a man holds a photo album with a red HIV awareness ribbon used as a bookmark

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."

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The H-I-V.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.