As of 2009, around the world, SIXTY MILLION people were infected with HIV/AIDS and a percentage of these people are children. One million people in the US alone are infected with HIV. Sadly, 1 in 5 don’t know it. We desperately need more education on preventing infection, and the truth about who can catch HIV/AIDS. Anybody can! There is still discrimination against those who are infected and there is still a stigma attached with this being a disease only of the poor, uneducated, drug addicts, prostitutes, and homosexuals. Thankfully there are people destroying that stigma through outreach, counseling, and education. One of those amazing people is Maria Mejia.
This is her very personal story about how she became an activist for HIV/AIDS.
It was one week after my 18th BDAY when I found out I was HIV positive. I was very young. Back in those days, this was a death sentence. It was around the same time Magic Johnson came out saying he was positive. I was studying in a program in Kentucky named Job Corp and they did HIV testing to all the students that came in new. I remember before all of us kids were getting tested I was answering all the questions correct about HIV (how ironic) To me, this was a disease for prostitutes, drug users or homosexuals so I never thought I would ever be positive.
A month passed and I kept on getting slips from the clinic telling me to come in. As I started getting homesick, I went to the clinic, and boom, there I remember an Asian doctor looking at me with eyes of horror…asking me, why didn’t you come sooner? I answered like any teen would. I don’t know. Well he sat me down and he didn’t even prepare me! He just said you have AIDS. I went into shock. I didn’t say a word. I saw my whole life pass in front of me! I thought I am going to DIE. It’s over and I will never marry or have kids. I received the news alone. All my immediate family was in Miami.
I got it from my first boyfriend. I was just 16 years old. I was so lost. They told me there was another kid that had it and I could continue to stay there, but all I wanted was to go and die at home. I called my mom and she was always my strength. I told her “Mom, I have AIDS”, she paused and told me, “Don’t worry you will not die from this.” Two days later I was home and just waiting for death. Back then, people were dropping like flies and AZT was the only thing available. I went to a social worker they referred me to and a doctor that gave me a paper saying ‘if you take AZT, it may damage your internal organs’. I said NO WAY I’m taking that, and I believe I did the right thing not taking those high dosages of AZT back then.
I didn’t take any anti retrovirals for almost 10 years and kept myself healthy–or as healthy as I could be–with natural medicine. I do take my medication now. It has been almost 24 years. I have learned a lot in this process and also helped many along the way infected and affected. First of all, I never died as I thought…I learned to love myself more and to take care of myself more. I have taken away the stigma of being HIV+ and taught many people. I also became an activist and HIV peer educator. I learned, in this process, that I am still living to have hope, how being positive made me a more positive person! I am also an International Social media activist.
I blog for Thebody.com, The Well Project ( a girl like me) and Until There’s A Cure. I am with the Gilead’s advocate network and am the founder of 2 international support groups in Facebook for the infected and affected from all over the world, in English and Spanish.
I am a motivation speaker (in all types of events for the LGBT community, international conferences in panels with people like Dr.Kevin Fenton from the CDC, have been a part of many HIV campaigns here in the USA and also modeled for HIV medication )
I am with the speakers bureau for Miami- Dade schools and also Universities ,jails ,churches, high risk groups etc. I also have many vlogs in Youtube in English and Spanish, Twitter, and a huge activism page on Facebook. I have been a part of many documentaries that ASO’s use as learning tools for their patients also many doctors use them (the latest one with Merck and Latino commission on AIDS in both languages). I am also a small business owner with my partner Lisa.
Although I say I am HIV positive. The way I feel is that I am a human being who happens to have the condition of being HIV positive. I have learned to be stronger, and in all of this journey where I am the most fulfilled is helping everyone, especially young people, because I also became infected at such a young age So I have gone to schools to teach them and tell them look at me. Not to toot my own horn but I am an attractive female (I use my looks to attract) and they look at me and think.
I am also a trained Pre- and Post- counselor by the CDC.. testing people, as well as an HIV educator for JacksonMemorialHospital for many, many years, a volunteer for the red cross and just very involved. I wish I would of had someone like me when I was told I was infected! As I do with them when I told them ‘you are HIV positive’, but wait. I hold them and say ‘look at me I am too. You are not alone and if you do what you are supposed to do you will live a long life.’ Just look at me as your example and that calms them down. That makes me happy. To give is one of the most wonderful things a human being can do.
I just have so much to tell and my story is very complex. I have been through so much and learned so much in these almost 24 years and I am still going through different phases in my life…with life’s ups and downs. I can truly say that being positive saved my life and brought many learning experiences…Although almost all my life I have been in long term relationships with HIV negative men, I am happily married to a woman that is wonderful and caring. We have been together 5 years. She is HIV negative and a wonderful human being that I love. I have no children but we will look into having (maybe) I do have a little dog, Flea 🙂 I am an activist, a peer educator, a caregiver, a wife ,a friend ,a sister a daughter. I was a little caterpillar that turned into a butterfly ♥
I am a hard worker, passionate, loving, honest, daring, caring, and a warrior. I am NOT A VICTIM! I AM A SURVIVOR!. I am a hustler in a good way now 🙂
Being HIV positive is nothing to be ashamed about! We are strong, and we will take away all the stigmas slowly but we have to open up. COME OUT OF THE HIV CLOSET! For those that are not ready. I and other activists will continue to represent you.
I remember my poor, strong mother when I told her. She told me you will not die from this, but you will tell the family you have another disease. I was a kid and she was ignorant to the subject, but without her love and support I would of never made it.
Being HIV+ is not a punishment, it is just a condition that we have to live with! And it’s not a disease of homosexuals, drug addicts, or prostitutes. I have seen everyone from infants to 80 year old ladies with this condition! We have to empower ourselves and give ourselves self worth and teach people not to pity us. And believe me, at the end of the day they end up admiring us because as I say, we are soldiers. We were struck with something delicate and serious.
I am not going to sit here and minimize the seriousness of the illness. It is not easy. That is also what I teach people that think ‘oh, I will just not protect myself because I just take some pills and I am fine!’ just ‘cause they see I look good and look healthy. They don’t know the side effects and things we have to endure mentally with this illness! So with all this being said, let’s continue this battle because one day we will look back and say YES, WE MADE IT. Remember for those who are negative HIV/AIDS is not death sentence anymore, but it is a life sentence! From the darkest places comes the brightest lights. ♥ We are someone! We are worthy!
Please!!! LOVE YOURSELF, TEST YOURSELF, PROTECT YOURSELF FINALLY MY DREAM OF WRITING A BILINGUAL BOOK IS GOING TO HAPPEN! THIS HAS BEEN A DREAM OF MINE AND I HOPE IT REACHES THE WHOLE WORLD. ♥ JUST DREAM!! AND WORK HARD! AND PRAY. ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE. ♥
Another huge even that happened for me including so many panels I have been a part of this year and so many wonderful emails that I get from all over the world that people are changing their views about us! Getting tested, getting inspired to come out of their HIV closet! And also giving hope to the hopeless!
last but not least I am thankful that University used my story to do a play (what an honor) and who knows where that will go. ♥
And that beautiful award I got from ADAP association for social media activist 2011/2012 in Washington for my fight for the people that have no HIV meds and are in these ADAP waiting lists! 😦 I am a proud ambassador of Dab the AIDS bear and also an Ambassador for The Stigma Project! I believe in them.
If you are an activist take advantage of social media! TV, Radio , Magazines, etc. etc.!! Spread the word! Do not go in it for the money! NO MONEY HERE!! it is a passion!!
After living with AIDS for 24 years, Maria turned 40 in April 2013. She continues to actively make a positive difference.
This interview is from a book that includes 15 other amazing people who are creating positive change. You can read the full book and buy a copy for your school at Bookemon.com. Buy the e-book for 99 Cents on Amazon.com.