On August 13, 2002, I was told that I was HIV-positive. I was only 35 years old.
I had married someone that I loved with all my heart, unknowing that he was a victim too. Because of shame, stigma, guilt and low self-esteem he was unable to tell me that he was HIV-positive. Years past and we eventually separated for other reasons. Soon after, he became ill and after returning home to care for him, I found out his secret.
Not only did he have HIV, but he also had AIDS.
I was completely shocked and devastated, not just for him, but for myself. Right after, I went to the doctor and got tested: I too was infected. Most likely, I had been positive for 3 to 5 years, and never even knew, because I had never been tested for HIV before. I was not the person that HIV/AIDS was characterized to infect. I was a wife, mother, sister, daughter and employed.
In that moment, my life was forever changed. I got sick, became unable to work and had to get on disability. All of this completely tore me down by this diagnosis.
I just knew I was going to die! What if I touched or hugged my children, could I give it to them? What would my family and friends think about me? What would people think about my family if they knew? Would they treat me, them or all of us differently?
But somehow, I found the will to learn how to live again.
Over the years, I have learned that an HIV/AIDS diagnosis and the stigma attached to the disease has a way of destroying the most confident person. HIV/AIDS takes away one's self-esteem and self-respect. This disease will also destroy one's hope for the future and cause serious depression.
It can also make you feel like you are alone.
But the more I started getting out in the community and talking to people, I soon found out that I was NOT the only woman who was infected with HIV/AIDS. But I also realized that I was the one who was willing to put a face to HIV/AIDS publicly in my town, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And I understand that fear, because I was once one of those people. There was a time when I was too ashamed to go to my doctor for fear of who would see me there and tell everyone that I was HIV-positive.
That's how powerful stigma is. And this is why I have tried to be a voice for others who have yet to find their voice and who are have yet to realize their own power.
Now, I am currently employed at HIV/AIDS Alliance for Two Inc. (HAART) as the Prevention Program Coordinator [and] sit on the Governor’s Commission for HIV/AIDS & Hep C and the Mayor’s Advisory Council for the Baton Rouge Transitional Grant Area (TGA). I am a graduate of Aids Alliance Consumer Leadership Training Program class of 2008 and Louisiana’s Campaign to End AIDS Representative (C2EA). I have previously served as the Advocate at Large for LAAN: the Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network.
I have a passion and that includes a commitment to people living with HIV/AIDS. I am a part of this community and I live my life as an example, and with my enthusiasm and dedication I try to be both inspiring and motivating for others living and walking in my shoes.
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