Maria T. Mejia was diagnosed HIV Positive when she was 18 years old and has been coping with her illness ever since. After first not disclosing that she had the virus, she faced her condition in virtual isolation. That has all changed.
At the forefront in eradicating the stigma of AIDS and in teaching women who are HIV positive that they can lead healthy and productive lives, Maria Mejia is a leading advocate in her field. She lectures, volunteers, blogs and dedicates her life to being a leading light in showing how a person does not have to be ruled by her illness.
In a recent discussion with Fanm Kanson Network, Maria talked about her advocacy, coping with her illness and her life today.
FK: You speak of being “alone in the disease.” How can women overcome this isolation once they are diagnosed?
MM: Well, the being alone was back when I was diagnosed in 1991, one week after my 18th birthday and when HIV was a death sentence. I am an advocate, activist and a speaker/tester. I am also the founder of two huge international support groups for people infected and affected on Facebook. I made sure I created those spaces so no one would have to ever feel alone with this condition like I did when I found out. The best way to overcome feeling alone in anything in life is to look for a support system and be very proactive with the situation you're dealing with :).
FK: You recently blogged that it sucks having a cold because of your low immune system. Do you take extra precautions to avoid colds or do you pay special attention to them when you first come down with something?
MM: Well, many know that a cold for someone with a normal immune system is just a cold. For us that are compromised with a low immune system we have to take extra care of ourselves, live a healthy lifestyle, avoid getting colds and take plenty of Vitamin C and wash our hands a lot. If I still feel sick and know that my body is feeling worse I do not procrastinate and go to the ER with all the quickness I can.
FK: Besides medication, what do you do on a daily basis to stay healthy?
MM: Physically: I work out, eat organic and very healthy ,drink lots of fluids, do many alternative therapies and as you mentioned, taking my arvs is a must and I take them every day, keep up with my doctor’s appointments and live life to the fullest . I look at the glass half full instead of half empty.
Spiritually: I am a very passionate advocate and activist. I feel that it is my duty and life mission to help others that maybe are not in the point of life that I am in, giving support and also preventing new infections and educating about HIV with my story and by showing my face. And my strength in a higher power is very important to me and being in the light.
FK: How has blogging helped you cope or empowered you?
MM: I am very blessed to say that I get e-mails from people all over the world (every continent). I can actually connect with any race, religion, gender and sexual preference; with people that are HIV positive and HIV negative. I blog and do vlogs about all of my life: the good, the bad and the ugly. I was infected at 16 years old in 1989 and diagnosed in 1991 as I mentioned before, so I can relate to the young and old. I have been HIV positive longer than I have been HIV negative. My forte is social media (International social media activist in HIV/AIDS and LGBT communities), but I am also very active in my community as a motivational speaker, tester, HIV educator, volunteer for the Red Cross as an HIV trainer and am part of several campaigns for lab companies, CDC, Health departments, radio, TV and magazines. Besides this I am almost done co-writing my book about my life until now and I find that inspiring others and helping them group or just feel loved helps me grow and become a better human being each day and that is my ultimate goal.
FK: You talk about the complexity of your story and the different phases you’ve gone through in your life. How would you describe the phase you are in now?
MM: For those that follow me in my blogs, articles, vlogs in YouTube, groups or anywhere they know I always describe myself as a butterfly :). I was a little caterpillar that through struggles and trials managed to become a butterfly with hard work on myself! I am still growing and learning and I will continue to fly as high as I can. I am in a very positive time of my life and I can say even though I have hard days, I am very blessed, and through pain I know my soul purifies.
FK: How do you stay positive on a daily basis?
MM: I am positive most of the time, but I will not say I do not have dark days But I manage to get myself out of the dark hole and continue fighting. We must never forget than from the darkest places come the brightest lights. And I am light.
FK: You volunteer in so many different ways and on so many different levels; I imagine this must contribute greatly to your overall positive attitude.
MM: You are correct. I am relentless and a fierce volunteer. This feeds my soul and by helping others I am helping myself and remain positive
FK: Is the stigma of living with AIDS still prominent?
MM: Very much so. That is why I show my face everywhere and I am an open book!! Coming out of the HIV closet is very important: with this we humanize HIV. HIV can happen to anyone; it does not discriminate.
FK: How can someone who is just hearing about you for the first time via this article best hear about your message?
MM: Social media. Google me: Maria Mejia HIV or Maria Mejia VIH, and also through my blogs The well project (a girl like me) Thebody.com, Until there's a cure , my vlogs in YouTube (mariasjournal), my activism page in Facebook where I also have my bilingual international groups (Maria HIV Mejia), documentaries I have been a part of, twitter@mariahivmejia, etc. On Twitter I post or talk about diff things I am involved in or if I will be speaking in a city or country soon.
FK: How does it feel to be 40?
MM: I feel that the older I get not only do I get wiser but I am looking better than ever and feel good about myself inside and out! I don’t feel or look 40 I have been told, and I do not let HIV define me :).