In October, most students are preparing for exams in South Africa but here I was contemplating suicide. I walked into the clinic with my friend as we always do when we go for our quarterly check-ups and I walked out a different person. My life was shattered when the friendly doctor told me I was HIV positive. I heard her but I could not understand what she was saying, I thought it was not possible that I could be infected with HIV. Me, a whole university student who is well versed about sexual health. I went and bought a self-testing (referred to as self-screening in South Africa) kit at the local pharmacy just so that I can be sure what she had told me was true, needless to say the self – screening kit also came out positive. Now picture this, I am in a shared residence in varsity, I am stressed, confused, angry, disappointed, and suicidal. I cannot share this with my roommate because that would mean disclosing my status. I want to cry but I cannot because she will ask why I am crying. I also cannot go to the outside bathrooms to cry because someone might see or hear me crying and start a vicious rumour about me on campus.
I cannot even bring myself to hold a book without tears rolling down my face. After two days of non-stop silent crying in the dark, I finally get myself to start thinking about what happened, how I got this thing that has turned my life upside down. Then it dawned on me, what does it matter, I have it and it will not go away. Do I confront him? Will he admit it was he who infected me? Does he even know that he is infected? I called him, we met, and I told him what I had found out at the clinic. Before I knew it, he said I was the one who infected him and insults started flying around.
You see what people don’t realise is that knowing about HIV and its risks from the daily adverts we see on television and actually finding out that you are infected and have to live with it are different worlds.
We all know that you can live a happy, productive and healthy life with HIV. You can even fall pregnant and give birth to a healthy HIV negative baby. The difficult and life-changing bit is not in knowing your HIV status, it is about accepting the status and actually learning to LIVE with it in your own body. The body that you thought all along you had control over. Then suddenly someone you thought you loved and had consensual sex with unknowingly or knowingly transmits this virus into your body and now you have to learn to live with it. The little things make it difficult, too.
Having to take pills for the rest of your life is daunting. I have been on treatment for a couple of months and I still get side effects, but I have to get up and go on as if nothing is happening. I have to keep reminding myself of why I still choose to be alive because most days suicide seems like a much easier option than living with this virus.
I cannot tell anyone because there is still plenty of stigma for people living with HIV and I am not strong enough to deal with that yet. I have to hide and find creative ways to take my meds when I go home for the holidays because I do not want my family asking questions.
I am still crying in the dark in my dorm room. Outside of this, life is still going on, I have assignments to submit, class to attend, friends to support, parties to attend, study groups to participate in and practical studies to do. I am still someone’s daughter, niece, sister and cousin and everyone else’s lives have not stopped because I was diagnosed with HIV.
Every single day I have to put on my big girl panties and pretend that my life is still the same. I have people all around me but I cannot share with anyone what I am going through. Throughout all of this, I have somehow managed to diligently take my treatment. Most of the time I wonder how I have been able to do it because honestly, I hate it, but I do it. I have done it so well that my last clinic visit I was told that I am virally suppressed and I cannot transmit HIV. This is good news! More good news, I passed all my exams and am now preparing for placement for my final leg before graduation.
Most people wake up and go to bed because it is part of their routine, but waking up is a conscious decision for me. I have to CHOOSE to be alive!
This article was written by a young woman living in Johannesburg, South Africa.