When first diagnosed I was adamant that I would fight this virus with natural therapies and stay off the medication for as long as possible. The long as possible turned out to be about three years, within that time my immune system was almost completely destroyed, I had 5 T-cells and they were 1% active. As you can imagine these are not good numbers, a person without an illness has a T-cell count of 500 upwards. I was not unwell but I did lack energy, I was working full time and found myself needing afternoon naps and plenty of rest. I made the decision to go on medication after much deliberation and I was very scared. Not only was taking the HIV medication, to me, like a small defeat it was also finally realizing that this was all real. I really was HIV positive.
It took me several attempts at different combination's to find the one that worked for me, that allowed my immune system to re-establish and that didn't give me terrible side effects. I am lucky that I only take one pill twice a day and I do not seem to have side effects. But I work very hard at making sure my body can cope with the undeniably toxic meds. I exercise five or six times a week, I drink buckets of clean water and I follow a strict diet of good foods. I think I amaze my positive and non-positive friends at how much energy I have, but it has a lot to do with will power and determination. And to be honest, I love the way my body feels with all this exercising, strong and fit.
I am now working for Positive Women as the Support Worker; I have been in this position for 18 months now. It is a challenging and sometimes confronting role, but it feels good to be doing something for my community and I am surrounded by other HIV Positive people so I have been able to normalize this illness as I can talk about it freely in my home and work life.
Being HIV positive still seems like a gift to me in many ways. It has given me my life; it has given me an appreciation of life and how precious it is. I believe that so many people walk through their lives without ever really living it because they believe there are always tomorrows. For me, there may not be a tomorrow or many more tomorrows so I will wonder at today and see how special it is. I stop to smell the roses often, and to watch the sunset and to tell those people around me who support me how special and loved they are. This is the positive side to being positive. I will face the negatives when they come my way and hopefully I will face them with grace.
Karen ceased work at Positive Women in February 2006 and she is now the very happy mother of a little girl.
Karen is one the authors of Blood Ties. Produced by Finch Publishing, Blood Ties contains the stories of five Australian women who have been affected by HIV and their inspiring stories of dealing with this virus.