Reducing Harm. Inspiring Change.

James’ Story – Me & HIV: Then & Now

James Edwards is a PLWHIV who is on the Board of Directors of AIDS New Brunswick

I remember that day so well it looked like it was going to be one of the nicest days in October so I gathered by books and headed out to University.  Looking back now I can’t believe now how wrong I was and it was the day my life would change forever. I headed down to the bus stop and on my way a flash rain storm hit and then some guy who could have missed the puddle but did not and when I finally got to class a pop quiz how could this day get any worst. After arriving back home now wet and peeved I realize that I have 60 mins to get ready and meet my ex-boyfriend as I am getting my HIV test results.

Even while I was waiting at the doctor’s office I knew that the day I had was a sign that I knew she was going to tell me that I was HIV Positive. Then she called out my name and I went in she asked to take a seat and something inside me just knew and before she sound open my file I just said “I am HIV Positive right “she agreed and at that point she asked me how I was feeling and really I felt absolute nothing I was not angry, happy or sad I just was…well just.

The next few weeks were the hardest for me my emotions seems to be all over the place and the smallest thing seemed to set me off. I hated myself when I would look in the mirror as all I saw was a damage human that no one would ever love and that I would die alone.  People sometimes can’t see pass your HIV that is all they see. It is part of me but I am so much more than that. HIV does not discriminate however I can’t say that about parts of our society.

For myself since I could not see HIV I needed to create something that allowed me to fight it in my mind so for me HIV became a bully. I was used to that as I was bullied a lot in school do I knew how to handle that. Over the years I have my bully at bay and I am winning. Although some days he kicks me down, takes my lunch money and he is in complete control over both my mind and body.

Fast forward to Christmas and I am home with my parents and I have decided to tell them that I HIV Positive but I am now sure how it is going to go and do I want to put them through is as back then it was almost a death sentence. I knew the toll it might take more on my mother as my cousin had died of AIDS. I will never forget my Dad on ones and my Mom on the other side of the living room and me on the backside. I get my nerve up and then out of left field my Mom ask “Do you have HIV “and I then agreed with her. My Dad then gives me the greatest piece of advice that if I was not on medication yet go as long as you can and enjoy life as when you start it becomes your master that you answer too. At the time of this conversation both my parents were in their late 60’s and I applaud them rather than sticking their head in the sand they educated themselves about it and that was more that I can say for most people I have met on my journey.

While still attending Concordia University the unthinkable happen and I thought dealing with HIV was going to be my battle. While employed with the Student Union I advices then that I was HIV Positive as in the beginning I was missing lots of time for doctor’s appointments and to be honest never really gave it a second thought. I was as wrong as one day I was in my boss’s office waiting for him to get off the phone and there in the minutes was my full name and my status. It was bad enough that anyone who came into the office could see this but those minute’s but they could be seen by 23 000 students.

In the weeks to come as my employer felt they had done nothing wrong and that I just needed to get over it I flied a Quebec Human Rights Case and the University filed an internal case against them. Long story short over almost a year and half I finally settled my Human Rights case and the worst part was it was not about money. I just needed someone to say “I am sorry”. Pryor to me reaching a settlement they had offered me 1000 dollars and a forced apology and I remember calling my dad and he said you should take it think of the stress it is causing you.  I did think about it till I heard that the Student Union President did not want to offer more as “ I was going die anyway” this just fueled me and moved on.  The lawyer for the Student Union one day asked me take the offer and move on my reply to him was “I just didn’t not fall and hurt myself and recover HIV will be with forever”.

Today 25 years later I am still here and still fighting the fight. As World AIDS Day approaches I remember all of my friends that have lost their fight and those of us who are still living onward. Medical advancements have made it so that I can live a “normal” life. I still struggle sometimes when I meet someone and wonder how they will react when I tell them and yes there is still a lot of discrimination out there.

My journey continues and remind myself I am a whole person and HIV is just a small part of me.