A Woman's Journey With HIV, In and Out of the Prison System
January 3, 2011
How has HIV changed your life?
Well, it's changed my life in many ways. It's shown me how to deal with grief and despair, hopelessness. It's shown me that I need to embrace my mental issues. It's given me a purpose. And it's given me love and compassion for my human man.
Have you been to counseling?
Oh, yes. I have many years of mental health and medication. Even before I got my HIV -diagnosis I had attempted suicide at age 16. I was dealing with a lot of emotional stuff, but in the African-American culture, you don't get help for those things. You better get over yourself.
You better pray.
You better get over it. You better get it together. You're not supposed to be crying. You're Superwoman. This is what black women do.
Yes. Yes. So at the age of 16, I attempted suicide. I had no knowledge or anything about HIV, which came 20-or-some-odd years later. But that's when I knew, you know, the sad moments and the depression. And then soon after that I watched my first love commit suicide. So I stayed depressed for a number of years.
Going completely undiagnosed?
Yes. And it wasn't until I started to deal with HIV that I started to go and get mental health counseling. Yeah.
Well, I think that's incredible. I know a lot of people that there's like the stigma on AIDS, the stigma on HIV, the stigma on mental issues, the stigma around you seeing a counselor. There's even stigma around going to a support group. "Why you need a support group?"
Yeah. Yeah. And when I moved to Connecticut, I had some really good therapists and everything. They helped me work through some things. But when I came to South Carolina, in two years, I had five therapists. And I was like, you know what? If I wasn't secure in myself that would have made me more insecure.
Thinking like you're really crazy, or something?
Yeah. You know: what's going on that I can't keep anybody? Or: why I got to start my life story all over again with a new person? That gets really tiring, you know? And it makes me feel as though I really didn't matter. But because of that situation, I basically weaned myself off my [antidepressants]. I started to rely more on Jesus and my faith. And I feel as though the service that I do helps my mental status.
What advice would you give to people who just found out that they were positive?
Well, first I would say, "Look at me."
Twenty-five years living with this, and I am not dying. I ain't going' nowhere. You can live. It's not a death sentence. You need to take care of yourself and do what you need to do for you. And I'm not even going to say do what the doctor tells you to do. Sometimes the doctor doesn't know what this body here is feeling. You know, you've got to be able to advocate for yourself, and get what you need done for you. But please, please, please: stay around positive people. Because negativity will kill you.
So with that, we have to bring this interview to a close. It's been such a pleasure, Pat. Thank you for stopping by. And have a great day.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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