a man with HIV thinking with his chin on his hand. He remembers times when he was walking into the wind.

My Soul Looks Back and Wonder

My soul looks back and wonder. "How I Got Over" is a gospel song made even more popular by Aretha Franklin and used during the Civil Right Movement.

This year, I have had several occasions to ask myself how I got over. Meaning, how is that I have lived for 31 years with HIV? How is it that I survived several traumas from my teen years? How is it that I survived street-level homelessness and a host of other issues?

Syphilis symptoms and a diagnosis

When I was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, I knew that I most likely contracted HIV in 1989 when I tested positive for syphilis. I had a friend who was a doctor at the Leon County Health Department.

I was living in Tallahassee, Florida, attending Florida A & M University. My friend noticed spots on my hands and asked me to take my shoe and sock off so he could look at my feet. My feet were spotted as well. He shared with me that he thought I had syphilis.

At the time, I didn't know to ask for an HIV test

I made my way to the health department as soon as I could. The test came back and yes, I had syphilis. I was treated and went about my business. At the time, I was 23 years old and had never heard of HIV. My world was the community and campus at FAMU. If my memory serves me correctly, Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States and there were no national messages regarding HIV.

I did not even know enough to request an HIV test when I when to the health department. I also did not know enough to connect my sexual behavior with anything that could threaten my life.

Learning more about HIV

Once I got tested in 1991, I really believed my life would have no value. I had returned home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania because finishing school became increasingly difficult - my father was killed during my sophomore year. I had decided to get tested because I wanted to ask the woman that I was dating to marry me. By that time, I had heard about HIV and how it is transmitted.

My soul looks back and wonder. I only told her I tested positive for HIV. It took another five years before I shared my status with anyone. It was my MaDear who cornered me about what was wrong. It was two years after receiving my diagnosis before I sought care and treatment.

Even then, I refused to take the only medication that was available at that time. I had heard so many conflicting stories about AZT, and so I decided that I would just live as long as I could without medications.

Deciding to start HIV treatment

My soul looks back and wonder. It wasn’t until 1998 that I began taking a cocktail which consisted of 22 pills per day.

It was extremely difficult. I was the primary caregiver to my six-year-old son and working full-time as a youth services librarian. I remember living with a CD4 count of 2 for almost four years. It turns out that, regardless of the medications, I was experiencing a great deal of stress that contributed to the negative lab results.

Much has changed for me

Much has changed for me since those early years of living with HIV. I only take one pill per day, most everyone in my life knows that I am living with HIV, and I know how to cope and manage stress. I am now successfully living and thriving with HIV.

"How I got over, how I got over. My soul looks back and wonder how I got over."

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