When Tanya* was first diagnosed with HIV, she was too ashamed to tell her family and terrified about what might happen. On World Aids Day, she shares her story of how God gave her the strength to carry on
During 2004, I was unwell for a long time. Various tests were done; doctors thought that I may be asthmatic because I was coughing continually and feeling congested all the time. The doctor prescribed steroids, the side effects of which wrecked my sleeping patterns. The coughing continued for months and things got worse.
One evening, I felt like I was going to pass out. My pulse rate was high and I was struggling to breathe. Thank God my niece was visiting. Concerned, she drove me many miles to her home to look after me. I had a fever and my temperature rose to over 39 degrees. An ambulance was called. Weak and confused, I thought I was going to die.
Within a short time, my viral load became undetectable. Today, my health is superb
Family and friends were told I was critically ill, and came quickly to visit me in hospital. After several more tests, one doctor asked whether I was OK to have an HIV test, as they were still struggling to diagnose me. I didn’t need to think about it. I was confident it would not reveal anything to worry about.
Shock and awe
Two days later, a doctor confirmed that I was HIV positive. I was in a state of shock. Totally dismayed, an overwhelming grief rose within me. A torrent of questions assailed me: How did I get infected? When did I get it? I thought: This is a punishment from God for my sins!
My husband had died two years earlier. I remember asking him whether he had been cheating on me. Since then, I had also suffered from recurring abscesses and skin problems. Things began to make sense. Most likely, these symptoms were related to my HIV infection.
My doctor told me that my CD4 count (which measures the strength of your immune system) was eight. In a healthy woman of my age, it should be in the hundreds. I was in a critical stage and my high fever was not coming down.
In the midst of all this, I remember finding so much joy in reading the Bible. I read it every day. One day, I had a vision in which God told me I would be OK.
After three weeks, I was discharged from hospital and that’s when reality hit me. Back at home, everyone was preparing for Christmas but I was afraid to face the world. I felt emotionally isolated. I didn’t know how to tell my family or my children about my HIV. I was tired and physically drained. I felt such shame.
Taking my medication was a challenge. I hid the tablets from everyone. I confused my medication and forgot follow up appointments. One day, my GP came to see me at home - I still believe she was sent by God - and the following day, I attended her surgery for more blood tests. In the treatment room, she asked if she could pray for me. I will never forget it. I felt God’s mercy upon me and, over the coming months, rather than creating distance between us, my diagnosis brought me closer to God.
As long as God lives in me, I will live
I lived a whole year without telling anyone my HIV diagnosis. Every visit to the HIV clinic created anxiety. I worried about meeting anyone from my community in case they told others. Any possibility of a romantic relationship was unthinkable!
Sharing the load
I began searching for connections with others who might understand and help me to deal with all these issues. I wondered if I might find people living with HIV who also shared my Christian faith. One day, I read about Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support (CAPS) in a Catholic magazine. This was the beginning of my journey with Positive Faith. In this community, we could share our stories. I met other people living with such joy, and this gave me strength to believe that, as long as God lives in me, I will live.
I have been part of Positive Faith for 15 years now and, without this ministry, I would not be the person I am today. Sharing the Word of God has been a source of fortitude and great joy. My love of God, and my understanding of God’s love for me, has grown. I continue to experience inner healing, which all of us need. I have received peace and freedom from anxiety. Struggles continue, of course, but we surrender all our pains and suffering, past and present, at the foot of Calvary. I have more wisdom and no fear about living with HIV.
Healed and set free
I eventually found the courage to tell my family and friends about my HIV. I’ve even shared my story publicly - without shame! At a Catholic convention, in front of 3,000 people, I testified how I had been healed by God from the wounds of HIV. Each day I am filled with joy and the love of God.
Within a short time, my viral load became undetectable. Today, my health is superb. I am active and do lots of walking and swimming. I still work full-time and find that I have become more empathetic with other people’s experience. I understand that God brings each one of us into this world for a purpose.
The word of God continues to transform me. In the words of Psalm 103:1-4 ”Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion”.
*Names have been changed
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