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A Step in the Right Direction

July 3, 2013

I would like to tell you all what I did today.  A couple of months ago I was asked if I would be interested in being interviewed and photographed as a woman living with HIV.  I thought it through and decided that I would do it as an important step in my acceptance of this disease and my moving forward in shattering the stigma that surrounds me and others living with HIV.  This summer marks 5 years since the acute stage of my infection.  I needed to do something that would get me unstuck, and opened up to receiving more support, more acceptance, and to being a role model for others, as well as to put my face out there as someone who lives with HIV.  A very NORMAL someone.  I find that people have so many inaccurate ideas of what HIV looks like.  I want to be one voice, one image-in changing those stereotypes.

So I agreed, moved on, forgot about it.

As today moved closer I continued to think about my process.  Knowing that doing this photograph and putting myself out there MIGHT put me at risk of more stigmatization and a loss of some privacy.   But as I thought about it, I realized I have nothing to lose.  Right now, or before right now, I have felt isolated, alone, ashamed, stigmatized.  The worst part of that is that I have stigmatized myself.  I had decided that I was less than. Not worthy of a great and long life. Not worthy of health and happiness and love and success.

Last night I was a wreck.  I burst into tears as I told a loved one what I was doing.  Scared: yes.  But sure of what I was doing:  absolutely YES.

This morning I wanted to puke.  In the hours before the photographer arrived I kept reminding myself to take deep breaths.  Reminding myself that I am courageous and brave and worthy.  That I don’t care what people think.  This is for ME.  This is the first meaningful thing I have done for myself in a long, long time.

Caitlin Margaret Kelly has been working on this photographic/documentary project for several years.   She is spending the summer driving around the US photographing and interviewing women with HIV.  I’m not sure what the full project will look like in the end, and I’ll spare you all the details, because it is hers, and I am just a small part of it. But everything she told me this morning about why she is doing the project was really powerful.  I am so grateful for the work she is doing for me. For us. I know some of the other AGLM bloggers have been photographed or will be photographed by her.  It was a singular and remarkable experience.  I knew it would be and planned to have the whole day off of work so I could relish in it, feel it, process it, and now share it with you in my writing.

Caitlin arrived at 10am.  I told her I was nervous and immediately started crying.  If you know me, you know I can shed a tear for every occasion.

But as she started interviewing me, recording me and taking notes, my story just unfolded.  We talked for nearly two hours.  She wanted to know all about me, the HIV, the isolation, the stigma, but beyond that, just about me!  For the next hour or so she photographed me.

Yes I realize that my name, image and status will now be out there if someone searches for me deeply enough.  While this frightened me at first, in part because of my profession, what frightened me more was staying silent.  What would have been a worse risk was for me to continue living with this heavy secret.  I know there is a lot more coming out to do and other things to consider, but for now this was a step in the right direction that I needed to take.

And off she went.  On to the next state and the next courageous woman.

I can’t even begin to tell you how at peace I felt when she left.  I know it will be a fleeting feeling.  But just that I felt it, if only for a few hours was enough for now.

I truly felt for the first time in a long time that I am very special, valuable and worthy.

 

6 Comments leave one →
  1. laura friest permalink
    July 4, 2013 12:49 am

    Congratulations in “coming out”!!!! I remember my first interview and photography sesssion. Scary & freeing at the same time.
    It was a big step for you, but you sound like you found some inner peace too.
    Thank you for speaking out for us women!!!!

  2. July 5, 2013 12:35 pm

    I’m a friend of Cate’s, and came to your blog through her. This is beautiful. Thank you for being so honest, and identifying powerful things about the human condition. I am glad it was a good experience for you to participate.

  3. July 5, 2013 1:12 pm

    Congrats, on stepping out on faith to do the interview. Disclosure is not easy thing to do, and I glad you have begun to deal with interpersonal stigma and self acceptance on you status.you not only help your self by tell your story but you have given other women a voice that can go public about being HIV positive. In sisterhood Teresa Sullivan

  4. Bob Hunley permalink
    July 5, 2013 4:14 pm

    You are a wonderful person and do what your heart tells you to do and your own comfort zones. God Bless Bob

  5. Bob Hunley permalink
    July 5, 2013 4:26 pm

    You are a brave woman and I admire your boldness. I got your girl
    Like me statement while lying in bed recovering from surgery. And I can shed a tear myself like when I drop off my son after having a great weekend with him. Even though my test came out negative I’m thankful you messaged me you were right there with me Maria every step of the way before I took the test. I came so close to getting infected because of poor choices that even though I’m in the clear I can still remain on here and check in from time to time. God Bless , Bob Hunley.

  6. Free permalink
    July 6, 2013 8:49 am

    Congratulations, I am glade your coming out was positive and uplifting. Just telling my family has left me without a family, and no one in my life .

  7. Wanda Brendle Moss
    Wanda Brendle-Mosd permalink
    July 6, 2013 5:07 pm

    Congratulations! The first step leads to another, another, another! Each one easier and more freeing!!

  8. July 8, 2013 3:00 pm

    Catlin came and interviewed me and it was a great experience. I believe silence equals death and being a HIV positive person for 20 years and have learned many lessons in these past years mainly that though I am no longer negative HIV has taken the negativity out of my life and added a positive focus mentally. Today I am not only just surviving but I am truly living.

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