Antionettea Etienne, New York City, diagnosed in 1997
First thing I would tell them to do is breathe. Second thing I would inform them of is that this is not a death sentence.
It's not a death sentence. You can live being HIV positive. You can live longer than most people being HIV positive. But you have to acquire the knowledge. You have to get a good primary care physician. You have to have a good support network in order to deal with this.
The stage in your life when you tested -- whether you're HIV positive or you have AIDS -- also plays a great part. If you test HIV positive, then you can go out and get the knowledge and help yourself and be healthy. If you test with AIDS and your T-cell count is really low and your viral load is going out the window, then I suggest immediately that you start medication, that you get a support network and that you get a therapist, because this is hard to deal with.
A lot of people say, "Oh well, I tested HIV positive a year ago and then I went and did this, etc." That's that one individual. Remember, everybody's different!
I used to be an HIV tester. I've tested people that wanted to pull my dreadlocks out. But I've tested people that, when I told them that they turned out HIV positive, they just sat and stared at me. I said, "Are you OK?" They said, "Yes, I'm fine," and they walked out. Some of them I never saw again; some of them I heard back stories; some of them went into treatment.
I think we need to put more stuff in place for those that test positive, especially today. It's definitely needed, because there's so much going on in the world, so we need to assist people who test positive a little bit more. We need to give them factual information and lots of support -- that's the most important thing. First you give the support, then you deal with the meds and everything else, but the support is necessary.
It's like having a good girlfriend. If you have a good girlfriend, you can tell your good girlfriend anything. You may not tell your husband everything, but you'll tell your good girlfriend anything. Get a good girlfriend or a good boyfriend to support you.