The Positive Side

Summer 2011 

James Oakes (Spring/Summer 2004)

Age: 56
Semi-retired, doing some odd gardening jobs
Living with HIV for 26 years
CD4 count: 400+
Viral load: undetectable

“I am a human being, bisexually inclined, dedicated to truth, love and understanding, who enjoys photography, playing ice hockey, collecting and reading used books and having fun with friends and their dogs.”

How would you describe your health?
Pretty good. I’ve been something of a long-term non-progressor, as they say, and didn’t take any meds for about 24 years. I just tried to put HIV out of my mind. But a couple of years ago, on the advice of my excellent physician, I started taking Atripla.

Are you experiencing any specific issues around HIV or your treatment?
Fortunately, I’ve never experienced any HIV-related symptoms. Except maybe worry! Lately, I’ve been attending a naturopathic clinic to address digestive issues. I also go regularly for shiatsu treatments. I continue to work with my psychiatrist — “Dr. Killjoy,” as I lovingly think of him — mostly on deep-rooted family issues, and I take antidepressants. I enjoy smoking pot blended with tobacco. It enhances the creative, spiritual, social and intellectual aspects of myself.

You were on the cover of our Spring/Summer 2004 issue, for a feature story about long-term survivors. And now it’s six years later and you’re being interviewed for this magazine again. How does that feel?
Well, when I think of the death sentence that was handed to me back in the mid-’80s, it’s pretty amazing. But I’ve always been a fighter. I continue to read books on healing and attend church from time to time, to connect with the oneness and love. If I could recommend one book, it would be The Dynamic Laws of Healing by Catherine Ponder. I hope I can serve as something of an inspiration to people who are living with HIV.

Since you appeared on the cover, what’s been going on in your life?
I’ve lost a lot of friends over the past couple of years; ironically, not from AIDS. It’s been really shocking and has made me more fully accept my own mortality. I strive to cultivate deeper levels of self-love and greater awareness, understanding, compassion, helpfulness, loving-kindness and forgiveness.

In one word, describe this moment in AIDS.

In 10 years…
I’ll still be playing ice hockey, but maybe in a seniors’ league.

What song is the soundtrack of your life?
"Spiritual Healing" by Toots and the Maytals.