In January 1988 Z’Dja’s mother was about to undergo her third open heart surgery. Wanting to help her mother in any way she could, Z’Dja was tested to determine if she was a good match to donate blood for her mother’s surgery. She never dreamt such an innocent act would lead to a frightening phone call one Sunday evening. The voice on the telephone told Z’Dja she was HIV positive and advised her to find a doctor in New York to care for her for whatever time she had left. Z’Dja made an appointment to see a doctor the next day, her parents drove through the night to be with her at the appointment. Upon leaving the doctor’s office, Z’Dja remembers feeling much better about her HIV diagnosis.
“I think it’s really important that people set up a support system right away.” Z’Dja’s network includes her family, extended family, and close friends. She credits her sister, who is also her best friend, as her totem of support. Z’Dja firmly believes that it is equally important for her family and friends to have the support they need. Feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility and obligation to the people she loves, Z’Dja has often found herself making choices not necessarily for her benefit, but for the wellbeing of her family and friends.
Having previously felt group therapy wasn’t for her, Z’Dja tended to rely on herself and individuals for support for many years. But, the feelings of isolation began to creep in; Z’Dja began to feel like she wasn’t a part of any thing. On the advice of many, Z’Dja joined a closed support group for HIV+ women. Though she has only been a few times, she already acknowledges an unbelievable sense of empowerment, and she’s a little more compassionate towards herself. “I can look at myself and feel good about the decisions I made and the road I took.”
“Being diagnosed certainly wasn’t the worst thing that has happened to me. I feel no different about it than if I had been diagnosed with cancer or diabetes.” Sure, Z’Dja had to make some important decisions about her life very quickly, but she truly believes that her diagnosis has changed her life for the better. “I think of it as a road sign – this is the direction I was supposed to go in.”
As easily as Z’Dja discusses her new sense of empowerment, she too discusses the very trying parts of living with HIV disease. Several years after her diagnosis, Z’Dja and her husband divorced. Not ready for a serious partnership, Z’Dja began casually dating. She decided it was best to disclose her status up front and initially found men to be quite accepting. But as time passed, and Z’DJA began to feel more comfortable with the idea of a serious partnership, she has been unlucky and unable to find men who are accepting of who she is. She finds that individuals often characterize and view her as an HIV+ woman, rather than as a woman with many qualities, who happens to have HIV.
Whether you are newly diagnosed and don’t know where to turn for advice and support, or a long time survivor who is feeling isolated, “you’re not alone!” Z’Dja has learned not to listen to everything people tell you – “you have control of your decisions and your life. Don’t let somebody’s opinions scare you and stop you from doing what ever it is you need to do.”
The women featured in our profiles are real HIV+ women and people working in the arena of HIV care. The Well Project respects and safeguards our profilee’s confidentiality – we will never reveal last names, addresses or places of employment. We may even provide an alias so that our profilee’s first names remain private. If you have any questions or comments about our profiles, please contact us.