“…It took about 30 minutes for the nursing staff to return to our small waiting room with his results. In those 30 minutes, I began to sweat, and imagine what my response could be if he turned out to test positive for something. What if he had HIV? How would I explain this? My boyfriend, of course, had his own sexual history, but I was the one with a raunchier past. I knew he had been tested before, and I knew he was negative, but I couldn’t help but be fearful of having given him something I didn’t know I had myself.
36.7 million people were living with HIV in 2016, according to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Startlingly, only 60 percent of those with HIV were aware of their status, meaning over 14 million people were living life not knowing they carried the virus. Despite the myths surrounding the disease, it’s not easy to know you’re living with it.”
Mike Shriver has been living with HIV for 32 years. His diagnosis has survived five mayoral administrations, two high-pressure years doing AIDS prevention and policy work in Washington, D.C., and death threats from haters. His physical and mental health have taken a toll, and his faith has been tested.
But he’s doing just fine.
“I really am the luckiest man alive,” he said. “I’m very privileged and I know it and I don’t ever forget how lucky I am.”
When Shriver began advocating for AIDS treatment in the 1990s, at the epidemic’s peak, one in 25 San Franciscans were said to have HIV and one in 50 had an AIDS diagnosis. Comparatively, HIV infections and deaths in The City today are at their lowest rate in decades, thanks to advancements in treatment and prevention and the work of Shriver and his cohorts fighting for funding and a cure.
After a sabbatical to tend to his own health issues, including diabetes and Hepatitis C, Shriver has returned to advocacy — as co-chair of the city and county’s HIV Community Planning Council and as a steering committee member of Getting To Zero SF, working to reduce HIV transmission and deaths by 2020. His hiatus helped him achieve a new level of physical wellness and a deeper awareness of what personal balance and recovery from grief and trauma look like.
“I’m no longer so self-destructive,” he said, referring to his former lifestyle that put community work first and his own health second. “Workaholism is the most socially acceptable and rewarded addiction.”
No one living with HIV/AIDS is immune from the impact of isolation. Numerous studies find that social isolation is a problem among the aging population in general, and especially among the elderly living with HIV. Younger persons are also affected. One study found that younger people living with HIV/AIDS experience more disconnectedness from family and friends than their older peers do. Researchers believe this is due to a combination of factors, including stigma, feeling blamed by others for their illness and younger people not identifying with the need to battle a chronic illness. It should also be noted that persons affected by HIV/AIDS, especially those who went through the 1980s and 1990s, can experience the same symptoms of trauma and isolation as people who are HIV-positive.