*The following narrative is from one of our HIV-positive scholarship applicants. It has been minimally changed to remove any identifying information.*
In 1997, I received life-changing news that I was HIV-positive due to four blood transfusions I protested having while giving birth to my second child at 22-weeks premature.
At that point, I was not educated about my illness and I had no support. This was a major setback and I felt as though my life was at a stand-still. I began to believe, for the most part, that my life was over. In 2001, I became deathly ill from the HIV medications; some of them are highly toxic. It was at this point that I realized the need to educate myself about my illness. I began researching information to find the right treatment. This reinforced the importance of education and led me to pursue my degree so that I can become a life coach.
I want to become a life coach for women because most newly diagnosed cases of HIV occur in women between the ages of 14 to 24. They contract HIV due to a lack of education and from not having a voice or and not feeling empowered. They can’t stand up for themselves and tell a man to put on a condom or to show them a negative test result.
Being HIV positive has put a constant nagging thought in everything I do, in any choices I make, especially in my personal life. If I choose to have a date or even close friendships, I’m always thinking I will come under judgment. I am always worrying about when the proper time is to disclose my status, although I know it is imperative to always disclose it in an intimate relationship. If someone knows about my status, will they use it against me?
I have a saying: I am not living with HIV, HIV is living with me. My life goes forward– I have control over it. I had to look at this devastation as a blessing because it makes me take a critical look at my life and at people. For whatever reason, I had to endure acquiring this disease to make me have a different perspective on life and to help me keep my sanity.
Those who are HIV-negative don’t have a clue how HIV affects those of us who are HIV-positive. The media has put out there that HIV is not a big deal. The virus has been compared to diabetes, as if it is something you can manage with one pill a day. They don’t represent the horrors. They use Magic Johnson as the poster child, but that’s not a realistic view of it. It took his money, education, and his star power and resources to get treatments most people can’t access in the U.S. In my opinion, HIV is just as devastating in 2016 as it was in the mid-1980s when it first broke out. This illness is constantly changing; once you think you have a grip on something, something new comes up. This virus makes you think about your mortality constantly– How is it I will die?
Some people have succumbed to the dark side of this illness. They go off the deep end. They do drugs and engage in very reckless behavior. I want people to become more educated and less judgmental, especially those in the African American community. This community still stigmatizes HIV-positive people with all of their misconceptions. They still want to bleach the dishes after you eat or serve you with disposable dinnerware. They believe that if they touch you or even if you breathe on them, they will get the virus. They believe you deserve to have it because of your lifestyle choices. It’s an ugly thing. There’s no empathy from anyone other than your nuclear family and friends. Once others hear about it, they stand in judgment of you.