At first, it was hard for me. At times, I suffered from severe depression and had thoughts of suicide. It was hard being “the girl with HIV” in my city. Mentally, I had to create another name and be somebody else, not “the girl with HIV.” I would tell my sexual partners, but when it came to other people, I felt my business didn’t concern them. Yet, where I grew up, it seems like your business belongs to everyone.
I’m, 26 now, but I found out I was HIV-positive at 15. I was attending Camp Hope, a week-long summer camp for children 7 through 16 who are living with HIV. Only, I didn’t know that when I went.
I was in an administrator’s office when I found out. I saw a board with the different camp weeks listed on it. Next to my week, it read “HIV.” I immediately excused myself to find my doctor, Dr. Ana Puga, who was at camp, to ask her about it. Dr. Puga is like a second mother to me. I have been her patient my entire life.
The counselors called my grandma to tell her what happened, and she told them to tell me. I remember my doctor drawing on the medical bed, showing me what HIV does to my body. I was so afraid. I remember just being sad, but having so much clarity. It suddenly made sense why I had to take medicine. It wasn’t for sickle cell disease like I thought it was. My Camp Hope counselors, administrators, and even my campmates were so loving and reassuring. It made the discovery a little easier. I’ll never forget it.
I never really liked telling people who were not closely affected by my status. Honestly, my family and friends would share the news for me.
No one will ever know how hard it really was for me. There are a lot of things I don’t say and keep to myself. As I’ve grown up, my outlook on life, on people, on love has changed. Growing up has made sharing my status with others a lot easier. When you’re so free in your truths, it’s like breaking all the chains. It’s liberating. . I thank God every day for freeing me and giving me the courage to be me. It truly changed me and my respect for life.
IESHIA’S MESSAGE TO OTHERS:
You have to tell your sexual partner your status. Here’s what I’ve learned: If I’m not ready to share my status with you, I have no reason to lie down with you. If I am not confident enough to bare my truths to you, I have no business sharing my body with you. As my motto goes when it comes to HIV, “let’s keep the negative, negative, and the positive, healthy.” I created that saying, and for me, it has everything to do with the importance of safe sex and healthy relationships. HIV is preventable.
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