Women's Health

I was diagnosed with HIV when I was 15 years old. I learned to love myself enough to take my medication.

ProDentim

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As said to Nicole Audrey Spector

I became sexually active when I was very young – only 13 years old. I probably wasn’t emotionally mature enough for sex, but I had a boyfriend I trusted. We used contraceptives, but no condoms, so we had no protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Although I wasn’t too worried about getting a disease through sex – because I believed my boyfriend only had sex with me – I made sure to get tested for STIs, including HIV, every year.

When I was 13, my HIV test came back negative. Same at 14 and 15 years old. But 10 days before my 16th birthday, November 7, 1996, I received a call from my doctor’s office after my HIV test. They needed me to review my results in person. I knew that meant I was positive.

I didn’t want anyone to know, so I took the bus alone to the doctor.

My doctor told me that I was indeed HIV positive. I was overwhelmed and terrified. I didn’t know much about HIV and AIDS other than what I had seen in the movie “Philadelphia”, which was hardly uplifting and certainly didn’t include women. They were only images of fragile men.

The doctor sent me with paperwork to fill out for a health clinic that specializes in treating people with HIV.

“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do for you here in my office,” the doctor said.

When I got home, I told my mother the results. I don’t remember much else than her yelling at me, shaming me, accusing me and banging on the front door.

My boyfriend wasn’t nicer. When I told him, he accused me of cheating – something I hadn’t done. He was tested soon after and was also HIV positive. We stayed together for years afterwards, but the relationship was unhealthy and sometimes abusive.

A few months after my diagnosis, I started taking a lot of medication to keep the disease at bay. It made my stomach hurt horribly, and to this day I can’t even think about it without feeling sick to my stomach.

Life was already lonely enough for me. I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t have anyone to turn to in my family for support. But life became much lonelier after my diagnosis. I felt empty inside.

Throughout my childhood up until then, doing well in school had been my top priority. But once I was diagnosed, my academic ambition died down and I failed all my classes. As a stark reminder of my defeat, my mother framed and hung my F-filled ballot.

Over the years, I became less and less invested in caring for myself. I didn’t start taking my meds regularly until I found out I was pregnant with my daughter in 2000. I wanted to be good for her and for her to be healthy inside of me. . Amazingly, despite having two HIV-positive parents, my darling Daniella was born HIV-negative.

Bee and her daughter, Daniella

Once I had Daniella, I stopped taking my meds again. I didn’t like it, and I felt like it was useless since I wasn’t pregnant anymore.

When Daniella was still a baby, I met Jason. He was a friend of my brother, and at first we didn’t get along very well. But over time, we bonded deeply. At that time, Daniella’s father and I had been separated for a long time. Jason and I started dating.

I had unprotected sex with Jason, but I didn’t tell him I was HIV positive. I spent time wondering why I didn’t tell him. I think I was so mad at the men – mostly because I had been sexually abused by my stepfather in the past – that I didn’t care at the time.

Jason ended up finding out I was HIV positive from someone else. He was upset that I didn’t tell him myself. But he still wanted to be with me, and we entered into the first truly romantic relationship of my life.

As our relationship progressed, Jason grew concerned that I wasn’t taking my meds. He told me I had to take it. I promised him I would – for him, for Daniella.

He looked at me and said, “No, you have to love yourself enough to take your medication for you.

It was a defining moment.

Bee, Jason and Daniella, 2022Bee, Jason and Daniella, 2022

Loving myself had never been important to me, and frankly, it was hard to do after a lifetime of abuse. I started attending therapy and support groups for women living with HIV. I learned to put myself first and recognize that if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t really take care of anyone else.

Jason and I got married and have been together for 21 years now. I take my meds the way I’m supposed to and the side effects aren’t as bad as they used to be. I also continue to deepen my relationship with the community of women living with HIV. I have met so many wonderful women over the years. Sadly, I have lost many to AIDS, but their impact on my life is eternal.

My husband asked me today, “What is your ultimate goal?”

He was referring to my advocacy work, which focuses not only on women living with HIV, but also on HIV-negative family members of people living with HIV. It’s a tough journey for them too. They also deserve to be heard and respected in the HIV community.

But to answer Jason’s question: My ultimate goal is to leave a legacy that someone can look back on and say, “She may have been just one person, but she made a difference in the world. . »

This resource was created with support from Gilead.

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Our Real Women, Real Stories are the authentic experiences of real women. The views, opinions and experiences shared in these stories are not endorsed by HealthyWomen and do not necessarily reflect official HealthyWomen policy or position.

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