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.
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.