Even though approximately 37 million people around the world live with HIV, it is still an unknown subject for many. I had the chance to meet with five HIV advocates and educators to learn more about positive living.

They shared some tremendous insights:

1. HIV is a human matter.

“When I found out that I was positive, I realized at that moment that this [condition] has no respect for religious creed, or sex, or cliques or anything like that. This is a human matter, and HIV is a human epidemic. That’s why I’m so passionate about it. And so now, I am rising to the occasion to stand in my space and to be authentic and to speak this message about HIV and AIDS and to stop this epidemic.”

-Marvin Anderson, Advocate and Founder of Stigmocracy

2. Support is vital to physical and mental well-being.

“I tell people [to] get into counselling and to seek help and seek opportunities because you need someone to talk to. Talking to your self isn’t going to do much at all because you need somebody to motivate you and say you are worthy, you are worth being here.”

-Arturo Hill, HIV tester and counselor at NovaSalud, Inc.

3. Normal, loving relationships are possible.

“We had a long-distance relationship at first. One day he said in a message, ‘I have something to tell you, but I’m so nervous I can’t tell you over the phone. I’m just going to write you a letter and message your inbox.’ Then he sent this long letter and he told me he was HIV-positive. I didn’t think twice about it at all. I was like, ‘it’s fine, there is no problem. I want to continue this.’ He came to visit me in Mississippi and we fell so deep in love instantly that we didn’t want to let each other go. When it was time for him to go catch his flight we were crying like babies, both of us. Pretty soon after that I moved to Maryland and we got married. We have been married for 5 years now.

There’s a lot of things you can do to prevent [contracting] HIV yourself. I’m on PrEP. It’s something that helps protect me from contracting it, as well as condom use. People who are HIV-positive can be in relationships with somebody that’s not positive and have a normal relationship.”

-Brian Outlaw, Husband of someone living with HIV

4. HIV changes lives, but many stories are positive.

“I was actively using [drugs]. I was really, really deep in my addiction and I was diagnosed HIV-positive. It was like God was giving me a choice:  to continue dying or simply choose to live. I chose to live. So, the next day after I got my diagnosis I went to the clinic.

[My diagnosis] basically gave me the will to live. I found out that the disease of addiction was more detrimental to my health than my HIV was at the time. I had to get that under control.

Currently I’ve been in recovery for 14 years and my health, my HIV diagnosis, is just something that lives with me I don’t live with it. Basically, it just gave me the will to continue living a healthier lifestyle than I was living through my addiction and this gave me life, I don’t think I would be here If I hadn’t gotten my diagnosis, so it’s being a lifesaving story, HIV saved my life.”

– Charlene, HIV+ Educator and Advocate

5. Sharing you story helps reduce stigma.

“I want to provide proper education so that if someone is not living with HIV that they do not get it. I also want to provide hope and encouragement for those who are living with HIV, or who may know someone. We have done that by sharing our story. I believe stories are definitely one of the things that’s going to help reduce the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.”

-Tracey Dannemiller, HIV+ Educator

Have you been affected by HIV or another health condition? Sign up to share your experiences with Health Stories Project!