January 13, 2011
I was just turning 18 when I found out I was HIV positive ... I was very young. Back in those days, this was a death sentence. It was around the same time Magic Johnson came out saying he was positive. I was studying in a program in Kentucky named Job Corp and they did HIV testings to all the students that came in new. I remember before all of us kids were getting tested I was answering all the questions correct about HIV (how ironic). To me, this was a disease for prostitutes, drug users or homosexuals so I never thought I would ever be positive. A month passed and I kept on getting slips from the clinic telling me to come in. As I started getting homesick, I went to the clinic, and boom, there I remember an Asian doctor looking at me with eyes of horror ... asking me, why didn't you come sooner? I answered like any teen would: "I don't know." Well he sat me down and he didn't even prepare me! He just said "You have AIDS."
I went into shock. I didn't say a word. I saw my whole life pass in front of me! I thought I am going to DIE ... it's over and I will never marry or have kids. I received the news alone. All my immediate family was in Miami.
I got HIV from my first boyfriend. I was so lost. They told me there was another kid that had it and I could continue to stay there, but all I wanted was to go and die at home. I called my mom and she was always my strength. I told her "Mom, I have AIDS"; she paused and told me, "Don't worry, you will not die from this." Two days later I was home and just waiting for death. Back then, people were dropping like flies and AZT was the only thing available. I went to a social worker they referred me to and a doctor that gave me a paper saying 'if you take AZT, it may damage your internal organs.' I said NO WAY I'm taking that, and I believe I did the right thing not taking those high dosages of AZT back then. I didn't take any antiretrovirals for almost 10 years and kept myself healthy -- or as healthy as I could be -- with natural medicine. I do take my medication now.
It has been almost 20 years. I have learned a lot in this process and also helped many along the way, infected and affected. First of all, I never died as I thought ... I learned to love myself more and to take care of myself more. I have taken away the stigma of being HIV positive and taught many people. I also became an activist and HIV peer educator. I learned, in this process, that I am still living; to have hope; how being positive made me a more positive person! And that although I say I am HIV positive, the way I feel Is that I am a human being that happens to have the condition of being HIV positive. I have learned to be stronger, and in all of this journey where I am the most fulfilled is helping everyone, especially young people, because I also became infected at such a young age. So I have gone to schools to teach them and tell them "Look at me" -- not to toot my own horn, but I am an attractive female -- and they look at me and think.
I have been at many conferences and also a pre- and post- counselor testing people; as well as an HIV educator for Jackson Memorial Hospital for almost five years, a volunteer for the Red Cross and just very involved. I wish I would have had someone like me when I was told I was infected, to do as I do with people when I tell them: "You are HIV positive ... but wait" -- I hold them and say "Look at me, I am too ... you are not alone and if you do what you are supposed to do you will live a long life. Just look at me as your example." And that calms them down. :) That makes me happy ... to give is one of the most wonderful things a human being can do.
I just have so much to tell and my story is very complex. I have been through so much and learned so much in these 20 years and I am still going through different phases in my life ... with life's ups and downs. I can truly say that being positive saved my life and brought many learning experiences.
I remember my poor, strong mother when I told her. She told me "You will not die from this, but you will tell the family you have another disease" ... I was a kid and she was ignorant to the subject, but without her love and support I would have never made it. Being HIV positive is not a punishment; it is just a condition that we have to live with! And it's not a disease of homosexuals, drug addicts or prostitutes. I have seen everyone from infants to 80 year old ladies with this condition!
We have to empower ourselves and give ourselves self worth and teach people not to pity us -- and believe me, at the end of the day they end up admiring us ... because as I say, we are soldiers. We were struck with something delicate and serious. I am not going to sit here and minimize the seriousness of the illness ... it is not easy. That is also what I teach people that think "Oh, I will just not protect myself because I just take some pills and I am fine!" -- just because they see I look good and look healthy. They don't know the side effects and things we have to endure mentally with this illness! So with all this being said ... let's continue this battle because one day we will look back and say YES, WE MADE IT.
Peace and love,
Why Maria wants to be a part of A Girl Like Me: To empower other girls/women that after 20 years you can come out as a survivor. With all of the situations that we live being HIV positive, there is hope and a reason for all of this ... and basically what makes me happy and full of JOY is to HELP others. :D