Remember that family member of mine who was diagnosed with HIV years before me? The last thing I heard from my dear mother was that he was currently lying unconscious in the hospital. I found out too late. Apparently he hasn't been taking anti-retroviral drugs for years. The worse part was that I realized he wasn't even open about his HIV status to his wife.
The truth is I'm not really close to this family member. Even though I'm open about my HIV status, my parents insisted that I should just keep this news between the three of us. This means, I couldn't reach out to my relatives.
When I first wrote my story to Magdalene my intention was to have my story inspire other people to get tested as soon as possible so they could get treatment. Therefore, this latest news from my relative devastated me.
Currently in another situation, a dear friend of mine told me that her sister is also in the hospital because of AIDS complications. Her situation has gotten worse and worse because her sister, due to the stigma, decided to keep her medical situation a secret. This makes it even more difficult for tdoctors to help her.
I can't believe that it has been one year since I wrote my HIV coming out story in Magdalene. Although I think that I'm now healthier than ever, I realize that this is not enough. As I write this one-year anniversary story more people probably have needlessly died due to AIDS. The World AIDS Day falls on December 1st and I wish that by sharing my story again more people will realize that being HIV positive is not, I repeat, NOT a death sentence.
Here are several points that you should know about my experience so far with HIV:
Firstly, ever since I tested positive and started to take the medicine, I have never been hospitalized, not even once.
Secondly, of course there is still a stigma, however, let me assure you that being HIV positive (or to be precise, acknowledging that I am HIV positive) has led me to a number of amazing people, straight, gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, POZ and non-POZ, who simply take me as I am. And at the end of the day, these are the people who really matter in my life.
Thirdly, HIV will not kill you. But ignorance and denial will. There are people who live with HIV and yet they still manage to marry, have children and, furthermore, their children do not have to inherit the disease. This is very possible as long as you get treatment as quickly as you can. But you can't expect to be treated if you choose to be in denial and refuse to get tested.
Fourthly, anti-retro-vial drugs are free; our government subsidizes it! You can't imagine how lucky we are. I have a friend who has to spend more than thirty percent of his income to buy the drugs because his country doesn't have the same system we do in Indonesia. Please be grateful for our health care system and get tested. And if you do get HIV, make sure that you value your life enough to start taking the medication.
Honestly, a part of me was a little concerned about continuing to write about my POZ experience.
Perhaps I just don't want people to think that I'm overly dramatizing my life. However, the news about my family member and my friend's sister made me realize that I have to keep telling my story. We all have to keep telling our stories. No more lies. No more self-hate. No more denial. It is time for POZ people to rediscover themselves and to reaffirm that they are worthy of living too.
Our lives should be cherished and celebrated. Everyone deserves this chance. Including POZ people.
Amahl S. Azwar is an openly gay writer who currently lives in Shanghai, China.