Tuesday, 30 November 2010

What they say is true: You DO have to go there to come back…

I returned to South Africa nearly 3 months ago and it almost feels like I never left. My travels, the experiences and wonderfulnesses I experienced feel a little like a beautiful but distant dream to me now.

I started off in London in January, where I met two people who were both part of magnetic couples. From there I went to Thailand, jungle-trekking and island hopping, via Australia and New Zealand to Argentina. Here I spent a whole month not speaking yet strangely still understanding a whole lot of Spanish, climbing a glacier, snorkeling with sea lions and realizing for the first time that HIV doesn’t need to dominate, my thoughts, my marriage and my life, too. I whizzed through Peru and Bolivia (lots of colours, amazing food and freedom to let my mind and soul truly rest and wander). I was joined by my siblings for the three week, 7500mile roadtrip through Canada and the US, attempted kite surfing in the Dominican Republic and had my aura cleansed on the same day I was scammed out of an airplane ticket in Mexico. All in all a fantastical, life-changing, thought-provoking and liberating journey.

One of the most amazing things about this trip is the people I had the privilege to meet along the way. Many I met in passing in various countries: at train stations, in busses, while eating Pad Thai or braving my way through a Taco with way too much chili, or simply asking for directions. But some of the most important encounters I made where with people that emailed me after having read some of my blog.

First of all, it feels wonderful to know that there are people that share my experience. The insecurities over how to support a spouse, how to get support for oneself and the fear of this unknown yet powerful entity that will continue to be part of our lives whether we like it or not. I received some extremely brave and honest accounts of spouses who struggled with feeling a sense of guilt over remaining uninfected or where struggling to figure out how to deal with their partner being HIV positive, how they got infected and not knowing how they felt about it. These taboos are rarely if ever spoken about and until I heard back from all these wonderful people, I had no way of knowing if it was just me who felt all these confusing things or whether others did, too. It was an enormous relief to hear from others that were wondering about the same thing!

Unfortunately I did not manage to meet up with many magnetic couples in person, since my travelling schedule turned out to be quite erratic (I clearly hugely underestimated some of the distances involved when travelling the World). Nonetheless, it is safe to say that I no longer feel alone in this. There is a whole community of magnetic couples out there, in every country, in most cities, going through the same thing right now. And I would like to encourage anyone who is part of a magnetic couple to keep in touch and send me your experiences, just as I have and will continue to share some of mine. Trust me, whatever you are wondering about, worried about, angry about: someone else has been there, too. And even if you do feel lonely going through this, know that you are not alone.

So, after eight months of wondrous, amazing, introspective and eye-opening travel I have finally returned. Returned home, returned to my husband and, most importantly, returned to me. I never thought that I would get to a point where HIV no longer plays a leading role in the film of my life, yet here I am. I truly noticed that when, the other day, my husband and I were having a pretty major conflict about some life decision or another (well, safe to say that the Zen-like state of bliss achieved whilst travelling had a bit of a limited shelf-life upon return). But while we were dishing out and dodging the arguments, I realized that for the first time since the diagnosis, HIV played no part in it. It simply did not feature in my thoughts, my fears or even latent resentment. It had simply become a sidelined bytheway as opposed to taking centre stage. Finally, HIV who had been the ever-present mistress in our lives has been demoted to the level of an annoying relative you’re responsible for (You know, the one that criticizes your garden for being too wild or your kids for being too loud; the one you acknowledge and respect by greeting but let them be otherwise).

Obviously, being diagnosed and living with HIV is far more complex, painful and life-altering than living beside a pestilent fellow citizen. However, for me it does feel like I have, at least for now, left behind the mistress who had seeped in to every aspect of my thoughts, my marriage and my life and claimed all these things back for myself. To mess with as I please.

Happy World AIDS Day and a beautiful Festive Season to everyone. Don’t forget to look after yourselves and each other.

Lots of love,

Magnetic Mama

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Changes in climate, altitude, landscape and perspective

It has been a long time since my last entry. I won't apologise, because the past few months have been life-changing, mind-blowing, horizon-expanding and at times refreshingly mundane, but I will try and share with you some of the reasons for my hiatus from this blog and contact in general.

Just to backtrack a little, since the diagnosis of my husband (then still boyfriend) in 2006, there had not been a day I have not thought about HIV in one way or another. Sure, it didn't help that I subsequently took on a job in paediatric HIV clinics, where it was unavoidable, but in general, I kind of had the feeling that it was something I, as a partner and loved-one, needed to face head-on. And for a good while, that was the best thing for me; informing myself, confronting my role in this (or what I thought it was), adjusting, supporting and seeking support. But then it kind of got a bit out of hand, I somehow had the feeling that I was destined for this work - I was good at it, life had somehow prepared me for it (looong before my husband's diagnosis I had worked around the topic 'HIV' in my studies, Honours and Masters theses). And it got to the point where I felt I no longer had a choice.

So I lived with HIV besides me like an imaginary friend/foe you can't ignore and whose presence you are constantly aware of, thus affecting your decisions and plans at every corner. Sometimes less, sometimes more, but you somehow adjust your life around it. And I figured that was just how it had to be.

In the last three months I have travelled across Argentina, Brazil, Peru and have currently reached Bolivia. Apart from the significant changes of climate and landscape from temperate to tropical, from sea level to 5000m altitude with snow and storms, floods (which I narrowly missed), sunburn and fresh breezes something also shifted within me. It was gradual at first, nothing groundbreaking but I started to get a different viewpoint on things. And one day, during a full-day hike, after completing the last little bit of a difficult climb to see the breathtakingly beautiful Laguna de Los Tres at the bottom of Fitz Roy mountain, I realised I hadn't seen my imaginary friend in days. That is not to say I didn't think about my husband, not at all, but HIV as that little mind-blocking, thought-occupying truth-and-perspective-blocker had not featured in my thought processes for a while.

For some time after that I began to think about different possibilities and opportunities in my life. Possibilities which had always been there but which I, having been blinded by my supposed destiny and responsibilities, was unable to even begin to consider. Like the fact that my life doesn't have to revolve around HIV if I don't want it to. Don't get me wrong, intellectually I totally knew that, (and I am aware it may sound bizarre, being the seronegative magnet) but deep down I just never believed that I had any other options, if that makes sense. And contrastingly, at no point has my husband's life revolved around his illness. It has neither stopped nor slowed him down from striving to achieve his goals professionally or personally. No, that was just something that I managed to make up for myself.

So over the following weeks I really just enjoyed my new found 'freedom' and checking my emails or blogging some more seemed like something I was not yet ready for. I was afraid that if I immersed myself in the HIV scene again, I would lose the clarity I had just so recently gained and I needed to have some conversations with myself (some out loud, I admit, while no one was listening), enjoy some unusual things (like eating llama and guinnea pig), meet new people (that did not know my connection to HIV, or anything else about me for that matter) and generally challenge myself in other ways to see that I am able to retain my insights through tougher times. I think I'm getting there.

Soooo, at the end of May I will be making my way to the US via Montreal and I look forward to meeting some of you along my roadtrip through the US in June, exchanging experiences and hopefully a few laughs as well. My road trip will take me from the East coast to the West (in other words I will cover a lot of ground), so those of you who get in touch I will contact within the next couple of weeks, to see how we can meet up as well. Afterwards I will spend some time in Vancouver as well, so if you're from there, the same applies to you.

Looking forward to it!

Magnetic Mama

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Three countries, 6 weeks and a blog that's terribly overdue...

After spending a month travelling around Thailand, without a map, guidebook, plan or clue, not thinking about anything yet pondering everything at the same time, I have now arrived in Sydney, Australia and am ready to re-join the (virtual) world.

Since my blog post went out a few weeks ago lots of people have got in touch with me and within the space of 48 hours I literally went from feeling isolated and alone to feeling like one of many who potentially felt the same way. It was such a relief!

Before flying to Bangkok, I passed a week in London, where I met with some other magnets for the first time ever. The first one I met was Pete (all names changed), the negative pole in his marriage, who told me he had never spoken to anyone openly about his and his wife's situation. I think for both of us it was so empowering to realise that another shared similar experiences, fears and frustrations throughout the journey that comes with being confronted with HIV in this way. For example, following my husband's diagnosis I went into research-overdrive, trying to find out as much as I could and passing the info on to my husband. Unfortunately my husband's needs were different to mine and, understandably, got quite fed up with me trying to 'force-feed' the info.. Pete had been doing a similar thing with his wife who didn't appreciate it either.

I think we both realised in our discussion that we were trying to cope with our feelings of utter helplessness by arming ourselves with as much information we could possibly gather. For me it was as if the more I could know about HIV, the more I could feel in control of it. Of course, since I was still an 'outsider' in this experience, this wasn't really enough and so, by sharing it (which seems like the logical thing to do), I attempted to make it a shared experience. But I was often frustrated to realise that my husband did not concur with this sentiment. In fact, he got quite irritated after some time, which baffled me.

Rachel, the second person I met in London and who is the positive partner in her relationship, made it very clear that she didn't appreciate her husband's efforts in this regard either. She made it very clear to me and her husband that she needed to deal with things in her own way, even if it meant not talking about it, not reading about it or discussing it. In fact, she looked me straight in the eye and said: "This whole mothering thing with constantly providing information and reminding about taking meds- NOT COOL! Stop it!" So there. Duly noted.

As I am writing this I am in Sydney, Australia. Earlier today I met with someone from an NGO that also have a focus on families and serodiscordant couples as well. It was a very stimulating and interesting discussion, and it was good to hear how things are similar and different in Australia (plus I got some fab travel tips for South America as an added bonus).

This trip is bringing me into contact with lots of fascinating people and I am learning lots about them (and even more about me) every day.

Next up: One week Auckland, New Zealand, then a month in Argentina (feel free to get in touch!).

Greetings from down-under,

Magnetic Mama