During a routine Discovery Wellness day in October 2008 at my office in Johannesburg I did an HIV test as part of the regular set of health screenings. I didn’t give the test or results a second thought, so sure was I that they’d be negative. When the first and second verification tests both revealed a positive result, I was in shock. I felt utter disbelief.
At the age of 27 I thought life as I knew it was over! I thought getting married and having children would be nothing more than a dream.
Coming to terms with my status initially was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I felt lost, confused, alone, and scared. I worried about what people would say. I felt like an outcast, having grown up with a mentality that HIV would not affect me.
But the reality is that HIV doesn’t discriminate, it affects us ALL irrespective of age, gender, race, sexual preference or social affluence.
Prior to my HIV diagnosis I was living carefree; I was a relatively healthy person. Even though I knew HIV was a chronic condition just like any other, the reality was different when I was infected and affected.
When I told my sister she hugged me tightly, said she loved me and would be there for me no matter what. I will never forget that.
Even though I had the support of key family members, I still battled to accept what had happened to me; I didn’t know how to deal with my HIV status. I started drinking excessively and experimenting with drugs to try and cover up my feelings and to forget. I drank until I was numb and couldn’t feel anymore.
The turning point for me was when I lay in darkness in my bedroom, after the “high” had worn off. I had gone into a depressive state, shutting out my family and only befriended people that encouraged my destructive habits. I slept and often thought of not waking up.
It was then that a voice inside me said I can’t give up and this wasn’t the way to live my life.
I knew I needed help and I made an appointment with my doctor. I disclosed all that had happened over the past year. He was very supportive. When we assessed my health we saw that my immune system (CD4 count) was lower than 350 and this showed the virus was taking over of my body. It wasn’t a surprise that the virus was winning, with my unhealthy lifestyle, binge drinking, and drug-taking behaviour.
I called DiscoveryCARE and spoke to a supportive and knowledgeable case manager, Fiona, who provided me with all the information I needed at that time about the cover available to me through the Discovery HIVCare Programme. I really was thankful that I had someone to talk to who understood.
I made what I thought was the toughest decision, after reading up on the side effects of the medication, to start taking ARV’s. Now I look back it is one of the best decisions I’ve made to save ME!
For the first time I felt empowered. I was in charge and I wasn’t going to allow HIV to take control of my body and life!
Now, at the age of 35, I have the best healthy mind, body and soul.
Healthy eating is important to me. Because your body uses nutrients to keep up its defense against germs, eating well can help you fight off infections. It can also boost your energy, keep you strong, and help you avoid health complications. My diet includes eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, choosing lean, low-fat sources of protein like fish (tuna, hake) and skinless chicken, little good fat in all my meals and snacks.
My key learning is that everyone recovers and overcomes challenges in different ways and you have to find what works best for you!
As a ‘positive’ person I want to ensure that others facing the same struggles as me do not feel alone and don’t go through what I did. I want to take my experience and share my knowledge. I live to inspire and motivate all people who are affected and infected living with HIV.
This may sound like an unusual statement but I am grateful to HIV as it has made me stronger and healed me in so many other areas of my life, through the help and support of therapists and a coach.
Remember that you are not alone, ask for the support of family and friends and you may be surprised by their reactions.
I am just an ordinary woman who turned her life around and you can do it too! You have everything within to deal with whatever you are faced with in life.
My success is owed to the love and support that I received from friends, family and my circle of health professionals, as well as the correct treatment and a healthy lifestyle.
HIV is not a death sentence. “We” can live healthy, long lives with the current treatment available. HIV doesn’t have to stop you from living a long, happy, active and fulfilling life.
A quote that often encourages me is: “Hardship often prepares ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”