By: Tez Anderson, HIV Long-Term Survivor & Founder of Let's Kick ASS—AIDS Survivor Syndrome
COVID-19 is having a significant impact on the social and mental health of older adults with HIV and long-term survivors, according to a recent study by HIV+Aging Research Project—Palm Springs (HARP-PS).
Half of the HARP-PS study participants reported increased frustration, boredom, sleep disruptions, and not getting enough exercise. There’s no doubt that some of the stress is from social distancing on a population already facing a crisis of isolation.
But there is something else going on. For months, I’ve been beating myself up because the simplest tasks seem insurmountable. I can’t seem to get motivated or to stay focused. I thought it was just me, so I asked around. I am not the only one having these problems. Everyone I talk with is struggling with the same issues.
While there are very few similarities between AIDS and COVID 19, but another deadly pandemic triggers old trauma from another time when we faced another inescapable invisible enemy. When stress has no endpoint, it is more challenging to cope, mentally, and physically. In the early AIDS epidemic, we could at least forge a community response. We could gather and demand action. Now we are told to keep our distance because social distancing is unique to COVID 19. It is also more contagious so being in a group is dangerous. Zoom calls have replaced face time, and while it is the only option, the difference of being behind a screen is a poor imitation of being together.
|AIDS Survivors Summit - 2014|
The threat of COVID 19 is enormous and probably foremost on our minds. But there is more weighing on all of us. We are weeks away from the most critical election in history.
The threat of COVID 19 is against the backdrop of the rage we feel that COVID 19 did not have to be this bad. America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is the worst in the world because of a lack of leadership. We have an anti-science president who failed to create an early cohesive national strategy to bend the curve. Other nations did it, and are living is more tolerable. Trump politicized the virus, mocked mask-wearing as a sign of weakness, and undermined public health experts’ recommendations. The current occupant of the White House uses COVID 19 to divide an already splintered nation. We have audio proof that the president knew how deadly it COVID 19 was and downplayed the danger. He lied instead of lead.
We all want things “to go back to normal” to a time before COVID 19 turned our world upside down. We need to accept the reality that COVID 19 will be a threat for years. The presidential promises of “it will end soon” and that we will have a vaccine before election day is more lies.
For the sake of our sanity, we must ignore everything Trump says. Instead, listen to the public health expert we trust. Dr. Anthony Fauci is the only reliable source of information for navigating this pandemic. In a recent interview, Fauci corrected Trump’s lie, “If you’re talking about getting back to a degree of normality before COVID, it’s going to be well into 2021, towards the end of 2021.”
This coronavirus rollercoaster we’re on has no end in sight. Those of us aging with HIV will be the last ones to get off the COVID-19 rollercoaster because we do not want to risk our lives.
Not Our First Pandemic was the 2020 theme for HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness on June 5. This one is proving to have resonance. Coming together has always been our strength. Now we are forced to gather virtually. Let’s Kick ASS has a closed, moderated Facebook Group called the HIV Long-Term Survivors League, where we have conversations about these extraordinary times. It is a chance to converse with other survivors in a safe space.
Approximately 1.2 million people are living with HIV and AIDS in the US. Sixty percent of HIV-positive women and men over age fifty and 25 percent have lived with the virus before 1996. That’s 720,000 who are the first-generation aging with HIV and 300,000 HIV longest-term survivors facing deadly stress. A population who mostly live in poverty with social networks shredded by AIDS and aging.
As we have for decades, we must persevere, know that we are not alone, and are an untapped resource. Do not allow discrimination based on age, or ageism, rob us of our voices. And be sensible about the threat of COVID 19. We’ve survived with HIV for decades let’s ensure we take all precautions to prevent catching COVID 19. Wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your physical distance but remain emotionally connected even if it is virtual. And vote like our lives depends on it.
These are surreal times, but you are not alone.
About Let's Kick ASS — AIDS Survivor Syndrome: Let's Kick ASS — AIDS Survivor Syndrome has been empowering HIV Long-Term Survivors to thrive since 2013. They are an all-volunteer, grassroots movement, united in compassion, committed to action, and insisting on visibility. Let's Kick ASS started by and for people living longest with HIV/AIDS to address an unmet need — addressing the present-day psychosocial ramifications of living in the aftermath of the early AIDS pandemic. They are the originator and lead sponsor of the June 5th "HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day" #HLTSAD. Donate to Let's Kick ASS — AIDS Survivor Syndrome.
Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates.