My name is Juan Sanchez. I am 43 years old. I was born in Mexico, and I have lived in the U.S. since I was 14 years old. I have been infected with HIV for 4 years. I found out that I was positive when I was getting very sick. I was getting pneumonia.
I waited four months until I went to see the doctor and that is when I found out. Having unprotected sex with another infected male was how I was infected. The person that infected me did not tell me that he was infected.
I used to live in San Diego so I lived very close to the border of Mexico. I would sometimes go back and forth to meet people and that is how I think I was infected. I never talked about HIV with my partners and they did not talk to me about HIV either. We would comment about it, but I never thought it would happen to me.
I really thought I knew a lot, but when I was infected, I realized that I did not know that much. I told some of my best friends and my partner that I was HIV infected shortly after I found out. Now, my partner is HIV positive and pretty sure that he contracted it from me. But from the time that I realized that I was HIV positive, we had been going out for a year and a half and we had been having unprotected sex. He was positive two years after, so I am sure he got it from me.
We are still together, we are working, and taking care of each other and doing the best we can to have a healthy relationship. We are seeing the doctor, social worker, a psychologist. We are trying to see people that can help us eat better. We understand what is happening and we are working together as much as possible. It was hard for me to tell my part-ner that I had HIV and it was even harder to find out that he had it to. It was pretty bad emotionally, but we made it through.
I told my sister because I was pretty sure she would find out since she was the one that took me to the emergency room when I was very sick. I know she knows, but I have not really talked to her straight about HIV/AIDS, but I know she knows because she talked to the doctors.
I have not told my mother because she is an old person. She knows that I had pneumonia and I recuperated and understood that I had to take a lot of medication, but she does not know that I have HIV. I do not want to worry her and I am doing O.K.
It was harder to tell my relatives because they might look at me carefully and they may have that mentality that they would catch it by being around me. I feel like I should but it is hard. I am afraid that they might not visit me as much anymore. They do not really understand that you cannot catch HIV by being around me.
I do think it's important to tell people that I am positive so that they know that HIV is not a death sentence and that it is something that you can live with as long as you take care of yourself and take your medication. That way people can know how HIV works and that you can have a normal social life.
If I was going to get into a new relationship I would tell them that I was HIV positive so they could decide if they want to be with me. Especially if they are not positive, they might want to think twice to be with me since I am positive. I want to be aware so that they could use protection if they wanted. I want to make sure that they have that opportunity to be aware.
It really helps me a lot when I get to go to support groups, and especially when there are people in clinics like 5p21. I like to go to people that first find out that they are positive and let them know that I have been living with HIV for four years. That it is O.K. and not O.K. That it is not O.K. that they are not going to take care of themselves, but that it is O.K. if they take care, that they can live because I am living day-by-day, month-by-month and year-by-year.
It can be something normal. I was very sick, skin and bones, and I did not think I was going to come out of it but I did. Now I have a love of life, and family and friends that care for me. It's not all bad.
It helps me telling people that it can be O.K. and I always think that science is getting bigger and bigger, that the medications can be better. Until we have that cure, it can be easier. That is something positive I like to bring to support groups. I want the people who have already been through it and those who are just beginning to know that it can be easier with the medications. Some people get really scared and some people cry and they don't want to take the reality of living with HIV with them. It really helps when I can share with them.
One thing that I want to say is with my experience is that I know very few people who have HIV, but if you do, please be honest to everybody. If you're not going to be honest, at least have protective sex. If you're not going to tell, and if for any reason someone does not ask, at least always have protection. At least you are taking care of the other person. Because it is not fair to the other person if you don't tell them that you have HIV.
It may feel like it's impossible and it takes a lot of guts, but you can tell someone. The trap can be that the person looks very healthy, and that is probably what happened to me. I did not remember getting into a relationship with someone that looked sick. I always wanted to think that the people I were with were healthy. Now I know that to have HIV you do not have to look totally sick.
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Breaking the Silence... (Rompiendo El Silencio).