Figuring out how to survive can be overwhelming. As I look back on my life, I see how the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of HIV still impacts my life. Combine that with the isolation and trauma of COVID, and my feelings of depression are real. Trauma informed HIV services are more critical than ever. Our staff, clients, and donors are all going thought it. How do you manage the PTSD of HIV in the middle of the COVID epidemic?

I thought life would start getting back to normal this fall, so the Delta variant has been a gut punch. With breakthrough infections and so many people unwilling to get vaccinated, I worry about the future. The worry can lead to depression because there is no end in sight. The excitement about vaccines has been tempered by the need for boosters.

I’m sharing my journey because there is so much stigma about depression and too often it goes untreated. I grew up in a family that believed depression was a luxury for the rich. Therapy was for people with money. Looking back on my parents, I believe the PSTD they suffered in the internment camps during WWII set the trajectory for their lives. To this day, life in the camps is not openly discussed in most Japanese families. As children of survivors, we have little to no information about what happened.

It’s time to take back the narrative. What happened in the camps to my parents was not their fault. What happened to my community at the start of the HIV epidemic was not our fault. What happened to the world during COVID is not our fault. My parents lived in shame with the burden of being Japanese when the US was at war with Japan. Too many gay men live in shame and take on the unfair burden that HIV was a punishment from God. Too many people will die from COVID because they don’t trust the government or vaccines.

As we fight our way back, the need for trauma informed HIV services is more critical than ever. We are a world in trauma trying to provide HIV services to communities who have been traumatized because they are different. Thank you Jeffrey Long for the infographic. It’s time to “come out of the closet” again. PTSD is real and its not our fault. I am crazy because of a chemical imbalance that was triggered by life experiences beyond my control. Too many people suffer from the stigma of living with HIV. This stigma can lead to isolation which is a pathway to depression. On better days I wear my depression as a badge of honor because it reminds me that I survived the early days of the HIV epidemic. The pain reminds me to never forget the people we lost and to fight like hell for the living. I’ve also learned that asking for help is not a bad or weak thing. There are healthcare professionals and medications that can make a difference. You are not alone. In my mind I will outlive COVID. Now I just need to convince my heart.

God is Love and Love is for Everyone,
Paul Kawata

Paul Kawata