to just keep going. I’ve even wished I would have died long before now. But there are new things to work on, new struggles to wage, even while bearing all the scars of having nearly shit myself to death.

A new low


“How long have you been wasting?” the chiropodist asked me a couple of weeks ago as she updated a history on me.

The starkness of the verb, however accurate, stayed with me.

I’ve always been thin, I said, but my weight has been falling a bit since last fall.

Fast forward to preparations for a bone density test in Women’s College Hospital’s shiny new facilities today.

I stepped up onto an equally shiny, new, digital scale.

Height: 6’3″.
Weight: 122 lbs.(just over 55 kg)

Wait, what?

On my worst weight dives I’ve never been below 130. Even at my usual 145 I’m off the BMI chart.

122?

I’m accepting fattening dinner invitations.

Drop-kicking HIV/AIDS stigma to the curb


“This December I found a mass the size of a cantaloupe in my lung…I used social media to express my feelings without having to burden my family and friends.

I’d like to write a feature…that explores the way the Internet has changed the way we view illnesses, both visible and invisible, and how it’s changed our acceptance of grief and death…”

-Teresa Sarga

As I first reported on Facebook last week I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Teresa Sarga, a journalist and blogger from Syracuse, New York, about blogging as a person living with HIV/AIDS “…and more”.  The issue of stigma is being unearthed and critically examined more and more lately, which is a good thing.

I’ve decided that, so long as I am open, I am not letting stigma thwart me.

Stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, in my case, began with me.

If anyone deserves AIDS, I told myself, long before I tested positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, I do.

What a statement with which to live my life.

Fortunately I am able to unpack it:

-as if anyone deserves AIDS (or cancer or heart disease or diabetes)

-as if disease and illness discriminate

 

Another important day for self-acceptance


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If I have learned nothing else about my bipolar II today, it is that I am certainly not the only one in similar circumstances who has found photography to be a healing past-time. Facebook is teeming today with some of the creative works of the bipolar support community.

Scrolling through various blogs and web sites I have also seen confirmed that we face many of the same risks to ourselves as my fellow survivors of childhood abuse, sexual and otherwise, most pointedly suicide. Which doesn’t make me suicidal. Just so you know. It’s just one of those options I have kept in my back pocket since it seemed clear, however wrong, that I would be dead of AIDS-related illness before the 90s were finished. Of course it’s also a tragic reality among those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as we have heard about too often in connection with soldiers returning from Afghanistan or other battle-weary countries.

To be frank I am feeling very optimistic about my process right now. My p-doc is closely monitoring me as I add another “head med”, as I call them, to my cocktail of HIV, diabetes and bipolar medications. Spring has, for many years, been a time of hypomania which I used to refer to simply as an absence of depression. But it got much worse than a passive absence. When the cat (or black dog) is away, well…I played alot. Absent of depression, present with feelings I thought I could control, a deception of self that alcoholics often talk about, too.

I have often described the feeling of hearing the Bipolar II diagnosis, and the ways it fits me, as a day of sweet relief.  It was difficult enough to live with a lifetime of, let’s say, ultimately poor decisions; I was glad to hear a biological explanation for them  It doesn’t absolve me of everything but I have more compassion for myself and others.

Anyway the new med seems to be helping a lot. There are fewer sleepless nights, especially deliberately sleepless nights and I’m back on an even keel that I have experienced many times before on this journey.

Here is a series of three recent photographs taken here in Toronto, Canada, which I call Walking past colours

 

1 2 3

Review (and a personal retrospective) – Behind the Candelabra


With only the most scant help from Google I have been trying to remember more about my personal, professional meeting with Liberace (“Please, call me Lee.”)

It was some time in the mid-1980s, while I was working at a St. Catharines, Ontario radio station, when the subject of last night’s premiere of Behind the Candelabra was making one of his periodic appearances at Melody Fair Theater on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Tonawanda, New York – a suburb of Buffalo about a forty-five minute drive from St. Catharines.

My first impressions of Melody Fair were that it had seen better days (and it has since closed, demolished in 2010). The same could be said for Liberace who, after all, was some eight years older than my father who would have seemed “old” to anyone else in their twenties!

The meeting was what I have since learned was a very routine set-up between journalists, celebrity-chasers, and their self-important subjects. My allotted time of ten minutes or so was no more, on less than anyone else in line claiming “exclusive” access from their particular micro-market’s point-of-view.

I had come out relatively recently and took it upon myself to use my time with a slightly dressed down version of himself to tease out Woodward and Bernstein-worthy details of his private life.

What did he like to doon his days off, infrequent though they may have been?

Spend time at one of his several homes. He liked to cook for his “friends” (none of the bawdy details I would have liked to hear, of course, and portrayed in Beyond the Candelabra and Scott Thorson’s palimony-inspired book.

That’s all I remember about our conversation – riveting I know – having been derailed in my aim of making news out of what was inevitably to be a fluffy entertainment piece.

I grew up feeling a lot of antipathy towards the flamboyant, yet conflicted (a self-professed Roman Catholic) and ultimately talented pianist. This was no role model I would ever want to emulate, should I ever own my own homosexuality.

His age, I suppose, would also have been a factor in his denial of the obvious.

It was, however, his denial of what ultimately killed him that left me feeling quite angry – with him and his church. He never acknowledged dying of AIDS, swearing everyone to secrecy, which of course illustrated the stigma of the times (worse even than now) in his over-the-top way.

I couldn’t separate my feelings for him as I watched last evening, which is not to say that I couldn’t also relate to the inner struggles while recalling my annoyances with him.

Michael Douglas had a hell of a job to do which I found to be well done and credible. Matt Damon also proved himself to be a convincing actor in a gay role and a sympathetic character. In a supporting role I thought Rob Lowe stole the show.

I will watch it again, while it’s still in the HBO lineup, and while I don’t necessarily expect my feelings for Liberace to change I know I am capable of seeing him – jewel-encrusted warts and all.