My biggest fear in life is that I wouldn't be loved. So, I put all my energy into acting to assume the role my perfect Jewish family wanted me to live. My name is Richard, but I honestly didn't know who Richard was. When I was 6 years old, I wondered if I was the only boy in Boston who preferred looking at boys and their muscles - this made me feel like the loneliest person in the world. As I grew older, I eventually gave up on developing my role as the perfect son and left for New York in my early twenties. There I discovered that people accepted me for who I was, and when I got promoted to Director at my company, it was proof a gay boy could become successful. I realized that being gay was not an illness as my mother had called it. However, at age 53, I was surprised to find out I had contracted an actual illness - I was HIV positive!
I learned about my status after getting a free physical. By this time, I was living in Florida, and my financial and personal success had been declining along with my health over the past 30 years. I had developed several medical conditions from months of exposure to environmental hazards related to the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the collapse of the Twin Towers. As a result, I was unable to work. Eventually, I ran out of money and was evicted from my apartment in Miami Beach. I was homeless, utterly alone, and smoking crystal meth to try filling up my life with some make-believe happiness. It didn't matter I graduated cum laude from college, was pre-med, worked on Wall Street, and published a book. Whatever skills or intelligence I had, they weren't helping me lead a healthy life. I admitted I needed help to get myself out of this well of darkness, and being newly diagnosed as HIV positive was like learning a new language.
Fortunately, I got connected with an HIV Care Counselor in the community and explained I was struggling to figure out how to get help for my HIV and my health. He said he could link me to care and connected me to an agency that sheltered and fed me when there was absolutely no one in my life. Getting that care and education enabled me to become mentally and physically stable. It gave me time to sit down and learn about HIV and myself, and fill myself up with the self-love I'd been lacking. Not being loved was no longer my biggest fear because learning to love myself filled that void and gave me the energy to take care of my health. I'm able to live a clean and successful life by learning about the experiences and successes of others.
I'm happy to say I've been linked to care for several months, and I'm leading a healthier life. I plan to stick with it because I've acquired the tools to take responsibility for my health, and the self-love I've discovered will help me stay in care. I've been keeping up with all my doctor appointments, I go for my blood work when I'm supposed to, and I'm undetectable. I hope sharing my story will inspire people to embrace their lives, take whatever situation they have, and learn from it. If we work together, share our experiences and teach each other about HIV, it will lead us to a life beyond our wildest dreams.