Real stories from real people living in Mid-Michigan

About 1.1 million people are currently living with HIV in the United States today. Approximately 500 live in Ingham County. Everyone is different, and how they cope with their diagnoses is always unique. But those who have walked the walk often have the best wisdom to share.

Jonathan's Story

When Jonathan found out he was HIV-positive in early 2015, after his second relationship ever, it wasn't easy. "I was on suicide watch for a couple of weeks," he says. "I wasn't connected to resources and I didn't have a strong support system, which is so important. You have to have resources and a support system."

Over time, Jonathan found that speaking out was a way to take control of the situation. "After I was diagnosed with HIV, what helped me get past the fear was being an activist," he says. "It's not something you can really mentally prepare for—I mean, how do you prepare for that? But I realized I could have some power over the situation, and speaking out gave me autonomy."

When Jonathan came to terms with his status, he used his knowledge to help empower others. He even produced a TEDx presentation about living with HIV and is currently writing a book about the history of HIV in 21st century America.

His advice for those just diagnosed? Connect to resources. "That's my top priority," he says. "And know that you are still human. You are still worthy of friends. You are still worthy of sex. You are still worthy of love."

Jackie's Story

"Never take anything at face value." Jackie was in a relationship for several years when she was diagnosed with HIV. Today, she wishes everyone knew that HIV can impact anyone. "Myself and other ladies I know who were diagnosed with HIV were in long-term relationships at the time. But HIV doesn't discriminate. It can happen to anyone: women, married people, old, young."

Having lived with HIV for more than a decade, Jackie's journey took many twists and turns. It's a story of loss and frustration, but—ultimately—hope. "In the beginning, I hadn't accepted it myself," Jackie says. "But now I'm hands-on. The more I learn about HIV, read, and participate, the more it helps me do what I need to do to heal myself."

Jackie has seen treatment and stigma surrounding the virus come a long way. "The world we live in is nothing like the world was 20 years ago," she says. "We've made a lot of progress when it comes to HIV medication, and it's better than it used to be."

Her advice for those recently diagnosed with HIV is to put your own health first. "You have to be selfish, to an extent," she says. "You have to want to get well and do things to help yourself get well. All the strength that I had, I had to use it for myself."

And at the end of it all, Jackie still believes there is hope: for people living with HIV, and for a cure. "People diagnosed with HIV can find an opportunity to start over again. You can't go back, but you can go forward," she says. "I'm going to defeat this disease."

(Jackie has chosen to have her name and image changed for confidentiality.)

DeAndre's Story

DeAndre's advice for everyone (whether they're living with HIV or not) is pretty simple: "Get tested. Know your status. That is a legit thing."

When he was diagnosed with HIV, DeAndre says he was in a daze at first. "I didn't connect to my diagnosis emotionally," he says. "But because I was getting tested every three months beforehand, I didn't have a high viral load when I found out. So it only took two months to get to an undetectable viral load."

For DeAndre, prior education and knowledge about HIV helped him accept his diagnosis and take the steps necessary to prioritize his health. His volunteer experience at an STD clinic helped educate him on the human aspect of HIV and showed him the importance of testing. "I knew a lot [about HIV] beforehand, which made it easier," DeAndre says. "I knew people who were positive, and I knew the history, so it was easier for me to take in my diagnosis. It was still disappointing news, but it was good to have that knowledge beforehand."

The U=U (undetectable = untransmittable) concept is the key for DeAndre, though he says that his generation often doesn't know the facts about HIV. "Today, negative stigma around HIV is out there, but it's unrealistic," he says. "It takes a two-minute conversation for me to blow away any stigma of HIV."

DeAndre encourages everyone to get tested for HIV every three months and, if they are diagnosed, do what's necessary to get to an undetectable viral load. "No matter how you feel when you're diagnosed or how much of a shock it may or may not be, find out what the next steps are for you medically and take those steps," he advises. "HIV is so treatable. Get support, find out what you need to do, and do it. The way medicine is today, knowing is way better than living in fear."