By Tranisha Arzah
Hello, my name is Tranisha. I am here to tell you my story in the hopes that you will walk with me at the Seattle AIDS Walk on September 27.
Currently I am a part of Lifelong's HIV Positive Leadership Institute, a group of HIV positive leaders who coordinate different policy actions and trainings to empower HIV positive women to be part of the issues that affect them. It is rewarding to help other people have their voice heard. Together, our collective voice will keep HIV prevention and support programs intact. Our voice will serve as a reminder to policymakers that funding HIV programs is still so important.
But my story doesn't begin there.
My mother became infected with HIV while she was pregnant with me. I was born in 1990 and I took AZT as soon as I was born to control or stop the virus from spreading. I think the doctors assumed I would get sicker and eventually die because so many people did back then.
But I didn't.
I survived just in time for better medications to come along. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) a new type of protease inhibitor drug became available to treat HIV. I never felt like I deserved anything or belonged anywhere. In 1999 moved to Port Townsend from Seattle and soon after my foster mother adopted me. I remembered how I was so nervous, anxious, scared and excited all at the same time that I would finally have a sense of a real mother. Not much changed between us and sometimes it got harder. Yet looking back on it today it was one of the best things that happened to me.
Living alone as a young adult with HIV was a huge struggle. I was struggling with balancing being a young person, living on my own and being HIV-positive. I was stressed so much that I unfortunately went out of care for a year or so. I didn't know who to turn to and I didn't really want to talk about it. I was stuck on the idea that I could live a normal life without the medications. Sadly that was not true. I was in denial for a while until I got sick.
In 2010, while living in Bellingham, I was able to connect with a wonderful support group in Seattle for HIV positive women called BABES-Network YWCA. BABES is a peer led support program for women and their families who are living with HIV. They understood me and didn't judge me for who I am. Who would know what to do and what I was going through other than other positive women who have experienced this themselves?
Now I know it's also up to me to determine what my path looks like.
After finding BABES I moved to Seattle in 2011 and started attending weekly support groups. Eventually, my HIV advocacy started to develop. I slowly started talking about my diagnosis and learning about my past. I was asked to tell my story at Lifelong's AIDS Action Awareness Day where Lifelong and other HIV community organizations come together in Olympia to rally for legislative support of HIV issues. The Governor was there. Not only was I supported by the HIV community – I was supported by Washington. I felt honored, privileged, and listened to – to be standing there and be heard by everyone.
I am honored that I work in the HIV community and proud of what I have accomplished over the years. One of my biggest achievements happened last year, when I was selected out of 600 other youth around the US to attend the 2013 United States Conference on AIDS as a Youth Scholar in New Orleans. I have newfound love for conferences which give me many opportunities to learn, network, teach and tell my story. I am excited to share that I received another scholarship and will be attending the 2014 Conference!
I also participate in the Seattle AIDS Walk. I have participated since 2011 and have been to numerous other AIDS Walks in the Puget Sound area. I participate in the Walk because it is important to raise awareness and support my community. It is that one time during the year all people can come together and support one another.
I encourage you to participate in the Seattle AIDS Walk. It is so easy to do. I want to raise awareness and let people know - especially young people - that I have a wonderful and healthy life, and so can others who live with HIV. It sure takes a lot of work but it's worth being alive today. Speaking out about one's diagnosis is extremely important; it shows others, positive and negative, that things are different now. I have lived with this long-term chronic condition for almost 24 years and have seen many people in my family die from it.
But HIV has never defeated me.
I will continue to fight and live my life to its greatest potential. There are so many things that make me who I am today. HIV is just one part of me. Come join me in this fight on September 27! Register at www.SeattleAIDSWalk.org.