My HIV Story: HIV and Me
Breaking the stubborn hesitance I had at the beginning of my fall semester, I finally decided to do it. I needed an answer. “Now, when a line appears in both the control and test areas of this test, we read the results as positive. If only one appears on the control, the results are negative,” the lady in white told me while I absentmindedly nodded, seated next to my concerned twin sister. In an administrative office of my community college, I winced at the needle prick for my rapid HIV test. Only mere minutes passed before she brought the results forward. “Do you know what this means?” She asked. Never before did two lines carry so much weight in my life than at that moment. “Yes,” I answered trying to anchor myself to the reality in which I found myself. “I have HIV.” I clutched my sister’s arms and became undone.
I fell apart not only because of finding this truth but discovering the reason why he left without telling me, why he was never there for me when I needed to see his face, to hear his voice when I needed to feel his love. That he was out there untrue and unfaithful, leaving behind this foreign feeling, this “tingle.”
It’s been a year since I was diagnosed with HIV. Since that day it has been a fight to maintain a stasis of “undetectability.” Every day I adhere to a regimen in which I swallow a green, oblong tablet. I have to hide my prescription pamphlets, medical bills, and my bottles because I remain closeted to my parents. Every three months, I visit a clinic to see my progress in protecting my body, to see myself become healthier for myself and for those I love. I do this between my studies and my two jobs because if I misstep, I risk falling back into a place I never want to be. HIV looms over me with each passing day, but I fight harder and harder because this virus is not who I am. HIV will not stop me. This virus, I know, once day will be gone.
For most of the early 21st century, the language encompassing HIV and AIDS was fettered by salacious stigmas tethered to promiscuity, substance abuse, and disease. This led to a combination of discriminatory and oppressive barriers that systematically fed upon public ignorance. It not only impeded on any understanding of when to seek medical intervention, what treatments were available, and how to access medicinal therapies to manage or prevent, but worse this ignorance often displaces HIV-positive individuals beyond repair and recovery.
This historical narrative of HIV often entailed the slow realization of viral transmission due to symptoms (if any were even present). The virus would metaphorically write itself in subtle, foreign lines on the body, in reverse transcriptions, broken codes, and faulty encryption in its genetic script. What followed was an internal conflict upon diagnosis — a striking dissemblance between the “seropositive” self (the HIV positive self) and the self that was once normal — which dismantles and disrupts the livelihood of everyday life. Just as it would silently befuddle the body from within flesh and fluid, the virus, too, would intimately invade and exacerbate every outward thought, every choice, every interaction, and every relationship.
Drug regimens would become a constant interruption, and some would fail for far too many reasons to count. Physical deterioration eats away at bodies of all forms and features. Eventually, AIDS will manifest without medication. The specter of death would then become an undeniable and repeated truth.
If there is anything I wish those without HIV knew about living with the virus is that this is no longer the story it once was. I am blessed to have been diagnosed at an early stage of transmission and by some grace of God was given the ability to continue living my life as functional and as productively as I would have without it. I’m grateful I can still be with my family without having to worry about hives, headaches, or swelling from within. I can still go to work and contribute to my community. Every day I am grateful, and every day I keep on, hoping that one day I can make a difference in people’s lives the way that I had always dreamed — beginning with my education.