She struggled to accept her HIV status and could not see a future for herself.
“Even though I had engaged in unprotected sex the news of my diagnosis shocked me,” said Zitha. “I went into panic mode because I thought if my siblings could not survive to tell their story, how would I? I thought of committing suicide because I knew that, emotionally, I was not ready to deal with the huge responsibility that comes with being HIV-positive.”
Zitha said because she lost weight, people started gossiping about her and some people told her she would not see her son grow up. “But what made me the angriest was that amongst those people who told me I would die were my so-called best friends. That’s when I realised why people with HIV die in denial.”
According to lay counselor Bheki Khumalo, many people who test positive for HIV experience denial. “At this point, many people will tell themselves that it’s not true even though a confirming test has been done. Some will even ask you to do another test because there might have been a mistake. If the result is the same they will do the test at a different facility because they are still hoping for different results.”
Khumalo said stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV is the reason why many people with HIV find it difficult to accept their HIV. “This anger and hurt can lead to people taking risks like using substances and having unprotected sex,” she said.
Zitha said her sister helped her come to terms with her status. “She told me I was perfectly beautiful and strong. Those words helped me to regain my strength and purpose of living. I began seeing my status as a second chance to change my lifestyle and behaviour. I read more books about HIV and socialised with people who had already accepted their HIV status. I realised I didn’t have to submit to people’s ignorance and cruelty. I have been on treatment for three months now and I have accepted my status. No one has to die.”
An edited version of this story was published by Health24.