Personal Experience with Stigma
Often the battle with HIV is not only against the virus it’s self, but it is against the stigmas that surround those who are effected with the virus. We have all experienced negative stigmas surrounding our HIV status or stigmas related to any other chronic illness, and we each have stories that we could tell about how those experience have effected us personally.
My intentions of this blog entry is to share two experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I learned a lot from them, and I hope others can as well.
The first experience I have written about before but it is the hardest for me still to this day… It was soon after my diagnosis and I had told me family about my status. I was at home for the first time on leave for a good friend’s wedding.
I had been home for a few days before I noticed anything strange. At first it was little stuff like my mother hand washing all the dinner plates and utensils after I had eaten. Then I started to notice more and more things that were “unusual.” The biggest thing I noticed was that my sister was no longer using the bathroom that we had always shared. She had moved all of her stuff into our parents bathroom and that is the only one she would use. I finally confronted my mother about the situation and her response about killed me. She told me that my sister was scared and that in-fact they all were scared. Now to have your own family scared of you is heartbreaking. I wanted to cut my trip home short and return back to Cali where at least I felt like I had people who could understand. I truly have never been so hurt in my whole life.
I ended up staying the entire time but I made sure to spend as little time in the house as I possibly could. I just did not want to be around my own family because it felt like they did not want me around. After returning to Cali, I went to my clinic and told them about my situation and asked for every pamphlet and print out they had about HIV and more specifically how you could and could not catch it. I took all this information and highlighted what I thought they needed to read and simply put it in a box and mailed it to my entire family.
Since that time, things have pretty much gotten back to normal with my family. We still don’t talk about my status and that is fine with me (most of the time).
The second incident that will stick with me forever happened while I was still in the Marines and out in Cali.
I had been placed on a general work crew with 2 other Marines. One of which knew my status because we had become friends and I had told him. The other, I was unaware of the fact that he also knew, he had never said anything about it. On this one day we were doing some general duties around base and we were all riding in the one Marines truck, the Marine who I didn’t know he knew. Apparently I had gotten a cut on my elbow while trying to install some new gear and I was unaware of it. We all finished up what we were doing and loaded back up in his truck. I got one drop of blood on the back seat of his truck where I was riding. When I noticed it, I offered to go get some cleaning supplies and get it out, but he told me not to worry about it. Well two days later when I saw him again I noticed he was driving a new truck. I asked my buddy who knew my status about it and that is when he told me the truth. The Marine with the truck was so afraid that he was going to catch HIV from that one drop of blood on his back seat that he went that very afternoon when we all were dismissed for the day and traded his truck in for a new one.I was once again devastated and embarrassed and so many other emotions that I can’t really put into words. Things never were the same between us again.
These are just two of the instances of negative HIV stigma that I have faced and that will stick with me for the rest of my life. It is because of instances like these that I want to fight so hard to erase those negative stigmas and stereotypes that surround people living with HIV.
This was not meant to make anyone sad or depressed, it was intended to help educate. Through telling our own stories we can all work together to help erase these stigmas.