Angelikah Demonikah Goes From Homeless Youth to Unlikely HIV Activist
March 13, 2014
How old are you now?
You're 26. So, if you tested positive in ...
I was 23.
You were 23. That's a lot for a 23-year-old to have to deal with.
You said you relapsed on meth that night?
Yes, I did.
How long were you doing drugs after your diagnosis?
It was about a year. Even though I dealt with finding out I was positive by relapsing, ultimately, my HIV-positive status helped me get it together and like keep it together. That's just how I look at it. Because about a year after I found out and I relapsed, I started developing a really bad reaction to the drugs I was putting in my body.
I didn't know what it was at first. I was getting really bad skin problems. And I went to I-don't-know-how-many doctors. I saw a dermatologist. They did a biopsy. And they all told me it was an allergic reaction to something. I was like, "Well, what am I suddenly allergic to?"
And then I saw my acupuncturist. She was like, "You're allergic to those drugs you're putting in your body. It's not organic. Stop doing that," and all this stuff. And she did detox acupuncture on me. I told her I wouldn't get high anymore. And I stopped getting high. She told me my skin would get worse before it got better, and it got worse really quickly. And then it got better. And it's been better ever since. I don't touch that crap anymore, and it's stayed better.
I mean, it took me realizing that it was going to kill me, that it was destroying me. My skin was literally about to fall off. It was really, really, really bad. People thought I was picking and stuff because meth users tend to pick their skin. But I wasn't. It was an allergic reaction. And it was just covering my body. It was really disgusting, to be honest. It was really gross.
When did you get linked into care? When did you go back and get the confirmation test?
Oh, I didn't. But I did get a doctor pretty quickly.
So, even though you were on drugs, you were still ...
Yeah. About a week after I found out, I ended up in the psychiatric unit, because I just couldn't take it. I kind of lost it and so I checked myself in. I got linked up with care there. They hooked me up with a doctor, who I still see to this day. He's amazing. I adore him. Yeah, and I got hooked up with everything I needed to.
And also, luckily, like a really good friend of mine, Ryan -- the day I found out -- I called him up. He sat down with me and he pretty much gave me my "welcome to AIDS" book -- you know, all of the resources I needed. He's a friend of mine who is also positive. So he was able to give me that support that I needed at that moment.
It's like, even though I kind of flew off the deep end, I still knew that there were people in my life that understood and that cared, and that knew what I needed, if I needed help.
When you got your labs for the first time, what were your counts? Do you remember?
I remember that my viral load wasn't very high. My CD4 I don't remember off the top of my head. I don't think about this as often as I used to, I guess. They weren't bad, though. I mean, I've heard of people with a viral load of a million. Mine was probably 4,000, or something like that. And my CD4, I think, was like, I don't know: 500.
Well, also, you hadn't had the virus for a really long time. A lot of people are late testers. And by that time, the disease has been in their body for a long time. You say you got tested every year, every six months. So you probably hadn't had the virus very long.
How quickly did you start treatment?
My doctor didn't want to start me on treatment until he knew that I was going to be consistent with it. Because I've always been honest with my care providers about if I'm using drugs or not, and all of those things, he didn't think it was a good time for me to start medications. So pretty much we waited until I had almost a year of clean time under my belt. And until my counts dropped low enough to where he thought it was necessary. But he wanted to make sure I was stable and that I wasn't going to miss a bunch of doses and end up resistant.
Who was your support system during this time? Who did you disclose to? And what were the thoughts that were going through your head when you got clean and were ready to deal with your diagnosis and disclose your status?
Well, see, the thing is, even when I was on meth, I was very, very open about it.
The first day I found out I told everybody that was in my social circle. I called my mother and my brother and I told them. The only person I didn't tell right away was my father, and that was because I didn't want to break his heart. But I told him when I was in the psychiatric unit, about a week after. So I've been really, really public and open about it from the first day, from the get-go.
What was their response?
A lot of people in my life were really supportive, because of the social circle that I was already in. I spent most of my time back then, and even now, with recovering drug addicts and a lot of men who have sex with men. There's a high percentage of people in my social circles that are HIV positive, or are very informed about it, even if they're not.
So, for me, it wasn't very hard to do that. I was lucky in that sense ... even though that's actually kind of sad, when I think about it. I was lucky in that sense where I could just be like, "This is what happened to me today. This is fucking shitty. It's terrible. And this is how I feel." I was able to just put it out there.
In a way, it was a defense mechanism for me, because I kind of like put it on blast. Like, if I scream this at the rooftops, then nobody can use it against me.
But at the same time, like, I don't know. I had seen a really close friend of mine -- the first person I was actually ever close to that was positive -- I saw how they were really careful about who they told, and how people did use it against them. People would tell their secrets and it would like mess with their life. I had watched that happen back before I tested positive. And from the first day I decided I'm not going to let anybody take that power from me.
And so, like you said, you had a lot of support from your friends.
I'm really interested in your love life, and dating. How has that been?
It's been really good. Today is actually my one-year anniversary with my boyfriend that I'm with now.
Thank you. But, yeah, my love life's going really well. I'm very happy.
So your status didn't scare him away?
No. Since I found out I was positive, I've had three relationships. And all of them were serodiscordant, or magnetic. And, yeah, every single person that I've dated has been really, really cool about it.
My boyfriend I'm with now: I didn't think he knew already. I mean, a lot of people already knew, obviously, because I did that documentary and I've done magazine things. So it's like I think people know, especially if they're on Facebook.
But I didn't know he knew, because we weren't Facebook friends yet, or anything like that. Then we wanted to sleep together and beforehand I was like, "Well, I've got to tell you something. And you have to think about this."
And he was like, "I already know." He was like, "I stalked your Facebook."
And I was like, "Oh, my God. OK. So ..."
He was like, "I've already thought about it."
And I was like, "Oh, OK." So, we still had that conversation, but it took all that pressure away. Because I was like, "You already know, and you still took me out."
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