My name is Katie Adsila Willingham and I'm from a small, rural town in northwest Alabama called Tuscumbia. For all you history buffs out there, Tuscumbia is the birthplace of Helen Keller, and we're not really known for much else lol.
I was diagnosed HIV+ in June of 2000 and with the help of an amazing ASO serving north Alabama I have been undetectable for 17 of those 18 years. However, regardless of my undetectable status, I have not always felt safe.
I remember when I was diagnosed the look in the eyes of the doctors and nurses that said I wasn't going to make it very long. My viral load was nearly 800,000 and my CD4 count was 42. My doctor gave me 1 - 5 years to live. I spent those first five years afraid to sneeze, much less catch a cold, I feared death and looked for it over my shoulder everyday, every time I got a little sickly, every time I sweat a little too much at night or whenever someone was sick in my proximity, I feared. For over ten years I waited for what I believed was that inevitable day, but it never came. I got sick and I lived, the years passed by and I continued to live. I was amazed with my recovery.
I spent several more years content with living, I went to my appointments and back home and never gave a thought to advocacy of any kind. Until I came out to my family as a transgender woman. I felt such relief from the tremendous weight I had been carrying, I was finally happy with my life, and with my newfound inner freedom. I finally felt capable of focusing on more than myself. I then met a group of advocates that changed the course of my life. Many of you may know of them, they are the women of PWN. Since meeting them I'm no longer content to sit on the sidelines worried about my life and my life alone, I've decided to get involved.
Over the past year I've joined the Policy Fellowship of PWN-USA, the Community Advisory Board of Thrive Alabama, the Alabama HIV Prevention and Care Group, the iAdvocate Project of Thrive Alabama and I created two Facebook groups: Alabama Transgender Coalition and Alabama Poz Life. I've come a long way for just one year lol, and I don't plan on slowing down any time soon.
Why Katie wants to be part of A Girl Like Me: I wish to be a sister, a friend, an advocate for women living with HIV so no one who knows me will ever feel alone in our mutual struggles of life. I wish to be an educator to those who are ignorant about HIV and be of any assistance for them that I can be. Finally, on a personal level, I want to have a positive purpose in life rather than just sitting home waiting for days to pass. I've always enjoyed writing and this opportunity would allow me to advocate using my skills to share my experiences.