February 21, 2013
Renowned speaker, blogger and advocate Rae Lewis-Thornton has been living with HIV/AIDS for more than 25 years -- and she's learned a lot about survival along the way. In this video, Rae shares wisdom from a long life with HIV/AIDS, especially for those who've just found out they're HIV positive.
What is your message for people who have just tested positive?
Fundamentally, a newly diagnosed person has to decide between one thing or the other -- and that is, how long I want to live, or how soon I want to die. And if you choose life over death, then you must do absolutely everything that's required to live.
I fundamentally believe that there must be a spiritual piece to what you do. Now, my spiritual piece is Jesus; the buck stops there. But your buck could stop at Buddha. I don't care what your buck is. But you need that higher being and source in your life. I believe that.
I believe you need therapy, whether it's group or whether it's individual. Because depression is very common among people with HIV. And when you're clinically depressed, you're not thinking clearly. And that will interfere with your ability to comply with your HIV medication and your regimen.
You need to get a doctor that listens to you, and that you understand what they're saying -- who is prepared to answer any questions, who is willing to allow you to comanage your health care. A woman told me one day, "My daughter just was diagnosed, and the doctor said that she was dying. You have any recommendations?"
I said, "Yeah. Get a new doctor." And so I truly recommend doctors who specialize in HIV. They are typically at the AIDS clinic. Sorry, but that's true. Whether you want to go to the AIDS clinic or not, that's where the best doctors are.
And it has to all be integrated in your life. And you have to comply. If you take one pill a day, you better take that one pill a day. Because your virus can set up a resistance to that pill if you don't.
It really is about doing what you need to do. Disclose your HIV status. Now, I understand some of you all ain't ready to disclose to your mama. But find somebody that you can disclose to; you shouldn't live with this disease by yourself, in secret. You shouldn't live with this disease in shame.
And if you do those things, I think those are tools for living long with this disease.
I heard Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, who is one of the most brilliant AIDS doctors in the world. He said, "A person of 19 or 20 gets diagnosed with HIV; they can live another 50 years." It's true, but it's contingent upon you doing the things you need to do to live. You must take your medication. You must have a doctor you can communicate with. You must deal with your mental health. You must deal with your spiritual health. And you must find you a support system that will hold you up when you cannot hold yourself up. Because you cannot do it alone.
Even Moses had a support system. When they were fighting, God told Moses to hold the rod. And when Moses was holding up the rod, they were winning; and when his arm fell, they were losing. But there was Aaron on one side, and someone else on the other side, holding up Moses so he could hold up the rod.
Support systems are important -- whether you find them at your clinic; whether you find them in the neighborhood support system. Wherever you find them, you need them. You cannot go it alone.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.