I was 19 years old when I was diagnosed and so I have been living (and thriving) with HIV for two years. I’m a Greater Than AIDS Ambassador, a NMAC Youth Scholar, and now a blogger for AIDS.gov. Since I’m young and this Sunday is National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I decided to reach out to a few people older than me, who have lived longer with HIV, to learn from them. What insight do they have for a younger me – or a younger them? What do they know now that they didn’t know when they were diagnosed?
“I found out that I was HIV positive in 1992 – the day after my 22nd birthday. Effective treatment hadn’t arrived yet, so I lived my 20s like I wasn’t going to see my 30s. Nowadays with effective treatment, whether you’re living with HIV or not, you don’t have to despair as I did. If you are living with HIV, as long as you adhere to effective treatment, you’ll live a long life. Know hope!” – Oriol Gutierrez, HIV+ since the age of 22
“HIV is a human disease – Get to know the facts, not the fiction. And protect yourself–because your choices today have consequences tomorrow.” – Melissa Murphy, HIV+ since the age of 21
“I would tell you (and a younger me) that the days of HIV bringing fear and punishment must be behind us. We can neither fear our diagnosis nor can we fear or judge those diagnosed. Human beings living with HIV are just that – human beings, and we are as deserving of compassion, equality, and love as anyone else.” – Uriah Bell. HIV+ since the age of 18
“I’d tell young people that HIV is no longer a death sentence (like it was when I was young) but it is a lifesentence. It’s not just happening to “those people,” it’s happening to all of us, no matter what your age, because the “H” in HIV stands for human. Most of us have a choice, so please choose wisely. Ignorance ends where education begins!” –Venita Ray. HIV+ since the age of 44
Then I decided to turn the question on myself. What would I tell youth who are just like me. Those who are living (and not living with HIV). And here’s what I would say:
If you’re living with HIV, it is important to take care of yourself. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, take as much time as you need for self care. I need you to get in and stay in treatment because no matter what you may think or what anyone else says, you are more than a statistic and you are valuable.
If you’re a person who is HIV negative, then it’s crucial that you stay that way. Take the precautions and love yourself enough to know that you deserve to protect your body and be mindful of the risk. I honestly thought that I was invincible at one point, and that HIV could never happen to me. I now realize, HIV can happen to anyone, no matter who you are, where you’re from, how old you are, or your sexual preference.
What would you say? What have you said?
On National Youth HIV/AIDS Day (#NYHAAD ) and every day, we have the tools and the information to stop HIV. If you are a young person or work with youth, here are just a few resources to get you started: