By Naimah O’Neal
I am a woman who has been living with HIV for the past 22 years. I have seen the best and worst of what can happen to people living with this illness. October is a month that has been set aside for domestic violence awareness. I plan to devote my blog posts this week to express my feelings about issues and challenges facing people living with HIV/AIDS, and most importantly focusing on women, because we bear and are dealing with so much–we are the care-givers of our families and the world.
I should share something about myself. I am a mother of two adult women and two beautiful granddaughters. I lost my oldest daughter and often wonder how I get through the day. A parent should never outlive their child. For some of mothers who will read this blog, I know that you can relate with my sadness. I miss her very much but know that she is in a better place and not dealing with the madness here on earth. Before I move on from this, please, if you have lost someone, including yourself, get help. Mental health is a silent killer. It can steal your joy, happiness and life, because it can sometimes take your will to live and lose what God’s purpose is for your life.
I am a social worker at an agency where I once received services. I love my job because it gives me an opportunity to give back to a community that helped me to fight and turn on my kick-ass gene. I learned that I could do anything and become whomever I wanted to be. I found my voice because of HIV; I am learning each day to become a powerful force with the understanding that I have a right to be at the table where decisions are being made about my life as a woman living with HIV. I must say that I would not have become a social worker if I had not first become a woman who is HIV+. I am the only person in my family who has the virus or will say so, and I have sisters who say that they could not live so openly with having HIV. My hope is that someone reading these blogs each day will be inspired to rethink their stands in life, to learn to approach each day chasing their dreams; living to love life and wanting more than just taking MEDS so that the community viral load goes down.
The HIV community is living longer, but the concerns facing people living with HIV are the same and to me are becoming more concerning as people are chasing the cure. Women are being hurt and losing their lives because people are not taking responsibility for their sexual health. I can’t understand why, in 2015, people still don’t understand that HIV is everyone’s responsibility. If someone has been tested and found to be positive, then taking your MEDS and becoming healthy is your responsibility, because this act will reduce the community viral load; by the same token, if you get tested and it comes back negative, then you also have a responsibility to use protection, take PrEP if you love someone who is living with HIV and take charge of your own sexual health. The task of reducing the community viral load is everyone’s job. I hope that everyone reading this blog will agree to come with an open mind, an open heart, and a commitment to respect you as a change in process. Love and peace, Naimah O’Neal