After I found out about my HIV diagnosis, I was trying to find somebody that understood what I was going through, so I disclosed it to my pastor. I was not necessarily trying to get sympathy, but just trying to find a way to cope without allowing it to affect my Christian walk. I didn’t want to play the blame game thinking, “God, you allowed this to happen.”
During my visit, my pastor said, “It’s okay, you know I dated a woman who was living with HIV. Everything is going to be all right.” I think that was just his pep talk, but still, at that moment, I didn’t want to hear about the woman that he dated. I was going to him for spiritual guidance. I was already crushed, and feeling like my life was over. I was looking for an ounce of hope, to let me know that God allows us to go through things in order for us to have enlightenment. I wanted him to say, “Do not look at the problem, look at what is going to come after the problem.”
Honestly, I felt like his response was the typical thing I hear every day. When I ask somebody what do you know about living with HIV, the response is usually, “Oh my cousin has HIV,” or “I know someone that has it.” I know that’s their connection, but they can’t come and say that they understand, that they know how I feel and what I’m going through if they have not personally walked in my shoes. There are levels to finding the acceptance point of living with HIV: anger, depression, and the denial stage. At the first point, a person may feel like they want to walk off of a cliff because they feel life has effectively changed from that moment on. I think I walked back out of the pastor’s office not feeling any better than when I walked in. It didn’t do anything for me at that time but at least it allowed someone else to know that I was living with HIV.
I was always the type to be at the altar. I loved to sing at church and when I found out that I was living with HIV, I was heartbroken and just felt that I couldn’t participate in any church function. HIV is not something that you can come out and talk about like you’re talking about diabetes or mental health. It’s not a conversation that someone breaks out and feels comfortable talking about.
I remember one time, I had a conversation with one of my friends from church about my health condition and she ended up telling me that if I wasn’t her friend, she wouldn’t want to touch me, hug me, or do anything around me. At that point, it was like radars went up and I was thinking, “What the heck is wrong with you?” She said she has a phobia about people who have been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS (even though we know there’s no such thing). Because I went to her with my personal business, it made me feel diminished and lowered in terms of who I was as a person. I didn’t know how to respond. I had emotions, but I didn’t want to display them. I felt hurt and upset because I considered her to be a friend. So, I just took what she said and I walked away. At that time, being a person living with HIV, I didn’t think about where the other person was coming from. The only thing you think about at that very moment is what they said and how it made you feel, and that they had no idea this could happen to them or anyone.