Life can sometimes feel like an endless series of highs and lows, and we hardly notice how each one propels us from one moment to the next. While the thrill of achievement is fleeting at best, the fallout from a mistake can sometimes seem like an endless free fall.
When it comes to HIV, those who live with the virus often feel as if it’s a mistake they can never make up for. It may feel like it will forever diminish any future deeds or successes you may accomplish, but this feeling — whether it stems from HIV or any other regrets — is a result of self-induced shame and guilt.
HIV isn’t a mistake or a mark against you, but believing that you are lesser than because of it certainly is.
A life without mistakes or missteps is not a life at all, or at least not one that sounds interesting. A life worth mentioning is filled with excitement and regret, love and heartbreak, adventures and mistakes — and yes, the risk of catching an STI.
Sure, it’s a good idea to avoid what will obviously harm you (sexually or otherwise), but personal growth comes from the aftermath of doing things we regret. Unfortunately, the social stigma and blinding fear associated with HIV often hinders people from seeing that truth.
Many HIV positive people choose to live in the shadow of their former selves and believe they will never have that life back. Meanwhile, the pieces are sitting in front of them waiting to be put together again — into a new, improved, restored, renovated, and upgraded self.
Living with HIV can be like learning to hold your breath under water. Your lungs feel as if they’re going to explode, and you want to escape to anywhere but here. But soon, the suffering and desperation subside and you find peace under the surface while you continue to explore depths you once thought were impossible to reach.
I’ve met too many people that remained frozen in the moment they first heard their doctor say, “HIV-positive.” Years later, they have yet to peek from behind tightly clasped hands, wet from tears, and find the light once more. This self-imposed imprisonment is the tragedy of HIV, and it’s an affront to the people who fought so hard to live, yet lost the battle.
It’s time to embrace the beauty of mistakes by forgiving yourself right now. Don’t waste another minute punishing yourself for something that cannot be undone. Instead, find the lesson in it — however difficult or hopeless you think the situation may be — then tuck it in your pocket and get on with your life.
Learning how to forgive yourself for an HIV diagnosis, or anything else, is the easiest way to be freed from the opinions and judgments of others. It is a way to open up and allow the things you want back into your life by releasing control of the things you don’t. Never give up your claim to happiness. Fight for it.
Breathe. Dive deep. And explore the beauty of the underwater world.
Tyler Curry is a contributing editor at The Advocate magazine and the author of A Peacock Among Pigeons. Follow him on Twitter @IamTylerCurry.