An Open Letter: You Will Be Better For Knowing Your Truth
In a moving guest blog post, NBJC Emerging Leader Isaiah Wilson shares his experience of getting tested for HIV, and how it has changed his life for the better.
An Open Letter: You Will Be Better For Knowing Your Truth
2013 started as one of the most unclear years of my life. I found myself unemployed, living at home with my parents, and quite unfulfilled with the grind of my twenties. As someone who prides himself on always having a plan and meeting pragmatic goals, I, for the first time in my adult life, felt a sense of hopelessness in my mind and spirit. After completing nearly 5 years on Capitol Hill working my dream job, I had no idea what my next step in life would be. This uneasiness was amplified by the series of rejections I received from prospective employers for jobs that seemed to fit perfectly with my professional experience. In spite of these negative feelings, I kept a smile up for family and friends. But inside, I felt my hope wavering.
All of these emotions came to an incredibly scary climax on February 20, 2013. I decided to use my temporary health insurance to go to the doctor for my annual check-up. Little did I know that my life would change forever at that appointment.
“Isaiah, you're H-I-V Positive,” my doctor told me in slow, calm voice. I immediately replied, “What's next then?” “Breathe,” she said with a smile.
With her gentle command, I let out one of the biggest cries of my life. A sharp pain ran through my body with a special intensity around my heart. The reality of the news somehow gripped my whole being, but I couldn't or wouldn't believe it. To be honest, I felt so much at once that I didn't know what I was feeling. All I remember thinking repeatedly in my head: How can I be HIV+? How could I end up in this situation? How could I put my whole life in jeopardy? I felt shamed, embarrassed, and unloved all at the same time.
I knew exactly how I contracted it. But still, somehow I couldn't believe I let myself get in this particular situation. I not only have a family member that has been battling the virus for over a decade, but some of my closest friends have opened up to me and told me their personal struggles with living with HIV. I thought about my mom and dad who always reminded me to be safe and make responsible decisions. I thought of my personal conversations with friends on the subject of getting tested and engaging in safe sex practices…even when it was an inconvenience. Now, in light of my diagnosis, all of that talk seemed so void and fruitless. I clearly didn't take my own advice.
My mind went to all of the individuals I would need to tell about my status in order for them to be tested as soon as possible. I found myself so hurt and even more unsure of what I would do next in life. I was in such a dark space in that moment. The last thing I wanted to do was to walk out of my doctor's office and face the world.
The immediate days and weeks after I found out about my status were an emotional roller coaster. Some days I would wake up and leave my bed only to use the restroom. Other days I found myself able to eat, only to be followed by pains in my stomach which forced my food back up. All of this took place while I hid my diagnosis from my parents whom I purposely avoided.
At a follow-up appointment with my specialist, I was informed that as a result of the HIV, I also may have contracted Hepatitis B. My blood work had shown my liver was inflamed and I would need to stop drinking alcohol, or it could possibly be fatal to my health. After receiving this additional diagnosis, I once again let out a huge cry – saving it this time for my car.
I felt a new low of depression. My mind became my worst enemy, telling me that I would never recover from my new reality. I simply felt broken and wanted to give up on life instead of deal with what was going on with my health. All of my deepest fears and insecurities consumed me, and I couldn’t conceive how I would be able to move on. It was during this dark time in my life that something inside of me pushed me to pray like never before. If I was going to survive this experience it would only come from a source bigger than my situation.
After weeks of hiding my status from my family and telling only a select group of friends, I had a sudden epiphany one day while looking at myself in the mirror:
“Isaiah, I forgive you and I love you. This is only a test and your dreams will come true.”
These words came from my lips, but not from my mind. I believe that this was the voice of God speaking through me. In that one moment I was able to forgive myself and a peace fell upon me that has been lifting me up every day since. Once I forgave myself, I began to vividly imagine all of the dreams I had for my life. In that instant, I had a new hope and belief in my future. I felt my confidence and zeal for life return again. I believed in something beyond this natural world and my current situation, which guaranteed my success in life. My faith confirmed to me that everything would be alright and that this moment in my life would only push me closer to fulfilling my life's purpose.
I write this open letter because being open about my truth is a part of my life's purpose. I believe that sharing my testimony will help to change and save lives that have been ravaged by social stigma. Yes, I am HIV+ and I will have to take medication to combat this virus for the rest of my life. But one thing I know for sure is that this disease, which has broken and destroyed so many people, has only made me stronger. The last time I took a drink of alcohol was on March 3, 2013, and I honestly do not have an urge to drink in the least. The one pill regimen I am on to combat the virus has had minimal side effects on me. More importantly, I am happier and more loving than ever before. Some days I wake up and just cry with delight because I have never in all of my years felt more alive. I am inspired to dream and determined to make my life an example of survival for all to see. I am HIV+, and life has never been better.
In recognition of National HIV/AIDS Testing Day, I encourage everyone reading this letter to get tested. It's a scary and unsettling experience, and I know that everyone is not as fortunate as I am to handle the aftermath of dealing with this “new normal.” But despite these circumstances, I am a living testament that you will be better for knowing your truth. For those individuals who do test positive, please understand that you are not the stigma and shame associated with this disease. No matter what happens, you must believe that you can live your best life by choosing to be present and make the right decisions for your health. The day I chose to keep going in spite of my diagnosis was the day I began to live my best life. I am a better, more compassionate, human being for it.
My hope for all who read this letter is that you will find peace and liberation in your truth. I know, firsthand, that when you consciously live in your truth, your purpose in life will take root. All the days of your journey may not be easy, but when you are armed with the power of truth and love, your survival is inevitable.
Over 30 years after the first cases of AIDS surfaced, HIV continues to wreak havoc on the Black community – particularly Black gay and bisexual men. According to a 2012 study published by the Black AIDS Institute, Black men who have sex with men (MSM) make up nearly one in four new HIV infections in the United States, and one in six Americans living with HIV. The report adds that HIV represents a lifetime challenge for Black MSM, stating that one in four Black MSM are already infected with HIV by the time they reach age 25, and by age 40, 60% of Black MSM are living with HIV.[i] These statistics are just as troublesome for Black transgender people, who are also affected by HIV in devastating numbers. In the National Transgender Discrimination Study published in 2011, over one-fifth of Black respondents were HIV-positive (20.23%) and an additional 10% reported that they did not know their status.
In recognition of National HIV Testing Day. NBJC is issuing a call to action for the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to own their power in the fight against HIV/AIDS by getting tested. For more information on HIV testing in the Black community, visit here. To locate a testing location near you, visit here.