My name is Paballo Tsoeu. My name means “Protection.” A friend of mine used to call me Paballoyabatho, meaning “Protection for the People.” People started calling me Pabi for short and I changed my nickname to “Pabiwabatho” which means “I am for everyone.” I have always been that kind of a person: a people’s person, a lover of life, even in my toughest times, my fighting spirit always remains. A lot of people I meet say I have such an energy and I always tell them it is something I had to teach myself overtime at the realisation that life is short. Experience taught me that we have to celebrate life every chance we get because time waits for no man and we are not going to live forever. Oh boy did this attitude come in handy...
Life before HIV… It was never without challenges. I had a challenge that almost every woman battles, loving yourself enough. I was the kind of person who looked outside of myself for happiness. As a result, I ended up in the wrong relationships. I had low self-esteem issues and suffered from depression caused by things I could not even control. I am and always have been a very health conscious person.
I guess this lack of self-love might have influenced my “about other people” persona. Stay with me, keep reading.
As life would have it, I met a guy...I was going through a rough period, in between jobs. Unemployed: YES! Unemployed. LOL
I was grateful for having met someone who accepted me for who and what I was, disregarding the fact that the acceptance should come from myself before it came from anyone else. I grew to trust him, he was like MY HERO. At the beginning of our relationship we kept saying we would get tested together but never made the time and so we tested separately, my results came out negative at the time (I tested at a mobile clinic and did not bother asking for a certificate). We then just discussed the results without either one of us having proof of each other’s status. Big MISTAKE!!! He had gone to his doctor for his test and on hindsight, I vividly remember how low he was after his results came out. When I asked why he was that low, he told me his doctor brought to his attention that he has a liver issue of sorts. He actually started asking me what I would do if I found out he has infected me with HIV, which I found strange but never really made an issue out of, even though I should have. Little did I know that I would find that I have the virus, a few months later!
The interesting thing is that the signs were always there: but like any other person I ignored them because I believed he loved me the best way he knew how and I loved him. I loved him more than I loved myself it would seem. STUPID! I tell you…I nursed him back to health, made sure he ate well and we also exercised together. A month later (after the hospital admission), I left him because he started drinking excessively and I could not understand why he was not taking care of himself. We really need to find better way of dealing with things: Alcohol isn’t it! I kept asking what bothered him but he just continued drinking more than he was supposed to. I had to leave him because I felt I could not take care of someone who could not take care of himself. Sometimes you just have to be selfish: it is a pity I learnt that a little too late. I wrote him a note, packed some of my belongings which were at his house and that is how I left. By then I had started battling health wise: Nothing I haven’t overcome! In January 2016, I did my routine health tests as usual. I told the doctor I was feeling tired most of the time, had hectic diarrhoea, rash everywhere and that is when I was diagnosed with HIV. I was never ready for it, but it made perfect sense to me in my head because I ran into my ex with different women each time after our break-up and felt a bit concerned. This is not to say that everyone that behaves in this manner or has the abovementioned symptoms has HIV. Ok? We clear? Great!J
When I was diagnosed, the first thing I did was pick up the phone and call him because we had broken up, but I was never exposed to risk during the period of our break up and that is why I had the confidence to call him. He ignored my calls, which led to me ultimately texting him and he denied everything and asked that I send him all my previous test results, which off course I did, but when it was his turn to send proof of his results, it obviously did not happen! At a later stage he wanted us to meet up and talk, to protect himself and his identity because he thought I would publicly disclose who infected me, he tried to make amends, but I did not budge. This was after I had gone public through a blog, which he ordered me to delete, but I didn’t because what I have written is merely my story and it implicates no one else. I was also surprised why he was concerned because he claimed he did not have the virus. At a certain point he threatened to take legal action against me for writing my blog in spite of not disclosing who infected me, but I did not delete my blog. It’s still there… Go read it (https://paballoyabathoptyltd.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/thriving-through-trials-and-tribulations-2/). I told him to go ahead and take legal action. That set me back emotionally because I felt angry all over again. I was so angry, cursed him every chance I got but each time I cursed him I felt worse about my status and my situation as a whole and figured I should leave it all to karma. The minute I made the decision to leave him alone, I started investing more in educating myself about the virus and my health. My healing journey began (difficult as it was) and I started slowly forgiving myself and figured I should let go of my anger in relation to my ex. To think we dated just under a year and I ended up with the virus. The thought killed me but in time, I started taking better care of myself and that is when I slowly forgave him. I had to forgive him even though he denied it and never apologised for it. I felt so robbed! But I had to do it for my own inner peace.
I never thought HIV would find me, more so because of my lifestyle. When it did find me: I felt life was not fair. I mean before I met the guy who infected me, I dated a guy for almost seven years and left him because he was cheating on me and I did not want to end up with an infection like HIV, but I ended up with the virus anyway and you know why? Obviously because I did not condomise! I think we all fall into that trap. Once you think you know a person well enough (after 5-6 months), you stop USING PROTECTION, which is WRONG! Wrong, wrong, wrong! Did I tell it’s wrong? Well, I am telling you now! It is just WRONG! I like to joke with my friends and say my ex was just meant to bring HIV into my life and nothing else. Hahaha!
Moving right along: I love running (See what I did there? Move along, run! Never mindJ). I do this gym thing at least three times a week and I watch what I eat, so HIV was the last thing on my mind. Little did I know that it would find me through someone I loved and trusted, a trap most of us fall into. Now I see things differently. “HIV DOES LIVE AND IT SOMETIMES COMES THROUGH OUR LOVED ONES, i.e., WHERE AND WHEN WE LEAST EXPECT IT.” Zibheke tsotsi..
I remember thinking to myself (before HIV), if there is one thing I am scared of, it has to be HIV… Then BOOM! HAHAHA! It good me!
I was diagnosed with HIV in January 2016… Yeah, I’m new in the game. J
When the doctor confirmed that I have the virus, I cried, cried and cried. Never in my life have I cried that much. I thought I could never live with this virus. I felt it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me or to anyone else for that matter.
I picked up the phone and called a close friend and we cried together. I told them on the same day I found out. I went home sat in my car for a while before I went inside and told my parents. I wasn’t planning on telling them that soon, but mom saw right through me that something was wrong, my eyes were all puffy from crying, that was when I handed her my results sheet. I remember mom crying with me but telling me it doesn’t change anything. My dad was just as supportive but it was a dark time for all of us. I then called a mentor and close friend, Andy and he held my hand for as long as I needed him and still does. My boss and former colleague/close friend were also very supportive. I had to tell them because I was really low and my productivity declined a bit. I told them a week after I had found out, I was not my usual bubbly self, so they knew something was wrong. I am so grateful for my support structure. I later plucked up the courage to tell my brother and sister. They did not receive the news too well but by then I had equipped myself with enough education to explain to them that I am going to live for a very long time. One of the best things I ever did for myself was to read as much as I could about the virus because it slowly alleviated my fear.
My family and friends have been my greatest support structure throughout my positive journey and I am forever grateful for that! I think my greatest concern was also how I would date as an infected person but people are as comfortable as we make them, really and I have barely experienced rejection because I am infected with HIV, if anything, people are very accepting of the situation and comfortable because I am quite comfortable myself. My challenges of dating are the same ones that apply to people who are not infected. I am blessed to have so much support because the stigma is so alive. I can safely say that I created this support structure by disclosing to those around me. I guess it also comes with how I treat or perceive myself. I have grown to love Pabi more than anyone and it reflects in everything I do and people just follow suite. Education is key when it comes to this journey. One must read and know as much as they can. I think I am also blessed to have a doctor who is passionate about what they do. He is one of the best doctors I have ever had and he taught me most of what I know about the virus but the important thing is that I was willing to learn and never for a second, felt sorry for myself. Today, I look in the mirror and I see a stronger, better and more beautiful woman. I know there are more challenges lying ahead, but I AM SO READY!!!
I truly feel we have a long way to go as a people when it comes to HIV Education. People fear what they do not know and a part of me felt I would like to contribute to educating others about the virus to alleviate the stigma. Let us be honest! People fear what they do not know! To a certain extent, I felt by hiding my status, it would mean I am ashamed of who and what I am. I then asked God to grant me the strength to face judgement and criticism if needs be, so I can better educate the nation about the virus and this has now become my PURPOSE. This decision led to a quicker sense of healing and acceptance on my part and I find a lot of people asking me how I managed to accept my status in such a short space of time. Others even think I have always had HIV and only decided to disclose now but I serve a FAITHFUL GOD who clothed me with STRENGTH, COURAGE AND WISDOM throughout this young journey and I am forever grateful!!!
I have always said to my loved ones: “People treat us the way we feel about ourselves because we allow it!” It is our responsibility as people to teach and show people how we want to be treated through the manner in which we treat ourselves. If you treat yourself with love and kindness, the world reciprocates. The same applies to hatred. If you don’t like who you are, chances are we will not like you. Reality is, if you are ashamed of your status and hide it, people will judge and criticise you. The sooner we all realise this, the better our nation will be. However, it is also very important to deal with your status at your own pace without pressure from the public and only disclose when you are ready and feel comfortable. That is a very important step.
I woke up one day thinking to myself, what if the few people that I have told about my status tell their friends? What if those friends tell their friends and so on and so forth? What if people start talking about me and my status behind my back? I think my greatest fear was some of my extended family members finding out because they can be judgemental. But a tiny voice inside me said: “but what if they find out?” Is it going to take anything away from me? I don’t think so! I therefore sat my parents down and informed them that I am going to publicly write about my status on my blog. My mom was opposed to that. She felt I would be judged and criticised. She felt I might not be ready for that. I told her that my mind was made up and I did just that.
I wrote my story and hit the “publish” button. I must say, I was very anxious about my decision because I also doubted whether I was strong enough to deal with the criticism in a world full of judgement. I sat staring at my laptop waiting for adverse reactions and I must say, the response was positively OVERWHELMING. The support I had and still have is absolutely amazing and that has given me the confidence to start talking more and more about the virus. The rest is History! I’m stronger because of my decision to disclose early...
I take care of myself by eating well, exercising, taking treatment and stressing less. I also talk openly about my status to anyone who cares to listen *chuckles*. Most importantly. I LIVE! I LOVE! I LAUGH