During his early days of dealing with his HIV-positive diagnosis over 20 years ago, actor Mel England woke up every morning to a white piece of notebook paper taped above his bed with a simple Deepak Chopra quote: “I’m an infinite field of potentiality.”
“I would bicycle up the side of that mountain in Boulder chanting, ‘I’m gonna live, I’m gonna live, I’m gonna live,’ ” he says. England’s life with HIV has been a turbulent one.
Diagnosed in the late 1980s, the actor lived through the loss of friends and stigma of being positive.
“As a friend of mine puts it, it was like living in wartime,” recalls England. “We were surrounded by death.”
He was only 19 years old when he was diagnosed. At the time, England was beginning his life as an actor, attending New York University on a full-ride scholarship and working with Marlon Brando’s acting teacher. It had seemed like a dream come true for the Texas native, whose parents recognized his “demonstrative” traits and enrolled him in acting lessons at the Dallas Theater Center at age 5. He grew up in the theater, began working in professional theater in sixth grade, and attended a performing arts high school.
But after his diagnosis, England was a bit lost. He felt his dreams of becoming a working actor were dead, and the message he got from everyone — the government, the doctors, his family, the media — was that he was going to die.
He ditched the big-city life for health-crazed Boulder, Colo., on a recommendation from his friend. Forgoing AZT, the only anti-HIV medication available at the time, England focused instead on alternative treatments like homeopathy and nutrition, and coped through using alcohol and marijuana.
“I know I had made a decision to live then, I just didn’t know how to, and I was trying everything I could,” England says of his time in Boulder.