This Positive Life: Tonya on Motherhood, Love, Loss and Laughter as Medicine
October 9, 2013
When you talk to people, at least from your viewpoint, what are the biggest issues going on right now in HIV? What comes to mind?
I think insurance; medical insurance is like the biggest thing. I have a friend that lived here and had all kinds of access to medical care, case management, mental health, everything. She pretty much needed housing and child care. Then she decided she was going to move to Florida. And there is nothing. There's a waiting list. And so that was really hard.
So I think the medications, the insurance part, is the part that's really hard for people right now. And I think housing is so important. Because when you have other things that are important to you, like housing or food, medical care gets put on the bottom of the totem pole.
Could you compare how you feel about having HIV now to your feelings when you first learned you were HIV positive? Could you have imagined that you would be this eloquent, confident woman?
No. When I first was diagnosed, I felt like I was in a cloud -- I literally felt like I didn't know which direction was up, or down, or left, or right. I couldn't think. I remember, before I was positive, I would see "Wrap It Up" commercials, or HIV and AIDS awareness -- you know, the red ribbon -- people would go to the Academy Awards, and they'd have a red ribbon. I never really paid attention to that. But then, after I was diagnosed, I felt like it was everywhere. Everywhere I looked, it was like an HIV and AIDS thing. I felt like, oh, my God, it's crazy.
Were you aware during that period that black women were at an extremely high risk -- more so than other populations?
That message never reached you?
Or it never sunk in? You don't remember being educated on that message?
No, I don't. I do not remember. I remember, like I said, the commercials being on BET. But just because it's on BET doesn't mean it's a black woman's issue. You know what I'm saying? I mean, I appreciate the work of even just putting that out there. But definitely not.
I don't really see it now. I think I only see it now because I'm in the trenches. I work in the field. So that's why I see it. It's not like it's Oakland or San Francisco, where you drive down the street and there's a billboard, every other billboard. You might skip a couple and then there's like an HIV awareness ad on there. I don't see that. I think it should be saturated like that, so people can start seeing it. I think it should be put on people's minds.
How do you think having HIV has changed you?
I think it has made me appreciate life more. I know it has. I value relationships more. I never really experienced losing someone, and the pain. I never experienced a loss like that of my kids' father. Even though we weren't together, just having that experience of losing someone. Even today -- and it's been a while since he's been gone -- I still feel heartbroken about it.
What advice would you give someone who just found out they were HIV positive?
That they don't have to do everything today. Everything won't be done today. You'll have tomorrow. Of course, I want to encourage people to take their medications and do all that stuff, but I think they hear that enough from their doctors. I want to talk about other things that are more real to them -- the emotional ups and downs, you know? It can be a mental challenge.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
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