I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Counseling Today

I met with a counselor for the first time today. She is someone who works at an HIV Organization, and she usually deals with more drug and substance abuse counseling on an emergency and/or temporary basis. Luckily though, she is willing to meet with me as needed until my insurance issues get settled out and I can find a more permanent counselor elsewhere.

Our talk went fine, and as is typical for me (judging from my counseling sessions in D.C.), we talked much longer than we were supposed to. It is kind of funny though, because it is not really like we talked much about my own issues, more just hung out and talked in general.

There were a few things that we talked about though, that I thought might be good to share. She told me of a woman who feels so much fear and stigma, that she disguises herself when coming to the HIV Office. This woman has been hiding in  fear for years, unable to share her status with family or friends. In a way, she has isolated herself from her life and the world. She still can’t move on from blaming herself for the choices that she made (which were not even unusual or risky choices to begin with). She is afraid to form new friendships or relationships. She is totally alone, and struggling to keep herself going.

The counselor also told me of another man who recently passed on. He had been HIV+ for 20 or so years. However, she feels that it wasn’t necessarily the disease that killed him, but rather the constant mental and emotional stress of dealing with the disease that finally wore him down.

These aren’t isolated stories. These are the stories of HIV+ persons all around the world. I feel so much sadness and pain when I think about it. Why should the world judge and discriminate against people with this disease so much that they are forced to withdraw from the world and isolate themselves in fear and shame? Why is there so much shame and blame associated with this disease, but not with other diseases? Why aren’t people who smoke or who are overweight shunned or judged for the choices that they make on a daily basis?

As we talked more about the woman who feels so stigmatized, we came to another conclusion… that perhaps there is just as much stigma within her own mind, as there is in others. Perhaps by hiding and feeling ashamed and assuming that no one will accept her, she is never giving anyone the chance to.

I shared what I have learned from my own experiences… that coming out in the open with my status was surely a very scary thing to do. I was terrified of how people could or would react. But, I took that plunge, and I made the determination to share my story, and to educate… to spread awareness as best as I could. And in turn, what have I received? Overall love, support, and acceptance. People are responding on a gigantic scale. Sure, some are upset and confused and worried at first. Sure, some feel awkward and unsure about what to say or how to act. But with more and more discussion comes more and more knowledge and information. And with that information comes more and more comfort and support.

I cannot lock myself away. I cannot hide and stigmatize myself in my own mind. If I had, if I do, I will just begin to crumble and deteriorate under the stress of it all.


  1. There is quite a bit of judgment in this world and it's sad. HIV still carries the stigma of "sexual depravity" that our(meaning our culture) deep seeded puritanical ideals make people feel ashamed. But I disagrree, smokers AND the obese etc are judged for their lack of self control, but because their health problems aren't seen as "sexual" they are seen as some how less "mortally corrupt" if that makes sense. 60yrs ago people wouldn't say the word "cancer"- there is hope that we can move past the stigma.

  2. I have been reading your blog for quite a while and am blown away by your courage and willingness to share. First off thank you for sharing your experience it is something I cant even imagine going through and applaud your decision to share your story with the world in the hopes that it can/will help others.
    The second thing that I wanted to say is in response to what you said about smokers and overweight people not being shunned or judged for their decisions. I dont know much about how smokers are looked at or judged. But I can speak from experience about being overweight and although it may not be like being HIV+, I am still judged for my weight. I am contently looked at as just my weight and not for who I am as a person. In addition, I am judged despite the fact that I have been (for years) eating healthy and exercising and still am overweight. People dont know what my life is like or what I do and they only see me as a fat person. It hurts a lot to just be seen as an overweight/fat person and not as the person that I am on the inside.
    I'm not trying to down play or even understand the stigma that is associate with being HIV+, as I know that it does exists. I hope that one day the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS lessens and we can move past it.

    1. I think you make a good point. Everyone faces their own personal stigma and judgement. To one person I will be too skinny, to another, too fat, too hairy, not hairy enough, etc,, but luckily, there's a few people out there who will find me just right.

      My only additional comment is that HIV can be transmitted by just one bad decision, while heart disease, diabetes, lung cancer, etc., often is the result of many years of life style decisions, much of it unfortunately derived from the culture we live in.
      But .... no one deserves the additional guilt or victimization of dealing with a serious health issue.

      I guess in a similar poll of whether or not someone would date someone who smoked or was obese, you would probably find similar results as to whether someone would date an HIV+ person. Luckily, there's more than enough people out there who will find us beautiful just the way we are.

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  4. I've found that the best way to insure that I will be stigmatized and treated like a victim is when I view myself as one.

    (I hate it when I try to repost a comment due to a misspelled word, and it lets everyone know I removed it!)

  5. I agree with the other comments. People are judged for many things. It could appear that you are judging smokers and overweight people. This does make me stop and think about it though. We all are judged for nearly every decision we make - who we marry, whet we wear, how we talk (accents and words we choose), how many kids we have, where we live, etc. But I have to admit I am more disappointed in the people who let that judgement shape their lives so negatively. We all need to be proud of who we are. Recognize and learn from our mistakes but dont let them define us. I feel like you are doing that. If people stop hiding the thing previously viewed as negative becomes "normal." Just look at homosexuals. There is still negative stigma with that, but so little compared to 20 years ago. Keep up the good work.

  6. I would very much like to agree with the previous commenter! I find this blog really useful for my uni project. I hope to add more useful posts later.