As instructed to Aviva Patz
September 18, 2022, is National HIV/AIDS and Aging Recognition Day.
It is really hard to consider that HIV could be a blessing, but for me, it was.
That’s since it gave me a possibility to alter my lifetime.
After getting been sexually abused by my uncle and emotionally abused by my father, I ran away from dwelling at 13 only to be placed in the foster treatment technique, wherever I was sexually abused once again. By the time I was identified with HIV at age 18 in 1991, I was residing on the streets of Miami, courting the chief of a violent avenue gang and committing crimes myself, which include armed robbery. I was complete of anger and self-hatred.
Ironically, my HIV prognosis arrived just when I was striving to transform my daily life all over. I’d still left the gang when I was 17 and moved again in with my mom, even while she built it very clear that she didn’t want me there simply because she imagined I was a troublemaker. At some point, I explained to her I needed to go to Career Corps, a vocational faculty for teens in difficulty. I thought it was my chance to demonstrate that I was worthy.
I wasn’t ill at all, but at Position Corps, they did plan blood work on new learners to check for being pregnant and other situations. On Tv set, you only noticed homosexual white adult males from San Francisco with HIV. Hardly ever in my existence did I feel I would be informed I was HIV optimistic.
The health practitioner who diagnosed me had no compassion. He just blurted out, “You have AIDS.” It was awful. He didn’t give me a pamphlet or just about anything. But I did not cry. I just set my head down and believed, I’m under no circumstances going to get married, hardly ever likely to have youngsters. Again then, HIV was a death sentence.
I arrive from a excellent loved ones, a conservative Catholic spouse and children from Colombia. And, the Latinx local community is like, “Don’t check with, do not notify,” so my mother sat me down and mentioned, “We just cannot inform any person in the family or friends. They’re ignorant. They’ll discriminate.” So I felt I had to maintain my HIV standing a mystery.
At the time, the only treatment accessible was a cancer medication identified as AZT. They told me in the clinic that I could get on AZT, but I would have to indication a waiver acknowledging that it could destruction my interior organs. I explained, “Nope, I’m not getting that.”
Soon after decades without having remedy, my T cells went down to 39 — the typical assortment is 500 to 1,400 per cubic millimeter of blood. I realized I could proceed dying or start out health care therapy.
I chose to dwell.
At Jackson Memorial Clinic in Miami, where I was taken care of, I begun going to instructional classes in unique immunology. I went two hours a working day, and I uncovered so substantially. I was pretty talkative in these classes, and just about every time I spoke, individuals listened. The administrators approached me and requested if I’d like to be a peer educator. They said, “You helped so many people already.”
I bought properly trained by the health and fitness division to counsel minorities — not only Latinx persons but also the African American and LGBTQ communities and immigrants.
Maria Mejia talking to members of Congress
I by no means meant to grow to be an activist, but that is where I landed. These times, I aid go legislation for the HIV community. And I’m a world-wide ambassador, neighborhood advisory board member and A Female Like Me blogger for The Perfectly Venture, a nonprofit organization offering information, assist and instruments to females and girls with HIV/AIDS.
I have started on the web aid teams with 40,000 users, in English and Spanish. We have folks from tribes in Africa all the way to Patagonia in South The us. I simply call myself Maria HIV with “HIV” as my middle name. I really don’t treatment — that is how I attract men and women.
I guide by case in point, and I fight stigma by humanizing the ailment. I’m a prolonged-time period survivor who is not only surviving but flourishing. I’m a single of the most obvious faces of HIV in the entire world, and I demonstrate that men and women with HIV can appreciate, get married and have small children. I give hope to the hopeless. And, I really don’t regret that I got HIV due to the fact, ironically, it saved my lifetime.
It is aided me mature in so numerous approaches: I’ve acquired to love myself and take treatment of myself and to be far more compassionate and religious. And, finest of all, it’s manufactured my objective clear to me. I have fulfilled so several men and women who have been by means of a lot, and collectively we have saved so numerous life. In assisting other individuals, I’ve found I also help myself.