We’ve come such a long way since the early ‘80s, when AIDS crashed onto the scene, killing many and frightening more. There was so little known at that time. It was through the hard work and advocacy of many people that we discovered HIV, learned how to prevent its transmission, and how to hold it in check.
Today, HIV is a chronic illness, but some of the fear still remains. There are still people working tirelessly to eliminate stigma just as there are those working to find a vaccine and a cure. Still more are working to make the lives of people living with HIV better in whatever ways they can. Some of these are massage therapists like me.
Massage therapy is not a cure. It’s not even a treatment. But it can help HIV+ individuals live happier, healthier lives:
Massage can help alleviate peripheral neuropathy (tingling, numbness, and pain in the feet and legs), a side effect of antiretroviral therapy. Staying on a regular treatment regimen is paramount if you have HIV, so whatever makes that process easier is worthwhile.
Massage can help with anxiety and depression, both common in HIV+ folks. Mental illness is nothing to sneeze at, and is one of the more common reasons that people find it difficult to take care of themselves.
Massage can be a positive experience in your own body. When you have a chronic illness of any kind, it’s easy to feel at war with yourself. A massage is a time when you and your body get to be on the same team for a little while.
Massage is a time to connect through touch. For all the good information out there about HIV/AIDS, there are still plenty of myths about how it is transmitted. This often manifests itself as a lack of everyday touch, which is especially devastating to people who have lost their intimate partners.
So let me state this very clearly:
You will never be turned away from my massage table due to your HIV status. When you have secondary issues that mean that massage would be harmful to either you or me, I will let you know specifically what they are, so that you are not left in the dark. If you find yourself with a condition I am not trained to work with, I will do my best to find you another massage therapist who is.
Your HIV status is private. I will not tell your partner, your mother, your employer, your doctor, or your best friend, unless you specifically ask me to, in writing. If you would like copies of any records or notes I keep about our sessions together, you are welcome to them. But they are not for others’ eyes.
How you contracted HIV is none of my business. Unless it’s something that affects your health in other ways (like current drug use), it has no impact on your massage. But if you do decide to share, I will not judge you.
December 1 is World AIDS Day. This month, whoever you are, take a little time to learn about what’s been discovered about HIV since you first heard of it all those years ago. We now know about different strains of HIV, and how our bodies react differently to each. We know how to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and how serodiscordant couples (couples in which only one partner is HIV+) can safely conceive children together. And we know that the support of friends, neighbors, family, and loved ones is one of the key factors in the health and well-being of people with HIV. This post is just one small action I’m taking to help everyone feel more welcome in my practice. What will yours be?