What would you say to a friend that was scared of taking an HIV test? We asked you to tell us about your experiences testing for HIV, and how you felt in the period before and after you got your results. Young people from across southern and eastern Africa sent us their videos via WhatsApp – we selected a few of them to put together in our new video: Afraid of HIV testing? #KnowTheScore. Their message to their peers is clear. Knowing your status gives you the freedom to live your life! Whether you test positive, or negative – it’s always better to know.
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I can remember certain years when some holidays were a bit rough. One year I was in the hospital from before my birthday in October until Thanksgiving. It was quite depressing being in the hospital on a holiday but my mom, brother and my son came to see me on Thanksgiving. I was in a bad mental state that day and was kind of out of it, but they made sure I was not alone. I feared I would be there until Christmas and that really made me sad, but my health improved and I was able to go home. Fortunately, in my life now I have a supportive partner, family and friends who I am able to spend the holidays with. I have not been depressed during the holiday season in a long time and I look forward to spending every Christmas eve with my son! I realize the holidays can be a difficult time of the year, especially if people face isolation, either because they are unable to be with others due to health issues, financial limitations or some just wish to be in a romantic relationship. I would tell anyone who may be feeling down during the holiday season coming up to try and connect with any friends or family members, even if it can only be done through phone calls or texts. Talking to others who may share your feelings can help you to not feel so alone. Many AIDS Services Organizations (ASO’s) have buddy programs and holiday events that people can participate in or if one can’t get out watching a movie with a couple of friends can be fun. It is my wish for everyone to not feel alone and sad during the holidays and please know I am only a phone call away and would love to chat.
As the holiday season approaches, I know a lot of people tend to reminisce on lost loved ones, and living with HIV can make things a bit more difficult. For me however, since being diagnosed with HIV; I have found that it has put things into perspective for me. It has taught me to cherish and value the relationships that I have with other people. At first I retreated in to my own little shell and felt very alone and afraid. I have since learned to embrace the people around me albeit family, friends, or colleagues. Everyone that became my inner circle has helped me become a better version of myself. I know it is tempting to run and hide into seclusion, or easy to feel like life does not matter and we get down on ourselves during this time of year, but if you can find at least one person that you can confide in, or a social group that has activities to keep you occupied you will get through it. Being realistic, sometimes we may not be able to readily identify said people/groups, that is when you have to really find hope and strength in the simple but extraordinary fact that you are alive with the opportunity to build the community around you that you need. Reach outside of yourself and connect with maybe a support group or others who are in need of social interactions to keep your spirits up.
The holidays are always a difficult one for me and I always get depressed around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I work though it somehow with my meds and not taking things so serious. I try to find the bright spots like my birthday (January 6), or being involved in community work. For instance this year I was in training for the I Am U campaign on my birthday!
I have been very blessed. I have never had a problem with the holidays. My family and friends never talk down to me, nor have they ever held my status against me. This year once again I have to choose between being with my cousins in North Carolina, my niece in Long Island, or my youngest daughter’s home. It has been this way since my partner of 25 years passed 12 years ago. My advice is to surround yourself with people who love and like you, and who are knowledgeable and care about your health problems. Each day is a blessing. I treasure the people in my life and hope they feel the same way about me.
I have never really had issues during the holidays. Being of the Islamic faith I do not celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. We only have two holidays and they serve a purpose greater than ourselves. For those that are struggling whether it is due to the holidays or for any other reason, my advice would be to do whatever makes you happy, and spend time with the people you love.
Holidays can at times be a little rough for me. I live in New York but all my family is south from New York. The closest relatives are in New Jersey. A Path Train over from NYC. The reason it can be a little rough is because my grandmother was the matriarch of the family that held everyone together as a unit. Being in South Carolina and having great food. Seeing or talking to relatives that I may see once a year, or when there is a funeral or a wedding. Sad to say but it is what you call keeping it real. What I do is try not to isolate myself by being around people I love. Or just having someone to reach out to me knowing that I live in New York alone. And so that I am not alone during the holidays makes a difference. If I was in a larger living space I think it would be easier to just relax with my pet. Watch Lifetime movies or Netflix and relax on a NYC cold day. Living where I live now in transitional housing (a step above a shelter) it would be much easier to get through alone.
Yes the holidays can truly be lonely especially if you are apart of the LGBTQIA Community and you are HIV positive. As a Black Woman of Transgender Experience, I do suffer from depression especially around the holidays because I think about all of the people who do not have anyone or anyplace to go. I try to surround myself with chosen family and I often volunteer at holiday dinners. I also take my family with me to give back. I have to surround myself with others who believe in the power of giving just as much as I do because when my depression kicks into overdrive I become sick, therefore losing T-Cells. So my advice would be to find what makes you happy and immerse yourself in it without feeling bad.
The hardest time I have had during the holidays is when I got shingles. It was six years ago and it was the second opportunistic infection I got. The reason this affected me so much is because it was then that I realized this is my life now. Battling illnesses and diseases that most never have to worry about. I realized that as I get older it was only going to get worse. I felt trapped, powerless. Life seemed hopeless. I cried and I grieved over my future. A future that changed drastically the day I got infected. It never clicked before then what being positive really meant in the long run. I never talked to anyone about it then. I internalized it. I kept the pain to myself and sank into a silent depression. I relapsed on heroin shortly after and it took me almost two years before I started to deal with this new revelation and seek help. So the advice I have is to not internalize your pain. Do not be silent, do not wall yourself off from others. Do not do what I did. If you are going through anything at all that makes life seem unbearable and hopeless, please talk to someone. Do not suffer silently, speak up. Ask for help
I have been through a lot but it had nothing to do with HIV. When I deal with issues related to HIV I have a strong support system in my clinic. I have a case manager, nurse, and I am a part of a group called Adult Day Health Program. I also enrolled myself in anything related to my illness so I can understand everything better, and I am a vice chair for a committee group that helps me understand what I should do who to ask for help. I guess what I am trying to say is if you need help there is usually a place within your community that can help you directly, or connect you to a place that can provide the services you need. I have found that being in a group or groups is powerful as someone else’s story can help you.
Being an HIV Survivor for the past thirty-seven years, I must say that the first ten years of being positive were the hardest for me. I felt lonely, dirty, sad and confused. I realized that if I wanted to live and be happy I would need to change my mindset. I found strength in my God, in myself, and my faith. I knew that isolating myself was the biggest hurdle I had to get over. I got myself involved in my church on a nightly basis. I did charity work for AIDS Community Services, I also was involved in helping with the homeless in my community. And I volunteer every Thanksgiving and Christmas to help those who are less fortunate than me. I thank God for my life, my health, and my strength everyday. And I pray for those who are less fortunate than me and for their situations to change. Happy holidays everyone!
Yes it true that any holiday is hard, I remember when I was diagnosed with HIV, I was not living at home with my parents and siblings. That was a big pill for me to swallow. I felt lost. I changed that through connecting with friends dealing with similar issues. I believe that you cannot choose your family but you can build and extend family. We made new traditions and celebrated like family and spread the love and filled the emptiness that we were feeling not having to hide who we were, but just living.