I wasn’t always the woman I am today who is self-assured, confident, bold and outspoken. At some point I was just a weakling going through the motions of life as best as I can, given the circumstances I had to deal with in my young life. Sometimes when I look back I can’t really believe it’s me who’s lived such a life which is a blend of heartache, joy, lows a nd highs.
I lost both of my parents in my teens, a pain that would stay with me for the rest of my life. As I look back and see things in perspective, there have been so many opportunities for me to be a better person which I never took because I was always blaming circumstance therefore never reaching for my greatness.
I resented my father for who I thought he was; a liar and a cheater who couldn’t keep “it” in his pants, to a degree it broke the union he and my mother had which robbed me of a life of being raised by two loving parents whom I meant the world to and because of that thinking, I made bad decisions which in a strange twist of fate, ultimately have shaped who I am today.
I grew up in a four roomed house in a township called Mdantsane, East London. I was mainly raised by my mother whom I adored beyond any comprehension, although at times she had such a harsh outlook on life which would hurt me at times, I realise she was only doing the best she could with what she had. My mother was a dreamer who had one of the majestic voices on earth and even as I sing today I celebrate her life through my own voice which I am thankful that she passed on to me. Because she was a dreamer, there were times when she wasn’t around, chasing her dreams of being a musician and an actress.
In the instances where she was gone, I would be left in the tender care of my great grandmother who taught me everything I know about religion and belief as every Sunday without fail, she would take me to Sunday school which I found tedious and boring because all I wanted to do was to be around her.
My father was a bit of an enigma because I grew up not knowing who he was, we never bonded, I despised my father for his lack of honesty, morals, and values. I don’t think he understood just how much I looked up to him as a daughter and a part of me feels like he contributed to my bad choices in the men I dated. He had this way of making empty promises that always broke my heart which ultimately led me to the belief that because he couldn’t keep his word then all men were just as he was.
He unwittingly did this at a pivotal moment in my life where I was just breaking into my teens and going through a confusion of not understanding my own emotions. I had so many questions in my head and I felt rejected when he sent me back to my mom after I had taken the initiative earlier on in my life to find him.
For the greater part of my life I felt and thought that my father didn’t love me because of his actions as a result at his funeral I was just so angry and miserable that he died before I’d had a chance to torture him with my success and negligence. I wanted him to live long enough for me to become successful so that I could abandon and neglect him just so he could feel what I felt.
All this while I was never realising just how the anger and hate were consuming me, turning me into a monster and as a result I was failing dismally at school. Even though I acted as though I didn’t care, I did yet I had this deep desire to do and be bad purely because inside me was a little girl screaming for affection; I performed poorly at school as an effort to jolt my parents, my father especially, into loving me.
I started dating taxi drivers in high school against my mother’s better judgement and the more she spoke and beat me up was the more rebellion was echoing from the depths of my soul. These men came in at a critical time in my life where my mother was trying her best to provide but sometimes failing financially so they’d offer me transport to school and lunch money which made them more appealing than they actually were.
The fact that my mother couldn’t provide for me and my father’s absences led me to fully consciously believe that I was not worthy of love anyway so I would throw myself at any man who gave me enough attention to make me feel like I was special and the money some of them offered altered my reasoning into believing that I was loved even though there wasn’t any real evidence of such as most of the relationships were mainly abusive and never lasted longer than a few months at best.
I worked for years mainly as a cashier in the retail industry and unknown to me at the time I met a man who swept me off my feet with his wit and charm. He was smooth, elegant and wealthy and he loved to spoil me with gifts and money.
I fell in love with him only to find out that he was married yet we still continued with the relationship regardless and it became toxic as he became overly possessive, abusive, manipulative and controlling which drove me into the arms of the man who would ultimately make me pregnant.
Although he was also a taxi driver at the time, he was gentle, quiet and a beautiful contrast to the previous relationship. Things started turning sour after the news of the pregnancy which seemed to make us argue constantly as it was unplanned. At home things were not easy either and I chose to run away four months into my pregnancy choosing to go and stay with friends who saw my pain and supported me.
2006, five months pregnant, I decided to get tested and it was here that I learned about my positive HIV status which shocked me even though I put on a brave face. Even though the doctor told me I was healthy by explaining the results of my CD4 cell count and viral load, I still thought I was going to die.
I told my close friends because I needed them to know what was going on with me in case something went wrong with me or the baby somehow. I was in a deep psychological and emotional trauma which led me to depression and suicidal thoughts.
It helped a lot to have my friends support because it is there that I gained the confidence that I am actually not going to die and they would come with information of places to go that offered help and assistance for counselling and treatment.
The doctor advised me to take the AZT to help prevent mother to child transmission, I didn’t hesitate because I wanted to protect my child. I was difficult because I didn’t want to be caught or seen anywhere near HIV/AIDS centres as that would arouse suspicion.
In most of these instances my friends would go with me and at times would pretend to be me just to get the medication when I wasn’t brave enough to do it myself. After the pregnancy the nurses told me I do not need to take AZT or ARVs because I was still healthy enough to not do so.
I only started ARV’s in 2011 after I started getting sick, and I was told that my CD4 count was just under hundred and fifty. I embraced this new journey of ARV’s and I’m alive today because of this medication does to my body – it helps me suppress the viruses so I can live a longer, healthier life.
I don’t exercise, although I’d love to and I wouldn’t say I particularly eat “healthy”, I eat whatever is available for me to eat, but it’s enough to keep me going
I struggled with dating as I didn’t know how to disclose my status to a guy I just met and I soon learned what it felt like to know the stigma that comes with living with HIV. There are still so many misconceptions around HIV which are caused mainly by fear and ignorance than anything else.
Sometimes HIV would randomly pop up in a conversation among friends at a social gathering and I’d sit quietly listening to other’s opinions and I’d be amazed at just how dirty, ugly and vile people living with HIV were made out to be. I’d get goose bumps because I was living with it in secret and would often wonder what the conversations would be if they knew … and to clear suspicion I would also engage and talk badly about it yet inside I was secretly dying but because I wanted to fit in, I would lie and pretend I was fine when I wasn’t.
Nobody knows the heartache and pain that comes from being judged for living with HIV. It’s a pain that no amount of words can describe. I would cry until I felt like there were no tears left in my body to cry. The pain just became unbearable at some point in my life and so I began sharing my story more and more with those around me and it felt good to have people who don’t see HIV as a threat or a death sentence.
I cannot help how people feel about the fact that I am living with HIV, the only thing I can do is work on myself each and every single day. Life is not about telling myself that I am fine but it’s about knowing that I am.
It hurt me so badly to be rejected by men who lied and said they had no problem with my status and only have them speak badly about me or curse me to my face, call me all sorts of names which have nothing to do with who or what I am.
I account and take full responsibility for who I was which ultimately led to getting infected and I do not blame or judge myself for my past. Things beyond our control happen all the time in our lives yet as people I find that we like to point fingers just so we can feel some kind of superior or validated and at times we do this at the expense of the emotions and lives of others.
I take pride in who I am because I know I wasn’t always the woman I am today. I have worked hard to get to the point where I am now and if I change anything it will only be because I am improving myself. I refuse to be what anybody else says I am, no matter what the cost. I have walked a long and hard journey that was full of thorns; I have the emotional and psychological scars to prove it.
Testing positive for HIV does not make me a bad person, it also doesn’t make me all the unkind words that people have said I am. What I am is a great mother to my child whom I love beyond what words will ever express. I am a loving sister, friend and daughter and nothing will ever change that. I am a young woman in business who is doing her best to build an empire so that I may be able to teach others how to do it.
My dream is to inspire, empower and motivate others who possibly come from worse situations than mine to reach for their goals, dreams and ambitions regardless of the obstacles or challenges they may have faced in life.
I speak publicly about living with HIV because I am liberating myself as well as giving hope to those who are not as brave, bold or courageous as I am to know that they too have a place in society and that they deserve great and amazing things like love, goodness and success no matter what the circumstances may be.
As people living with HIV we do not owe the world an explanation or an account of the circumstances that led to being infected but I feel the discrimination needs to stop because it is totally unfair. The world needs more empathy, compassion, understanding and knowledge and less of the negative energy that is surrounding it right now. I have yet to meet a person who actively goes out there looking to get infected with HIV yet every day comes with new infection and the ages getting infected keep getting younger with each year and yet there is so much information out there.
All of this makes me realise that it’s not just the information that needs improvement, but us as a people as well. I believe it is possible if only we just try and give ourselves a chance to change things by ending the stigma and judgement therefore not only improving the quality of our lives but making a meaningful contribution towards the next generation.