Today, Monday December 1st, is World AIDS day, and I'm celebrating my resolve to live with this damn virus all these many years without letting it define who I am. Every journey I take, every picture of me you see, and every new challenge I take on are all huge reminders that I must never stop living my best life. So, I decided to share my journey with you today. Honestly, I don’t know what exactly you are dealing with but I’m writing you this to hold tight to your dream. Here's a quick sketch of my journey from the first day I tested positive, 15 years ago. My upcoming book tells the full story.
1999. After three years of different pains and minor illnesses, I was encouraged by my best friend and Professor Soyinka, an HIV specialist, to go get tested so I could face my fear. I had just resumed work as a Copywriter at McCann. I’d rather not know. I was working on Coca Cola, and I would rather live in the joy of that dream. It was that point when you assured yourself this was only a lie from the pit of hell. I had not been a ‘bad boy,’ I would assure myself.
1999. I tested, and it came back positive. I blamed everyone but myself. I wanted to end my life immediately. Trust me, I did try a few things. Then I called on God. I told God to change the status because it didn't look good on him. I sang. I fasted. I gave offerings. Prophet offerings. I died several times, but I didn't die. I was always back to myself. I came up with a few pseudo coping skills, but I was always depressed. The picture of HIV back then was very gory, and I was wasting away.
2004. I realized I didn't die yet. My flesh had not fallen off. My heart was still beating. I still liked rice and pepper stew. I still had early morning erections - and not just in the early mornings. Shouldn't I be dead by now? I began to question everything I ever knew.
2006. I had a local operation for tonsillitis, and it brought my immune system to level zero. I was infected by everything you could name. But I was so happy that I was going to die finally. Wouldn't it be nice to die just like that? Unfortunately, I did not die. I was bedridden for four months and was forced to live by myself. It was there that my Exodus happened. I realized for the 1st time that the real death is when we refuse to live out our full potential. Death is not a physical thing. It is an emotional thing. When we stop living. When we stop laughing. When we stop learning. When we stop crying. Or feeling. So I couldn't wait to get out of the hospital. There, I started the anti-HIV medication. (Trust me, it doesn't kill as I had feared)
2007. I started living and loving myself. As a creative person, I created Orange Academy to start teaching people how to find their creative self. Love themselves. Tell compelling stories. I put all my life into it. Then, I started to undo all my pseudo coping skills. Oh, I had tons of them. Like getting married, wanting people to accept me, being the 'yes' man to Ministers of God - something I did in times past to assure myself I was doing 'God's will.' I stopped sending my money to Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and started investing it on people I could see around me. Little did I realize that God didn't send me to do anything to gain his favor or search for him. God had never been lost. I was meant to find myself and live my authentic life. Lift people up. Fight the oppression around me. I started spending time with myself. I started working out at the gym. I started to travel to enjoy the universe.
2008 - 2010. I looked in the mirror, and I saw a better me. A younger me. A healthier me. No more lies. At Orange Academy, we started the ART OF POSITIVE THINKING and started to use our arts and money to assist people living with debilitating diseases or social conditions. I took those layers of lies off my soul. I started writing my memoir - my full story as a preacher boy trying to find God who art in heaven! [ THE EXODUS coming out next year ]
2014. November. I had an appointment with my doctor in Maryland, USA, and he asked me:
'What's your secret?' All your medical tests are amazing. We tested for everything possible. No new infections or conditions. Blood work is excellent. Nothing at all to worry about. Perfect health. Just that you are still HIV+.'
‘Oh really?’ I said. ‘I thought that had disappeared.’
‘ Well, it’s still there, sadly. I hope Science gets the cure someday soon.’
We both laughed and then I fought back a little tear in my eyes. This dude doesn't know how grateful I am for HIV. Thank God for HIV. I wish I never had it, but Lord I did! It made me run after myself. Maybe I would never have understood myself; that no one can save us but us. Maybe I would never know the refreshing power that loneliness can bring when we embrace our broken self.
Here's what I want you to take away: don't end your dreams just because you are presented with bad news along the way. Remember, HIV doesn't kill anymore; it's ignorance that kills. Use that bad news to ride onto your next phase. It will be tough. I won't lie. Don't be afraid to live vulnerably. It's empowering. Empower yourself by loving yourself. Find yourself. Give yourself to people without expecting anything in return. If you are a Faith person, keep living your Faith in love for humankind. Empty yourself and accept to be filled with kindness from others. Believe me, there are still angels out there to lift you up.
*NOTE: Potentially I cannot infect anyone with HIV since my viral load went to undetectable since 2008. Nevertheless, I still advise that you take precaution with sexual partners as an HIV+ person, so they don't infect you with STDs. If you have not tested, know your status. It's liberating. Starting an HIV medication now doesn't only protect your loved ones but can make you live even longer than people without HIV