My HIV Story: It Did Not Make Me A Different Person
I have been HIV positive since October of 2007. I acquired it from my boyfriend at the time; I thought we were in a monogamous relationship, but it turned out we weren’t. I was 24 years old, and accepting my virus was a problematic process that forced me to deal with feelings of anger, rejection, and fear of the unknown. I was angry at him for cheating on me and giving me HIV, at myself for not seeing the signs of being cheated on, and I was mad at the world for no other reason than it was there for me to direct my anger towards. I was terrified of what would happen to my health.
I started seeing my infectious disease doctor in the spring of 2008. We initially waited on starting antiretroviral medications to see what my CD4 and viral load trends would show and what the virus did with me as its host. My body was a very gracious host to the virus, and my well-being was in jeopardy as my CD4 counts dropped. With a declining CD4 count and increasing viral load, I started Atripla in January 2009. Once I began medication, my CD4 counts rose, and my viral load quickly fell below detectable levels.
As my viral load became undetectable, I started noticing that the only constraints the virus put on my life were the ones that I was putting on myself. I had been using the virus as an excuse for not living and moving forward with my life. The things that I told myself I could no longer have or do stemmed from fear because I was HIV positive. I was scared because now that I was infected, I did not know who I was or what I looked like. I had, effectively, compartmentalized what I had been feeling and experiencing with my life as a survival mechanism before starting medications since my primary focus was getting the virus under control.
Now that I was undetectable, I could focus on who I was, what I wanted to do, and learned that I was not a different person just because I had HIV. I was not the leperous pariah that I told myself for umpteen months of self-loathing, anger, and fear. I was still the same person that I was before and discovered that the only thing that was different was how I loved myself. I commenced finishing my prerequisite classes to my nursing program, graduated, and, by 2013, started my nursing career in a critical care unit.
Now, five years later, I am reaching further and am in the first year of my doctoral program. My goal is to finish, work as a nurse practitioner, and eventually teach in a part-time position.
What I would like to impart on people who do not have HIV is this: I am as much defined by HIV, as you are defined by not having HIV. I have learned over time to mold HIV to my life instead of changing myself in order to fit the virus. Because of this new outlook, I can now control how much time it takes up in my life – which is little to no time. There will always be people with baseless, ignorant, and phobic opinions about HIV and of those who are infected – this is an unfortunate part of life. My only hope is that their opinions change through examples of kindness and one-on-one education.
I do not believe that a block of marble can become a statue by shouting at it. It becomes a statue by applying hard work to it – this is how I see educating people on HIV and people who are positive.