This is MY HIV Story

Posted on 10/14/2020 @ 03:40 PM

Tags: Health

My name is Raul, and I am HIV Positive. I was diagnosed in 2010 when I was 32, during a time where I would rarely see a doctor. I never went to the doctor for my regular check-ups--much less to get tested for HIV--but I remember not feeling well for a while. I decided to get checked by a medical professional since I had symptoms that included a high temperature, sore throat, and weakness throughout my body. Unfortunately, this was during the time where I did not care much about anything but having fun. As a heterosexual male, I never thought I would end up living with HIV. It has no boundaries and can become a reality for many people; which is why I decided to open up about my story.

I informed my wife of my diagnosis once I got home. I knew it was time to face reality... my reality. I began to mentally prepare myself for the worst, which included accepting there was a chance my wife would leave me and take my son with her. In my head, this was the worst that I could have done to my family. I was not ready to be alone.

To my surprise, my wife took the news better than expected, reacting positively. She assured me that she would help and support me every step of the way, expressing how much she and my son loved me. Honestly, I was shocked to see her calm reaction. Although I had gotten the support I needed from my family, the next couple of weeks were very hard. I knew my wife supported me, but it took awhile for her to accept our new reality. I became depressed, thinking there was no way out.

I will not lie, it was a difficult process to accept my new reality. I quickly learned that I had to find a reason to continue fighting and move past these results. In my case, my motivation was my wife and my 8-year-old son. I had to reframe my thinking into something positive that guided me to better decisions. It was a challenge to get into treatment and stick with it but I wanted to keep fighting; I needed to.

Soon after, I returned to the hospital to see the different options available to me, including the treatments to consider. The hospital helped me find resources that existed for the HIV positive community. This was my first time finding out about all the accessible resources, most of them free. Until now, I have not paid out of pocket for medical treatment, therapy sessions, or anything related to my HIV diagnosis. Anyone can work with a provider to find and receive free resources through referrals and such. In my experience, I have been helped by loving, dedicated, and supportive people.

With my psychologist’s help, I gained the mental tools to navigate how to be confident in myself again, understand my status, and embrace that I was not alone. As for the HIV treatment I received, I decided to get on something called Stribild. For me, HIV treatment is not only about a pill; it is about a better lifestyle. I started making better health food decisions, recognizing dangerous and risky health situations, and using the resources I needed, such as extra supplemental vitamins.

The help of medical professionals and the support of my family throughout the process played a significant role in the support I needed to continue. Without their support, I do not know what path I would have taken. Since I have been in care, I have never been discriminated against based on my race, sexual orientation, or language barrier. HIV health providers understand that HIV has nothing to do with my identity. I have had nothing but amazing and welcoming HIV health providers who have provided me with Spanish resources. In my experience, I found HIV treatment to be way more accessible and easier to get than regular health care or a doctor’s visit. I believe HIV providers are very well organized and they have my highest respects.

In my opinion, one thing we need to work on as a community is getting rid of this stigma or sense of taboo when we talk about HIV. Our society needs to understand that anyone--straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc.--can be diagnosed with HIV. I’ve seen a couple of HIV treatment advertisements or commercials offering information on HIV while watching TV. Still, it seems like these commercials target specific populations rather than our society as a whole.

Decreasing the stigma around HIV is challenging to address, but with time and education, we can conquer it together. Our youth should be taught about HIV during their middle school years, as part of their health curriculum, so students can learn about these diseases to decrease the stigma around it. Also, it is essential to continue the outreach to people who are HIV positive and to encourage everyone to help reduce the spread of HIV. It’s as easy as using condoms or any other methods of protection, including being honest to each other and ourselves about being HIV positive. Together, we can significantly reduce and stop the spread of HIV.

For me, I am more concerned about everyday situations most of the time than my HIV status. I am responsible for doing what I can to live a healthier and “normal” lifestyle. Taking my medication is easy and quick; it hasn’t become a hassle for me at all. I was wrong, being HIV positive is not the end of the world. Now, every decision I take is for my loved ones, and the path I have taken is supported by my psychologists, healthcare professionals, and amazing family.

As a person who has gone through this struggle, I urge you not to go down a rabbit hole by thinking negatively and making poor decisions if diagnosed. This is a chance to accept the facts and work on a happier, healthier you. It’s a new beginning, just as it was for me when I decided to get treatment and support. You CAN find a reason to continue fighting for your life, which was my last step in accepting my HIV diagnosis. The one thing I wanted the most was to see my son grow up and share with him the best years I can offer next to my life partner. After ten beautiful years, my son is 18-years-old now and I thank God for giving me the strength to turn my life around to be here today.

We do not know the future and I cannot let my diagnosis drive worries in my life. I trust the doctors, case managers, phycologists, social workers, and the many other people helping me with my HIV services. Instead, I have learned to continue living as my whole self and to be happy.

To learn more about bilingual resources available and checking your status, visit LULAC.org/salud

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