Grateful for all the Blessings
By Thuli Hlatshwayo
(This article first appeared in the PACSA Newsletter and is used with gratitude)
Sometimes I have felt so blessed to have this HI Virus in my body that has managed to kill so many people and I have survived so far. Sometimes it’s so easy to talk about the success stories of HIV/AIDS and to see so many people getting onto the Government ARV programme. The first thing we are grateful for is a second chance in life. It will always be easy to talk about what has been good in our journeys with HIV. Do we ever talk about the pain involved? I will tell you why we do not talk about the pain that we experience. It is because if my body has not gone thinner and I don’t experience any sores there cannot be another type of pain that I feel.
In all its forms we expect pain to be physical. What about emotional or psychological pain? Even spiritual pain is underrated. I have been struggling for some time now with emotional pain, and with my limited resources how do I deal with it? My dilemma came with me being positive and understanding that God has called me to a different kind of ministry. That because of my strength and my ability to cope with my HIV status, it meant I would be able to help others with similar problems. So as you can see my calling was cut and dried as much as I wanted to run away from it. I couldn’t because I kept reaching the same conclusion; I have to do something about this.
So I went on my way revealed my status and people came to me and revealed their status as well. We were now forming a community of our own. A community that would be able to deal with the struggles of HIV. We had learned how to cope and that was the best. I thought we were untouchable. This was the highest point of my life. If God had decided to take me then I would have gone straight to heaven. My work was done. I was able to pull people up from their deathbeds and they realized that there was life after HIV diagnosis. Then if all this was as good as I say it was, why was I feeling so much pain? I have so much pain that I cannot explain.
It is only a few weeks ago that I realized that I was not honest with myself. I was showing the world what they wanted to see. A beautiful shining face that knows no pain. Yet inside me I was torn apart with pain, and the tears that I cry at night are countless. I would hide my pain so perfectly until it manifested itself in some form of sickness within my body, and then I would understand. Still I wouldn’t allow myself to deal with the pain, as I did not want to show any signs of weakness. I am strong and people depend on me. They look up to me. There was no way I could say I didn’t know how to help. It was expected of me to offer support.
Maybe its time I deal with the pain. The pain that I have been struggling with is the loss of the small community that we had built for ourselves. The community that was coping with HIV is dying slowly one by one. I want to know where I have gone wrong. I want an answer to what it was that I was supposed to do that I have failed to do. Why suddenly the people I have been accompanying for so long have started dying one by one.
All along I had been bringing “false” hope to people telling them that God is there for them. Was I building false hopes? Could people trust me again when I say things will be okay? I have not given myself time to grieve for the lost souls. I always feel that I need to be strong for those who are still alive. I always feel that if I show my weaknesses and I fall into pieces no one will be there to hold me. Does it mean I had betrayed God by letting His people succumb to AIDS? Would I in any way have been able to stop the processes of life? What did God actually want from me? I do not understand. Why me, why was I given such a calling if I was meant to fail anyway? Why me?
As much as I am struggling with the number of dying friends and relatives, as well as questions that I cannot answer, I am also struggling with personal problems. My desires for intimacy have just sky rocketed and I don’t know what I should do. I made a vow with myself that whoever wanted a relationship with me had to know first what they were getting themselves into. So disclosing my status was my priority. Ever since I started this I have seen men going in and out of my life as if I was watching a movie. None of them wanted to stay after I told them I was HIV positive. Why was that? Others would stick around until they had tasted the forbidden fruit (in a protected manner of course) then disappear. Does my honesty about my status mean that I am ‘ungodly’ and ‘dirty’ to have a normal relationship? I truly do not understand. It is time that I can happily say you know I do not have a clue how this works. There is just limited intimacy that parents and family can offer. There is also another level of intimacy that one needs that is no longer available any more.
This has been the toughest journey that I ever embarked on. Instead of getting easier and getting some clarity about such issues I just sink deeper and deeper into depression. Then I resort to dreaming about a knight in shining amour that will come and accept me as I am and take me away. Maybe I haven’t been listening to what God is saying to me. Maybe I am not ready for celibacy right now because my body keeps screaming for attention. Maybe I have lost it, I was supposed to stop being a sexual being as soon as I found out I was positive. How does one silence the bodies’ desire? If your body is screaming to you how do you scream back and say sorry I just cannot have what you are asking for.
Since I have been writing this piece I have been reflecting on my journey with the virus for the past 8 years. The only thing I have found is that I have not changed. I am still the same person I was before.
My guilt trip about HIV positive people dying has to come to an end. One of my colleagues told me that as long as I was there for the person up until they died then I have fulfilled my calling. God did not say to me, you will be an exception and no one who comes through your hands will be spared. But what God is saying is that I have given you time to journey with this person so that you may be reminded of the many blessings I have given you and be grateful. God alone understands when people have suffered enough and he calls them to rest. We can never stop that process. All we can do is delay it for some time.
Although my guilt is subsiding I still feel that I could have done more. I feel as though I have failed my calling. How does one begin to bring healing to people? I am talking about spiritual healing. We need to know that we are alive and that God still loves us as we are. We still believe that we are the salt and light of the world. Perhaps if people can let us be, maybe we can forget that we are positive and carry on living. I have a beautiful reminder every time I take my ARV’s that I am living positively with this virus. So please do not remind me, for I already know. Just let me be a servant to you.