My HIV Story: HIV Can Start A Transformation
I couldn’t be more excited as I was just approved to study abroad in Spain. While I was at the health department getting my shot records in order for the trip, I decided to get free HIV testing while I was there. I went in thinking, “I’m fine, but better safe than sorry.” As you can imagine, I was dumbfounded when the rapid test came back reactive. The thoughts that run through your mind once taking in that kind of news are quite frightening. It’s almost as if you start numbering your days, trying to figure out what you can accomplish before it’s all over. By now I know that’s not true, but it was those kinds of thoughts that drove me to fear.
When you are in college, the last thing you expect is to be diagnosed with HIV. I was just like everyone else, enjoying myself in college and indulging in new experiences. I had a careless moment when it came to having sex. I had unprotected sex with someone I knew from my university. This person did not tell me they had HIV or were unaware of it.
Fast-forward to one month later… I began taking medicine but the side effects and I didn’t get along. I had severe anxiety, fear, and depression. I was faced with trying to figure out if it was me or the medicine’s side effects. I ended up switching to a new medicine and felt immensely better afterward. Moving forward was and is all I can do, and it is no easy task. One way that I decided to cope with the news was by starting my own social media campaign called “Journey with HIV.”
The numbers were steadily growing as the page continued. Through this campaign, I offered encouragement to college students who had contracted HIV and were struggling with coping. Weekly, I uploaded inspirational thoughts, videos, and HIV awareness information. I have since taken a step back from this project, but, during that time, helping others cope with HIV really helped me to come to terms with my own experience with the virus.
HIV has impacted my life in so many ways. I had to learn to be okay with not being okay. I had to learn to ask for help. Putting my pride aside was a step that led me to open up to my friends and family about my HIV status. Thankfully, they received the news in a caring manner and wanted to know more so they could help me accept the diagnosis better.
I joined a support group for those living with HIV. I met a sweet older woman who about 35 years ago contracted HIV in Africa. The constant reassurance that she gave me every day helped me accept the fact that I had HIV. I’ve explained to her how I think or feel and she usually has had similar experiences and shares them with me. This woman being introduced to my life has transformed me from someone who merely exists to someone who is always living.
Actually seeing someone who has had HIV for so long helped me realize that life does not end after the diagnosis, but it often starts up a beautiful transformation. I felt inspired to take better care of my health. I’ve begun working out 4 days a week, am omitting fried/fast foods, and try to have mostly vegan meals throughout the week. Taking my medicine every day is a definite change not only because I wasn’t taking it before, but also because each day I’m reminded that I have a responsibility to make sure that this virus is not spread further. It underlines to me that I am an activist for HIV and to end the stigma around HIV/AIDS.
As for people living without HIV, I wish they knew that the stigma isn’t an accurate representation of what living with HIV is like. Today, HIV is the modern day leprosy, but I’d like to prove that it isn’t. We are people who live, think, and feel just like you. I want those that are newly diagnosed with HIV to know that it is going to be okay! You can still do the things that you wanted to do before as well as anything you would like to do one day.
I used to believe that HIV would never allow my life to be the same and that I’d no longer be a functioning member in society. I’ve come to realize that just is not true.
People without HIV need to know that it is manageable. And, once you have an undetectable load, it is not transferable to someone else. We are not contagious in the way most people think, but we are courageous and able to prove to the world that the stigma is wrong. Living with HIV is like living with high blood pressure. You take a pill once a day to keep everything in balance, but you continue to live life like everyone else. I want to encourage everyone to live life to the fullest no matter the circumstances because we all have a purpose.