Personal Perspective: Understanding the Importance of My Life and Health
I came to the U.S. from Mexico four years ago, when I was 25, with the father of my second child. When I told him I was pregnant, he beat me, hoping to end my pregnancy. I finally left him -- escaped, really -- when a neighbor of mine told me that he saw him beat my child when I left the house.
I moved to New York, but a short time after I arrived, I thought about returning to Mexico. I wasn't feeling well, I wanted to be close to my mother and I didn't know anyone in New York. I went for a pregnancy checkup, and a few days before I my return flight to Mexico I went to the doctor for my results. I was told that I was HIV positive.
I then remembered that my daughter's father had frequently been ill: he would get chills and he would sweat. Now that I know more about this illness I know that there were many things that might have led him to become infected: he used drugs and alcohol which led him to have many sexual partners -- at least I suspected he had many partners. Once I even jokingly asked him, "Do you think you have AIDS?" He became angry and said, "You're crazy! How can you even say something like that?" I think he knew or at least suspected he had the virus but he never wanted to use protection.
When I found out I was HIV positive, I called him to let him know that he should have an HIV test but he didn't want to and just said that the problem was only mine. A few months later, his mother told me he was alone and sick with no one to care for him. His mother told me that he was sorry for the way he had treated me and he wanted me to return. I've since avoided communication with his family and I don't know how he is doing or if he ever had an HIV test.
I wasn't sure what it meant to be HIV positive or the consequences -- I only knew that it was a severe disease and that many died. I felt my life crumbling around me. I did know I would be able to receive better medical care in the U.S. than in Mexico. Moreover, I couldn't explain my situation to my family. I knew it would only sadden them. Almost immediately and without completely understanding, I began to take HIV medications that prevented my daughter from being born with HIV.
Last year I became depressed: I felt alone and sad, and I cried constantly without any apparent reason. I had no energy and would become easily irritated; I didn't feel right about myself and could care for my daughters only with great effort. I also had lost my appetite and was losing weight quickly. The doctors thought that it was due to the virus, but I didn't understand why I was crying and feeling like my life was worthless. Then my mother fell sick but I couldn't return to Mexico to take care of her. If I went back to Mexico it would be unlikely that I could re-enter the U.S. and I wouldn't have my HIV medications.
Also, if I returned how I would explain my illness to my family? They didn't know anything about my virus (yes, now I called it "my virus"). There were many reasons I avoided telling them -- they were far away and I wanted to avoid bringing them any sadness. But they were putting pressure on me to return to take care of my mother. I felt powerless and ineffective. I also began to feel that all the dreams that I had for my family and daughters would not happen.
After months of feeling this way and not being able to tend to my mother, I felt like my life had no meaning and there wasn't any other way out but to take my life. I attempted suicide with Tylenol and was hospitalized -- the only thing that I accomplished with that attempt was to damage my kidneys. While I was hospitalized my eldest daughter came to visit me and told me that she didn't want me to die, that she didn't know what she would do without me. When I saw my daughter I than realized how badly depressed I was; even attempting to take my life. I was prescribed antidepressant medications, but I didn't understand the need for them. When I stopped taking my medications for a week and again began to feel depressed, I was again interned in the hospital for four days. Since then I have not stopped taking my antidepressant medications and I understand how important it is for me not to feel depressed again.
I feel my depression started some time to onset after my HIV diagnosis (almost two years later) because I had not had time to think about my disease. I was trying to survive, to take care of my children and to become accustomed to living in a different country far away from my family. When I began to think about my illness, about what had happened with the father of my child, and not having anyone to speak to about what was happening to me, I felt bad. I would usually keep my problems to myself and I wouldn't share them with anyone. I now take my antidepressants regularly, attend support and information groups, and speak to counselors, educators and my peers. Even telling my life now allows me to deal with my problems. Moreover, my virus is undetectable -- I'm not taking HIV medications because I don't need them now. And I understand the importance of having support, and the importance of my life and my health.
Transcribed by Sarah Swofford, HIV Educator at ACRIA. English translation by Luis Scaccabarozzi.
This article was provided by AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. It is a part of the publication ACRIA Update. Visit ACRIA's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.