HIV empowered me - and now I am free.
When I first found out I had HIV - I believed my life was over. I come from a catholic upbringing, and even though I no longer practice, those feelings of guilt and shame still lingered.
There were things that good girls do and there were things that bad girls do. I fell squarely in the bad girl category and the shame and guilt of HIV consumed me.
When I was given the news that I was HIV positive I went home, lay on the sofa and cried like I had never cried before. I cried for who I am, I cried for what I had lost and I cried for my future. But most importantly, I cried alone. I felt so consumed with shame that I felt I could tell no one.
I remember laying on the sofa and looking at my will to make sure everything was in order for when I die. Who will look after the kids? What will happen to the house? I remember I had private health insurance for ill health. Bingo! At least when I die my kids will get money from the additional private policy I had.
I stopped crying, suppressed my feelings and called the insurance company. As I called the number, I thought of how the money could be used to help my children, pay for my funeral and credit card.
The insurance company said they do not cover any HIV related illness. The shame I held compounded. HIV stigma was planted in my head. I felt powerless, ashamed, lonely and scared of death.
Over the next few months I realised that HIV was not a death sentence. I was told that I can take medication that will stop the virus from spreading. I wasn't going to die!
So, if taking one tablet a day keeps the virus at bay - I wanted to make sure I didn't find myself having to take more tablets for things like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Over the next few years I set about doing all I could to ensure I did not get any health related issues that would mean having to take medication. I started yoga, I meditated, I became vegan and worked out. I read books and started therapy.
After years of consistent personal development - I started to see who I was and the things that were blocking me from living a life free of shame, guilt, stigma. I stopped drinking and smoking and started to love myself. I made space for my inner child, for intergenerational trauma, for my sexuality, for the color of my skin and for my femininity.
HIV empowered me and now I feel free to live a life where I want to be.