Luv ’til it Hurts is a two-year project focused on HIV and Stigma. CHAOS is a campaign about mental health. As a person who has a chronic mental health condition as well as HIV, it is easy for me to consider and ‘internalize’ how my mental state and HIV ‘get along’ within me. As an artist who makes public, multi-stakeholder projects, I would like to ‘externalize’ a range of topics that pertain to HIV and stigma. I am using my own experience to ask how others contend with the two ‘co-morbidities’ (as the doctors call them) of HIV and depression.
I use the metaphor ‘get along’ as if HIV and depression are kids that need to behave together on the playground. I have other metaphors that come to mind, but prefer this one. On a good day, they do get a long ok. I pop three pills (2 for HIV, 1 for depression) around lunchtime each day. I had already dealt with depression before contracting HIV, so I wasn’t surprised when I needed to take a higher dosage to contend with the stress of learning my HIV status. This dosage has gone down (and back up and down a few times) over the five year period of being HIV+.
There are other times when I start to worry about the different medications interacting, even if prescribed by the same doctor. There are times when I’ve felt my dream life become more active, and wondered if it was the change from an older HIV med to a newer one, or the sometimes shifting dosage of the depression med. I have HIV+ friends who have also expressed their confusion (and sometimes denial) of side effects, but I admit that these conversations are not as common as the ones in which we compare HIV meds (like, what does your doctor have you on now?), and at the same time make mention of our ‘co-morbidities’ and the other drugs we take, entre nous.
There is no question that talking with other poz folks offers a form of solidarity. However I don’t remember talking so much to other depressed folks before I contracted HIV. From a personal standpoint, I’m quite certain that open conversation and solidarity are important to quality of life and happiness. I think this is the connection for our projects.
I vividly remember an awareness campaign over a decade ago for which you worked with the City of Paris, and beautiful black and white images representing able bodies in a way that moved my understanding on ‘ableism’ were on the sides of city buses. Deza, I think you are a brilliant campaigner, and in Cameroonian terms, you are my big sister. Given that CHAOS and Luv ’til it Hurts are happening concurrently, I would simply like for our campaigns to ‘bang up against each other’, one learning from the other. If that’s ok?