This year, Compass’ HIV Testing and Prevention Department started a new program which directly engages community members in telling their own stories of making healthy choices regarding HIV prevention, or of staying healthy while living with HIV.
Throughout the year, their stories will be shared during outreach at local bars and events, and through our social media. We are proud to share the first of those stories here.
“My name is Jay, and I was one of the first 5,000 people diagnosed with HIV in the state of New Jersey. That was in 1982, and at that time we thought that only gay men were getting it. Before getting diagnosed and even after diagnosis, my boyfriend and myself were active drug users and it was nothing for us to go to a shooting gallery, what we refer to here in Florida as a trap house, to grab random, possibly used rigs from a dish to use.
Now, as a 58 year old Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx who is living and thriving with HIV, I have been undetectable for many years. But as you can tell from the beginning of my story, it’s not always been this easy. Being HIV positive and battling an addiction at the same time was very challenging. When I was high, I wouldn’t take my medication as I was supposed to. In the beginning, there were so many stigmas around the diagnosis itself, plus you could tell who was on meds by the side effects. It wasn’t until 2004 that I started taking my diagnosis seriously. It was at that time my T cell count dropped below 200 and I had already suffered from three opportunistic infections. I thought to myself, “people aren’t dying from HIV anymore, why am I killing myself?”
In 2004 I enrolled in an inpatient drug program. After completing the program successfully, I graduated then went to school for counseling. Later I moved and my life changed for the better. It was right when I came to Florida that a friend told me that they had a place that would help me and take care of me. That place is Compass, and the staff have grown into a part of my family. When I became homeless in early 2018, I didn’t let that affect my medication adherence. With all that stress, if I had not been taking my medication, I believe my T cell count would have dropped to 2!
I am now given the opportunity to give back to other women by being a role model and mentor for those at risk and newly infected with HIV. By becoming sober, my medication adherence correlated to a healthier lifestyle-not only for myself but for my family. I take one pill at the end of the day and manage them using a simple weekly pill box. If you’re a long term survivor or newly diagnosed, just know this phrase I kept telling myself ‘I’m worth living and worth being loved.’”