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Personal Experience With Stigma

July 23, 2014

Often the battle with HIV is not only against the virus itself, but it is against the stigmas that surround those who are affected by the virus. We have all experienced negative stigmas surrounding our HIV status or stigmas related to any other chronic illness, and we each have stories that we could tell about how those experiences have affected us personally.

My intentions with this blog entry are to share two experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I learned a lot from them, and I hope others can as well.

The first experience I have written about before but it is the hardest for me still to this day. It was soon after my diagnosis and I had told my family about my status. I was at home for the first time on leave for a good friend's wedding.

I had been home for a few days before I noticed anything strange. At first it was little stuff like my mother hand washing all the dinner plates and utensils after I had eaten. Then I started to notice more and more things that were "unusual." The biggest thing I noticed was that my sister was no longer using the bathroom that we had always shared. She had moved all of her stuff into our parents' bathroom and that is the only one she would use. I finally confronted my mother about the situation and her response about killed me. She told me that my sister was scared and that in fact they all were scared. Now to have your own family scared of you is heartbreaking. I wanted to cut my trip home short and return back to Cali where at least I felt like I had people who could understand. I truly have never been so hurt in my whole life.

I ended up staying the entire time but I made sure to spend as little time in the house as I possibly could. I just did not want to be around my own family because it felt like they did not want me around. After returning to Cali, I went to my clinic and told them about my situation and asked for every pamphlet and printout they had about HIV and more specifically how you could and could not catch it. I took all this information and highlighted what I thought they needed to read and simply put it in a box and mailed it to my entire family.

Since that time, things have pretty much gotten back to normal with my family. We still don't talk about my status and that is fine with me (most of the time).

The second incident that will stick with me forever happened while I was still in the Marines and out in Cali.

I had been placed on a general work crew with 2 other Marines, one of whom knew my status because we had become friends and I had told him. The other, I was unaware of the fact that he also knew; he had never said anything about it. On this one day we were doing some general duties around base and we were all riding in the one Marine's truck, the Marine who I didn't know he knew. Apparently I had gotten a cut on my elbow while trying to install some new gear and I was unaware of it. We all finished up what we were doing and loaded back up in his truck. I got one drop of blood on the back seat of his truck where I was riding. When I noticed it, I offered to go get some cleaning supplies and get it out, but he told me not to worry about it. Well two days later when I saw him again I noticed he was driving a new truck. I asked my buddy who knew my status about it and that is when he told me the truth. The Marine with the truck was so afraid that he was going to catch HIV from that one drop of blood on his back seat that he went that very afternoon when we all were dismissed for the day and traded his truck in for a new one. I was once again devastated and embarrassed and so many other emotions that I can't really put into words. Things never were the same between us again.

These are just two of the instances of negative HIV stigma that I have faced and that will stick with me for the rest of my life. It is because of instances like these that I want to fight so hard to erase those negative stigmas and stereotypes that surround people living with HIV.

This was not meant to make anyone sad or depressed, it was intended to help educate. Through telling our own stories we can all work together to help erase these stigmas.

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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
Spotlight Series: HIV Stigma & Discrimination
What Does HIV/AIDS Stigma Look Like in Your Life?
More News on HIV Stigma and Discrimination

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Theresa Kenney (Cincinnati,Oh) Sun., Aug. 17, 2014 at 11:10 am UTC
As a women living with HIV for 17 years believe until those of us living HIV share, talk about and put a face to HIV we will continue to deal with STIGMA. I spoke out in 2011 and shared my story with a campaign ACT AGAINST AIDS, I must say I was shocked by how many people ask how did a women like you get HIV. When I responded by saying from ONE time of unprotected sex with a tall handsome man, I got REALLY. The media can talk about Viagra for longer and better sex, breast cancer awareness, diabetes, etc. WHY NOT HIV AWARENESS, Until the public sees faces and stories of those of us living with disease of HIV we will continue to have STIGMA and the spread of HIV will continue.
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Comment by: Brian (Charlotte, NC) Thu., Aug. 21, 2014 at 3:37 pm UTC
I agree Theresa, until we get the issue out in the open and make the public more aware of what is actually going on, we are still going to be fighting the Stigmas that surround HIV. The more we talk about it and share our stories, the more we educate others. Thanks for your reply to my blog.

Comment by: David Knight (Myrtle Beach, SC) Fri., Aug. 15, 2014 at 5:33 pm UTC
So sorry to hear about the incident with both your family and fellow marine. I know that has to be devastating. You are not alone. I've had people not even want me to email them in fear that they may acquire HIV, how stupid and ignorant can anyone be. My biggest problem with stigma is that I can't even get a dinner date with anyone, HIV positive or not. I am so depressed all the time and just wish that I could die. Just know there are others out there who care and share what you are going through. David
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Comment by: Brian (Charlotte, NC) Thu., Aug. 21, 2014 at 3:40 pm UTC
David, you must remain strong and have hope. I use to feel the same way but with time I have learned from my mistakes and learned how better to deal with Stigma when I am faced with it. Talk to your medical provider about your depression, there might be something that they can suggest to help you. I have found for me that keeping this blog and keeping my self busy with projects that I do not have much time to feel depressed. Like everyone I still have my good days and my bad days but everything will work out in the end.

Comment by: Carine (South Africa) Fri., Aug. 15, 2014 at 12:49 am UTC
I am sorry that you were hurt. People are very ignorant and sometimes just too stupid or lazy to find out the real facts. The fact that you were on the receiving side of this ignorance as displayed by your family and colleague just plain sucks and shame on them for not caring enough to find out. Please try to not define yourself by what ignorant people say or think about you. Find the people who honestly love you and care for you, and define yourself by their opinions only.
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Comment by: Brian (Charlotte, NC) Thu., Aug. 21, 2014 at 3:42 pm UTC
I have learned a good bit from these incidents and learned how to handle them now. It still hurts sometimes but I know that these people have these stigmas due to ignorance and lack of education on the subject. Now when I am faced with a situation like this I try to use it to teach others.

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AMarineAnd HIV

Brian Ledford

Brian Ledford

This is my story of how I found out I was HIV-positive while still on Active Duty in the United States Marine Corps and how I have tried to put the pieces of my life back together through the good times and the bad. I am currently a full time student working on a degree in Information Security Technology, which seems to be taking forever. I want to help make a difference and erase HIV related Stigma in the South, where due to lack of education people still do not know that much about HIV. If my story reaches out and helps at least one person, then I have made a difference.

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