Jeffery’s Stigma Story

After living with HIV and stigma for decades, Jeffery decided he’d no longer walk his journey alone.

My name is Jeffery. I’m a proud 55-year-old gay male from Fort Worth, Texas. And I’ve been openly living with HIV for almost three decades now.

The stigma of being openly gay back when I was younger was certainly a challenge. It took years of intense counseling to help me deal with the emotional damage that my experiences brought.

And just when I started getting a handle on my sexual orientation and learning to love myself, I was hit with my HIV diagnosis. And unlike today, it was still considered a death sentence back then. So, you can imagine the state of mind I must’ve been in. And now I’d be dealing with a new stigma — that of HIV stigmatization.

And I won’t tell you it was easy or that I handled everything in ways that were always in my best interest. I drank way too much alcohol. I partook in my fair share of illegal substances. I refused to consistently stay in HIV care.

“I basically just sort of felt that it really didn’t matter anymore what became of me.”

But at some point, as my health deteriorated, I made the decision that I needed change. I needed help. And I’m so glad that the Ryan White system of care was there to help me.

The way I was raised, asking for help in and of itself carried its own stigma. But the Ryan White providers, and specifically the JPS Healing Wings clinic and its caring staff, helped ease a lot of my fears about stigma. But it took a lot of effort on my part to get the help that I needed, and to become the person I am today.

The doctors can prescribe the meds you need. Help you find a way to afford the medications.  Refer you to the ancillary services you need. But ultimately, it’s up to you to follow through.

The first big step is simply just to take your HIV medication exactly how you’re instructed to. And trust me, it’s not always the easiest thing to do. But you do get used to it, and it’s the best thing you can do for your overall health and mental wellness.

“I needed help processing my HIV diagnosis and learning to live with the stigma of it.”

For me, the next big step was going to support groups and individual counseling. Even then I made many missteps. But I’m here today to tell you that if you put in the effort, it does work.

You might take a few steps backwards at times, but if you just keep making the effort to live your best life, one day you’ll discover that you’re a thriving long-term survivor, too.

And stigma? Who is she? I hardly recognize her anymore. She’s still out there, but she has no hold over me. And I hope you get to this point in your life, too.