Greetings from Accra. I cannot stop admiring your online posts and pictures and your positive attitude toward life. This makes me wonder if you are really HIV-positive because you do not fit the popular image of a person living with HIV as melancholy and lonely. Most people here do not disclose and are living in silence because of stigma. This brings me to the question: How did you find out you are positive—of course it was by testing but what led you to go and test for HIV? Did you have symptoms? What were they? How long after your exposure to the virus did you get tested?
These appear to be personal questions. It’s okay if you do not wish to answer any of them. Thanks and regards. Good health and blessings to you.
I hope all is well and thank you for writing in. I also want to thank you for reading my articles and posts; it really helps me to know that people out there are really reading and listening to what I have to say.
Let’s talk about the image of a person living with HIV. In the 1980s and ’90s living with HIV was very hard. On top of having a life expectancy of five years, give or take, one’s view on life could sometimes become altered. Knowing that you’re HIV-positive can lead someone to depression, to become isolated and can lead others to discriminate against them, etc. These negative factors can become overwhelming and can affect how a person treats themselves as far as living healthfully—physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. When there was no medication that could effectively help someone with HIV, the complications of HIV were a lot worse. But today, because of medications called antiretroviral treatments, people with HIV are able to live healthier lives, to the point where someone with HIV can live nearly as long as someone who doesn’t have HIV. The images of HIV in the 1980s and ’90s are very different than they are today, at least in the U.S.
To address your other questions about my symptoms and testing: One day I woke up and my satin sheets were soaking wet. I then began to throw up five times in my bed and realized that something was wrong. I had never felt so sick before, except for when I had the flu. I found out that I was HIV-positive because of an HIV test that I took at a local nonprofit in Washington, D.C. I was tested in 2006, but I believe I was infected in 2005. I’ve been living with HIV for eleven years but diagnosed ten years ago, in other words. I know there are people out there that would say HIV doesn’t exist. Those people are called HIV Denialists or Dissidents. Do not believe them because HIV does exist; it’s a scientific fact and no legitimate/ethical doctor will tell you that there is a cure. Many doctors that say they have the cure for HIV are fraudulent and, in my opinion, they have the blood of people who believed them on their hands.
Many cultures still have HIV stigma and, today, because of stigma, people don’t disclose their HIV status and are living in silence. The image of people living with HIV in some cultures is that they deserved getting HIV. They blame the victim of the infection and not the infection itself. This directly affects an HIV-positive person living in that same culture. They do not want to be associated with HIV for fear of what family or friends might think of them. Sometimes this can lead to them not seeking treatment and not disclosing to their sexual partners, thus leading to more infections and more deaths. From my experience with friends who have died in the past, there is still stigma. I went to a funeral of a friend and nobody wanted to say what he died of, even years later. That is what stigma does. Speaking out helps others accept what HIV is and helps them to combat it.
Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Presently, he is working toward his doctorate in public health. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].