I have always felt a great deal of anxiety and fear when discussing the topic of HIV. I used to live under the assumption that if you got HIV, it was the end of the world, figuratively speaking. I really did not know much about it except for the fact that it is a serious disease. I was not taught how to protect myself from it, and in high school we only had one speaker cover the topic, and the speech that was given centered on fear mongering.
The uncertainty about HIV caused my mind to assume the worst. I was terrified of the stigma some people may associate with the virus (i.e. you can only get it if you’re gay or a drug user), and as a result I was hesitant to discuss the topic with anyone.
I have since learned that I could not have been more wrong. Being an HIV tester has helped me, personally, to understand the disease. I now know that living with HIV does not mean you cannot live a long happy life. It does not mean you will never have sex again. And it does not mean there is something wrong with you. What it does mean, is that you have an increased responsibility to take care of yourself and the people around you.
This is a responsibility that is not limited only to those with HIV; we all have a responsibility to get tested and be aware of our status. That is why being well informed about HIV, being comfortable talking about it, and getting tested for it regularly is so important.
Owning your status, taking protective and proactive measures, and getting tested for HIV is not something to be afraid of or to avoid; nor is discussing HIV with your partner(s), friends or family. What you should be afraid of is not getting tested and not being aware of your status. With the amazing medicine, support, and free testing available, HIV is now something we can start talking about and stop being afraid of.
Chloé Ivana Woods is a CCPE intern and senior studying psychology at Indiana University.