Woman living with HIV urges others to remain upbeat
'Positive in the mind, positive in the blood' is the mantra of Sharon, who was diagnosed with HIV 10 years ago while living in the US. But she wasn't always upbeat.
"The news was saddening. It was like failure, being that I was the wife of a pastor and I was in the ministry and everything. My husband was an elder of the church, so I didn't know how to cope with it," Sharon told THE STAR. "I didn't know anything at all about HIV. I didn't know there was a difference between HIV and AIDS so at that point I'm saying I'm going to die. My son was in the navy and he visited at the time and I broke down in front of him and told him."
But her son took the news better than her husband.
"Up until now, he said he's not accepting it. I haven't heard anything from him. He's in America and I am here living my life to the fullest," she shared. Her son suggested that she come back to Jamaica, which she did in 2012. But as she was getting sick, she felt she was coming home to die.
"I brought two suits and I said they can bury me in one," she said. "Being here, it was rough. There was depression, but I was not suicidal. I still didn't know how to accept the diagnosis and the stigma and discrimination even amongst my own family. That was even harder for me. I was heartbroken and I was in shame." Sharon admitted that after a time, she gave up on life.
Everything was negative
"I stopped going to church. Me gone back a party, hold a vibes and skank to two music. Me never cuss God, but me just did a chill out," she said. Her condition worsened, and she was admitted at the Kingston Public Hospital for almost one month.
"The doctor asked me if I wanted to die, and I said yes. It was just a point in my life where everything was negative. When I came out of the hospital, I started trying the pills. I started the medication and I tried everything. I just moved from stage to stage," she said.
But Sharon joined the Jamaican Network of Seropositives, which advocates for the rights of people living with HIV. "I started becoming informed, finding out what it means to be undetectable, meeting other women and feeling like I can really do this," she said.
Sharon went back to church now, and has found herself back in the ministry, trying to live a positive life. She is now a community facilitator, "doing what I can do and pulling from my experience to help people live a positive life". In 2019, 1,500 Jamaicans died from AIDS, a 15 per cent decrease from 2018, which had 1,800 deaths. In commemoration of World AIDS Day today, Sharon wants other persons living with HIV to understand that it's not a death sentence.
"I went back to school and got my CXC English. I did a geriatric course and graduated and kept moving. My kids support me, I am engaged, and my partner supports me. I don't shy away from negativity, but when I hear it, it just doesn't faze me anymore," she said.