Tuesday, December 2, 2014

HIV/AIDS is Real . . . Let's Get Talking


Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Morgan Bennett, BSN, RN. I recently started at JCPH in the Family Planning clinic and as the HIV program coordinator. I come to JCPH with nursing experience in college health, mental health, and neurological inpatient care. I received my Bachelors of Science degree in nursing from the University of Colorado. I am excited to be a part of the JCPH Community Health Services team!

I have heard many times in my current work that HIV has fallen off the radar. I grew up in an era when it was not always talked about and warnings about contracting the virus were not at every turn. I grew up in a much quieter time regarding HIV discussion. I knew it existed, and that it was transmitted through sex, but I did not know anyone who had it. Since my journey began as the HIV program coordinator, I have learned so much more about the virus, the treatment, and the ongoing work against stigma.  Coming from a mental health background, stigma is something I am all too aware of. I know how ignorant and judgmental people can be with only knowing one small piece of the puzzle. It is my goal to bring awareness to the subject again and to inspire open conversations about the current work to end this disease.

 
Can you imagine an AIDS- free generation? As I have furthered my work in the HIV world, I have heard this term time and time again. I believe it is possible. Research and medications have progressed so far that the end of HIV is possible. It will be a long, tough road. But it is one that has plenty of interest and investments. From a global view, it is most daunting. In the countries most ravaged with HIV and AIDS, the medical infrastructure and the physical resources are not in place to meet this goal. In these places, people are working just to meet the most basic of health care needs, and engaging in immense amounts of patient education, testing, and distribution of safer sex materials. 

In our own country, we have a profoundly better medical infrastructure and a much higher percentage of our population is literate, and somewhat educated on the concepts of HIV. From a public health stand point, my goals are to impact population health relating to HIV in the following ways: inform people about HIV, empower them by knowing their HIV status, link people to needed services, mobilize community partnerships to discuss and promote testing, and continually evaluate the effectiveness of what we are doing to meet the goal of an AIDS free generation.

What can you do to move us towards this goal? A few simple things.  First get yourself tested. By knowing your HIV status, you have control to make healthy decisions for yourself and those you love. Second, being knowledgeable about the virus itself makes you an ally. It’s one more way people not familiar with the health care system can find out information about the virus and how it is spread. Finally, be an advocate. Stand up to stigma. Make it a conversation to have with friends, family, and significant others. Open communication is the first real step in making a difference.

JOIN Jefferson County Public Health on December 1 in participating in WORLD AIDS DAY. Wear a red ribbon in support. Learn something new about HIV, testing, or treatment and tell someone you care about what you’ve learned. FREE, walk in HIV testing will be available from 9 am to 3 pm on December 1 at the JCPH Lakewood office at 645 Parfet St. Call for more information or to schedule a low cost or free test for another day 303-239-7040.

 

RESOURCE LINKS

 


Friday, May 24, 2013

Blue

The blue sky will always overwhelm me with a sense of power and possibility, with the intensity of its blueness opening up my mind to experiences and feelings and emotions that were somehow denied the incredibleness of existence. Opening yourself up to the blue sky and making yourself vulnerable to the frightening possibilities of eternity can put you at the very edge of your compass in a serendipitous place that allows for the free flowing forces of cosmic energy and the powerful exuberance of the universe to intercede and interact on your behalf.

Living in Colorado most of my life, I think that the blueness of the sky became a background for a context of living daily life, a default for the semingly unending existence of day in and day out. Colorado has plenty of blue sky and sunshine, even during the bleak of the winter season, and so the mind integrates that into the fabric of our daily lives. We don't notice the subtle power of the blue sky and the sensitivity of our vision has become so numb to the impact that we can't even comprehend the possibility of what the sky opens up to us and within us.

The first time that I realized the tremendous impact of the blue sky on my life was a time when I was riding my bicycle down a lonely, dusty dirt road in Uganda, a country located in east Africa. The magnetism of my destination pulled me desperately along the road, as I looked down at the dust forlornly being pulled up by the tires on my bike and occasionally glanced backward to check the distance and to calculate how far I had come since my last glance backward only a minute ago. It wasn't very far. The Elephant Bush, or what I thought was Elephant Bush, along the sides of the road had grown so high that the leaves seemed to be waving in the wind, the tips sharply piercing the sky as they moved back and forth in a rhythm that forced me to stop and to get off my bike and listen.

With the sweat dripping off of my face like tears, I started to walk along the dirt road and my eyes followed the long, sinewy Elephant Grass to the tips of the everlasting blue. It was a supreme moment when my heart flowed openly, freely, and indeterminately into the blue open space in front of me, juxtaposed so eloquently with the green of the earthy grass. I had physically stopped my body with the swirling dust embracing me, but the more I looked into the blue sky, the more I was awakened to the sense of a new dimension where impossibility and possibilty were melded into one distinct and overwhelming feeling of awe. Embraced by the blue, I envisioned the life of my dreams created and reincarnated in a cycle of infinite possibility with the texture and feel of an existence that was beyond existence.

Maybe I was feeling particularly unusual that day, maybe it was the intensity of the African sun, maybe it was the dry dirt that covered my skin like dried cocoa, but the intersection of my emotions with the blue sky happening at that single instant of solitude while walking my bicycle down the lonely dirt road forever changed my life in a way that nothing else really has. It wasn't only the experience of becoming fully aware of the beauty of the universe that changed the way that I envisioned my life in the world, but it was most significantly the tortuous act of becoming vulnerable to the incredibleness the blue sky symbolized to me. The exhilaration of the energy that routed itself within my body elevated me to such great height that everything, even my hopes and dreams, were transformed from the incomprehensibly impossible to the magnificent miracle of being born.

My wish for you and for everyone is the wish for a great expanse of blue sky, extending beyond the horizon of your limitations and crippling beliefs about how your life should be or who you should become. For me, the blue sky will always remind me of that day in Uganda when the sky unfurled before me the insight that possibility and potentiality were powerful forces in the movement of my life. When you are no longer afraid of the unimaginable depth of the blue, then you can begin to see the beautiful creations that infuse your life with love and positive energy everyday.

So, now it's time to stop being afraid of the blue sky; it's time to stop being afraid of learning about yourself; it's time to stop being afraid of the "what if's" and the possibilities. Learning about your HIV status doesn't have to be a frightening experience, nor does it have to decimate your possibilities, your dreams, your hopes. Just take a look at the blue sky....

Friday, February 1, 2013

Valentine's Day is All About Loving Yourself!

I can't tell you the last time that I received a Valentine's Day gift or a card for that matter. I think I still might have a crinkled old Valentine's Day greeting card from my elementary school years tucked in my scrapbook somewhere, folded and worn with time with a picture of a faded red heart imprinted on some cheap stationery. Those were the days when the teacher made everybody in the class distribute Valentine's Day cards to everybody else in the class, and we got to decorate white paper lunch bags to receive all the mail that day. We even got Valentine's Day cards from our teachers with big red hearts that exclaimed: "I'm so HAPPY that you are in my class!" with handwritten notes of encouragement and pieces of sweet chocolate.

The obligatory notes of professions of love wore off as soon as the cards were opened to peek at who sent the card. It was over in a matter of seconds before you tore open the next one to see if there might be candy hearts in the envelope with a secret message just for you. I particularly didn't like the taste of the candy hearts, but I sure did enjoy reading the sweetness of the messages. We all had school crushes, but with my crushes, I knew they never would come true. And, in elementary school, who really cared because everybody celebrates Valentine's Day. Everybody gets a card. Everybody gets treats. Everybody goes home with white bags decorated with hearts overfilling with the day's promises of love and friendship.

But, eventually you learn the hard truth (or what you come to believe is the hard core truth)...Valentine's Day isn't about giving everybody in class cheap generic greeeting cards with a piece of candy attached and having a party that means a free afternoon from studying and doing worksheets. Middle School was the brutal awakening for me when I first experienced the assualt of having a Valentine's Day without anybody giving me a card or tasteless candy hearts with love notes inscripted across the middle. We didn't have Valentine's Day parties like we did in elementary school. Only girls who had boyfriends got cards and candy and flowers and love. The rest of us rotted in the corner struggling with the nightmare of not getting anything from anybody on Valentine's Day.

I know that Valentine's Day is about love. I've always known that...even in middle school when I was hoping that my crush would give me hearts, and all I got was a shallow "what's up". But, time has a way of healing the past, making you more experienced, enhancing your perspective, and making you stronger for the journey. In high school, I had another brutal awakening about Valentine's Day, and it was almost as radical as the one I had in middle school. I have to thank my girlfriends (seriously, friends of mine who were female) for this burst of light they brought into my dark corner of the world. I realized those same people who got the kisses on February 14 were throwing those kisses away on February 15 or a week later. Those cards so treasured and framed on February 14 were ripped into tiny pieces with such hatred and bitterness that they burned a hole right through the big red hearts, bleeding with emotional intensity. I don't know how many times, how many stories, how much drama I had to go through with my friends over a Valentine's Day card. I realized quite quickly, that the loved ones quickly became the hated ones, and it became trivial to see how many people came and went out of each other's lives.

That's when I broke into the truth that nobody can love you the way you love yourself. Nobody can give you a Valentine's Day card with a big red heart like the one you can give yourself. Nobody can know how strong, confident, adorable, and loveable you are like you know yourself. You don't need a card from someone else to know how valuable you are. You don't need Valentine's Day chocolates to know how sweet you are. You don't need roses on Valentine's Day to know how beautiful you are. You don't need somebody else's love on Valentine's Day, you need your love!

And, part of loving yourself is taking care of yourself. Making sure your health is the priority in your life shows that you love yourself enough to take care of yourself. Getting tested for HIV, especially if you've been thinking about it for a long time, can show how much you love yourself on Valentine's Day. You deserve to be strong, healthy, insightful, and life strong. Make yourself a huge Valentine's Day card on February 14, and inside the card write: "I love myself enough to get tested for HIV and to know my HIV status". Nobody else can give you a more passionate and beautiful love note on Valentine's Day.

Until next time.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A New Year...A Healthy You!

I had a plan on New Year's Eve. I knew exactly what had to be done. I was thinking about my plan all day on December 31, and I even discussed my plan with fellow co-workers who committed to the same idea. We were dedicated in our insight to make this next year happen with earthquake changes in our lives...and it all was going to start on New Year's Eve with a big plan.

I told everyone I knew about my plan for New Year's Eve: staying home, watching a movie, popping some corn, lighting some candles, and most importantly and dramatically, writing out a life plan. At the stroke of midnight, instead of a notebook of goals, resolutions, changes, and detailed plans, I looked down at my blank page and then looked at the clock. It wasn't the only the beginning of a new day, but the beginning of a whole new year. And, so far, I had nothing written down to start the day with.

This was a grand idea, but when I look back on my ambition to write out goals and resolutions that required extraordinary actions on my part to make incredible changes in my already complicated life, I realized that the change is in the small things. It made me think that big changes rarely happen without the baby changes we make everyday. It's one day at a time, living in the moment, being present in the now, making the change for that instant second that results in the dramatic effect in our lives.

Looking back on my New Year's Eve experience, I think I am beginning to understand what appreciating the moment is all about. Reflecting on what is happening in the present moment can also be a meditative way to start out the new year while embracing the life time experiences of the past year.

I know many people who make New Year's resolutions that enhance their appearance by trying to commit to unrealistic diet plans and fantastically outrageous exercise plans. Don't worry! I'm not about to recommend some impossible goal for you. All it takes is for you to be present in the now and take the appropriate action. Getting tested for HIV can be frightening and intimidating for some people, but knowing your HIV status can put you in the driver's seat and back in control of your life. Taking advantage of the opportunity to know more about your health and accessing resources to help you build a better life is what knowing about HIV status is all about. Quitting smoking, starting to exercise, decreasing alcohol intake, eating a more balanced diet are all great goals, but taking an HIV test is something you can do right now, in the present, to change your life for the better.

Learn something about yourself today...make the change today...get tested today....know your HIV status today. Start changing your life today.

Wishing you the very best of 2013!

Until next time.




Monday, November 26, 2012

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day


William T
In recognition of those who have been affected by HIV and AIDS, Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) asks everyone to wear a red ribbon on National World AIDS Day, Saturday, December 1, 2012.

There could not be a better time to introduce William Tinley, JCPH’s new HIV Outreach coordinator, who urges everyone in the community get an HIV test.  William is passionate about his work at the HIV clinic and has already started a blog to educate people about the virus. On behalf of JCPH, William asks, “Do you know your status?”  

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 1.2 million people are living with HIV and 1 out of every 5 is not even aware that their status is positive.  They also estimate 50,000 Americans are newly infected every single year.

Taking a look at the epidemic in the state of Colorado alone, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Surveillance Report through September, 2012, reveals that the total number of people living with HIV disease continued to increase from 10,459 in 2008 to 11,512 through September 2012. The total number of people living with HIV disease in Colorado increases at a rate of about 3 percent per year.

The only way for someone to know if they have HIV is to take the HIV test. Knowing your status can prevent you from inadvertently infecting someone else. There is no cure for HIV, but there are new treatment options allowing people infected with HIV to live healthy, productive lives.
Get HIV counseling and testing one of our conveniently located HIV testing clinics.  With a rapid test, you can even get results during your visit.  Make an appointment today by calling 303-239-7078.     

Friday, November 2, 2012

Jefferson County Public Health offers no cost, confidential HIV testing and counseling. Please contact 303 239 7078 to schedule an appointment today.

Please view: http://jeffco.us/health/health_T111_R67.htm

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Daily Fact about HIV:

Knowledge is massive power in the fight against HIV infection and transmission. According to the CDC website, the vast majority of persons who know that they are infected with HIV do not transmit the virus to others. The statistics reveal that at least 95% of those living with HIV infection did not transmit HIV to others in 2006. One of the reasons for the decline in HIV transmission: improved HIV testing. Knowledge is power. Jefferson County Public Health offers no charge, confidential HIV testing and counseling at its Lakewood and Arvada clinic sites. Call 303 239 7078 to make an appointment today.