One cool day after my classes at Tuskegee University, I was hanging out at the university center when my phone rang.
"Good afternoon, can I speak with Nakeisa Brown?" asked the unknown male caller on the other end.
"Yes," I stated nervously.
"Has anyone discussed your test results, with you?" he questioned.
"No," I replied with nervousness.
"Well we can't do this over the phone, so can you come in the morning to see me,"
"Sure," I replied, trying to sound confident.
As we ended that call, anxiety took over. I only went to the health department to get birth control and something to get rid of this yeast infection, which was a fail. I got tested for everything regularly and never had a call back. I knew that this wasn't good, but I was hoping it wouldn't be too bad. I wanted it to be something I could fix. The next day I went in and heard those dreadful words. "Your HIV results came back positive." My life was over at 19, how could I have been so stupid?
That day that changed my life was over nine years ago. I thought my life ended, but it was just beginning, After my diagnosis, I was in a whirlwind because I knew who gave me HIV and that he'd known about his status. He chose to ignore it and make a decision for me. That made me decide I would never choose for someone else. Although I wasn't public with my status, I always agreed to be upfront with any potential partners. It was hard but freeing. Through my diagnosis, I decided to choose me and to love myself first. I went through several years of changes before I could honestly say I was important.
Soon after my diagnosis, I became a registered nurse, and through my profession I could see there was a huge gap in communication with healthcare workers and patients like myself. There was a huge stigma, they were scared of us. Some would dread taking care of a patient with HIV while others would just talk about them. This was shocking to me but it also made me question, if I didn't have this virus, would I also lack compassion? It also made me realize that if healthcare workers think like this and they are educated, how does the rest of the world see us? This led me to my vision of opening a comprehensive medical center where individuals with HIV can come and get educated and treated. Also, this will be a space where individuals can get proper training and become educated.
Although this center is not open, I have already begun my vision with social media. I thought that since people spend so much time on social media, I could use it as a platform to share information. Before I started sharing, I posted my testimony on YouTube [see video below]. It was so hard to do, I battled for months about sharing my story but I knew, in order to carry out my vision, I had to let the world know my experience. After the video there was an overwhelming amount of support. That was my confirmation that my vision will not be void. Now, I use Facebook to share facts, statistics, and events about HIV. I also decided to start a support group.
In the 9 years I have been living with HIV, I didn't have any people in my age range dealing with the things I am or was. When I acquired HIV, I was in college, with no husband and no children. It was not easy meeting people with the same demographics. With me sharing my story, a lot of women began to seek me out. With these beautiful amazing women reaching out to me, I wanted to give what I didn't find living in secret. From this I created a support group, which is for HIV positive women on Facebook. In this space, I want to go live on different topics, from disclosure, finding a doctor, understanding your numbers, and dating. At some point I want this group to meet up and have some pampering days. So far it has been amazing to just be in company of women like me.
Through sharing my story, I want to reduce the stigma in our lives and show others that there is truly life after HIV diagnosis. I also want to teach others how to advocate for themselves when it comes to protection, stigma, and healthcare. All the work that I am doing and will eventually do is aimed at doing just that. I want to be an example to other women that we don't have to wear a mask and we can truly live out our purpose.
Nakeisa Brown is a registered nurse and the founder of the Living Positive Sisterhood Support Group.