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Terry Johnson

March 2007

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Terry Johnson 

About Terry Johnson

Table of Contents

This interview has been altered from its original format. Statements have been re-ordered for clarity, with permission of the interviewee.

HIV Diagnosis

How did you find out you were HIV positive?

I tested HIV positive in 1994, when I was attempting to re-enter the Alabama National Guard after getting out for a year. My last test had been in 1992, and it was negative. I was not really prepared for the positive result. I do not think anyone ever is. I knew that I had unprotected sex with many, many men over the years. I figured if my behavior did not change, it was bound to happen -- something like women who get pregnant without trying, and think they have finally gotten caught. When I received the positive test result from the colonel in the military, I was quiet. I just listened, somewhat numb, but I was all right.

How long do you think it takes to process a diagnosis?

I think processing a diagnosis differs from person to person -- there are so many stages to go through. For me, it took five years, but I am still adjusting.

I think there is a stage of shock, when you think this cannot be happening to me. Then comes denial: If I don't think about it, I will be all right. Next, there is acceptance -- surrendering and embracing the virus as something you can cope with and be healthy with. Then there is the stage of making lifestyle changes, getting rid of anything that might hinder you from a positive life as an HIV-positive individual.

"HIV put me on a roller coaster where I was expecting to get sick at any time and then wait to die. It never happened. HIV has changed my life because I value life more. I am more spiritually connected."

When I say I am still adjusting, I mean I learn something new every day. I am content with my HIV, but I still get burnt out on the subject. I am adjusting to the fact that not everyone will get to the place of acceptance I am at.

I am very spiritual and believe in a higher power. I have a message of hope for anyone who will listen, and I will assist them on their journey to wholeness. But I have learned not everyone wants fixing -- they do not want wholeness, they do not want recovery. There are some people who like confusion and dysfunction. I had to learn to let them be where they are, and for me, that is an adjustment.

How did you get HIV?

I got HIV from unprotected sex with a man.

How have your feelings about having HIV changed over time?

I am less afraid of my HIV because I have become more educated. Before I tested HIV positive, I thought of HIV as a death sentence that only weak people got. When I got the positive diagnosis, I had to rethink my perception of what HIV was, because I know I was not physically or emotionally weak. I became willing to learn as much as possible about the virus and living healthily with it. I decided to educate myself on the modes of transmission, prevention methods and on HIV in general.

How has HIV changed you?

My diagnosis has given me more compassion for people who are suffering from addiction and are newly diagnosed with HIV.

How has HIV changed your life?

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HIV has changed my life in many ways, but the two biggest ways are career-wise and financially. When I got the diagnosis, I refused to continue to work in a hospital setting, and I decided to retire and enjoy the rest my life. I received my Social Security right away and sold several insurance policies, so I had the money to buy whatever I wanted and travel a great deal. I spent everything I had, filed bankruptcy twice, got bored and went back to work two or three times -- for the income and to have something intellectual to do.

HIV put me on a roller coaster where I was expecting to get sick at any time and then wait to die. It never happened. I bought all this stuff, got all these bills, and now I have to pay for something I thought I would not even be around to see. HIV has changed my life because I value life more. I am more spiritually connected.

What advice would you give someone who has just found out they are positive?

I would tell someone newly diagnosed with HIV to have a positive attitude. HIV is not a death sentence. A person can live a long, healthy, productive life with HIV.

Personal Bio

Tell us a little about your life.

I am a 44-year-old, African-American gay male in recovery. I am recovering from several addictions: alcohol, sex, shopping -- I have an addictive personality. I currently work as an HIV prevention specialist.

I do not have any children or a partner, but I do have siblings and a loving, living supportive mother.

My parents had seven children: six boys and one girl. I am the third oldest. I lost a brother, Randall, to AIDS in 1994 -- we were one year apart in age. My family is unusual: Out of the seven children, three of us were GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender]. I have a loving and supportive family, especially my only sister, Shelia.

What do you do as an HIV prevention specialist?

I am the facilitator of the Brother-to-Brother program at Birmingham AIDS Outreach in Alabama. I am training for the Many Men, Many Voices intervention to incorporate it with the existing components of the program. Brother-to-Brother is a secondary HIV prevention education program that provides emotional support, social activities, buddy companion service, counseling, case management and care teams to MSM [men who have sex with men]. I do community outreach, HIV presentations, counseling, testing and referrals. I work with newly diagnosed individuals and persons who have fallen out of care to get them back into care. I also do assessments for substance abuse treatment and assist men transitioning out of prison with services. I facilitate four groups: Brother-to-Brother, Covenant POZ Group, Vet-to-Vet and Roxy's Room.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a neighborhood in East Birmingham, Ala., that was predominately working class African-American, where a majority of the mothers were housewives and the husbands worked in the steel plants or some type of industrial labor. The neighborhood consisted of families with three or four generations still residing in the area. It was close-knit: all the children went to the same school, everyone in the neighborhood went to the same Baptist church, everyone knew everyone, and anyone could discipline you, if you were caught misbehaving. The neighborhood was so close you did not have to lock your doors.

For me, it was boring and a trap I did not want to get caught in, because I knew there was much more to the world and life than marrying and living in this neighborhood. After high school, I moved to Washington, D.C., and lived there for a year working as a personnel clerk at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., I was 17 years old. I returned to Birmingham in 1981 and started Jefferson State Community College and worked at the U.S. Social Security Administration, until I enlisted in the Army in 1983.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor. I didn't stay focused. I lost the desire to really compete academically, as well as the desire to apply myself to anything that I actually had to study and work at. There were some talents and things that were easy for me --- a blessing or a gift from God -- and I went with those abilities.

What kinds of work have you done?

Fast food manager at McDonald's and Subway, unit and medical secretary at a veterans hospital, and school secretary with the Birmingham School System at Tuggle Elementary School.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Read, write, listen to jazz, cook, socialize, travel and shop.

Are you a religious or spiritual person? Do you attend a church?

I'm most definitely a spiritual person. God is my strength, the head of my life and my higher power. I attend church. I am on staff at my church coordinating the HIV/AIDS ministry called The HOPE Project. [For more information on The HOPE Project, visit www.covenantbirmingham.org]

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This article was provided by TheBody.com.

See Also
More Inspiring Stories of Gay Men With HIV


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