Life In The Open: How Speaking Out About HIV Changed My Life

When I think about the impact that living with HIV has had on me, I’m often brought to the early days of my diagnosis. The year was 2011, and I was only 21 at the time, with very little knowledge about the virus and how to obtain treatment. I also felt terribly alone because I didn’t feel like I had anyone I could openly talk to about what I was going through.

Reflecting on it now, 13 years later, I wish that the medical professional at the facility where I was diagnosed had asked deeper questions to make me feel like a human being having a human experience. When someone receives life-altering news, there is a range of emotions that the individual can go through. Personally, I felt numb; it was as if time stopped and I couldn’t mentally process what the diagnosis meant or how I would exist in the world moving forward. There was no concern for my feelings, and it made me feel more like a number or statistic. The experience didn’t make me feel safe or provide me with tools that would have helped me feel more comfortable with letting family and close friends know what I was going through. Instead, I went into a mode of suppressing this intimate information and being extremely guarded with everything I did. I decided to move in silence and do my best to get proper care. Although I was able to manage eventually, in hindsight, this was an unhealthy approach. I’m still unpacking how this has all affected me present day.

It would be 10 years before I would tell my parents about my status. Of course, they were heartbroken and, in the same breath, grateful that I was able to overcome challenges along the way and still be here, living a healthy life.

You can’t change the past, but what I can do is share my story so that maybe it can alter the path of someone going through the same thing.

Once I found the courage to speak openly about my status, it unlocked brand new conversations that I got to explore. I was able to build a community around myself of people who were able to support me in ways that did not exist previously. I began to talk to other folks who were also diagnosed HIV+ and hear about their personal journeys and exchange information and resources, which was transformational for me. Nothing makes a person feel more seen than the testimony of someone who looks like you sharing their lived experience, so creating space to have this level of dialogue allowed me to release the weight of all I was suppressing. Mentally, this changed my entire outlook on life, where I went from feeling like part of who I am was kept in a prison to feeling complete freedom. I was able to redirect that energy to passion projects and helping other people through being a possibility model.

My hope is that my story and others like it will be shared far and wide so that anyone moving in silence like I once was will feel encouraged to take small steps towards getting the help they need, however that may look for them. We all deserve to be supported because the truth is — we can’t do it alone. Most people, whether they know it or now, know of someone who is living with HIV and I’m hopeful that going forward more people will choose to be empathetic to experiences that are unlike their own and let humanity guide them. The world will be better for it.

About the author

Tony Jermin

Integrated Marketing @amazonmusic | Perception is subjective | Howard University | Oh, I have a podcast – @surfacelevelpodcast #StayCurious #ThatsNotMyGenre