Overcoming HIV – how Vivian inspired me

For many people, an HIV diagnosis means the end of the world. Read the story of a woman who has risen above a medical diagnosis.

Know your HIV status

In January this year, I met a lady called Vivian at Wilkins Hospital while waiting to have my VIAC done.

Vivian is like no one I have met before. She was very bubbly, to say the least. She is one woman who is in charge of her sexual health and is unapologetic about it.

So why am I talking about Vivian, you may ask?

Because she inspired other women (myself included) to take charge of their sexual health, and by extension, our lives.  It may sound very obvious, but believe me, it is not. Vivian showed us that it is possible to rise up and dust yourself up after life has dealt you very heavy blows.

Rejected for being HIV positive

You see, Vivian was married for 14 years. Until she told her husband she is HIV positive. That was a turning point in her life. She was made to pack her bags and go back to her relatives. She went to stay with her aunt, who was not too happy with this “return soldier” (the name given to divorced women). Her aunt would continuously berate her for having multiple sexual partners: “wanga uchiitei uchihura iwe unemurume?” Loosely translated, the question was why were you having many sexual partners when you are married?

As far as her aunt was concerned, Vivian was to blame for being HIV positive.

Starting afresh after HIV diagnosis

Anyway, Vivian told herself she needed to find a room to rent and not have to listen to her aunt daily. With the help of a friend, she moved out into a one room that she could call her own. She had to figure out how to pay the $50 monthly rent. Her husband had asked her to leave her job at a local hotel many years earlier. She decided to look for a job as a maid. That forced her to go to Wilkins Hospital to seek help with how she could get better.

She says she did not really want to go but she went because husband had told her she would die within a short time. She wanted to prove him wrong.

Suicidal thoughts

At the time, she was depressed and even considered committing suicide. What was there to live for? Her marriage had fallen apart and her husband had taken their children. And she had no job. Her world was literally upside down.

When she went to Wilkins later, she met a lady who told her she had been HIV positive for more than 18 years.  Vivian was shocked to learn that people actually live with the virus for such a long time. The woman in question did not have the tell-tale signs that Vivian expected. In fact, she looked healthy.

Living positively

Vivian looked healthy when I met her. She was very cheerful. Despite all that she had been through, she remained positive. She told us to get HIV tests: “you have to know.” She has accepted her status. Now she does not worry herself thinking about how she contracted the virus. What will it change, she asks.  She has embraced her reality. She even jokes about her status, saying she has to have the VIAC annually because of the virus. She says she is a “regular” at the Opportunistic Infections Unit because any cough or rash is cause for concern.

She is now working for a couple in Highlands who know her status. She told them upfront and they were ok with it. She is still alive. But her husband died three years after kicking her out. He was in denial.

Vivian is living positively. She has a boyfriend who did not initially believe that she is HIV positive; “Aifunga  kuti hakuna munhu anorwara akaita seni.” She insists on using condoms all the time because she does not want to take any chances. She is in control.

A mentor to everyone

She encouraged the women who were at Wilkins that day to have HIV tests because “you have to know.” After we left the VIAC facility, we went to the New Start Centre. So now we know, thanks to Vivian.

That woman inspired three strangers to do something which they had not done before.

I recently shared Vivian’s story on Twitter because she inspired me. I suppose I cannot really explain how she inspired me, but she did. The way she talked about her life reassured me that even though life is not always what we want, in the end it works out. Somehow. I have to keep the faith. And yes, that thing they say about Karma: the husband evicted her but he died three years later.

At the end of it all, Vivian made me question all the HIV /AIDS campaigns we have had. They did not convince me to have an HIV test. But she did. Is there perhaps a need to change the approach?