Sisterhood is a sacred experience I hold close to my heart, where we as women can lift not only ourselves but each other. Women are the heart of a family, sisters, mothers, aunts who dish out unconditional love, direction, creating a family that feels safe and held. This is how communities thrive; when sisterhood unites it models to towns, to states, to countries, to nations and to the world.
The global community of HIV is made up of more than half of the female orientation and yet we can still feel so isolated, so alone. How often we retreat into fear of being found out within our own communities. This often translates into not knowing another positive woman and feeling as if I may be the only woman in my town in my state in my country. I feel sad when I realize that this ugly state of fear and stigma is a secret many of us bear alone. I understand that trust is hard when it could mean being removed from your family, risking losing your children, your relationships, your employment, your friends. Yet so many of us carry this secret alone.
Many keep busy raising a family, putting on a smile to the public but in time it can wear them down, children leave home, relationships end and still you have one thing that remains the same, that secret you have to keep to protect you and your loved ones.
Is this due to the intrinsic nature of women being selfless caregivers, always being the one to nurture others but not ourselves? Is it the guilt of failing our families that pushes us to keep HIV a secret? I wonder how many struggle silently not reaching out to support groups because this may make it more real, it may make you feel a part of something you would rather not acknowledge. Is internal stigma eating us and defeating us from realizing sisterhood is out there to be a part of? A place we can go and take that deep breath and know you are not alone, know you belong and are loved unconditionally.
I fight daily with the argument of how I choose to live with this virus. Does it define me and if not, how much do I ignore it and hope it goes away? Do I look over my shoulder wondering if it will creep up on me one day and announce itself to my sacred world, the world I struggled to protect from ever knowing it lived within me? Or do I boldly defy it and say you have no hold over me and I take back my power by outing you myself, not ever giving it the chance to be my silent little secret!
No matter which choice I make it is never easy, people say "Oh, you're so brave". Hell, I feel like screaming who has a choice when you have HIV!? The ones I think are brave are those carrying this secret alone, sacrificing for the comfort of their children or families and loved ones.
Even though I am public with my status it still shocks me when stigma and discrimination knock rudely at my door. I can choose how I respond by brushing it off as a joke, or quietly moving house after the landlord found out and my lease was terminated under the safely planned statement of renovations needed to be done or was it that blatantly only two weeks before a neighbor yelled out for the whole street to hear I was an "AIDS B****"?
Yes I cry at night when no one knows and my family is sound asleep, I cry when I cannot get back those precious years with my children when I was so sick I couldn't even cook a meal without burning it or have the strength to peg out the washing, or when people cringed when I became confused or babbled nonsensically as the parasite toxoplasmosis was ravaging my brain. I cry after someone corrects me when I speak because my brain no longer functions as it used to. I cry that I could not be the strong healthy mother who wasn't always tired or having a bad day because of nausea and side effects. My guilt of failing as a mother due to this virus is overwhelming at times.
I find my joy and my purpose in helping others. I guess it's my love language and by supporting my sisters, regardless directly or indirectly this balances the scales of this virus I live with. I dream that in time we can come together and each of us hold out our hand to our sisters to lift them up or that we have the courage when we need a hand to reach out to those offering support to us. Together as women we can be strong, together as sisters we can make a difference. So I say with my heart full, I love my HIV sisters and I hope that when the time is right we can meet, laugh, enjoy food and stories, hugs and tears.