Posted by: aidshike | March 25, 2013

ALIVE AND KICKING…Ambition, Fear and Challenges – day fifteen

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Dear Shelly,

Today I have officially sent out the AIDS HIKE website address to about 40 close family and friends in my personal list. I have decided that it is easily ready for their perusal and I feel that we only have one step left before it is ready to launch – the donation page needs to be tweaked to allow donations by credit card. On the site there are: a Homepage, About us, Gallery, Calendar, about the Appalachian Trail, Donations and Sponsorships, Guestbook and an embedded version of this blog. But THIS blog post is about MY STORY and the AIDSHIKE ventures. This story is about the three major challenges that I face that challenge me … in life and in working on this project.

MY PATH TO WORKING ON THIS PROJECT has been interesting. I had the idea over a decade ago and it has been percolating since then, but I had some major things in my life that I had to take care of before I felt ready to dive into this project completely. An obvious one was to make sure that my physical health was ready… and it is… mostly. I still have pretty bad Neuropathy and today, after only a 3.5 mile hike my calves and feet are burning and in pain.

Neuropathy can best be described simply by saying that we all have nerves that start off looking like old twine – braided and taut. My nerves look more like the rope is about to completely pull apart, literally hanging by a few threads. The synapses travel down the nerves on this twine and mine have to jump or transmit over these spaces. The longest nerves from the body are to the feet and hands and that is why I have Neuropathy that affects my legs, feet and hands. When it is at its worst it threatens how my limbs function (or don’t)…<<see blog post “Inspired to walk – an old piece of current writing – day three from February’s archive>> I was told I may never walk again. I have recently been told that it might get worse – and when I asked how bad – I was told “worse than before”. This is just totally unacceptable to me so I walk and ignore the Doctor’s bad news. I am so happy that I can walk and hike that I will do so even if it hurts really badly afterwards.

In some ways though, my being HIV+ and having a body that has shut down or failed me many many times in the past is the easiest part. I also deal with challenges with mental health and addiction. I believe that I was born bi-polar; some have other interpretations, some have given me different or multiple other diagnoses: ADHD, OCD, whatever… they are just verbiage. I prefer being called an INDIGO or if nothing else manic depressive. At least that title accurately describes the extremes one deals with when not medicated or balanced in other ways.

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I have been to the extremes before. I have been in very scary situations where my personal actions took away my personal freedom and left me being in danger to myself or others. Sadly I have seen my brain go so fast and my thinking go to such extremes that I have had manic episodes. I am very happy to say that it has been over a decade since I have dealt with those realities, but the vivid memories of the extremes are things I almost never share in detail… and I won’t here. Let’s just say to understand more about Bi-Polar disorder – Google it… and I must be clear that I wasn’t an angry postman or crazy student and thankfully never caused any damage except mainly to myself and those close to me. My experiences usually were examples of extreme creativity and spirituality that I think others could never understand but that are too much for one to control… were for ME to control.

So today I gladly take medications and work with doctors (Psychiatrist and Psychologist) at my HIV clinic – The Moore Clinic, and I have not changed my medications in over a year & a half and only had minor tweaking for the years previous. I still get depressed and I still have times of great creativity, productivity and spirituality; but I have learned to observe, diagnose and understand these swings, and either be gentle with myself and chill; or harness the creativity and focus it on positive projects. I have consciously chosen to live alone (with my doctor’s strong encouragement) because I am already nocturnal but can be up even later when I am productive… and I need my space. My cat just rolls her eyes. I have been told by my doctors and my closest friends recently that I am doing amazingly well and have been for so long that doing any other way seems like a long while in my past.

And let’s be honest, MOST PEOPLE get up and down regularly and I have the benefit of being aware and accountable for these swings!!!

I also have had to spend most of my life dealing with what have been at times crippling addiction. I now know that this is largely due to the extremes of my mental health challenges, and of course ingrained behavior and bad habits just progress if not acknowledged and dealt with. It is amazing that even though I was diagnosed HIV+ in 1987 it took until 1999 before I went to my first twelve step meeting. Now I go to meetings because I love being there. Along the path of recovery I have met some of my closest friends, and sharing harrowing paths and sharing about these past experiences builds bonds of trust that are forged in a need to be there for each other.

For those who have never dealt with addiction issues this is also a very hard path to explain, but just like mental health challenges there are tens of millions of people who walk these troubled paths every day…One Day at a Time. Early on in the “rooms” I met friends that shared how although we work so very hard to get sober and live in recovery, the best gift of sobriety is becoming a better person. And I believe I have. In the rooms we also thrive on supporting others and being of service to the group. I have had some amazing sponsors along the way including one who I talk to almost every day now. We actually rarely talk about addiction or recovery instead he is just a great sounding board. And I talk to others very regularly too. I stay after meetings for 30 minutes or more sharing how I have grown through the program and listening to others. Not only have I gone out to dinner with others in program more times than I can count, but I have gone to movies, gone hiking, gone on road trips and had others stay at my house as well as I have stayed at others before. We call these opportunities “fellowship” and I am blessed to have such an amazing support system of fellowship with other recovering addicts

I have gone on a men’s initiation weekend: the New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA) with The Mankind Project (mkp.org) too. I know that this weekend saved my life as I went to my first meetings very soon after going on my weekend. I have gone back and staffed weekends and been in weekly groups as well as led groups, and this program is an incredible blessing as well. But I am sick of telling people that I went to my “men’s group meeting” when I actually went to twelve step meetings.

I am a very grateful recovering addict (and will always be in recovery… never cured) I know that if I don’t take care of myself I can have a slip or relapse very easily. Thankfully it has been a long time since I have descended into those deep, depressing, lonely, shameful bouts of self-loathing that come when lost in my addiction. I have learned so many skills about how to take care of myself, and thanks to meetings, my therapist, my shrink and an amazing network of family and friends I hope and pray that I will never go back there.

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It is in dealing with these challenging paths… my “trifecta” of being an HIV+ bipolar addict… that I have gotten to know myself better and had the blessing of being able to look at myself honestly, be humbled and be so thankful for the beauty of my life and all that I can accomplish. I have spent decades underachieving and dealing with the realities of having to dig so deep to stay alive, and now I know that I am alive. Very alive. As the Simple Minds sang in the 80’s: ALIVE AND KICKING.

today 3.5 miles


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