Despite help, emotional impact of HIV still overwhelming
9th December 2013 · 0 Comments
By Karen Moore
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – As she stares at herself in the mirror preparing for another day, hidden behind her beauty is a secret that no one could ever imagine, a secret that changed her life almost nine years ago.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “One in 32 black women at some point in their lifetime will be diagnosed with HIV Infection.”
Mariana, (who has asked that her real name not be used in order to protect her medical privacy), a 34-year-old Black mother of two, residing in San Francisco, has been living with the HIV infection for the past nine years. She became aware of her status in early 2005 and from that moment on, her life, in her words, has been a constant battle to find the woman she used to be. A battle she says she is losing every day.
Mariana contracted this disease while in a relationship with a former boyfriend. Her eyes waters, she turns away from the camera before she starts telling how she and HIV became life partners.
“I thought I was in love. He was everything I wanted and even though my family told me he was no good for me it didn’t matter because the way he made me feel outweighed it all,” she said. In a relationship with this man for seven years, Mariana says she had no idea that any type of infidelity was going on in her relationship.
“I trusted him. I knew he had children with other women but I also knew that he was my man and we were together. So with that in my head and my heart I trusted this man because I loved him,” she said.
It wasn’t until a routine medical exam, that Mariana found out that the same man she had loved and trusted for seven years had given her the HIV virus. She was heartbroken but more so confused and confounded – an experience for many women across the nation. An overwhelming majority of HIV infections among Black women (87 percent) are attributed to heterosexual sex, according to the CDC.
With a look of disbelief as if the moment had just happened, she recalled, “I read over those test results for hours. I could not believe what I was seeing. How could this be possible? How could I not know?”
She said that her first thought after that was about her children. “No he is not the father of my children. Thank God, I contracted this virus well after my babies were born!”
Being that her twins, a boy and a girl were born in 1998, Mariana says she is grateful that this burden does not have to be carried by the only children she will ever have. Her memory is foggy about how she approached him about the infection.
All she could muster up was the fact that the conversation and the relationship ended with him swearing that he wasn’t HIV positive and she must have gotten the virus from somewhere or someone else.
According to the CDC, some of the reasons behind African-American women contracting the HIV virus stem from being:
• Unaware of their partners’ risk factors or behaviors
• Unprotected vaginal sex
• Unprotected anal sex
• Sexual abuse
• Intravenous drugs and/or other substance abuse
Exacerbating these reasons are stigma, fear, discrimination, homophobia, and negative perceptions about HIV testing, all of which tend to slow down HIV/AIDS awareness and testing.
With tears running down her cheeks, Mariana expresses her regret, “If only I would have had the courage to ask, to go get tested more often. Instead I was blinded by love, now stuck with a life sentence worse than the ones given to those on death row.”
Medical science now offers multiple ways to pro-long life after an HIV diagnosis. Many people have now lived decades with the virus. But, at nine years, Mariana is still pessimistic.
“I’ve had some of the best doctors San Francisco County has to offer and some of the best meds on the market to help me get through this but nothing makes a difference,” she says, reflecting on her emotional and psychological state.
San Francisco General Hospital’s Ward 86, which deals solely with the treatment of HIV/AIDS patients, promotes that people can lead a long lasting, healthy life with HIV based on the treatment plans that are available today.
Some of these guidelines – for personal protection as well as the protection of others – are specified by the CDC as follows:
• Stay healthy (take your meds).
• See your doctor regularly.
• Do tell (make sure your partner knows your status).
• Don’t take risks such as sharing needles, toothbrushes, razors, etc.
Despite having some of the best physicians and medicines on her side, Mariana still struggles to continue the fight. She is not alone.
According to Womens-health.gov, “Women living with HIV/AIDS have to deal with many challenges. They may face stigma from other people, a lack of support, unemployment, low income, low self-esteem, sexual assault, and depression.”
It continues, “People living with HIV are more likely to have depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. They may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some may even have thoughts of suicide.”
The website, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, encourages women dealing with HIV to get help for their mental health, which is “just as important as your physical health.”
It lists a network of support and the following ways to find help:
• Contact a local AIDS organization. They can direct you to support groups or to providers, services, and information for emotional and psychological support.
• Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National AIDS Hotline at 800-CDC-INFO (232-4636). They can also connect you with resources in your area.
• Find out if your health plan, including Medicaid, will pay for counseling.
• Talk to a case manager through your health insurance organization or at an AIDS clinic or hospital. They are trained to help you find the mental health you need.
“It is normal to feel down, or even devastated, after being diagnosed with HIV or during the course of the disease. A support network can help you cope with tough times,” the website states. “But when feelings become severe, won’t go away, and limit your ability to stay healthy, you should talk with your doctor.”
Now addicted to crystal meth, Mariana’s hopelessness appears to be increasing: “I no longer want help, they can keep their meds! I’m happy with the person I am. My children know Mommy loves them and I owe no one any explanations because if you walked a day in my shoes you would ask what do I have to live for?”
This article originally published in the December 9, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.