I don't quite remember when I fell in love with tea but I do remember the most special moments of me drinking tea. I was eighteen years old and I went to live with my biological mother for four months. I had just met her months earlier and it was awkward for both of us. She and her ex-husband lived a very quiet life in Boulder, Colorado. He was a professor at one of the universities and she was a housewife. After years of drug addiction and being in and out of jail, she deserved the break. I was homeless so she and her husband agreed to let me come live with them. Each evening my mother and I would find a spot in the living room with a cup of tea and a book.

Now, years later, I'm a self proclaimed tea expert. I start each day with a wonderful English Breakfast tea to get me going. As the day progresses, who knows what wonderful tea I will crown queen. But for sure, I have at least three cups of tea a day. And yes, when I can, I have tea everyday at about 3:00 P. M. I love to invite my friends over for tea and cupcakes and so far everyone thinks it’s a delightful experience. I am always in search of the best blend of tea. Yes, I’m a tea snob, I prefer loose tea but I do like some bags also. I have learned not to judge a book by it’s cover. Some bags can be quite nice. And yes again, any Diva knows, what you drink your tea out of is very important.

Tea for me is a way of life. It's wellness for the mind body and spirit. Here, I will explore every expect of tea possible, with a high concentration on wellness. I will review the best teas, the best places to have tea, the best ways to brew tea, the best tea accessories, what tea goes best with what foods, and the list goes on and on. I plan to share my passion for tea with you. And I've been told, nothing I do is ever boring so be prepared to go on this tea journey with me.

RLT Collection Tea Ball Frosted Clear Beads!

Mint Medley by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

About This Tea:

Until recently I had never drank Peppermint Tea made with loose leaves. And Honestly, I will probably never go back. The freshness of loose Peppermint Tea cannot be denied. When I open the can of Mint Medley, From The Persimmon Tree Tea Company, I feel as if I stepped into a garden of peppermint leaves. It is a perfect blend of organic peppermint and spearmint leaves grown in the US.

Mint Medley has become a favorite and I find myself reaching for this tea tin almost everyday. It is great for on-going nausea. The health benefits and endless. It relieves muscle aches, headaches, migraines, stress. And now that it feels like someone is sitting on my chest and I have a mean cough, I'm sure it will help to relieve some of this congestion in my chest. Mint Medley has been in my tea cup more than any tea as of late. It has really helped with my winter cough, congestion related to this bout of pneumonia. You can read my full review on The Persimmon Tree Tea Company Mint Teas.

RLT Collection AIDS Awareness Tea Ball!

Welcome to my world of books! As an pre-teen books changed my world. I fell in love with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance period and the more I read the more I wanted to read. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It spoke to my own degradation and gave me hope for a better tomorrow. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

I love to read! Inside a book I escape into someone else's life. There is something wonderful about turning to the next page of a wonderful story. Something intoxicating about the smell of the book and the story it brings to life. Reading brings me joy, and these days with my health in the balance, I find solace in my books.

I spent hours in my bedroom sequestered with the door closed reading the classics from the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes, Larsen, Hurston, Wright and Baldwin. Books became my escape and my salvation. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

Reading is the one thing that the pain of my life could never take away from me. It was the thing that helped to make it better. And even today, living with AIDS, books continue to be the safest place for me. It’s the one thing that belongs to me that AIDS cannot take away from me.The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS.

The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS. I have read hundreds of books from many different genres and I will pick the best of my reads over the years. I warn you, it will not be exclusively white or black, male or female, fiction or non fiction, it will be all of them.

I’m so excited and I’m grateful to everyone who wants to be a part of this venture. We already have 110 Book Club Members. You can email me @ RLTReads@raelewisthornton.com. The Twitter hashtag is #RLTReads. We can make this book club as wonderful as we want to make it. Who says that Oprah has to have the only ownership to a wonderful book club?

This Month We are Reading In My Fathers House by E Lynn Harris

Read along and join our discussion July 19th at 7 pm CST

For more Tea with Rae "Vlogs" Click here to visit her youtube channel

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Truth About My AIDS!

When people look at me they don't see death. In fact, people really don't see illness. Even when I'm having a bout of something or other, I'm often told, "girl, but you look good." I've always had mixed emotions about that over the years.

This is true mainly because it keeps people in denial about the support that I need on the one hand, and on the other, young people look at me at a gig and think, "AIDS ain't so bad, she looks great."  They think I got it going on, which of course I do, but having AIDS is no joke and requires a lot of work. For sure, my life would be different if I didn't have AIDS. For these reasons I am so candid about my journey. I want people to get the full understanding of this disease. Pictures in my case, can be a tad deceiving.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. Yesterday I posted the article that The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation did on me and my work for Black History Month. I was so honored that such a prominent organization thought enough of my work to feature me. You can read the article HERE. Anyway, they used the Essence cover in the article, lending an historical perspective on my work.

A woman had this to say in the comment section. She also indicated that she been HIV infected for 16 years.

 My heart skips a beat to date when one is physically fine but says they are "Dying of AIDS but fighting stigma... tying to add those words up but nothing comes still. My Step-father died of AIDS, he had MDR TB and PCP Pneumonia. My uncle died of AIDS he had PCP Pneumonia and Crytococol Meningitis, My cousin Died of AIDS and she had TB, Pneumonia, Malaria and Herpes Zosta.

Let me say, I felt on one level that there was a bit of a challenge in what and how I do what I do. The shade hit my spirit like a ton of bricks. I'm so glad that God speaks to me when I least expect it. *SMDH* People always coming for me. After I answered her politely, I pulled out the laptop. I see this as a teaching moment. Instead of seeing a lair living a contradictory life, why not see that I am a walking miracle? I'm always sadden when another person comes for me who is also infected. Mainly because I've lived the span of this disease and have lots to offer. Secondly, this was a celebratory post, why bust my bubble?

First off, this is what I got from the comment:

She was saying that I am living a lie. On the one hand, I say that I'm fighting stigma, but on the other hand, I say that I'm dying of AIDS and yet I look perfectly fine. The fact that I say that I'm dying leads to the "Stereotype" that people with HIV/AIDS are dying. The fact is, if a person is not diagnosed early or does not get into care and stay in care and treatment, they will die from AIDS related infections. That is an undeniable fact. Unless they get hit by a bus first.

But let me take my case from the top.
This blog is long, I'm sorry but I had to be thorough. The Essence article was written 20 years ago this year. While I saw the picture before it was published, I never saw the finished copy. So when I received my copy of the magazine from Essence I was jarred by the caption, I'm Young, I'm educated, I'm drug-free and I'm dying of AIDS. I stood in my living room, stunned, Essence had declared that I was drying. I understand today, together we made history and changed the discussion about HIV/AIDS among black women and I will always be proud of this boldness.

My doctor had never told me that I was dying, but Essence had dared to speak a truth that no one else would. At the time that I wrote the article, my T-Cell count was 66. Because magazines are ahead of themselves, by the the time the article was actually published, my T-Cell count had dropped to 30.

Back then, T-Cell counts and infections were all we had to go on to measure the disease. Viral Load is a newer understanding of HIV/AIDS and disease progression.

Let me explain, an AIDS diagnosis is a T-Cell Count of 200 or below. The average person has a T-Cell count of 800-1000. So AIDS is a T-Cell of 200 or below or and Opportunist Infection (OI), which is an infection that is particular to people living with HIV/AIDS; there are a list of them Click HERE to read.

Back then, if you made a transition to AIDS within 3 years you were dead. That shit was real!! HIV anti-viral medications were mediocre at BEST! There was no expectation for life. The best a doctor could do was try to prevent infections or catch them early. Some of the AIDS related infections are treatable, but for sure many will kill you.

After the Essence article was released, for sure I took some flack from the AIDS community. "How dare you say that you are dying!" Was said to me, "that only helps to create stigma" but the fact of the matter, clinically I was. That was a hard fact that I had to live with. I remember another female AIDS Activist here in Chicago stop speaking to me for over 15 years. Then about a couple of years before her death, she just started back out of the blue. I was happy that she had made peace with whatever her issue was with me. I always liked her and thought highly of her work.

Back then and today, my response is clear and concise. Don't make me lie because you can't handle my truths. To deny the truth would be in fact to live a lie and the purest that I am just won't let me.

Let me be clear, the two years following the Essence article I was on the timeline to an AIDS death and to most people I looked pretty damn good.

I will call the row!

 1) I have had 3 bouts of PCP (Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumocystis) AIDS Related pneumonia. I was hospitalized 2 times and on one of those, I stayed in the hospital like 23 days.

2) I had AIDS Related Wasting, I had no appetite and could go all day and not feel hungry. I went from a size 12, to an 10, to a 8, to a 6, to a 4, to a 2 to a 0. The suit I'm wearing up top was a size 2 and it was to big, but I look good. LOL, What a contradiction. I can't explain it, but GOD. Most people with wasting looked like they were wasting away. The miracle of my physical beauty cannot be denied. I never had any issues of my hair thinning or skin discoloration that is common among people with advance AIDS, but I did have really extreme dry scape and extreme dryness in my face. I must have gone through tons of shampoos and face creams back then.

3) I have AIDS Related Peripheral Neoapthy. I have tingling, numbness and neuropathic pain in my feet, toes and up to my legs. Sometimes in my hands. Back in the day it was so bad I would take my shoes off and rub my feet no matter where I was at.

Today I still have this numbing and tingling in my feet all the time! BTW, with an undetectable viral-load it should have gone away, but it never did.  I just don't complain about it anymore.  So most days my feet have some tingling and numbness.

4) Women with AIDS have a host of Gynecological issues and I was no different. I had Dysfunctional Uterine Bleeding. My periods would come a week early. I would have 2 periods in one month. Sometimes I would bleed for an hour and other times days. Once I had a cycle for 22 days.

I had Cervical Dysplasia, which is a precursor to Cervical Cancer. My doctor believed early that women with HIV had different issues then men with HIV, that's why she founded the Women and Children HIV clinic in Chicago. As a result, she gave me a pep test every 6 months and we caught  the Dysplasia early.

I had yeast infections back to back. No sooner than I was finished with a 7 day treatment, 3 days later it was back.  I contracted genital herpes in college and for the most part it was not an issue. I had outbreaks at most every 3 years. Then, when I transitioned to AIDS, herpes outbreak were common every 3-6 months or so. No immune system meant that I couldn't fight these infections off.

5) Speaking of Herpes, it has been the one Opportunistic Infection's OI that we have not been able to conquer with me. Now let me explain. Genital Herpes is an infection in and of itself. I contracted it in college. BUT when my immune system became impaired from AIDS, fighting off herpes became a nightmare.

First, right after I transitioned to AIDS, I had more frequent outbreaks, so I started taking Acyclovir to prevent outbreaks and we seemed  to have it under control, for a while at least. But even as my immune system got better, the herpes then got worst and started wrecking havoc on my body. They called it Immune Reconstitution; i.e. the lingering infection fight back to the immune system getting better.

I had Herpes Zoster! I woke up in a hotel room one morning and I couldn't walk. I had one herpes sore on the back on my leg, but by the end of the day, I had sores from the top of my butt to the bottom on my feet. The Herpes Zoster was so bad, I couldn't walk for over a month and had to take morphine for a month just for the pain. I had the post-herpetic nerve pain for almost 2 years in my legs and feet.

Then after that, I developed aggressive drug resistant herpes genitally. I have been hospitalized 3 times for it and have had to take IV anti-viral medication over these last 7 years well over 20 times. Typically, when I'm having an outbreak, herpes also attacks my nervous system. I have nerve pain in my back, face and head. Lastly, I had a herpes mass that had to be cut out the opening of my ass. We are still scratching our heads over that one. Herpes masses are very rare. The doctors have just concluded that the early damage done to my immune system will not let me fight herpes off.

6) AIDS related fatigue was a major issue for me. I never had any energy. If I slept 12 hours it felt like I hadn't been to sleep when I woke up. Most days I had to nap. Back then I was on the road speaking somewhere between 10-15 times a month. I'm not sure how I made it through but GOD!

When I got off the plane in a city to speak, I would have to take a nap in order to have enough strength to speak. Once I returned home, I would crash basically until I went back out on the road. I rarely cooked or did other activities. The quality of my life was the pits. All I did was speak and sleep. I was on a mission to speak to as many people as I could before I died. It was my only priority and my sacrifices were only to my ministry. Today even, I have at least 1-2 days of struggling to get through the day.

7) At my lowest, my T-Cell Count was 8! My doctor was doing everything she could to keep me alive. At one point I was on 31 pills a day and the side-effects were horrible. I was sick from AIDS related illnesses and sick from the side-effects from the HIV medications; diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, vomiting. I even had night sweats that I could do nothing about. I lived in fear of new infections daily.

Somedays I didn't know which way was up. I became mentally and emotionally exhausted and after laying on the floor shitting on myself all day, I had enough. I called my doctor and told her that the quality of my life was more important than how long I live. "I quit!" I said to her that Saturday. And she stared screaming at me, "You have got to give me time!" She had never told me that I was dying, but I could hear it in her voice. If you quit you will surely die. That scared the fuck out of me. I agreed to keep going and going and going.

8) I have taken the first generation of all the HIV anti-viral medications starting with AZT then on onto DDI, DDC, 3TC, Zerit, Tenofovir, Epivir, Emtriva, Crixivan, Saquinvir, Kaletra, Norvir, Prezista, Viracept, Viramune, Isentress, and, yes, Fuzeon the injectable HIV medication, right into my stomach 2 times a day.

Then I also took along with my HIV medications, medications to prevent infections, for PCP I took Bactrim, Atovaquone, Dapsone. I took medications to prevent, Yeast, MAC, Herpes and an appetite stimulate, on top of drinking Ensure because I couldn't maintain muscle or fat. I needed all the help that I could get.

New medications kept coming and my doctor Mardge Cohen kept me at the cutting edge of treatment. It was teamwork at it's best. She made sure I had everything I needed to keep me alive and I did everything I was instructed to do. I did this no matter how sick it made me or the energy and time that went into it, or how emotionally drained I was. We both crossed our t's and dotted our i's. I remember when I did the Oprah Show, it was a show on long term survivors with AIDS and at that point I have lived about 6-7 years with AIDS and with HIV for 14 years -  that was some major shit back then to live that long. I tell people that my surviving was a combination of God, a great doctor and my compliance resulting from a will to live.  For sure people who had mediocre care or didn't comply didn't survive. Then some people just didn't live long enough to benefit from the newer HIV medications.

Let me clear up a few more things while I'm at it. Once you make an AIDS diagnoses you always have the AIDS diagnoses. Even if your T-Cell count goes back up and your Viral Load is undetectable. It's like this, the damage to your immune system cannot be undone. This is the main reason I still have so many issues. Damage to my immune system from the early days is what it is and cannot be undone. While I am living with this disease, I have on-going issues that people infected later and on top of their care, should not have. At this junction all we can do it try to prevent, or should I say slow down, new damage and stay on top of whatever issues that I may have.

The fact of the matter, AIDS does developed a resistant to HIV medications that's why there is no cure. How do you stop something that is always adapting. So the best thing for a person with HIV is to stay on top on the game.  This is why people with HIV must comply with treatment, to prevent drug resistance. The longer you live with HIV for sure you will develop some resistance to treatment. You do more damage when you don't comply. One pill a day could turn into 3, 5, 7, 10 a day depending on your particular HIV strain.

Lastly I've mentioned Viral Load. Back in the day, we only had T-Cell counts as a measure for disease progression. Then medical science discovered that the the more virus you have in your body the greater your chances of being sick. A persons Viral Load is how much HIV has copied in your blood. For example, when they first developed the test for Viral Load, mine was 475,000.

When a person develops resistant to HIV medications the viral load will go back up and the T-Cell's drop. For sure people are still drying from AIDS in the United States, mainly because of a late diagnosis and or a non-compliance with treatment and care.

This picture to the right, My T-Cell count was 60 and I had PCP. After I finished speaking to those high school students in Waterloo, Iowa, I got on a plane and was admitted into the hospital when I returned back to Chicago. I know that I don't ever come across as sick. Back then you couldn't look at me and tell that I was on a time line to death, but I was.  That day speaking my breathing was labored beyond understanding. I just pressed my way.

I have not used the language of "dying" in well over 15 years.  Today, I have a undetectable Viral Load, which means, based on the standard test, the amount of virus is so low we can't give you a detectable count. It's usually less then 50 - BUT it does not mean its gone! HIV NEVER leaves your body. Once HIV develops a resistance to a person's medication they start to experience drug failure and then it's time to go to the next thing. By the way, My T-Cell count is 486.

I remember that I used to go to the high schools back in the day and ask the freshman to stand. I would announce, "By the time you graduate, I will be dead." Based on everything we knew about HIV 20 years ago, I should have died. Those students are in their 30's now and they hit me up on Facebook and Twitter and Say, "Ms. Thornton, you said you were going to be dead, and I'm 32 years old. Thanks be To God that you are still here." I'm so glad that those young people can see the miracle of my life. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Happy Is, As Happy Does....

It hit me yesterday morning that I've made it past the 3 month mark that I haven't had a herpes outbreak! This is major, considering that almost like clock work, for the last 2 years, an outbreak has been my norm.

As many of you know, I've been very open with the fact that I have this aggressive, drug resistant herpes that requires me to go on this aggressive anti-viral medication that I get intravenously. It's been a pain in my ass, or should I say, right between my legs and that has made my life hell, at least during the IV treatments.

As I was sipping my morning tea, I tried to think about the bottom line in my life-style that could have brought this change about in my health. All I can think about is the fact that I'm happy and happy can go a long way in helping to boost your immune system.

They say that happy is as happy does and for sure I've been doing a lot of good stuff! At the top of the list is Mr. Handsome. While we are taking it one day at a time, we have connected beyond words in a short period of time. There have been some great moments and laughter with him.

For sure, he has added value to my life and for sure that goes a long way over and above a relationship that you are trying to make work. Those relationships that you are trying to make fit and feel right tend to be stressful. If it don't feel right, then it's not right. Sometimes when I see women in distress tweeting about a man, I butt in and remind her that she deserves more and a man who really likes you, will want you to have more. For sure Mr. Handsome is treating me like a woman who deserves the best and that goes a long way in reducing stress.

Now don't be confused, my happiness isn't just because there's a man in my life. I've been working on me and the results have made me feel good about myself. And feeling good about yourself, for sure, creates the happy feeling and that happy feeling does boost the immune system.

There is a mind-body connection that operates in each of us. The bible says, "As a man thinketh so is he." But it's also true, we are what we do.

For sure, I've been doing a lot of good stuff. I got my ass off the sofa and started working out back in October. I've lost 17 pounds. I changed my diet. I've been eating the Paleo diet and that even helped my Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  If you recall, my IBS was so bad that I wasn't using the bathroom for 3-4 days at a time and the doctors had me on powerful laxatives daily, (READ ABOUT MY IBS HERE)

Diet and exercise has definitely helped my IBS, but it has also given me more energy. By the way, exercising 45 minutes a day will release endorphins equal to taking an antidepressants.  Exercise has a three tier benefit, makes you feel happy, makes you feel good about yourself and that makes you happy and contributes to your overall well-being. I no longer have that anxious feeling when I have to get dressed that there's nothing to fit in my closet and that makes me happy.

I've been working on a couple of exciting projects. One that I can't talk about right now. Just hold on, info will be forth-coming. I am also writing a one woman show. YES!! "The Politics of Respectability!" and I'm honored that my sista friend, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph will be producing the show.

Many of you know that Sheryl has a one woman show on the lives of woman with HIV, "Sometimes I Cry," I''m honored to have been the inspiration for her show and to be the anchor character, "Ms. Chanel." She and I thought that it was time that I took my own story to the stage. For sure, it will be one more way for me to minister to women. I'm so excited!

So I've really been burning the midnight oil between the two new projects I have going, as well as keeping the bracelet business afloat. I've been working hard on the 20 Collection. So far I have 8 bracelet designs on the website and early next week I'm sending my photographer the first of the necklace designs. I've really been humping over here.

Overachiever is in full gear!! With everything going on in my life right now, I don't have time to think about what ain't. The focus is on what is and what is, 'is' is always more positive than what 'ain't'.

A positive attitude goes a long way toward happy. For sure, I have the herpes virus and it can flare up at anytime. For sure I have AIDS and I can wake up in the morning and have a major issue with my health. But I'm not giving either of those any energy. I'm just operating in my happy place.

At the end of the day, happy goes a long way in your overall well-being. Happy is as happy does. Find your happy place and watch your life transform into something wonderful!

PS.... RLT Collection is having a sale all week... 20%off Coupon code at check out black history SHOP HERE!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I Am More Than My Vagina..

I learned something about myself this weekend that made me understand how far I've come in my thinking verses the application of what I know, as it relates to dating and sex.

I've been saying over and over again that it's not enough to know better, that at some point you have to apply the knowledge to your life so that you can be your best you. It is true that we are products of our past. It teaches us good, bad and indifference. It shapes who we are, which influences what we do. I know this has been the case for me. I also understand, that we do not have to be a prisoner to our past.

My former therapist used to drill into me that discipline is a transferable skill. That you can apply discipline to all things in your life and at the end of discipline is feeling good about yourself. It's the difference between eating 3 cookies or 15 cookies.  Each will dictate how you feel about yourself, once it's said and done. Well, that same thing applies to dating.

This is what I'm talking about. I spent Valentine weekend with Mr. Handsome. It was a really great weekend of bonding and intimacy. No, not sex, per-say, but intimacy. So what's the problem? Well, I realized that my demons are relentless and that I still have work to do on myself. Before I go any further, I must pause and say having a man in your life who is confident in himself goes a long way in achieving your goal.

Well it's like this, I was so use to men wanting to fuck all the time that I almost missed the most important moments of the weekend.

Mr. Handsome is a few years older than me. He has been around the world, seen all and done all - and while sex is great, good lawd, it was not his focus of spending time with me ... And for a slim moment I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me. I think it's a deep contradiction that women want men to treat them like a woman important beyond her vagina, but when he does, you doubt the very thing that you are seeking.

It made me wonder how many women out there defined how great the Valentine weekend was by the sex? And then how many women had men in their life that expected the sex, and then more sex. I remember a few years ago someone tweeted that if a man takes you to an expensive restaurant, don't pull out the flannels but sexy lingerie.

I tweeted that my vagina wasn't for sale. I meant that, but now I look back and I see the argument of the expectation of sex that rules our thoughts and behavior. While sex is one aspect of a relationship, it should not rule. Mr. Handsome said to me, "there's more to life then simply fucking." In our honest discussion about it, he was clear, I don't need to fuck all day to enjoy you.

I know that I am more than my vagina, but I'm also clear that our past behaviors are not easily broken; well I'll speak for myself. The one thing for sure that Mr. Handsome is teaching me is patience on the one hand, and appropriate growth in an relationship on the other hand. Women are so brainwashed with the pretty woman syndrome. Most of us have married him in our heads when you are still really getting to know each other. Case in point, Pinterest dream weddings are the craze. LOL, and you all know I'm telling the truth.

I'm thankful for Mr. Handsome at this junction in my life. I understand that intimacy is not about fucking and I'm grateful that Mr. handsome not only knows that too, but applies it to his own life and that has set a wonderful pace for mutual respect that leads to growth.

Sitting in Mr. Handsome's man-cave ( the garage ) looking out at the snow, wrapped in my mint coat as he smoked a cigar, drank cognac and I drink tea and had my first ever sip of cognac, listening to music was one of the most erotic, imitate moments of the weekend.

 Ladies if we want men to stop thinking below our waist, we must do the same. If you want a different outcome in a relationship then maybe you have to do something different.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. At some point in our lives we have to make changes, no matter how difficult it may be.  I've said it over and again, sex is not love and just because a man fucks your brains out does not been that he wants to build a future with you. Having a man that allows appropriate space for sex with the unplanned moments of dancing in the middle of the living room is a win-win.

As for me, I'm chasing my demons the fuck out of my life. I don't know where Mr. Handsome and I are going. In fact, I'm not looking for a particular destination, if we're there, great. In the meantime, I'm surely enjoying the journey.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentines Series: The End!

I've been blogging all week, and after sitting at my computer for hours trying to come up with something deep and profound to say on Valentine's Day, I actually drew a blank. Then it occurred to me that all I really want to say to you is, use a condom. No need to be extra in this last post in the series. I hope that I have given you lots to think about all week long and I hope that some of it will stay with you as you muddle through life and love.

The fact is, no matter how much I drill it home, you still have to make the decision to let self-love be your guide. This is what I know to be true, that we don't really know what another person has done or will do. All we can truly know is what we do and what we see.

We make a whole lot of assumptions about our partners don't we; what they would or would not do. Even what we think they are doing when they tell us what they are doing. The fact is, unless you have eyes everywhere, all you can hope for is the truth. That is, what they tell you is true.

Given this fact, this is what I know: If the penis ain't in your pocket you have no idea what it's doing when it ain't with you. What I know to be true, is that I have had sex with another woman's boyfriend, and even husband, while HIV infected. I have even lain in bed, while he talked to the wife and then resumed doing the do. Thank God that I found the strength to love myself.

What I know for sure is that you can only be accountable for your own body, and at the end of the day, your own life. We have taken the blame out of HIV as should be. No one deserves to get HIV; NO ONE!  But what I also know to be true, is each day we make choices about our bodies. The choice to have sex  and the choice to not have sex. The choice to have sex with a condom and the choice to have sex without a condom.

My prayer is that you will make the healthiest choice. Remember this, some things cannot be undone.  It is a fact, there is no sex worth your life. If you become infected we can treat you and you can live a long time, but understand this, HIV is a game charger and that's a fact.

At the end of the day, there is no sex worth your life! Use a Condom! The End!

PS... Happy Valetine's Day! My gift to you is 30% off RLT Collection until midnight tonight. The coupon code is Valentine SHOP HERE!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine Series: The Dilemma of Dating Postive!

It occurred to me that sometimes I make dating with HIV look easy, but it's not by any stretch of the imagination. I started thinking about this after I received an email last night from a woman with herpes who is afraid to date.

When I was first diagnosed with herpes, I was afraid. I remember trying to get an ex-boyfriend to have sex with me and he flat out turned me down. That was a blow.

Months later, I slowly started to venture out and found that while it was some hard shit disclosing, men actually respected me even more. I lucked up and met a guy that I dated for over a year. But low and behold he had herpes too.

After that relationship was over, disclosing became easier, mainly because I rarely had an herpes outbreak. For a long time I would only have an outbreak once every three years or so. Then came HIV, then came AIDS, then came fame and they were all game changers.

HIV positive people have the fear of rejection but also the burden of the disease.  When I first learned my status I was scared beyond belief. "Who the hell was gonna want me," was all I could think about. I was young, pretty and upwardly mobile - all the things that would make me perfect in the eyes of a man, so I thought, but then came HIV.

I remember right after I was diagnosed with HIV,  I was a hot freaking mess. A guy that I use to talk to moved to Washington where I was staying at the same month. I avoided him like the plague. Then I gave in and had dinner with him one night. I write about this in my memoir, the guilt that swarmed over me having sex with him, and not disclosing my HIV status. But it was so new for me and I was so afraid. The good thing, he was always a condom guy, so I didn't have to convince him to use them, but the guilt I felt was insurmountable, even with "safe sex." After that night I totally shut down and stayed clear of men and dating. 

Then I met this guy that I really liked. I put on my big girl panties and told. Now, how do you tell a person that you have an STD? For sure at the kitchen table with your clothes on. Sexing and disclosing at the same time is dangerous.

Disclosing your status,  there is always the fear of rejection and judgment, "what will he think of me?" But I couldn't see myself making a judgement for another person's body. While I could have rationalized that I'm keeping him "safe" by using condoms, as the saying goes, "shit happens" what if ? ... and I never wanted that burden, so I always disclose.

I fundamentally think that you take away a persons choice when you don't disclose and you have no right to make that decision for another person's body. It just might mean that causal sex gets thrown out the window. Simply because no one really wants to disclose to someone that they are not planning to be serious with, but the fact remains serious or not, that person is baring some risk each time they lay down with you. No one has the right to decide for another person's body. So, hell or high water, I disclose.

And sexing without disclosure in these times that can be dangerous. Remember the young lady Cicely that I blogged about, who was murdered after she disclosed her HIV status but after she had sex with a guy? Read HERE! I don't know what he was thinking when she disclosed, but she for sure took away his choice. He was not infected, but just the thought that you put me at risk without my permission is a hard one to stomach. So now she is dead and he is in jail.

For sure, over time dating with HIV became easier, but disclosing was never easy. Even today, while most men that approach me know that I have HIV, I still have to disclose the herpes. For a long time, I didn't talk about herpes publicly, unless in a gig if someone asked if I ever had another STD. I think I didn't talk about it because I was not affected by it up until 7 years ago when out of nowhere I developed this drug resistant herpes. I'm not gonna to rehash my herpes drama you can read HERE.

Now take the guy I'm talking to now, Mr. Handsome, when he approached me he knew that I had HIV, but I remember about a week in I said to him, "I need to let you know that I have herpes" when I tell you the 5 seconds it took for him to return a response I felt like I was going to suffocate. His response, "I know, I read it in one of your blogs," and he didn't miss a beat, "that's what condoms are for," and we went on to the next topic.

In the twenty-nine years that I have known my HIV status disclosing has never gotten easy. You always think, "What will he think of me. Will he still want me?"

This is what I found. A relationship was easier while I was living in secret with my status. Since my divorce fifteen years ago, dating the public me has been difficult. I have had some relationships but they have been far and few. The fact is, I've had more sex than relationships.

While men still want to have sex with me, my hardest hurdle is the fact that I'm such a public person. Who wants to date a woman when everyone knows she has HIV and herpes.

Just recently one of my mentee's told me that she was talking to a guy and things were going great until some of his boys met and recognized her. They said, "Man you know she use to date, Tom and she gave him HIV and he's dead now."  I'm going to deal with this kind of branding in another blog for sure, but the fact is, the guy backed all the way up once it was clear that others speculated that she was infected.

Not only do I have the burden of being this public person, I blog about my freaking life. So any man that dates me, run the risk that I will blog about where our lives intersect. For sure Mr. Handsome recognizes my gift and supports my work, but the relationship is very young, so there's a part of me that wants to keep him shielded from raw public scrutiny until we get pass this "super new stage". He told me case in point, "I don't give a fuck what a person thinks about me being with you", now that's a man, who is his own man.

For sure dating with a sexually transmitted disease is hard. I don't want you to think I'm bushing over that fact. But honestly up front is always your best bet. Since I've started blogging about my herpes, I've had some people to reach out and say that they are starting to be more comfortable in their skin since I've been blogging about my own herpes drama. I'm glad that my transparency is helping others.

 The bottom line, you will never know if a person is willing to be with you unless you make the attempt. This is what I want you to get, the rejection isn't of you, it's of the disease; the fear of the disease, the lack of education and understanding of the disease but mostly the stigma of the disease.

Now I blogged about dating sites for positive people with STD a while back. I signed up but nothing came of it. In like 2 weeks I had over 500 views of my profile but no conversations that lasted beyond a wink. Then it hit me, I said in my profile that, "I'm a very public person with my status and people will know that you are dating a women with AIDS" DEAD! LOL!

I just went ahead and deleted my profile and honestly, I was already talking to Mr. Handsome and good lawd, he had all of my attention. I don't double dip even in early stages. I want to give him all of my attention so we can bond without other barriers.

But one of my avid readers who is HIV positive reached out to me about Positive Singles for my private opinion.  I told her that she had nothing to lose. The most recent report is that she is actually talking to someone she met on Positive Singles and they were planning to meet soon. So dating sites are an easy place to meet someone positive. At least formalities are out of the way. You both come to he table on equal footing and thats a good thing. Remember, meeting a person does not always mean that you are compatible. You can checkout my blog post on dating positive HERE Part One! Part Two HERE!

As we are all thinking about Valentines Day and the possibility of being alone. I want to encourage all my positive readers: Don't give up on yourself! You deserve the best! The fact is, God woke you up this morning and that means there is still an earthly plan for your life. I believe that there is someone for everyone. Continue to live in your truths and your worth.

Don't let people horde space that don't deserve your worth. There is no need to sacrifice yourself respect for companionship. There is no need to let stigma keep you in a faux of fear. Be clear, your worth is not rooted in your status, but rather in that fact that you were created in God's image, wonderfully made.

I know, I know,  you're  saying,  it's easy for me to say, when I will be spending Valentine's Day with a wonderful man who respects me and likes the fuck out of me. I understand your fear and loneliness.  It's been at least 3 years since I've been on a date and 4 1/2 years since I've had sex. I'm a living witness that if you continue to be your best you, you create a positive energy that will come back to you. Don't give up on yourself because God as not given up on you.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Valentine Series: When It's New!!

When you first start talking to a guy you are always thinking about what's too soon and what's too much. You know, stuff like: How soon should I have sex with him? How often should we talk? If he doesn't call on one day, does that mean he's not thinking about me? If I call or text him first or often will he think I'm needy?

When it's new we are always in a state of what next, what's too soon and how should I behave as a woman. I know that this still runs true for me, even at 51. I've actually been "talking" to a wonderful man for the last couple of months and you take an A-type personality like me, I over think everything. And then growing up where the only thing that was normal was an abnormal life, I have had to feel my way in this world around relationships. I've been very open about my crazy dating life. At some point, I want to get it right. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. I'm on the path of getting it right.
The one thing that Mr. Handsome, as I like to call him, is teaching me, is patience. Often times we meet a guy and the chemistry is right and, good lawd, we want it all right then and now. But the fact of the matter, the best relationships are the ones that grow organically. With mutual respect, you take it each day as it goes. If you take your time, you will actually find it exciting to see what's next. Organic growth has no time-frame, it just grows naturally, and you both feel it deep within.

I know with Mr. Handsome, it feels like I've known him a whole lot longer than what I have and he has indicated the same thing to me. That can sometimes confuse the fact that it is still new. You both feel the connection and that can be scary and exhilarating all at the same time.

Mr. Handsome and I have the extra burden of distance. It's not like you can have a date-night when you want.  So trying to make sense out of what's right when it feels right it not always easy, and miles just complicate it even more. Men tend to be more practical, they  think, "What am I getting myself into? This woman lives miles away from me? If I keep going how will we work the distance out?"  Honestly, you don't always know what the fuck you are doing or where it's going, you just know that you are growing and you go with the flow of the growth, now that's organic.

Over all, this is what I think about new relationships. You have to respect the man that he is. For example, Mr. Handsome is not into any of this Social Media stuff, which is a great balance to me. Nor is he a big texter or phone talker. Welllllll, y'all know I sleep with my Ipad, lol so somewhere, he and I have to meet in the middle. If I respect the man that he is and he respects me, which he does, we work at it mutually. We talk, but I don't try to make him talk to me all night. I do reach out to him everyday, but I wasn't calling him on Sunday's interrupting his football time. Like, for real ladies, will those few hours he's enjoying sports or a cigar with the guys, be a game changer? Let him enjoy life. The fact is, each of you come to the table with your own lives and they should be respected.

I try not to over think any of it. When I wake up, if he is heavy on my mind I reach out and it's the same in the evening. If I have work to do that's pressing then I reach out later. His day starts long before mine. If I haven't reached out by late morning, he typically reaches out to me, "Good Morning Gorgeous," comes across my phone. *giggles* But if we don't connect until later in the day, it shouldn't change a thing. It just means you respect his/her day and time. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

We can't always talk throughout the day, but for sure, if a man wants to hear your voice and feel your spirit, he will find you no matter how busy the both of you are.

So what about sex? Well, I've never been one to play dick and pussy games. I'm a grown ass woman and have been for a very long time. I  don't withhold sex as a measure of how much he likes and respects me. I remember back in my 20's this guy had been wooing the heck out of me, flowers, calls even telegrams for months. It was a distance relationship, and I had an opportunity to have sex with him a few times when we were in the same town, but opted not to. I was holding back so that he didn't think that I was a whore, but he eventually moved to Chicago to work.

So when he got here, it was on! I mean it was on! Then toward the end of the second week, he dropped the bomb, his girlfriend was coming to town. WTH??????? My lesson learned. An asshole is an asshole no matter when you have sex.

What should matter is the connection that you have for each other. What should matter is the mutual respect that you have for each other. Respect that begins with a discussion about the role of sex in your relationship. If you have not talked about condom use and HIV testing then you definitely are not ready for sex. For sure, giving a man your innermost self is a big move. You should be comfortable with him and comfortable in your own skin when with him.

As for me and Mr. Handsome, welllllll, we are taking it one day at a time. He has said, "This distance shit is new for me." I must respect this fact.  The only thing I've asked of him, is to not shut down on his emotions.  So if he continues to allow us to grow, even with distance, and if I allow us to grow at a natural pace, we are for sure on an organic path. For sure he makes me feel like a lady and I like how that feels.

I don't have all the answers, but I'm learning to take my time.  Sometimes time can be your best friend. When the relationship is new, allow it to be new, stop trying to be in love, when you are still learning to like each other.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

African-American 365 Health at Walgreens Corporate Office

On yesterday, I spoke at Walgreens for Black History Month at their corporate office. African-American 365 Health was a program focusing on health issues for African-Americans.

The program was a panel discussion.  The distinguished panel included, Dr. La Mar Hasbrouck, Director of Illinois Department of Health, Dr. Courtney Hollowell, Chairman of Urology, Cook Country Hospitals and Health System, Andrea Zopp, President and CEO, Chicago Urban League, and Sherrise Trotz, Executive Pharmacy Director, Midwest Operations Walgreens.

 I was honored to have been asked to participate in this event. Walgreens employees made up the audience. They also live steamed the program to their hundred's of employees at their desk. It was a great discussion on the critical health issues for African-Americans.

Here are most of my remarks.

Part  One!

Part Two!

Part Three!

Part  Four!

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