My HIV Story: I Found Out Before I Began Medical School
My story of contracting HIV begins at home. I’m originally from Oakland, CA, where I grew up with my mother, brother, and grandmother. In my early 20s, a lot of social strife prevailed within my family, so I decided to move to Oklahoma with my boyfriend. After moving, depression hindered me and I used sex as a coping mechanism. The open relationship my boyfriend and I had was unhealthy because even though he told me he was OK with it, we both knew he was not. I contracted HIV from one of my partners but, fortunately, my ex did not get it from me.
The diagnosis came right before I entered medical school, which ended up being a brutal transition especially since I was a first-generation college student. I barely passed exams, still wrestled with depression, couldn’t pay off medical fees, kept my HIV-positive status a secret from family and friends, and had a continual stream of financial and familial problems. The question, “How could I let this happen to me?” persisted. To cope with all of this, I immersed myself in school and extracurricular activities. But, by doing so, I never made the time to deal with my HIV diagnosis or anything else. Eventually, I broke up with my then-boyfriend because I had caused too much damage to our relationship.
I frequently found myself crying while I was studying because I was reading about my exact experience as a gay black man with HIV. I didn’t realize that studying and talking about depression, suicidal behaviors, and HIV in my classes would be so triggering. I ended up taking a leave of absence in the summer and fall of 2017. I had no idea how much I was suffering. I sought therapy, began taking anti-depressants, and found a community with individuals like me. I began to put my health first because, with all the things I was dealing with, I knew that my institution, family, and friends wouldn’t be able to prioritize me the way I needed.
I am still trying to figure out what self-care looks like for me and, as a medical student, I will always learn more about what it may look like even as I begin to practice.
What I wish others knew about those with HIV is that we come from different walks of life, but we’re all valuable members of their community. We don’t all have substance abuse disorders or struggle with housing. Some of us are changing into scrubs in the locker rooms right next to you. And, while many of us do have complex social needs and are many times overlooked, our humanity is not diminished because of our HIV status.