"Accept Your Status, and Move Forward..." Sergei Dawson on HIV
Sergei Dawson is a Community Advisory Board Member for HIVE, an APLA Health program for HIV-Elders. He lives in LA County and works to help those aging with HIV accept their status and access the resources that helped save his life. Sergei loves to dance, cook and bake during his free time.
When did you find out you were HIV positive? How has your HIV status impacted your life?
When I first found out I had HIV, I tried committing suicide several times. For some reason, I am still alive. After my diagnosis, I spiraled into chronic depression. I was afraid of rejection due to my status, so I isolated myself from friends, possible partners, and the community. As time went by, I saw loved ones die and began seeing physical changes in myself – especially as I aged. I sought solace in drug use, which added addiction to my growing list of challenges.
My worst fears were realized when an eviction left me homeless. I was hopeless, alone, using drugs and going through major depression. But I was alive, so I reached out to the person who gave me life, my mom. She told me to live and encouraged me to see a therapist at Kaiser. They directed me to APLA Health.
How did you find support to manage your HIV treatment?
Like roughly 25% of all older people in L.A. County living with HIV, I didn’t have stable housing, adequate income for food, or money for transportation to medical appointments. When I was diagnosed, I spent all my savings in five years to stay alive. Once I was connected to APLA Health, I was able to access medication, public transportation and food through their food pantries. The community has been invaluable – having other people who relate and understand what I went through helped me find happiness again.
How long have you been involved in HIV advocacy?
Today, I’m leading a much healthier life, and have acquired life skills to take better care of myself. I’m one of the most active members in APLA Health’s program for older people living with HIV: HIVE. I have the opportunity to meet new people – and help others – as an active Community Advisory Board member for HIVE.
I’ve participated in numerous events, such as life skills workshops, health education dinners, and social activities like bowling night or Starbucks coffee chats.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Accept your status, and move forward. I am happy knowing that I have a healthy life and accept my HIV status, versus being in denial. This has made me the survivor I am today. I take one day at a time, because life is a precious gift we often take for granted.