November 20, 2013, was the start of a journey to a more profound sense of self. Yet it was in a way that no one would wish to start a new beginning. The memory of that day is vivid and replays in slow motion in my mind—as I am sure it does to anyone who receives life-changing news.
On that day, my hopes and joys died inside of me as I received the devastating news from my physician that I was HIV positive. How could I handle going on with life as a statistic, with all the stigma and a death sentence? The trauma that I suffered physically was nowhere near what I was experiencing mentally. I was in mental turmoil. How long did I have to live? How would I tell my family? How would I afford medications and treatment? Who would be there to guide me and hold my hand? Who could understand what I was going through?
This mental state ultimately led me down a road to deep depression. To top it off, the individual I acquired the disease from was threatening to publicly expose my medical diagnosis to my friends and family on social media without my consent. Over the years, I have lost friends, had dental appointments canceled, been denied insurance coverage, struggled to pay for costly medications and overheard conversations of others who express their negative opinions of individuals who are living with the virus.
There are numerous community support groups to assist with the transitioning of becoming diagnosed with HIV and to guide individuals through the process of changes to our everyday lives and lifestyles. These groups can help people who are coping with coming to terms with how to live a positive life as a positive individual. But it can be a struggle to find these community resources and tools. What resources are available to me to find affordable health care coverage, and how do I apply? Where is the support to assist me in implementing a proper nutrition and wellness plan? There are so many unanswered questions, and we need more support to assist individuals like myself.
What three adjectives best describe you?
Resilient, courageous, determined.
What is your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement was forming the nonprofit I Am Who I Am, whose mission is to educate and raise awareness on the issue of HIV/AIDS.
What keeps you up at night?
Wondering what will happen when I can no longer afford my medication.
If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
The stigma associated with HIV.
What is the best advice you ever received?
The best advice I received is to continue educating others.
What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
What drives you to do what you do?
Being able to help others and being able to stand up for those who are afraid to stand up and to show that that they can live a healthy normal life.
What is your motto?
My motto is “I am who I am.”
If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
A black and blue butterfly signifies growth in life or resurrection, which I now see as the new me.
Editor’s Note: Terra Kennedy passed away on August 29. 2020 from complications of COVID-19. POZ is honored to share her story in her memory. Click here to read her obituary.