Quit Smoking Tip of The Week: Keep The Weight Off! Part 1

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appetite apple close up delicious

Post cessation weight gain can cause a lot of stress for most people. You don’t want to put on 10-15 extra pounds, especially if that will put you in the overweight or obese category. That’s completely understandable, and there are small changes you can make in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight but most importantly a healthy and active lifestyle.

First, I do want to address the fear of gaining weight while quitting smoking. If you are concerned about the health implications of gaining weight, know that putting on a temporary 10-15 pounds is far healthier than continuing to smoke or use tobacco. This is something I touch on with my clients who bring up weight as a major concern or trigger in their reduction/quit journey. I also like to let clients know that the upside to quitting is that even when you do gain a few pounds, your body is continuing to detox and rebuild its cellular processes post smoking cessation. This means that you will be able to more efficiently burn fat and put on healthy amounts of muscle because you are no longer doing continuous damage to your organs (which must function optimally to lose the RIGHT kind of weight).

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With my background in nutrition and weight loss coaching, I understand that this can feel like an uphill battle oftentimes, but rest assured that all you need is patience and dedication and there is no reason that you won’t be able to prevent or remedy weight gain after quitting. The best thing you are doing for your physical health and appearance is quitting smoking. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be fit and also a smoker- something to keep in mind.

Okay, so HOW exactly do you manage your weight?

Now let’s get into the details: how do you lose weight or even prevent the weight gain altogether? This is going to be a multi-part blog series, because there is no one magic secret that is going to do the trick. Tons of things factor into weight and how you gain and lose it, and it takes a long time for both to happen. In America especially, we get so caught up in the “immediate results, immediate gratification” mindset that we don’t step back and take a look at the whole picture.

Two Major Components: Exercise and Nutrition

These are the most well-known components to a healthy weight and lifestyle, yet most people are still not eating the right types of foods and either not exercising enough or exercising too much.

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A healthy diet includes a diet consisting of healthy fats, proteins and vegetables and a moderate amount of complex carbohydrates, such as the Mediterranean diet. The Mayo Clinic offers a great, easy to follow guide here.  One of the most important things that you can do for yourself regarding weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight is to eliminate as much processed food from your diet as possible. This includes chips, donuts, cereal, etc. This doesn’t mean that you can never eat these types of foods, but it’s encouraged to limit these to a “once in a blue moon” snack and not a daily (or even weekly) item to have.

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Now it’s time to touch on physical activity. You should strive to get 20-30 minutes of exercise each day at minimum. These guidelines are from the American Heart Association. This includes walking, so don’t let yourself get discouraged if you don’t have time (or the strength) to hit the weights every day. If you work, try to get up every hour or so to do a lap around your building. Take the long way to the restroom. Even park farther away (or, if you utilize public transportation and live in a safe area, try walking to your destinations as much as possible). Walking and more intense forms of cardio can be wonderful for jump starting a weight loss journey. But if you stick to JUST cardio, it will be just that and only that: weight loss. Not fat loss. Excessive cardio eats away your muscle, so you want to be careful to not overdo it. Muscle is what you want to keep, and build, in order to actually loose fat. The more muscle you have on your body, the higher your resting metabolism. It’s important to mix up your routine if you’re looking to lose fat rather than maintain your weight. Work on building strength, and the weight will come off (as long as you stick to a healthy diet—trust me, I have personal experience from years of learning that you can never out train a bad diet! Fat loss starts in the kitchen). Next week, we will go a little deeper in proper exercise and nutrition as well as touch on another important, but often neglected factor in healthy weight and lifestyle.

Tobacco Reduction Program Services

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Happy New Year, everyone! As we enter 2019, most of us have goals of renewing ourselves and refocusing on our health- whether that’s mental or physical. Along with those goals may be a big one: quitting tobacco or continuing to reduce your tobacco use as we enter the New Year. Whether you have never quit before, or have been quitting for the past year, the Tobacco Treatment Specialists at UNIFIED want to help you quit and stay tobacco free- whatever that looks like in your life!

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You may be wondering “Do I qualify for these FREE services, and if so, what exactly do these services provide?” To qualify for the Tobacco Reduction Program at UNIFIED you need to be an individual living with HIV/AIDS, qualify as low-income and live in either the Detroit, Ypsilanti or Jackson area. If you have never received case management services with UNIFIED before but fit the above qualifications, you still qualify for these FREE tobacco cessation services!

So what does a tobacco reduction counseling session consist of, anyways? The short of it, is that it is different for everyone and up to you what you want your reduction and quit plan looks like. We, as tobacco cessation counselors, are here to offer proven-strategies, non-judgmental support and accurate information to help guide your journey to a successful smoke-free life.

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When I meet with my clients, I think of it as them driving the car and me simply navigating the route for them. Most smokers know what they need to do to quit, but need a little guidance to create an individual and effective game plan to get there. That’s where Tobacco Treatment Specialists come in!

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Not ready to quit or reduce, but a little concerned about the health, social or personal implications of tobacco use? Come talk to a cessation counselor! We respect the boundaries of our clients and don’t push when an individual is not ready to make this big change. What we will do is offer information when appropriate, have open conversations about the pros and cons of smoking, and help you decide if it is the right time in your life to quit and give real feedback on what tools (mental coping strategies) you will need when you decide you’re ready to work towards reducing or setting a quit date. There’s nothing to lose by speaking with a tobacco cessation counselor, except maybe a pack of cigarettes or two!

Give us a call today! For our Detroit location, reach Amber Jager at (313)446-9817 and for our Ypsilanti and Jackson location, reach Erin Suprunuk at (734)572-9355.

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From Day One to Today: Becoming a PLHIV

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 By: Jonathon Arntson

Hello there. I’m Jonathon. I work at UNIFIED –  HIV Health and Beyond as the Health Education Coordinator. Three plus years ago I became HIV+. Since then I’ve experienced my ups and downs, but I keep myself getting through it with support from friends and family, helping others where I can, and maintaining a sense of humor no matter what. One way in which I am doing that is to share my experiences (adventures?) as a person living with HIV (PLHIV) who also works in the field. You can look forward to me sharing those with you a couple times a month. It’s my hope that my writings will prompt us to engage in progressive discussions about the state of HIV today. I also hope that anyone reading will be inspired to share their own stories. I shared my first day story on thebody.com. You can view it here and you will see snippets peppered into my ongoing posts. 

After I tested positive, I received the “first day” welcome kit of a blood draw, pamphlets, referrals, and you-must-use-condoms-now finger-waggings . Then, I arrived home to begin coping. I felt like I was beginning the same transition you witness in old vampire and werewolf films.

I noticed little changes here and there. After a while, the changes felt deeper like every bug bite or blood cell had mutated into weird little monsters. After a while, I didn’t even realize I had a fever until it began dissipating. I fell asleep and woke up a few hours later. But instead of waking up with powers or sharper teeth or fur all over, I felt exactly the same. And the fever had been a result of emotions. My blood felt the same inside me, and I would soon learn it looks the same. I was beginning the (still ongoing) grieving process.

Although I was still reeling from the werewolf episode, the day after my confirmatory result was also my first day back at work. At the time, I was working at a housewares store–the brand at which I had worked for five intermittent years. When I started that night’s shift, I’d mostly forgotten about my transition into a mutant. As happened too often at this job, I cut my finger on something. Getting cut is inevitable at this home store. Between glass, cardboard, splintered wood, and unloading trucks, getting cut is inevitable at this homestore; I endured hands covered in bandages on the weekly. I did not see it coming but this first day as a new creature gave me a crash-course in accepting myself as-is.

As soon as I cut my finger on a broken vase that a customer left sitting on a shelf, I was transported to a Tarantino film.

Blood sprayed from my hand, and then from my fingertips. Each blink changed my surroundings between neon colors like I was in an early iPod commercial-turned-horror film. I rushed to the restroom, locked myself in, grabbed a wad of paper towel, and crouched into a vertical version of the fetal position. I stayed in the restroom for half an hour as I worried about what I should do. I knew I needed to rinse off my hand but I was afraid to get blood on the faucet handles.

I finally overcame my dread and turned on the water. Instead of sticking my now mostly dried, bloody hand into the water, I plunged my face into the cascade and washed away the irrationality. I cleaned my hands, cleaned the minimal blood off the sink, and left the restroom to dress the wound as though nothing was out of the ordinary. To this day, I still have a small panicked feeling when I see my blood. This feeling diminishes the more I learn about HIV and how being undetectable equals untransmittable.

Speaking of undetectable, I will be sharing many posts grappling with the drama and trauma of being a patient and a case worker/educator.

Months after testing reactive, I volunteered at UNIFIED (formerly AIDS Partnership Michigan). I didn’t know how to talk about HIV or what I was going through. It was easier to say I was “fine” and gulp than to own up to my not knowing what the hell to do or say.

But I showed up, answered calls on the Michigan HIV/STD Hotline (800-872-2437), and covered the front desk. My time volunteering allowed me to hone my communication skills while building confidence in the facts surrounding HIV and how I engaged with them.

I then gained knowledge and confidence working on and off with CARES of SW Michigan and Mr. Friendly to co-facilitate weekend camps for positive men. We learned about disclosure, healthy relationships, and the ongoing science behind HIV. This involvement put me right in the middle of being a person with HIV as well as a counselor for my peers.

I spent my first year employed with UNIFIED as a Linkage to Care Specialist. I worked with newly diagnosed individuals, those who had fallen out of care, and those who had recently relocated to Metro-Detroit. I went through Linkage to Care as a client and when I had the opportunity to switch sides and become the specialist, I was anxious and excited. I had never had a “real job”  before. Taking that opportunity lead me to an even better one, and two months ago I became the Health Education Coordinator at UNIFIED. This position has me in charge of support and education groups, building and maintaining partnerships with peer AIDS service organizations (ASOs), medical clinics, and community agencies offering services to address needs well beyond HIV care.

Beside working at UNIFIED, I participate in panels and discussions as a PLHIV, work on the draft of an autobiography, and write letters to my legislators imploring them to support drastic augmentation to the Michigan HIV Disclosure Law. Lastly, I am working on a website that will offer a space for PLHIV and their loved ones to share their stories. This project has many logistics and barriers to deal with and I am moving very slowly. If you are inclined to help, I would never decline.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to offering you more insights and anecdotes about how I got to being more than just “fine.” Whew. It was really nice to write about myself without it being on a dating app.

Love, Jonathon

social media:

Facebook: jonathon.arntson

Instagram: @themanwiththemichigantattoo

Twitter: @monkeyboydet

Tobacco Reduction – What’s In A Quit Kit?

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By: Kayla Gamino (UNIFIED Tobacco Treatment Specialist)

An ample part of UNIFIED’s tobacco reduction program includes creating quit kits for clients.  During the initial assessment, we bring out the quit kit while discussing possible quit dates.  Each client accessing tobacco reduction services receives 1 quit kit for their time working with the tobacco treatment specialist.  Each quit kit includes: a journal, pens, candy/gum, educational tools, and fidget toys.

Journal- The journal is an especially important piece of the quit kit.  The journal is a good tool to help keep track of a person’s smoking habits prior to their quit date.  Many clients use it to write down when they have cravings, what they are doing when they have cravings, and how they are feeling when they have a craving.  This will help the tobacco treatment specialist and client to better come up with coping mechanisms and a quit plan together for when the client experiences cravings.  For example, if Mike records that he has a craving every time he is feeling bored then coming up with things for Mike to do while he is bored can help combat cravings.

Originally posted by gerimagsakay

Pens- The pens are good for when the client needs to journal.  We put 2-3 different colored pens in each quit kit to make it easier for the client to be able to journal. Pens can also act as a fidget toy.

Candy/Gum-  Each quit kit comes with a variety of candy.  We use Twizzlers, Life Savers, and mints normally.  The Twizzlers can help with the hand to mouth habit of smoking.  It is a similar shape to a cigarette.  The Life Savers, mints, and gum are good at combating the oral fixation that often comes with smokers.

Originally posted by fadedmapdots

Educational Tools-  In each quit kit, we put a pamphlet for the Michigan Tobacco Quit Line.  In the pamphlet, it gives little facts on how smoking affects the body as well as the number to the Quit Line for clients to utilize.  We also include a UNIFIED Tobacco Services palm card that has contact information and HIV and Tobacco use facts.  As an added bonus, we include the Michigan HIV/STD Hotline number.

Fidget Toys-  Each quit kit includes rubber bands that are used by switching wrists when a craving occurs.  It helps to keep the hands and mind busy.  Additionally, each client gets to choose another fidget toy.  We have two different options.  One is a bike chain fidget toy that is small enough to fit in a pants pocket.  The other is a Bendeez toy that can be molded into different shapes.  Both are used to help combat boredom and keep the hands and mind busy.

Originally posted by cracked

All of these items have gotten positive feedback from current tobacco clients.  If you are a current tobacco user and you think that a quit kit would be beneficial to your quit/reduction attempt, please contact UNIFIED- HIV Health and Beyond to meet with a Tobacco Treatment Specialist!

Introduction to UNIFIED’s Tobacco Reduction Program

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By: Kayla Gamino (UNIFIED Tobacco Treatment Specialist)

A session with the tobacco treatment specialists is different for everybody.  We meet you wherever you’re at and will continue to be there for you every step of the way.  It all starts with a referral from your case manager.  At each visit, they will ask about your tobacco use and assess your readiness to quit.  If you both decide that you are a good candidate for the tobacco program, the case manager will fill out a referral form with you and give it to the tobacco treatment specialists (TTS).

So how is your readiness to quit determined?  Through The FIVE A’s; ask, advise, assess, assist, and arrange.

  • Ask- Your case manager is required to ask every client about their tobacco use at each visit and record it in our records.
  • Advise-  If the client answered that they were a tobacco user, then the case manager will advise them to quit their tobacco use and discuss the benefits of doing so.
  • Assess-  Next, the case manager will assess the clients willingness and readiness to make a quit attempt.  If the client is interested in talking to the TTS about tobacco reduction, the case manager will then make the referral to the tobacco treatment specialist.  In some cases the case manager will refer the client, with the client’s consent, to the TTS before they are considered “ready” in order to get the client thinking about quitting and to help establish the relationship between the client and the tobacco treatment specialist.
  • Assist- At this point, the case manager and the tobacco treatment specialist have touched base and the client is now being assisted by completing sessions with the TTS.  During the sessions, the client and TTS will discuss reduction strategies and possible nicotine replacement therapy options.  These sessions can go many ways depending on the clients needs.  Some clients need to talk about outside sources that are affecting their tobacco use, while others simply want information on tobacco and health.
  • Arrange-  The TTS will arrange follow-ups with the client.  Depending on the clients stage of change and the client’s schedule, the TTS will likely meet weekly or biweekly with the client.  These follow-ups can be by phone or in person.  In some instances, the TTS will also meet the client at their home or a local business.  This is the point in the treatment where the TTS tries to meet the client wherever is easiest for them in order to help make the client more successful in their quit attempt.
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Originally posted by firelordasami

How we assess a client’s stage of change:
The Transtheoretical Model

The transtheoretical model is a behavior change model that was specifically created with tobacco cessation in mind.  The 5 stages of change are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.  It is important to know that the stages of change are not linear (that they don’t go in a single straight order).  Someone can go from being in action to contemplation in an instance.

  • Precontemplation- the client is not ready to quit or is not even considered quitting.
  • Contemplation- the client is considering quitting in the next 6 months.
  • Preparation- the client is ready to quit within the next 30 days.
  • Action- the client is currently on their quit attempt.
  • Maintenance- the client has successfully quit for 6 months.
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Because the transtheoretical model is not linear, a client can attempt to quit many times before being successful.  It is important to know that the tobacco treatment specialists are aware that not everyone will be successful right off the bat.  The specialists are there to help the client every step of the way in a completely non-judgmental environment.  Whether you’ve been working with them for months and relapse, or you met with them once and decided the program isn’t for you, they will always be there for you when you are ready to talk again.

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Want to learn more about UNIFIED’s tobacco reduction program? Visit us online at http://miunified.org/Get-Help/Services/Tobacco-Reduction-Services for more information.

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HIV IS NOT A CRIME – Michigan Lobby Day

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received_10153359466535938 By: Sidney Skipper

Sidney Skipper talks about his experiences at Michigan Lobby Day in Lansing.

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I’m in Lansing, Michigan at the State Capital Building, with officials from the Michigan Coalition for HIV Health and Safety (MCHHS), Kelly Doyle and Todd Heywood.  We’re joined by Teresa Perrin whose son is serving a seven year sentence under Michigan’s HIV Disclosure laws.  We’ve gathered here on this beautiful fall day to speak with State Representatives, Brian Banks, Winnie Brinks and Tom Cochran, about co sponsoring a bill that would amend the 1988 Michigan HIV Disclosure Laws, (MCL 333-5210), to place responsibility on the prosecutor to prove intent to transmit the virus, and that transmission actually occurred.  Right now the law is vague and left to interpretation, it ignores the intent requirement, and while the CDC categorizes spitting and biting as low risk for transmission, persons can still be prosecuted for these actions. Nor does the present legislation take into account that in 2016 an HIV diagnosis is a chronic manageable condition.

Did you know that in Michigan you can be charged with a felony and jailed for 4 years or more for not disclosing your HIV status to a partner?  An HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, and yet men and women in Michigan and around the country are sitting in prison for non disclosure, and in some cases placed on a sex offender list, even if they didn’t transmit the virus to the accuser, even if they used a condom, and even if they’re on medication that lowers the chances of transmitting the virus by up to 96%. Thirty three states have laws that explicitly focus on people living with HIV, the only infection that can become a felony, in spite of the fact that there are other diseases that are transmitted in the same manner, and can also lead to death if left untreated, for example, Hepatitis B.  Iowa and Colorado are the only two states to have amended their laws to reflect the new science of HIV.

The US Department of Justice states, “While HIV specific state criminal laws may be viewed as initially well intentioned and necessary law enforcement tools, the vast majority do not reflect the current state of the science of HIV, and places additional burdens on individuals living with HIV.”   According to the PLHIV Stigma Index Detroit, 88% of respondents don’t trust Michigan courts to give them a fair hearing if they are accused of not disclosing their HIV status to a partner.  62% felt that it’s reasonable not to get an HIV test for fear of prosecution. 46% felt that it was reasonable not to disclose their HIV status for fear of prosecution. And over half of the respondents felt that it was reasonable not to seek care out of fear of prosecution.  Just because someone doesn’t disclose their HIV status doesn’t mean that they want to hurt their partner.  The choking fear of stigma and unjust prosecution is silencing, and it’s stifling our efforts to completely eradicate this disease.

I was diagnosed HIV positive twenty-five years ago, on October 29, 1989, and given a year to live. Since 2000, I’ve been on ART (Antiretroviral Therapy), one pill a day.  The virus is undetectable in my blood, which makes it unlikely that I can pass the virus to a partner during sexual intercourse. I will not deny the anguish that living with HIV causes, and has caused me over the years, but I have never held anyone but myself responsible for me contracting the virus.  As I told Representative Cochran:  To accuse a person of non disclosure, to jail them and ruin their life, while we no longer die from HIV if we’re in treatment with undetectable levels of the virus in our blood, seems to be cruel and unusual punishment to me.

All of the representatives or their aides that we spoke to on this day were gracious and receptive to our recommendations. The new bill that MCHHS crafted does not repeal the disclosure statutes all together.  A key part of the new legislation states, “A person who acts with the specific intent to transmit the HIV infection to another person, and engages in conduct that poses a substantial risk of transmission, and actually causes HIV infection to the other person, is guilty of a crime punishable by not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.”  When you take into consideration that HIV is no longer a death sentence, misdemeanor charges, rather than felony charges, are sufficient consequences for an intentional transmission of a treatable, infectious disease. If I might add, intending to infect someone with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is very rare.

My personal feeling is that the laws should be repealed all together, but during a conference I attended earlier this year, I was told that because of the stigma, the animus surrounding HIV, prosecutors would use other legislation to prosecute offenders with the intent to infect, but with this legislation we are the gatekeepers.  UNIFIED: HIV Health and Beyond joins The White House National HIV/AIDS Strategy to End HIV, to support this bill, because it aligns with the  current science, and because we are dedicated to advancing prevention, providing access to healthcare, community research and above all, advocacy that we feel advances the dignity of people living with HIV.

My most memorable meeting of the day was at the Capital offices of the primary sponsor of the bill, the Honorable Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Representative Hoadley is a formidable champion dedicated to modernizing the Michigan HIV Disclosure laws. He would like to have at least thirteen co sponsors for the legislation before he introduces it.  We’re already halfway there, thanks to the hard work of past advocates, and today we may have added four more. The MCHHS has another lobby day scheduled for November 11, 2016, and we need all of the advocates that we can muster to stand with us.  This is a call to action for those interested in reforming our outmoded, unjust HIV Criminalization Laws, to come on out and join us in Lansing, Michigan on November 11, 2016, in the gilded halls of the Michigan State Capital building.  Todd Heywood, the Policy Director for MCHHS encourages us to, “Take responsibility to empower ourselves to protect ourselves and our partner.”  For more information about the next Lobby Day contact Todd at, Todd@MCHHS.info, or call 517-899-6182.

AIDS Survival Syndrome Excerpt from Lust or Love: A Gay Odyssey

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received_10153359466535938By: Sidney Skipper

“Sweating, heart palpitating; suddenly I’m awake, sitting up in bed. “My body, something is happening inside my body.” The spot where I was sleeping is soaked. It’s 4am in the morning. Kenny is laying sound asleep next to me. “Something is happening inside my body.” Thoughts of AIDS rush around my mind: Flu symptoms, night sweats, high risk, enlarged lymph nodes, no cure. My anxiety is replaced with a decision to get tested immediately.

I try to go back to sleep, but when Kenny wakes at 7am I’m still wide awake. “We’ve got to get tested.” Kenny doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I show him the soaked spot on my pillow, and explain this dread fear that I have. “I may have AIDS and I need to know.” Now, Kenney is the type of man who feels that as long as he isn’t sick, he doesn’t want to know, or need to know, whether anything’s wrong. It’s important to me so after a couple of days of discussion he agrees to go with me to get tested for HIV.

It’s early October, 1989, the leaves on the trees are emblazoned with colors ranging from lush browns to bright yellow, vibrant red and orange. The air is crisp and clear. On the way to Henry Ford Hospital, where HIV/AIDS anonymous testing is done, I look out of the car window at natures kaleidoscope of color as if I’m looking at it for the last time.

When we arrive at the hospital we’re directed to an isolated wing where one person is drawing blood and counseling. Very little is known about HIV at the time. We’re told that we would have the results of our blood test in two weeks. “Two weeks.” Needless to say those two weeks are filled with visible anxiety for me. Kenny on the other hand appears apathetic. I call Kenny’s apathy invisible anxiety.

The phone is ringing. It’s 9am October 27, 1989. “Hello.” “Hello, Mr. Skipper, this is Bill Townsend. We need for you and your partner to come in to the clinic to receive your test results.” It’s the counselor from the testing center at Henry Ford Hospital. “Can’t you give them to me over the phone?” “No,” is the response, “Against policy.” I knew that. I don’t know why I asked. “OK, we’re on our way.”

The Palmer Park area off of Woodward Ave. and six mile road in Detroit was once a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Now it’s a predominantly gay neighborhood. Most of the gay black males and females in Detroit pass through Palmer Park at some time in their life. The rent for apartments and housing surrounding the park range from moderate to very expensive accommodating tastes for the simple as well as the sublime. The park is about six miles in diameter, with a wooded area, a pond and an old log cabin with some historical merit. Summer art fairs are held there, the Hotter Than July Gay Pride picnic is also held there. There are areas for family picnics, a playground, golf course, tennis courts and a swimming pool for the children. The parks diametrically round landscaping makes it ideal for inner city joggers. Its large parking lots also make it a superb cruising spot for straight and gay cuties eager to show off their sexy bodies, and their array of wonderful new cars that only Detroit can produce.

After leaving the appointment at the Henry Ford Hospital clinic, Kenny and I drive to Palmer Park and park in one of the lots under the canopy of the magnificent autumn sky. We finish of a fifth of rum and coca-cola, and smoke a joint. Our HIV test results came back positive. We don’t discuss how we got the virus or who infected us. We don’t accuse one another because we have always practiced safe sex. We must have had the virus when we met. At this point where we got the virus from is not important. What to do next is. Although the doctor told us that we would be dead in a year, I’m not depressed. I’m a child of the sixties, the generation that questioned the inherent value of everything, and believed that we could achieve anything. “Pass the joint Kenny.”

That was twenty-five years ago. I watched and waited for death while my friends and lovers passed away before my very eyes. Kenny passed away in 2005. I woke up one day and realized that I had survived what they now call the “AIDS Generation,” those of us who contracted HIV over twenty years ago when it was a death sentence. We helped to build the successes that the newly infected now enjoy through years of advocacy and caring. We are the last of our generation. We hold all of its memory, all of its history. In the throes of a plague no one thought about those of us who would survive. How do you deal with life after expecting to die?

The national strategy to tackle HIV/AIDS now is focused on the youth and prevention, as it should be. The needs of Long Term Survivors are somewhat different and are only beginning to be addressed. Many HIV long term survivors suffer from what is known as AIDS Survival Syndrome (ASS), a form of PTSD. In 2012 Tez Anderson and Matt Sharp launched a grass roots community group for people who survived the early years of the AIDS epidemic, called Let’s Kick ASS. ASS is defined by chronic anxiety, isolation, survivor guilt, depression, substance abuse, insomnia, sporadic anger, sexual risks and a lack of future orientation. Those without partners often have less income making them vulnerable to financial hardship. Some are too emotionally damaged to form new relationships or friendships for fear of being abandoned. Given a year to live some liquidated their assets, signing away their financial future. Between 2009 and 2012 suicide accounted for 4% of all deaths among people living with HIV in San Francisco, far above the national average of 1.5%. Like in the early days of the AIDS epidemic when we rallied to care for each other and ourselves, we must rally once again to understand and overcome ASS.

UNIFIED – HIV Health and Beyond salutes our long term survivors. Since 1983 UNIFIED has been a port in the storm and trusted ally for people living with HIV. UNIFIED remains dedicated to servicing the needs of those infected and affected by HIV by advancing prevention, access to health care, community research and advocacy. After Kenny died I reached out to AIDS Partnership Michigan, now UNIFIED – HIV Health and Beyond. They helped to educate myself and my family about the realities of HIV. For more information about ASS and the Lets KICK ASS campaign visit their website at http://letskickass.org/UNIFIED is available to assist you with any issues you may have. Please feel free to contact us, 313-446-9800. www.miunified.org  You are not alone.

Sidney Skipper

PLHIV Stigma Index Leadership Council member

Author, Motivational Speaker