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Do not Stigmatize Yourself

Onalethata Mpebe

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Before I got diagnosed, I thought I had my life in control. I always tested and wanted to keep my status negative because I saw what HIV/AIDS did to my best friend who died from an HIV-related illness. I did not want to go through the same thing.

We were so close; did everything together and shared everything. By the time she started getting sick, I was out of the country. She was very sick and was admitted in hospital and diagnosed with HIV.

When I asked her about her diagnosis, she denied everything and said she had low blood. I told her to be open with me, but she insisted it was low blood. We went on with the friendship though it hurt me so much that she did not trust me with the truth. I realized she was stigmatizing herself. She feared negative reactions and that hindered her efforts to accept her status, disclose, and adhere to medication. She continued to live behind a wall of silence and shame.

This fear of stigma and discrimination broke her confidence to seek care and support from her loved ones

I tried all my best to show her how much I cared for and loved her, but she never opened up to me. Along the way she left her medication and started drinking and smoking a lot. I told her how bad it was for her but she never listened. She lost weight, lost her sight, and then became mentally ill.  She was later admitted to Sbrana Mental Hospital where she passed on.

I was so sad when I heard of her passing. I felt like I failed her, like I could have done something to prevent her death, pushed her more to accept her status and adhere to medication.
The way my best friend passed was most painful. She was not supposed to die like that, especially when ARV medication is freely available. She died of silence, ignorance, denial, lack of knowledge and worst of all, spent her final days in a mental institution.

For as much as I will live, I will not want any of my friends or loved ones to die the way she did; not when I have so much knowledge and information about HIV/AIDS. In 2018 I do not think we should be fighting self or external stigma and discrimination.

We should arm ourselves with as much knowledge as possible. Whenever HIV/AIDS has won, stigma, shame, distrust, discrimination and apathy was on its side. But every time AIDS has been defeated, it has been because of trust, openness, dialogue between individuals and communities, family support, and human perseverance to find new paths and solutions. The beginning of the end of AIDS starts with me.

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Positive Living

Let’s Rise Above Batho Ba Tla Reng Syndrome

Onalethata Mpebe

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In your life, you will constantly be surrounded by people who will judge you day in and day out. They will gossip about you when you succeed, and they will criticize and mock you when you fail. It is an absolute certainty that batho ba tla reng (people will talk).

How you respond to this certainty makes a world of difference for your life. Unfortunately, many people respond by shaping their lives around the approval of other people. Today, I want to encourage you to avoid living this way, which is what I call the the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must learn how to respond when confronted by family or friends who challenge our decisions with the phrase “but what will people say?”

For me, the key to positive living is focusing on what pleases God, not people. People can never be pleased, unless humbled and influenced by the grace of God. The day I decided to go public about my HIV+ status, I didn’t consult anyone or ask anyone if I should. On that day, I found myself alone in my room, struggling with many suicidal thoughts. I remember that while I was fighting these thoughts, something inside of me urged me to share my HIV status with the public.

I made the decision on my own, even though I knew that my family would object. I told my cousin, who was fine with it. I also told my sister, who was against it. I told her that I am doing this for myself, to be free. She said that she didn’t understand what I was going through, but was worried about how I will handle negativity. I told her, “I don’t know how I will handle it, but I will see as time goes on.”

My mother was furious to find out I had gone public after I did it. She said: “ke eng o tsamaya o ikgasakgasa, ntha batho mo ba re ba itseng ga ba itatsetatse mo” (why did you go public, most people we know [who are HIV positive] never did that.) Many other family members began criticizing me for going public, but I chose not pay attention to negative things people were saying about me. I found amazing power within me which allowed me to rise above all of the judgment and negativity. I started paying more attention on building myself up as an HIV activist and motivational speaker. As a result, I began living my life the way I wanted.

Living this way is not without sacrifice, but for me, it is the only way to achieve my destiny. I found out that some people who I loved were trying to distract me from my life’s purpose. I just had to sever ties with the naysayers in order to pave the way to a much better and healthier life. The more I ignored the negativity, the more I found positivity within me, and from people who supported me.

My readers, please do not fall victim to the batho ba tla reng syndrome. Stop worrying what others think or say about you. When you care about what others think of you, you give your power away. You effectively disempower yourself. Worrying about what others think of you is the number one reason why people experience stress, anxiety, and fear. This is why we see many people today failing to accept their HIV status, to disclose to their partner and family, to adhere to medication and live a healthy lifestyle. Some people still fail to get tested for HIV or to enroll on ARV treatment because they are trapped in the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must continue to rise above it!

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Positive Living

Looking Beyond HIV

Onalethata Mpebe

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A lot changed since I decided to tell everyone on Facebook about my status; my habits, my outlook on life. I value my relationships and myself. But I still make myself find the positive in difficult situations. I still make jokes, mainly about my own circumstances and experiences.

I never thought my life would turn out like this, especially after my dearest friend died due to an AIDS-related illness. I told myself that I would stay negative no matter what. But life had other plans for me, at first someone I thought that being positive was a curse but I decided to take it as a blessing. I knew that God cannot put me in a situation without any kind of elevation.

I have learned from life that sometimes the darkest times can bring us to the brightest places. Our most painful struggles can grant us the most necessary growth and that the most heartbreaking losses of friendship and love can make room for the most wonderful people. What seems like a curse at the moment can actually be a blessing, and that what seems like the end of the road is actually just the discovery that we are meant to travel down a different path.

No matter how difficult things seem, there is always hope and no matter how powerless we feel or how horrible things seem, we can’t give up, we have to keep going even when it’s scary, even when all of our strength seems gone, we have to keep picking ourselves back up and moving forward, because whatever we’re battling in the moment, it will pass, and we will make it through.

I am happy that I know my status and It is very empowering to come forward and say, I am not ashamed or embarrassed. This is who I am, no excuses or apologies. It’s still quite a challenge because most people find it hard to test, accept their status, disclose, start and adhere to medication. Being diagnosed with HIV has not hindered me in any way. It has made me set higher goals, and push harder to achieve them. Living with HIV is no longer about dealing with your condition but normalizing HIV in your life.

It is about the quality of my life and planning for the future and making informed choices. It is about me taking every day as it comes and enjoying my life to the fullest. I cannot change the past, but I can determine that my past will not define my present, or dictate my future.

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