‘I should not be loved’
At 22 years of age, a time when Jane Doe (as she prefers to be called) should be living the carefree life of a young adult, she is consumed by the fact that she doesn’t think she should be loved; and she says she does not want to have children. It’s all because she’s HIV positive.
It was eight years ago when Jane, then 14 , found out that she had the disease — disturbing news to the teenager who says she’d not had a sexual encounter at that point. She is one of the 12,095 people (6,606 males and 5,489 females) diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the country over a 25-year period since official record keeping began up to December 31, 2010. Since finding out, she is one of the thousands of people ‘living behind a mask’, afraid for people to find out because she doesn’t know how they would react, or what they would do.
Coming off the recent commemoration of World AIDS Day (December 1), which reminds and sensitizes people about HIV/AIDS, Jane says she would love to remove her mask and put a face to HIV/AIDS. But not knowing how people would react stops her.
“I would love to come out and say I’m HIV positive, that I was born HIV positive, that I didn’t go out there and have sex. But I am really scared because I don’t know what people are capable of,” says Jane who hasn’t faced discrimination simply because most people don’t know.
“For me to come out and I’m discriminated against…I don’t know if that would break me. But the stigma they have against people with HIV and AIDS scares me a lot. I wonder if people would still be friends with me. People can be very naive…you don’t know what people are capable of.”
The difficulties of acceptance
Jane says she’s heard horror stories from fellow HIV positive people who told her about being kicked out of their homes, how their peers would tease them and of a school girl who gave up and allowed herself to die because she couldn’t deal with it.
“It was the summer before eighth grade and I was constantly getting sick and things were breaking out on my skin and I was losing weight constantly, and nothing I ate or drank would stay down. I would go to the emergency room every other day dehydrated and everything. My stepmother (who at the time was her dad’s girlfriend) took me to the doctor. He said all of my symptoms pointed to one thing,” Jane recalls.
She was tested for HIV. The test results returned positive. Jane says she fainted at the news. It also came as a shock to her stepmother who hadn’t known. They later found out that the rest of her family (Jane lived with her dad’s family) knew she was HIV positive since she was eight-months-old.
“When I came to, I just cried. I wanted to know how come I had AIDS because I wasn’t sexually active at that point in time. I felt like I wanted to die.”
When she was given the test result, she says she knew basic stuff about the disease because personnel from the HIV/AIDS center had visited her school two weeks before and talked about the illnesses. At the time the medical professionals visited her school, she recalls that she said to herself that would never be her.
The diagnosis sent the teenager into a state of depression for years. A striving student, she says her grades dropped from a 3.00 grade point average to 0.00 because she stopped going to school. She refused to take her medication properly. Jane says she went into a complete tailspin.
Her dad’s family, who had sheltered her from the disease from birth until she found out, continued to do so, allowing her to stay home from school. They also did their best to ensure that she took her medication and that she ate in order to gain weight so that no one would see what was going on.
When she returned to school she confided in just two of her peers – people she considers real friends, because to date she has never heard of them telling anyone she has the disease.
Over a five-year period from 2003 to 2008, she says she gave her parents a hard time as she tried to cope. But she admits to feeling anger at her mother the most – the woman she caught the disease from.
Jane says her mother still has yet to say to her that she has transmitted the disease to her. She says she had to force her mother, who is in her mid-40s, to receive treatment. That was the least she could do, Jane says, but she does not have a relationship with her. They don’t speak.
“I asked my aunt how come they chose to keep me, and she was like, ‘You are my brother’s child and we love you no matter what.’ My family really supported me through this, and I can talk to them about anything,” she says.
On the other hand, 22 years later, Jane’s dad still does not take well the fact that she is HIV positive. Her father does not have the disease.
“I can’t talk to him about it, because if I say anything about it to him I can see him getting mad and looking like he literally wants to kill my mom. I’m his only child that grew up with him and his only daughter, so he’s upset with her,” says Jane.
The young woman also says it is difficult for her to get close to others. When she does, she says she pushes them away.
“I honestly feel I don’t think I can be loved being HIV positive, and I don’t think I can have a child being HIV positive,” she says, though acknowledging that, deep down, she desires to have a family and to be a psychologist.
Jane says she’s not currently involved with anyone. She has had a boyfriend with whom she used protection when they were together. Other than that, she says her only other sexual encounter was a rape when she was in her final year of high school by a man who did not use protection. That assailant, she says, was never caught.
Just as former Los Angeles Lakers point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson shocked the world when he announced he had contracted HIV in 1991, Jane, who is working at her first job, says the disease needs a ‘face’ in The Bahamas.
“But, people should not discriminate against people who are HIV positive because at the end of the day, if you cut a person who is negative and a person who is positive, at the end of the day they bleed the same color blood,” she says. “They’re still human beings. Treat people how you want to be treated. You don’t know, you could go out there, sleep with somebody and catch the virus and you don’t want anyone to discriminate against you.”
Jane says she leads a normal life, and the people who know she’s positive treat her normally. It’s the rest of the population she worries about.
Globally it is estimated that 33.3 million people have HIV/AIDS. And more than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007 have died from the disease.
World AIDS Day this year was celebrated under the theme “Getting to Zero” with the goal of zero new infections; zero deaths as a result of AIDS complications; and zero mother-to-child transmissions by 2015.