Living With HIV for 32 Years

I lived so many years of my life feeling like a victim. I've had a hard life, and have been through lots of difficult things, including being infected with HIV more than 30 years ago. I hated the world. I was scared of it and I didn't trust many people.

However, about 12 years ago, my life started to change. I realized I didn't have to be a victim. I started seeing a therapist. My friends began challenging me more and more. It helped hearing things that were told to me straight up. I remember one of my friends telling me, "I don't mind hearing you talk about stuff, but why don't you do something about it? You don't have to be a victim." Those words hit me hard, and it took me a few years to finally start opening up to what my friends and therapist were telling me.

I learned that when you change the way you look at things in life, the things you look at in life change. It's all about how we perceive things. Yes, I have HIV, but instead of saying, "woe is me," I am working to do something positive about it. I've learned that in order to grow and move forward, we have to break the patterns we have been living. I know that for most of us, we are doing the best with what we've got, but sometimes we get stuck! I know you're thinking, "Oh, you just don't understand." But, I say to that, "No, YOU don't understand!" Unless we change something, the world will keep coming around and smacking us in the face.

Changing my perspective about living with HIV, and stopping to think about myself as a victim, has helped me to open new doors and take advantage of new opportunities I never would have seen before.

My passion is to educate people about HIV and to encourage women to use their voice, not just with other peers or the public, but with doctors as well. According to the Office of Women's Health, for 30 years, AIDS has been taking a global toll and nearly half of those infected with HIV in the world are women. Stigma and discrimination still exist, and we still need more education and awareness, both in the United States and internationally, in order to change these attitudes.

What I feel like most people do not understand is that HIV is a problem for all of us; the epidemic affects us all in one way or another. Either we know someone who has the illness, or know someone, who knows someone living with HIV.

My challenge for you today is to "pay it forward" with education -- that as you learn more, teach other people. "Pay it forward" by talking to people in your life -- your friends, family, neighbors or those in your faith community. Take a stand and use your voice to share your information about HIV. Remember, you don't have to tell people that you are positive in order to engage them in a discussion on HIV. Share whatever you are most comfortable with. But, I challenge you to use your voice, because we must be a voice for the voiceless.

Angela is a member of Let's Talk About It (LTAI), a women's HIV Peer Advocacy group based in North Florida.