I didn’t understand the concept of balance before I was diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Being raised in a home affected by alcoholism and domestic violence led me to a destructive lifestyle of drug abuse and emotional turmoil which culminated in a HIV/AIDS diagnosis. The news was devastating until I understood the message of the illness and sought to bring my life into balance; physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Contracting the virus caused tremendous shame, anger and fear but it was also the catalyst for a complete transformation. It was an invitation for self reflection and an opportunity to change direction before reaching the point of no return. Driven with the self hatred instilled by an oppressive community, I was intent on wiping myself out and leaving a trail of destruction. I had no concept of spiritual development, community, faith or hope; these qualities are the gifts of finding balance through chronic illness. The journey is monumental and there are no guarantees. I’ve been hospitalised a number of times and I’ve recently accepted pharmaceutical treatment after progressing to AIDS. This complication has only brought further insight and growth. It has fostered a greater awareness of my life purpose, a sense of gratitude, self love, compassion and a call to presence.

The diagnosis was more than a physical illness. It was a message that my entire existence had fallen drastically out of balance, the culmination of years of internal and external chaos. After meeting a number of wonderful healers, my approach has always been to restore this balance through a disciplined routine of herbal medicine, spiritual practice, energy work and emotional healing. These healers have empowered me with the information to support my immune system and live the healthiest, most productive life I’m capable of. Prior to HIV infection, I was treading water and holding on for dear life, burning the candle at both ends and running on empty most of the time. Remarkably, the best quality of life has followed the diagnosis.

After years of going in circles, I believe I’ve discovered my true path, thanks to HIV/AIDS – communicating with others through my writing skills. My creativity and personal growth has blossomed since the diagnosis and I’ve had a number of theatre scripts, short stories and magazine articles published; some of which specifically raise awareness about the challenges and rewards of living with a chronic illness. Hopefully, I’ve managed to connect with others who share this experience and convey this experience to the wider community. Hopefully I’ve challenged some of the ignorance and prejudice that surrounds the condition.

Although it has brought suffering, the illness has brought me out of isolation and into contact with the community which I’m sincerely grateful for. I seek to nurture this each day through work and study pursuits while paying close attention to every interaction I have. I can’t describe the joy I get from the smiles and conversations I share with strangers after years of fear and conflict. I am blessed with wonderful friends and acquaintances who I connect with in a supportive, healing manner. These people are committed to nurturing each other and their own spiritual development. I am free of addiction and I have a comfortable, stable life which I never forget to give thanks for. I am physically and emotionally in a stronger place than I’ve ever been and I make the most of each moment, celebrating the triumphs and learning from the mistakes – I never thought any of this was possible before HIV/AIDS.

Some of us need a catalyst for change, whether it’s a diagnosis, a relationship breakdown or the death of a loved one. Living with a chronic illness forces me to strive for balance in all areas of life; all disease is the same in this respect, I believe. A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS comes with incredible stigma but it also brings harmony to the relationships we have with loved ones and the wider community. It brings us closer through showing us who we are and healing the wounds we’re afraid to confront.

The diagnosis of a chronic illness is an invitation to restore equanimity, regardless of its manifestation. It’s an opportunity to connect with a higher power and to cultivate this connection through spiritual practice such as yoga and meditation. It’s a chance to heal the emotions by identifying thoughts and attitudes which foster negativity and poor self esteem. It’s a challenge to enhance one’s lifestyle to include a nutritious diet and a healthy relationship with the mind, body and spirit through healing relationships with family, partners and the community.

This is the message of chronic illness that I observe intuitively each moment. The more I pay attention, the more serenity it brings to my mind, the more comfort it brings to my body and the more peace it brings to my world. This way, I can look forward to a healthy, productive life. I can explore my creative potential, form meaningful relationships, develop my connection with a higher power and share this journey with others.