My journey with HIV began in the summer of 2013. I had been back in the United States for less than a year from serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, lost as to what to do with my life.
My boyfriend and I were in an open relationship, and my partner was showing signs of flu-like symptoms with weight loss and fatigue. My gut was telling me something. I went to the local public health clinic and was tested with the rapid response HIV test.
The nurse gave me the results: “The test is showing that you are positive for HIV, would you like to do another test just to be certain?” The nurse was nervous and seemed unsure about herself leaving an eerie feeling in the room. It is hard to put the feelings I felt at this moment into words, but it was a surreal numbness. I was in shock.
I immediately explained my experience with my partner and got an at-home test for him. He was positive. We cried together and discussed that we were not going to let this take us down.
Afterwards, I began to do further research on the disease and look for a nearby doctor. That’s when the fear set in. I was afraid that seeing a doctor in my small hometown in back in the States would let the word spread that I had contracted the virus. That same concern grips me today. My parents and many of my friends still do not know about my status, as I am not sure I want to endure a second coming out.
Today, I am pursuing my dreams. I have the most amazing boyfriend, and I am healthy. The initial shock from my diagnosis was the worst of it, and since then I have become a stronger person filled with gratitude. I have learned that life is a gift, and therefore I need to take care of myself and nurture that gift. Kindness rules my day, as I may never know what my closest friends, family or the strangers I encounter are dealing with. I’ve enrolled in nursing school to bring that kindness to even more people in need of care and compassion. My nursing training will prepare me to be the best advocate for those who are newly diagnosed with HIV and those living their lives with HIV. I have taken my potentially devastating experience and turned it into a learning experience.
I want those who are not living with HIV to know that every person with the virus, including myself, is human just like everyone else. Living with HIV can be a huge burden to carry and those living with HIV deserve to live life as much as those not living with HIV. I would encourage everyone to educate themselves on the disease to remain sensitive while protecting themselves. I was and continue to be humbled by the virus and look at life from a different perspective, a perspective with compassion and hope. Perspective is the best defense. Befriend someone struggling with the diagnosis of HIV and learn their perspective and you will find power in the attempt of knowing what someone living with HIV is experiencing in society today.