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Putting myself “out there…”

Putting myself “out there…”
No shame campaign

No shame campaign

 

Hello Readers,

So last week I posted a story on facebook. Not just any story. A story about myself. Well, more than just a story. More like a “tell all.” A coming out if you will. Only this one didn’t have to do with being gay, It had to do with having HIV. So…. Yeah. Here we go.

I really didn’t know what to expect. This all came about because of several things. First, I work for a non-profit and do fundraising for people with HIV. I thought that by showing people that I wasn’t ashamed to be HIV positive, that others would feel less stigma as a result. After all, I see a lot of things which are supposed to reduce stigma, but despite all the media out there, I found it hard to find a role model I could relate to. Most folks are celebrities or part of a different generation. I don’t really see a lot of guys my age just out and proud. I felt like it was time to have someone out there with a voice. So I decided to “be the change” I wanted to see. (thank you Mohandas Gandhi) I wrote a story (not a perfect one, but one from the heart). I wrote it once, and let it be. It was true. It was real. I wasn’t looking to get published. I just wanted so desperately to get my truth out there and my voice heard. And heard it was.

The other reason was that I am doing the AIDS Lifecycle – a 545 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Without any previous experience riding a bike or without owning any gear (or a bike for that matter) I have been training with an awesome group of people who gave me all I need to succeed in this great endeavor. I felt that doing this trans-formative ride was just the spark I needed to set my heart on fire. I have been trying to raise $10,000 for these two causes, and I must say – it is hard! I mean, really hard. I am not wealthy, nor do I have many wealthy friends. I went into this with good intentions but not really knowing what was going to happen. I am seeing that my friends and family don’t hesitate to help when asked. My parents have been more than generous. Supporting my ride by even providing me with a new bike to get me to LA safely. I only hope to make them  proud of the work I am doing, and that I make a real difference in the lives of people in the HIV/AIDS community. I still wanted to do more. I recorded a PSA at work where I again “come out” about my status. I am considering even promoting my efforts at the gym with a sign which reads “Help me fight HIV/AIDS. Ask me how.” I have no clue how others will react. After all, I don’t live in San Francisco’s Castro district. I may get pushback, in fact I’m pretty sure of it. But no matter. I’m not going to stop until I reach my goals. And if it makes the life of LGBT youth a little better growing up in the South Bay, then it was worth it. I often see that once people get to know me, they don’t have a problem with me being gay. It is often those who don’t know me that tend to be confrontational and intolerant. So I guess I am just trying to put it out there more. Get people to realize that HIV affects more people than they know. People like me.

So here is what I wrote. I posted it to Facebook so it is now FOREVER in cyberspace. I suppose it belongs to the universe now. Haha. No matter. I have been quiet all my life. I am sick of it and I’m ready to speak out. There is rampant intolerance even here in the US. I am seeing the past generations lead the way, but I am not sure what my role is in this generation. I want to make a difference – that is all.

Thank you for reading. (and if you can make a small donation via the links below, that would be lovely.)-Jon

Here is the story/post:

Inline image 1

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, I have been an active supporter of HIV related causes for a while now. Although it is quite rewarding work in and of itself, I must admit I have my personal reasons.I am a 30 year-old man, and since 2006, I have been diagnosed as being HIV positive. This had been quite a shock for me, as I was only 24 at the time. I never thought that anything like this would happen to me. I still felt young, I still felt innocent. I was still finding out who I was in the world. Had this diagnosis been made in the 1980’s or even 1990’s, I might not be here today. Despite the information out there, at first I was very scared. I had no idea what it meant to be positive. I had heard stories from growing up of HIV positive people who had lost their loved one’s to the virus. As a teenager, I had read the names of people on the AIDS Quilt in commemoration of those who had passed. My first thought was “I might soon join them.” I felt guilty for having HIV and blamed myself constantly. I had always regarded myself with understanding and love, but at that moment, I really knew what it meant to be ashamed. I thought, for some reason, I would no longer be loved. I have found that nothing could be further from the truth.When I told my family, not only were they understanding and supportive, they made sure to ask me how my health was on a regular basis. My friends rallied by my side, and even help me find books and resources to help me figure out what to do next. The community even had a seminar in which I received support from a loving community and lots of useful information. With the love and support of friends, family and the community, I felt a renewed sense of love and compassion for myself. I felt like I had been given an opportunity to turn this illness into a reason to fight for better health. The constant blood draws, the doctor visits, and the medications were scary at first, but again the support of those around me allowed me to continue to forge ahead. Now 30 years old, I am now healthier than I have ever been (according to my doctor). At first, I thought my HIV would take over my life – Instead, it has afforded me the opportunity to look at my life, really look at how precious it all is, and how grateful I am to be living in a community that cares about me, no matter what illness I have.I can’t help but think of how things could have been if I had been infected ten, fifteen or twenty years prior. After all, things were not always so great for people like me. In the 80’s and 90’s there were few options for people with HIV, and the options that were available were certainly not ideal. With countless side-effects including facial wasting and lipodystrophy, I can’t imagine the hell that the first group of HIV positive individuals had to endure to pave the way for the medications available today. I would not be here if it weren’t for them. I quite literally owe them my life. Although it isn’t always easy when you have HIV, but it is certainly good enough that I can pay forward that which was given so generously to me. I am certainly glad to be alive.

When I moved to San Jose, I lost my health insurance. I had what they call a “Pre-existing condition.” Basically, no health provider would enroll me. I was now on a list. For the first time in my life, I had no one to go to for my care or medications. I was scared of what would happen to me. I felt like I was being punished for being sick. What a horrible feeling that was. Through a miracle, I spoke with a friend who referred me to The Health Trust, a non-profit in San Jose that helps people with HIV get connected to services. My social worker helped me with all the paperwork and referrals. He not only helped me find medical services and medicine, he also helped me understand the services available to me in the San Jose area. I left that appointment at The Health Trust in tears and feeling truly grateful. Never before had I gone from a place of utter despair to true serenity in so brief a time. I was going to be okay. I was going to get all I needed to get my health back in order. I was then seen at the PACE Clinic, by the best medical team I have ever encountered. The understanding and support they gave me not only got my viral levels down, and my white blood cell count up, but made me want to do more for the community that made it all possible.

Although now I have Health Insurance through my employer, I have never forgotten what it felt like to feel alone, scared, and in fear of dying. I don’t ever think I can fully repay for the services I have received. But what I can do is help. And so I have dedicated my life to making sure others have the same great services in this community as I have had. I see every day how much of a struggle it is to keep these programs running. Many folks have forgotten that HIV is still with us, and continuing to infect more youth every day. And so I feel it my duty to continue to fight, not only for my own health, but for the health of others – those who are aging, those who are newly diagnosed, and those who still are too afraid to get tested. I do it for them, and for those who have fought so bravely for the services we have today. I will fight until my last day, which thanks to the struggles of generations past, is hopefully not for a long time.

Through my work at The Health Trust, I help fundraise for HIV services. I am truly blessed to be able to give back to the community that has helped me.

This year I have dedicated myself to two causes that are very much important to me:

Inline image 1The Health Trust AIDS Services – The organization that helped me get my Health Care back when no other Healthcare plan would have me. They are the largest non-medical provider in Santa Clara County (my home). This organization is very near and dear to me and needs help to continue to provide HIV services in the San Jose area. Please consider helping my community to better health and help me reach my $5,000 goal to help folks down here in San Jose: http://www.razoo.com/story/Dining-Out-For-Life-Silicon-Valley-A-Benefit-For-Hiv-Aids?referral_code=share

Inline image 2AIDS Lifecycle – This year I have decided to join the AIDS Lifecycle, riding 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles on bike to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS. (I have never done this before, and haven’t ridden since I was 10. haha… But I am training every week and won’t stop til I reach Los Angeles.) I need a minimum of $3,000 to ride. It would mean so much to have your support. You can help support me in my ride by clicking here: http://www.tofighthiv.org/site/TR/AIDSLIFECYCLE12/AIDSLifeCycleCenter?px=2738564&pg=personal&fr_id=1550

I have made it my goal to raise $10,000 between these two causes, so no one will have to be scared like I was. I don’t make too much money (as I work for a non-profit… lol) but would like to see if any of my friends and family would be willing to help out in any way they can. (even a dollar would be great.) 🙂

If you aren’t able to give, it would really great if you could please forward this email to your contacts. It would mean a lot to me.

Thank you for reading.

With gratitude,

-Jon Jeremy Breen

(PLEASE FEEL FREE TO FORWARD THIS EMAIL)

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