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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:

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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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Making peace with my inner child…

CSB Crest – Minds, Hearts, Hands and Voices

When I was in Kindergarten I attended a private all-boys school in San Francisco called Cathedral School for Boys. Although many of my classmates were pretty well-off (living in Pacific Heights, Marin, or Tiburon) I myself found myself in a pretty middle class family. I felt a bit different than the other kids in my class and in the school for that matter. Little did I realize, the differences would continue to surface as the years went by. My father was a teacher in the school so it stands to reason that I would enjoy a few perks, and also a bit of derision. That, however didn’t seem to ever be the case. My problems stemmed from other issues. I would also like to say that I took solace in the fact that my brother was also attending the school and was only two grades above me. But again, this didn’t seem to be the case. Although we were close in age, we were very much fighting Irish twins. Well, maybe not fighting – more like me annoying him and him getting mad at me and chasing me around. Yes, I was a brat. I was the youngest of us two. It seemed like I was always sort of lagging behind scholastically and barely able to make a mark of my own. So acting out seemed to be my “thing.”

Me and Billy C. circa 1995
I wish I bothered to straighten my tie… lol

I envied my brother for his dedication to learning; not necessarily in school, but learning for the sake of learning. THAT is what was so cool about him. It seemed like school was merely something to get through, and that he had better things to learn about than the stuff they made us study in class. And as cool as he was, we were still very much children, and didn’t have the sense to actually commiserate. Yes, school was challenging. The classes themselves seemed to be ahead of most public schools at the same level, and at a K-8 school, the learning kept at a steady pace until right before high school.

When I was in Kindergarten, I didn’t have much worry. I pretty much just had a FEELING that I was different. I knew that other kids had parties and took fancy vacations. It wasn’t that our family didn’t take vacations, it was just that ours were more like road trips. Still enjoyable, just, different. And being as young as I was, differences in school always felt like a bad thing. Oh the age of innocence! The time when things that are oh so inconsequential in the grand scheme of life seem to be ever so important. Wait – that wasn’t just adolescence, that’s my whole life! Haha…

Ok, so back to the early years. I never really thought I was that popular in school. I guess I just wanted everyone to like me so much that it got in the way of my own self-esteem. Actually, it turns out that early on in school, I was kind of a brat. I may not have been rich but I definitely felt sheltered. I didn’t know much about the real world except was what on TV and what was taught to me in school. I didn’t read at all (except as forced by my teachers) and even then, I rarely actually read the books. I can’t tell you how many book reports I pulled out of my ass because I had no interest whatsoever in actually reading the material. It wasn’t that the Great Depression and the Holocaust didn’t interest me, because what pre-teen kid WOULDN’T want to read about such things? Well, I certainly didn’t. I hated reading. I hated having to read. I hated people who actually liked books. I thought,’ those rich bastards, with their fancy books and snobby parents’. Screw them! I didn’t want to read anyway. So what did I do in my spare time? Oh, read on… After all, children are known for having incredible imaginations. I was no different. Yes, I hated to read, so what else was there? Of course! Start a business and make some money! Haha… Well there was one thing those rich kids didn’t have, parents who shopped at Costco! (back before it was chic of course.)

Today’s special – Jawbreakers… 😀

Costco lent itself to bulk amounts of candy, and I had gone into the candy pushing business. Some sour worms here and some jawbreakers there, I was the Candy kid, and loving it. Ok, so I didn’t amass a huge fortune from it, but I must say that the other kids with their soy milk and organic wheat bread sure produced some sugar-craving kids. Later I diversified into Otter Pops and other products. I thought I had found my place. But alas, no so. I was still a loner. This was even more pronounced in my later years in school as the other boys started to be interested in girls. Well again, that wasn’t for me. Another thing to set me apart was just what I needed. If I was an outcast then, I was even more so afterwards. I didn’t really see what was going on that made the other kids not want to hang around me. Well, maybe because I had yet to discover Deodorant. lol… But even an odor-blocker couldn’t block the fear and insecurity I was feeling every day. Something told me that whatever edge I had before, whatever “thing” gave me strength and clout, was soon to be entirely gone. So I did what any kid going through this insecure time would do.

Magic Cards – Like crack to a pre-teen geek.

I submerged myself in the world of fantasy – Magic: The Gathering. I began to collect cards, and play card games all the time. I also started watching shows on UPN to get out of my head. Shows like “Star Trek: TNG”, “Xena,” and Babylon 5. These shows made me feel safe. Yes, they didn’t help me deal with reality, but they gave me an escape into another reality. One in which people either got along or they fought. It was clear cut and simple. It made sense. I could pretend to be strong. I was no longer bait. I was the shark.

I was often teased in school. I’m not sure if there was a particular reason. I was a bit… off. I mean I was gay, so I couldn’t pretend to care about girls, I didn’t know much about sports nor was I athletic, so I didn’t know much about working as a team, or talking about guy stuff. Ok, so that leaves academics. Well, I pretty average when it came to most of my classes. I didn’t read or write. Mostly I watched TV, and liked to eat. Occasionally I would do art. Yes, that did allow me to get outside of myself. It again gave me some sense of control in a world that seemed so unfair.

Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys –
I wish I had an actual photo of me in the cassock and surplus… Well the style hasn’t changed much so you get the picture..

From fourth grade until eighth grade, I was in the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys. I actually really enjoyed this. I thought I was even pretty good at it. We would practice almost every morning before school started, and would perform at the Church services on Thursday night (Evensong) and Sunday (Mass). I really liked the music and found comfort in song. But even though I really loved it, I still never felt good enough. I never received any accolades like my classmates. I was too scared to go after solos and always shied away from standing out in the crowd. I so desperately wanted some encouragement. I wanted to be good, but I was so scared. I never really felt like my classmates had my back. Some were nice to me, but most were kinda mean. Had I some self-confidence, maybe I would have advocated for myself and did what I wanted to. Why didn’t I? Still to this day, I carry with me the fear of standing out. My instinct cries out for retreat to safer locales. But as I was just a child, I didn’t know about self-esteem. I had no concept of life-goals, and facing fears. All I knew was fear. Well, in everything except for music and science fiction. Two things that have never judged me. I blamed my instructors for not encouraging me and for contributing to my fear and lack of confidence. Looking back I realize that something else was going on. Although a child doesn’t choose to suffer, I felt that had I judged a little less, and participated a little more I could have had more of the life I wanted. Yes, it would have been nice to have been encouraged and told that I could do anything I set my heart to, but I didn’t. And even if there was (which I’m sure there must have been) I may not have heard it loud enough. If I could, I would go back to that little kid, sit him down, and tell him that I love him, and to try, to set his sights high, to dream, and that it would be OK, because I’d be here for him if he falls.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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