Growing Up with HIV: My Challenge
Life is full of wonder, and sometimes, we wonder why life is so full of challenges. My life, of course, is no different. Everything started off normal enough: I was born, just like everyone else. The difference, though, was that I was born with something that would change my whole life before it started. Life granted me the challenge of living with HIV.
I had no idea what HIV was
Growing up, my family saw to it that I had no idea what HIV was or that I had it. Even after my mom passed from this world, I was only told she died from pneumonia.
I trusted my family and doctors so much that I never really questioned anything I went through. The doctors' visits, the medications, being hospitalized when I had the chickenpox. I wasn’t really allowed to be much of a kid because everyone was afraid of me getting a fatal infection. Even in to high school, I wasn’t allowed to play sports.
Learning about my HIV diagnosis at age 11
It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that my doctor sat me down and told me I had HIV and that my mother also had it. That was the final piece of the puzzle that I had no idea was missing.
I was given a spiral-bound booklet with pictures that taught me about HIV. Not actually explaining it all to me and giving me that booklet to read was a gift that I grew to appreciate. Because I had to return it the booklet to my doctor at my following visit, I had to absorb all I could from it.
At 11 years old, I was the only one in my class that knew about their immune system and some basic knowledge of how it functioned.
An AIDS diagnosis at age 12
Shortly after I was informed of my status, at age 12, I was diagnosed with AIDS. The AZT I had been taken since birth had stopped working entirely, and I was moved to a new regimen of medications.
Some challenges I faced
That regimen let to me developing pancreatitis in the following years, and my meds were changed again. Now developing high cholesterol and lipodystrophy, I had to be more careful about my meals and my body fat made me look like I had a beer gut. I developed body image issues because of this that I still have to this day.
My family of course wanted me to keep quiet about my HIV - for my own safety, they said. I refused. I had curious friends and I was more than happy to teach them. I found acceptance in my friend group and, on some levels, protection as well. No one, not even me, knew what long-term living with HIV really looked like, and growing up in a small town with no internet left me blind to the HIV community.
Puberty and my teen years
My puberty was delayed so much that I didn’t hit my growth spurt until I was almost a senior in high school. I was less mature mentally too, always looking at life with a childlike excitement that I am actually thankful I haven’t fully lost. Also on the mental health side, I was prone to angry outbursts, bouts of depression, and high amounts of anxiety.
My teen years were when my mother’s death really hit me. I was really starting to realize the gravity of what HIV can do to someone. My final memories of her in the hospital started to haunt me more than before. I knew I had to live and do better for her.
Managing sex and relationships
Sex and relationships were another matter. My family, of course, was very “abstinence-only.” Any utterance of having a girlfriend was met with opposition. I had my own thoughts about how I was a danger to anyone that I wanted to be in a relationship. I prepared myself for a life on my own - no wife, no kids, and just my close friends for companionship.
The first time that stigma truly hit home for me
I did manage to find someone that wanted to be in a relationship with me. However, due to their family’s view of my status, they broke up with me. I was extremely upset at the time. In my mind, it was just another thing HIV stole from me.
This was the first time that stigma had really hit home. I had my eyes opened to the horrible view that much of the world had about HIV. I had to change it.
HIV does not define me
As I grew older, I learned to temper my feelings toward my HIV. My loss turned to drive, my anger turned to passion, my bad experiences turned to purpose. I do not regret the effect HIV has had on my life.
In many ways, my HIV does not define me; but in some ways, I accept that it does. Life handed me this challenge and I am proud to say, "Challenge accepted."
Do you live in the Southern US?