For those of us infected with HIV in the 1980s, the stigma was monstrous. When I got infected, people feared that any contact with me or with anything around me would lead to a transmission of the virus. Some of my friends stopped hugging me, some family members stopped visiting me.
But such an experience teaches you how resilient you are, and you learn that you’re stronger than HIV, stronger than AIDS. While many may disappear from your life, others might step up to fill up the vacuum. With no treatment available back then, those friends realise that their loved one’s demise might just be around the corner and they want to spend as much time with them before they might be gone. Such a stance can mean so much in those dark, challenging days.
Back in the 1980s, no one could have expected to live this long, so there is only gratitude for a life that has been fulfilling and enriching. I remember all of those who didn’t get a chance to grow old, and live with there friends and loved ones because of this virus. Of course, in the 1980s, HIV was, in many respects, a death sentence. But we’ve come a long way since then. Effective treatment for HIV arrived in the 1990s and now we know that people living with HIV who are on medication and maintain an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the virus sexually, a procedure known as Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U).
Now, we live in the 21st century where medical advancement and new technology have made our lives easier and safer. But the stigma against HIV persists in our society. I’m optimistic that it will be gone for good. I’m living my best and fighting this stigma, but sometimes, this comes back to haunt me.
I’m still looking for some silver lining or a better way to live with this stigma. I know a lot of it is within and with the relationships I build with people. Probably, more people would accept and respect my HIV-positive status if they know about it. But it’s the people I don’t have a close relationship with that I worry about.
However, one thing is for sure. Our life is more beautiful and safer today, and it’s up to us how we make it more beautiful and worth living it.