I caught AIDS, but all is not over

Monday, July 27, 2015

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ON June 25, my entire world crumbled down as I was diagnosed with HIV. After being in a monogamous relationship for almost a year and testing negative multiple times throughout the relationship, I was tested positive for HIV. So I began to do some self-searching and introspection: I'm not a whore. I don't do drugs. How did this happen to me? Then I realised it can happen to anyone. I just needed to know how to bring my world back down to earth and stay strong.

To be honest, it's a stressful situation. I told my ex-partner — whom I had broken up with after finding out he had cheated multiple times. His response was that I "live a disgusting life", and that he was going to out me to my friends and family. Knowing the society that I'm living in, and that people living with HIV and AIDS are discriminated and stigmatised, I thought my life was over. I attempted suicide by overdosing. Thanks to the support of my close friends, who came to my rescue, I'm alive today and is able to face the circumstances.

What was funny was that, two years ago, when my close friend told me that he found out that he had HIV and he wanted to harm himself, I was there counselling him. I encouraged him, telling him that everything was okay and that I understood what he was going through and HIV is not a death sentence. But I have come to realise that we will never understand what people living with HIV and AIDS in our society are going through, with the constant stigma and discrimination against them until we are in that position. I have come to realise that for people living with HIV and AIDS, this hostile environment has a negative impact on their physical and psychological health. Some hide their HIV status and experience stress and social isolation. Many of those who are open about their HIV status experience flagrant and explicit discrimination.

For example, I was told to go by the Comprehensive Health Clinic, Slipe Pen Road, to see a doctor and to do further check-up. When I went there, there was a section that is called Section 3 that was only for STIs. While in the waiting area, I could overhear people gossiping about the patients that was being seen, saying that they were there for treatment for HIV. In fact, I soon realised that some people in the waiting area where not there for treatment. They were there to see all the people who had come for HIV treatment. Things like these have led to individuals living with HIV and AIDS not to seek (or may not seek early enough) the treatment they need.

Thanks to organisations like Jamaica AIDS Support for Life I am now able to get the necessary health care needed in a discreet and comfortable environment with friendly staff.

Today, I want to speak to people living with HIV, as well as those who are HIV negative. To those who are HIV negative, I implore you to protect yourself, please! Use the necessary things that are out there. Don't have unprotected sex. Get tested, and keep yourself in the 'know zone' so that you will be able to protect yourself and others that you are involved with.

And for those who are HIV-positive, I believe that God is going to work a miracle for us. All of your problems, your pain and heartache, guilt and shame, lay them down on Jesus. He said cast your cares upon him and he will hear your call. If you feel it's necessary to be sexually involved with someone, use a condom. Don't ruin that person's life just because someone else has done that to you. It's not fair to you, but it's also not fair for you to ruin another person's life because of your own selfish ways.

At the beginning of the fourth decade of the HIV epidemic, profound stigma and discrimination is a fact of life for those with the disease, not only socially, but within our legal system. But until the day we'll be able to say, "I used to have HIV", let us all work together to fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS in our society.

My aim is to encourage us to stop the discrimination and stigmatising of people living with HIV and AIDS, and instead unite to stop HIV and AIDS. We can beat this together.





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