Living with H.I.V

 By DiamondKesawn Cooper

H. I. V: The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a lentivirus (a subgroup of retrovirus) that causesHIV infection and over time acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is a condition in humans in which progressive failure of the immune system allows life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers to thrive.

According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States were living with HIV at the end of 2013, the most recent year for which this information is available. Of those people, about 13%, or 1 in 8, did not know they were infected. Think about that for a moment…….

Living with HIV is no longer a dark secret kept amongst the family. As a society, we have become more aware of the fact that HIV is running rampant within the urban community, and it is no longer a death sentence. The need for preventative and supportive measures are a necessity, and we are the generation of change.

I'll share a story with you.

Picture it! Sicily 1942… LoL! In all seriousness. I once worked at a shelter for homeless LGBT Youth who were kicked out by their parents for being LGBT. The majority of the youth turned to the streets for guidance and support. During their couch surfing time, they ended up using their bodies as a tool for survival. In speaking with them, I was able to learn that taking the risk was a part of everyday life. Being safe was pushed to the bottom of the To-Do list, as Survival was taking up slots 1-20.

Upon entering into the program, they were provided with physicals and drug screenings. It was during this process that many found out that they were infected with H.I.V. The first stage is Denial. I would hear things such as, “It can’t be true,” “Not me,” “How?” “The test is faulty,” and my favorite of them all, “The doctor is hating on me cuz I'm gay.”

The initial stage of denial allows for the shock to set in then fade away and allow reality to set back in. After the denial comes the Anger. This would be the most trying time as the youth would be mad at the world. It was everyone’s fault, but their own. For those who did take ownership over their diagnosis, it didn’t stop the anger from being present. It just allowed for a slightly milder version of it. I came to the conclusion that anger was a temporary way to escape the reality of the diagnosis that was just being denied.

Anger led to the next phase of Sadness, or Depression. At this point, the youth would go into a cocoon-like stage, and withdraw from everyone. It was at this point, in my experience, that growth began to take place. There was a form of acceptance that happened, and allowed the youth to begin to cope with life with H.I.V. It is at this point, when the youth would begin to realize that a diagnosis of H.I.V is NOT a death sentence. By this time, they were at a point where we began to process the news, and I ensured to always let them know, “There will be Life after Diagnosis!”

As I began to develop this blog, I had a conversation with Jermaine Kamell, Head of the Writer’s Room for Signal 23, and he dropped some words of insight by saying: “It's extremely unfortunate the way this disease has taken over our community, as if it was seeded for crops. So many young black men and women adapting to a new rule that once belonged to the United States Army. 'Don't ask, Don't tell' has become a street swag with no conscience for your own personal life, or the life before you. Living has a purpose, and dying fulfills its purpose. You have to decide which resonates with you. LIVE!!!” I told you he dropped that insight. LoL!

As I come to a close, I leave you with this. Living with H.I.V is just that, LIVING with H.I.V. It doesn’t define, determine, or exclude you from living life to your full potential. Know that love has no limits, and the opportunity to change the world and its view lies within us all. One person at a Time. One conversation at a Time. We will no longer be a victim of circumstance. Today is the day that we choose Self Love over Self-Loathing.