All Grown Up With HIV
by Cristina González
Angelikah Demonikah, 27, Minneapolis, Behaviorally Infected
Open and direct about her diagnosis, Angelikah is moving forward. While pursuing her college degree and navigating social and romantic relationships, Angelikah is resolute about how she will live her life.
I found out I was positive July 29, 2008. When I contracted HIV, I was drinking and using drugs. I made a stupid mistake with someone I didn’t really know, and it came back to bite me. I tested for HIV when I was in [therapy and drug] treatment a few months later. Seven days after I got out of treatment the health department came to my door and told me I was positive. Two years later I found out that the person I contracted it from knew he had it and didn’t bother telling me or using a condom. Though I am angry about this, I accept personal responsibility. You never know what someone has, and it is up to you to protect yourself and make smart decisions.
After I found out, I relapsed and spent the next year getting high to avoid dealing with it. Then one day I realized that being HIV positive was a reason to take care of myself, not to self-destruct, so I sobered up. Since then, I have been doing better than ever.
Ever since the day I found out, I have been completely open with everyone—friends and family. The day I told my dad, that was the hardest. I just didn’t want him to worry about me. But he took it as well as he could, and everyone has been incredibly supportive.
I did have access to therapy—I’ve been diagnosed bipolar for about 13 years so I stay in therapy and take mood stabilizers to keep the symptoms in check. It helped me become active, prompting me to speak out online and on TV. So basically I’ve been not just open but public.
The biggest obstacle of living with HIV, so far, has actually been dating. Though I haven’t really had anyone reject me based on my status, there are extra complications. I am a lot more selective about who I date, for example. I have to feel I can trust someone to understand, so in a sense it weeds out the people who aren’t worthwhile. And while some people accept it and are OK with my status, I know—because I am so public—that anyone dating me has to really consider whether they are comfortable with their family and friends criticizing them for dating someone who is positive. Finally, there is a lot more conversation around sex, which is probably a good thing.
I do feel stigmatized, singled out. I believe anyone who is openly positive will be, but the more of us who are out there speaking out the less this will happen. I can honestly say, though, that while I can count my bad experiences on one hand, there is no way I could ever tally up how much love, support and understanding I have received. And ultimately, people have surprised me. I find that people are a lot more open-minded than I originally anticipated.
I feel it is important for people, especially young women and heterosexuals, to start talking about HIV. There is still too much misconception about it being a gay disease or something that only happens in Africa. People need to know HIV does not discriminate. All it takes is one decision. I know that.
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