Scroll To Top

I Survived

I Survived


I had a little difficulty choosing a topic for this column. I did, however, find it difficult to write about. Typically, writing for me is as natural as breathing. Words easily connect with one another, crisply and clearly revealing what they ought. And certain topics I've covered--including those as difficult as my own depression or my best friend's physical assault--were relatively easy to narrate, compared with the one I chose for this column. Perhaps this speaks to the depth of its intensity and the work lying ahead of me to process it. Perhaps it also reveals that some experiences are beyond words. A scant three months--90 short days--separate the two most painful and pivotal moments of my life: October 1, 2004, and January 4, 2005. On October 1, I received my HIV diagnosis. On January 4 my mother died. To this day I am uncertain how I got through it. In my previous column I discussed depression from an attitudinal perspective--those moments in life where we shut down, unaware of our choices and unconsciously choose 'nothing' rather than 'something.' I wrote of the warm, sunny day in Chicago where my temptation was to hide indoors rather than enjoy the day. I implied in that column that the solution to melancholy frequently resides in one's thinking; that a shift toward what's possible dislodges one's depression and allows space for some contentment. October 1 to January 4 was impervious to such a solution. There I was, barely able to comprehend my own diagnosis that stirred notions of my own mortality. And there I was, confronted with the very final mortality of the woman who gave birth to me, raised me, loved me, and knew me longer than anyone else possibly could. She was gone. Forever. As I said above, to this day I am uncertain how I got through it. Here's the short answer: I did a lot of healthy things, I did a lot of self-destructive things, I did what felt familiar, I tried to do my best, I did more self-destructive things, I cried a lot, I went to therapy, I did some more self-destructive things, I asked for help, I did what felt good, I took medication, I took others' advice, I did some more self-destructive things. In the final analysis I encountered the limits of my understanding, my training, my self-will, my determination, my intellect. I needed a lot more help than I thought because I didn't have the answers, and I was more lost than I ever thought I could be. The truth is that I survived out of desperation and even with a pattern of poor decision-making and self-destruction, managed to find the courage to ask for help. And it goes without saying that I was grateful that such help exists in the first place. You see, when traumatic, life-changing events occur, people seldom respond in tactful, measured and sane responses. They usually just freak out and try to do their best. As I write this, I feel anxious given the level of vulnerability I am showing. It feels that I may be revealing too much. And at the same time it feels liberating. I had never thought of myself as a strong person--had always wondered how I would respond if something 'really bad' happened. I still sometimes question how 'strong' I truly am. One thing I cannot question, however, is whether I'm resilient. Fransen is a licensed clinical social worker who is in private therapy practice in Chicago. He welcomes feedback at

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Plus Editors