This Positive Life: An Interview With Esmeralda, Part Two
May 19, 2010
Table of Contents
This article is part two of a two-part interview with Esmeralda (not her real name). The first part of the interview took place in November 2007. Esmeralda spoke with TheBody.com again in April 2010, shared new perspectives on living with HIV/AIDS and gave us an update on some exciting new developments in her life since her first interview.
Welcome back, Esmeralda, to TheBody.com. Thank you so much for talking with me.
It's great to be back again.
You were diagnosed with HIV in 1998. Is that right?
How old were you then?
I was 25.
How old are you now?
How has your health been since back in 1998?
It's really great. It's perfect. I don't have any complaints at all.
Around the time I was diagnosed, I was not sick with HIV or anything like that, but I was sick and scared by the diagnosis itself. It's terrible. You feel sick. You're like, "I'll get sick from anything." I was thinking it was because of HIV. I was depressed.
Your body was feeling the emotional stress of having just been diagnosed?
Exactly. And wanting to know what exactly this was. At the time, we always thought HIV was a death sentence. Like, "I have a few months, a few days, I don't know how long." It was, more than anything, the stress of that.
Now it's been quite a while and I've learned how to live with HIV and how to deal with all this. So I try to live, and live good -- live normal, more than anything. This isn't going to stop me, you know?
For how long after you were diagnosed did you feel sick with the stress of being diagnosed?
It took me a while, because I wasn't coming out at all. I didn't talk to anybody. I felt like everybody just looked at me and knew what I have. It took me a couple more years to become more normal, in a sense -- to start to live like, "OK, this person knows, this person didn't know" and be OK with that.
Then I started going to support groups and meeting other people with the same problem. I saw people who have had HIV since before there was medicine, and they were alive. Now we have a few more choices, so we can try to live.
Also, I have my children. There was nobody around them, nobody to look after them, so I decided, no matter what, that I have to live a normal life for my children. There's no other way.
It took me a couple of years or more. It's been a while.
How did you find the first support group that you went to?
The social worker at my clinic told me, "We have meetings -- meetings with other people over here." At the beginning, I didn't want to see anybody. But then one day, I decided to go to see what it was. And I just met great people who supported me and my children and hugged me, telling me, "You're not alone." They made me feel great, you know? They made me feel great.
"When I started talking to the women at the support group, they treated me like family and supported me, and they had the same problem. It was incredible."
I had been living with some relatives and they had their issues around what I ate, and the dishes I ate off of. It was a little hard to go through that. When I started talking to the women at the support group, they treated me like family and supported me, and they had the same problem. It was incredible.
When you were first interviewed, your job was cleaning houses full time, you were going to school, and you had also started volunteering with WORLD [Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases] in Oakland.
Yes, I was cleaning houses by myself and I was volunteering here at WORLD and at La Clínica de La Raza. Aside from that, I learned a lot going to school. Then I was working on my legal papers over here in the United States and getting my green card, because I'm from Mexico. It took me a while to finish that. That happened in 2008. I got my residency here, so my kids and I were able to spend some time in Mexico. We went over there for about four months. It was great going back to Mexico, and taking my kids over there.
Where did you stay when you went to Mexico?
My parents are in Mexico, so we stayed with them for some time, with a sister, with another sister -- I have two sisters there too. It was a really great experience for my children to go visit their grandparents and their cousins and aunties. They love it. They said, "We want to stay here!"
"I got a job at the end of 2008, as a peer advocate. ... I really love it, because it gives me the opportunity to help other women who've just been diagnosed."
That was in 2008. Then when I came back, there was an open job at WORLD, one of the agencies that first helped me meet more women with HIV. I'd had a peer advocate over here at WORLD who helped me out with school and finding volunteer jobs, and learning to speak with agencies and providers. Then I got a job at the end of 2008, as a peer advocate over here at WORLD.
I really love it, because it gives me the opportunity to help other women who've just been diagnosed, to tell them I've been there and I passed it, and now I'm here. I love my job. I keep having new clients who just found out they're HIV positive. It's not like, "OK, great," because people keep getting infected, and that's not good. But I'm here to help them, and that makes me feel great.
Can you describe some of the work that WORLD does? Is it common that people start out volunteering there and end up working there as peer advocates?
We have The Lotus Project, which is a project that trains HIV-positive women to become peer advocates, to advocate for themselves and help other women. The way we do it over here, peer advocates work together with the hospitals or with the clinics and with social workers, and we meet the women and make them feel comfortable.
"Sometimes they tell us [peer advocates] more than they'd tell a social worker or a doctor. They get comfortable with us, because we disclose to them. They say, 'You're one of us. You feel what I feel.' They open up to you. It's great to help a person to come out."
Sometimes they tell us more than they'd tell a social worker or a doctor. They get comfortable with us, because we disclose to them. They say, "You're one of us. You feel what I feel." They open up to you. It's great to help a person to come out, and to tell them, "I've been there and this happened and this happened. You can be just fine." They get to where they say, "OK, if you can do it, I can do it." It's one of the things we do over here at WORLD.
Has working with WORLD helped you to be more open about your HIV status?
Yes, it has. I can tell most people. I don't really go openly in public and go on television with my name and my face. I don't do it, because there's still a lot of stigma around. I do that for my kids, because of the stigma in school, and other kids finding out and saying, "Oh, you're this."
My kids know I'm HIV positive, and sometimes they hear comments about people with HIV. My daughter fights it. She says she comes out to fight it: "If you don't know what you're talking about, just don't talk!" She talks about it, because she knows. My kids will come to groups with me, and they learn about it. But I don't come out really openly to the public, because I don't want my kids to have a hard time at school.
This article was provided by TheBody.com. It is a part of the publication This Positive Life.
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