Justin B. Terry-Smith has been involved in Gay and HIV Activism since 1999. He is an Air Force 9/11 Disabled Vet. Raised in Silver Spring, MD, he now lives in Severn, MD with his husband Phil. He writes an HIV/STI Advice Column for A&U Magazine, is a Contributing writer for thebody.com, a Life Coach and an Adjunct Professor. He has earned his Doctorate in Public Health with a concentration in Infectious Disease.
MISTER My Status Doesn't Define Me (Chandler Bearden)
My Status Doesn't Define Me
I have been living with HIV for over 10 years.
When I first found out that I was infected, it did redefine my life.
Initially, I was lost. I was fortunate to know enough about HIV that I knew it was possible to live with… although my impression was still based on the experiences of those who lived with the disease in the beginning. I was afraid I was on a path of rapid decline. I saw a future of being sick frequently. I saw a future of shame. I saw a future of darkness and, for a while, I didn’t see a future at all.
I lived in fear of myself and others. I tried to ignore it and pass my time quietly. My decision at the time was to disappear. My choices led me down a path ofisolation; I lost my friends, my jobs, and my home. I knew the streets well for some time. All of these losses were nothing in comparison the loss of myself in the process.
And then I felt love. Not from or for myself, but from those who chose to step back into my life and lift me up out of myself and my despair. My family and my friends all brought truth back to my thoughts and breathed new life into my journey.
I knew nothing of how to receive care for my condition. I didn’t have insurance or even a job at the time. It took a lot of research and we all worked together to find a healing path. Finally, I located a center that offered care with funding through the Ryan White program. I made my way to healthier living. Just getting the care I needed for my physical condition raised my spirits. The staff of the clinic were supportive and didn’t judge me, they just helped me and encouraged me.
I returned to work and began returning to life. I built a network, carefully, of friends and professionals who helped me work though my insecurities and find myself again.
As my network grew and resources came available like counseling and support groups, I finally reached a point whereI could walk on my own. I began working to help others who needed to find their feet and their path.
Today, my HIV status no longer defines me. It is simply part of the whole picture of who I am. Today I am more than my status. I am a friend, a partner, a son, an uncle, a performer and an advocate.
I have dedicated my life and my work to bringing these services to those who need them, so they don’t have to wait and lose and seek for any level of acceptance, care or hope.
I walk for those who haven’t found their feet. I walk for those who are seeking a path and I walk for me.
My name is Chandler Bearden, and I work for the MISTER Center of Positive Impact reaching out the community to educate, advocate and provide a gateway to world of assistance that many don't know exist.
Please show your support by donating to the Atlanta AIDS Walk today, so that one day, others may walk with me.