Laurel, Mississippi

Positive since 2014

I present myself as I am, flaws and all. I am a 34-year-old divorced mom of four amazing kids who enjoys the simple pleasures of life. I am down-to-earth and believe in keeping the facts real. Dealing with so many struggles growing up, the dream of just being happy was always something I have hoped for. Being a young, married, working mom with little knowledge and dealing with self-esteem issues brought many challenges. Through it all, I never imagined that the biggest challenge was still facing me. I thought that life would only get better, since it seemed as if I had already experienced the worst.

Learning my positive status left me in a state of shock, as learning about any adversity would. Somehow, I have gathered the strength from the Creator, who has sustained me thus far. While searching for love, instead of allowing God to give me the love I needed, I made some life-changing mistakes, which almost cost me my life. I was always taught to put my trust in God, but I chose to put my trust in others and myself.

I have learned that when you yield to God for protection and guidance, you will be led down the correct path. But if you go left when he instructs you to go right, you subject yourself to danger. I found myself divorced, searching to fill a void that I now know only God can fill. I made mistakes. I was rebellious. I thought I had all the answers, but I was wrong. God is so awesome, because even though I was not deserving of his mercy, he still provided it.

While in the midst of switching life insurance policies, I went in for a required medical checkup in December 2013. The new year came, and my thoughts were of new changes, but I didn’t know that this particular change would stay with me forever. A week after New Year’s Day, I received a letter from the insurance company. I am a licensed insurance agent, so I assumed it was a letter welcoming me as a new customer. I initially pushed the letter aside, but my inner voice nagged at me that something was about to rock my world, so I opened it. The insurance company denied my insurance because of my lab results. I thought of a million reasons why that could have been the case, but somehow HIV was stuck on my brain. I prayed to God to take that thought away, but the more I prayed about it, the more it stayed.

This scripture says, “You reap what you sow.” That was becoming evident. I had to give my regular doctor the document to request a full detailed report of what the issue was. I rushed to my doctor’s office and tried to get the staff to reassure me that the words in the letter were a simple mistake. The fear of the unknown is worse than the fear of knowing. I waited weeks for the results, and the anticipation was confusing and scary. Almost three weeks later, I received a phone call telling e to stop by the doctor’s office.

My doctor, who was also a friend, did not possess that bubbly spirit and smile she usually had. Instead, I saw a look of immediate concern. After greeting each other, she paused and uttered my lab results, which stated that I was HIV positive. Oh my! My body went into a state of shock, and I couldn’t speak. She offered condolences and help, but it was not enough. I sat in that chair unable to move. We hugged, and she assured me that she would help me in any way that she could. I eventually got up and went to my car.

So many thoughts were going through my mind. I have four kids who I have to take care of. I need to love them and teach them the way. I screamed so loudly and cried so hard that I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I called a friend who invited me to her home to get myself together. I remember she told me, “This is not the end of your life but only the beginning.” At that moment, I could not grasp that statement, but now I am beginning to understand what she meant.

Being given an HIV-positive diagnosis is not the end of my life, but the beginning of a life that can help save other lives. I vowed not to tell anyone, but I am proof that you cannot hold news like this inside for too long or you will cause your own destruction. When you face a life-changing event, you have no idea how to face the reality of it. It is very challenging and fearful.

I told my family at different times, and of course, they were all devastated but also sympathetic. My mom, sister and my pastor, who is also my oldest sister, are examples of strong women from whom I gained a lot of strength. My loving brothers were also great with their love and support. My dad, who is a very funny person, said to me, “Only the strong survive.” My kids were also understanding, and their love for me only deepened. Because of them, I am able to share my story, stand with dignity and have the courage to carry on.

I have shared my status with people for various reasons. Some people were non-judgmental, but I have endured some reactions from people who surprisingly judged me in a critical way. I cried many nights. I wanted to end my life and wondered why this happened to me. But through everything, I realized that I am not exempt from adversity.

I had unprotected sex with someone who obviously was infected and who was not aware that they were infected or just failed to make it known to me. Telling people of my status was a hard thing, but once I realized God still cared for me and loved and adored me, the process became a lot easier.

I have done research on the virus and read many stories that I can relate to, and it has become my passion to take a stand against the judgment that people place on a person in my position. I choose not to allow my positive status to define me but instead live up to the definition of what God says I am. I am a unique, beautiful, creative, smart and talented individual who values the life I was given.

I am currently a volunteer with an organization whose aim is to assist HIV-positive individuals. I am interested in forming a support group and training to become an HIV/AIDS educator to provide testing. Through raising awareness, providing HIV education and supporting those affected, I think we can unite to openly stand and fight against this wildfire’s spread.

My aim is to help others cope while having hope. I encourage those affected not to say, “I am living with HIV/AIDS” but to say, “I am living regardless of HIV/AIDS.” I encourage everyone to stay on top of the disease and not allow it to weigh you down. I encourage everyone not to be ashamed and to stand up for your self-respect. I stress the importance of staying healthy and staying clear of risky behaviors. By keeping my mind positive and taking care of my health by eating more sensibly and exercising (I am a licensed Zumba Fitness instructor), I am doing well with an undetectable viral load.

The mental part is a struggle sometimes, but that is when I turn to my heavenly Father for peace and insight. My kids are my biggest supporters, and they help me remember to take my medicine, which I look at as vitamins. God said that by his stripes we are healed, and I believe that I am healed in more ways than one. I see some who are just looking for a cure, but I was looking for a way to endure.

I want to address those who may view HIV-positive people with stigma by saying, “Put yourself in their shoes, and think of how you would want to be treated.” My favorite scripture is Galatians 6:2: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

We as a society have to learn that everyone is facing some type of challenge, and we have to be sensitive to whatever it may be.

No one is perfect. We’ve all made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes as long as we live. Know that God is a forgiver of sins and the only author of each one of our stories. We may alter the chapters, change the characters, reword the contents and acquire our own titles, but we don’t know the ending. The road may get bumpy and the curves may get a bit narrow but know that God is with us in all things. He can provide light and a smoother path if we allow him.

What three adjectives best describe you?

Cool. Talented. Humble.

What is your greatest achievement?

I am a licensed Zumba Fitness instructor, a licensed bail bond agent, a personal care assistant, a licensed insurance agent and a youth basketball coach.

What is your greatest regret?

Taking my focus off what God wanted for my life and taking matters into my own hands.

What keeps you up at night?

Making sure my kids are OK and planning for the next day. Being a single mom of four kids, I have to remember a lot.

What is the best advice you ever received?

Keep a positive mindset because this is not the end of my life, only the beginning.

What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?

I admire the ones who remain motivated and positive because it keeps me motivated and positive.

What drives you to do what you do?

My kids and my faith in God.

What is your motto?

As I am. (God created me to be how he designed me and no one else.)

If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?

First, I would make sure my kids were all out, but then I would grab my kids’ memory picture albums and achievement awards.

If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?

I would be a bird because birds have the ability to fly freely without any limitations or cares in the world.