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International

Jan24

Embracing a positive life

Tuesday, 24 January 2017 Written by // Billy Santo Categories // Dating, Billy Santo, Gay Men, Youth, Newly Diagnosed, International , Lifestyle, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific

New blogger Billy Santo from the Philippines, living with HIV since May 2015, tells his story of hard times, redemption and making a difference

Embracing a positive life

I have had a difficult life.

My mom committed suicide when I was three years old and my dad had a heart attack when I was nine. I am a product of child abuse, being passed from one relative to another. I was lost on track when I reached college where I decided to run away from my uncle who had treated me like an animal and went on searching for a place where I could survive.

I begged from strangers, asked them to keep me in their homes in exchange for labor. I met up with many gay men for money and had casual sex in order to survive. I felt like a slave and a person who had sold his dignity and pride to the devil just to survive,

I went for days without food or water. I went to school helplessly and was a total wreck. My classmates saw all my suffering in spite of my efforts to do well in class, but I had gone astray, damned and devastated. I was crying out for help. I would go to restaurants to ask for food in exchange for doing errands for them. I was running out of options, I had to do something.

Finally my half-sister asked me to visit her in Manila. She promised to aid me in pursuing my dreams. That was a very life-changing experience; for the first time I felt someone cared. All of a sudden help was there.

When I got to Manila, I tried my best to get myself back up with the help of my half-sister, step-mother and my aunt abroad. At that time I had gonorrhea and I was afraid to tell my half-sister about it. It was a result of my numerous encounters when I was still in the province. When I told her about it she was frustrated that my gay sexuality had been divulged. I tried to make it up by keeping my focus on my studies so that I would be somebody, some day. But the worst was yet to come.

I took a course in aviation school where I excelled in many things and became a jack of all trades. I left there with recognition and decided to work for a BPO (business process outsourcing company) and live independently. I started feeling the joy of being free, earning a living, getting things I had never dreamed of and being able to be who I am. I was fearless, independent and I was proud that I was GAY.

Soon I found myself in a lot of social groups meeting, partying and God knows what with gay men from all walks of life. I was at the top of my world. Nothing was stopping me from being the person I always wanted to be. But life is not always a bed of roses. You can be stuck with something that you may regret your entire life.

I suffered from pneumonia in April 2015 at which time I had my first HIV test. I was diagnosed HIV-positive on May 5 2015.

I remained in total humiliation and fear in the ICU for three months in a near death situation. No one knew about it except my friends, who eventually got tired of me. and my family who pushed me away. Everyone I knew was disgusted with me and some of my relatives wished that I should have already died.

I prayed to the Lord to give me a second chance at life. He is so merciful that he gave me another shot at life and redeeming myself.

I got lucky and got out of the hospital and lived a quiet simple life. Then, I had a partner who too was HIV-positive - but he told me to stop taking meds so we could die together. I was so reckless, miserable and stupid that I actually believed in him. I was so blinded by love that I didn’t take care of myself because I thought no one would accept me other than him. So I stopped taking my meds and lost track of my treatment.

I was awakened from my insanity when we broke up after I caught him cheating on me the day before my 24th birthday. I felt I wasn’t really meant to be happy.

I fell in love with another HIV-positive guy and thought he was going to my last. I gave up everything. Sad to say he gave up on me because we were both unemployed.

I became miserable again and got pneumonia for the second time, triggered by depression and stress. But God did not allow me to be sent into another struggle unarmed. An office mate took care of me and took me under his shelter and assisted me in my recovery.

I finally got myself back up and worked for an understanding company and met my new partner who understands me wholeheartedly and is willing to sacrifice his all for me. I know I was a fool before but now I am back on my meds and continue to survive.

I was diagnosed with HIV and looking back I could have nearly died then with all my dreams stopping right there and then. But God had been there for me and he never gave up on me. He showed me light through those people who still believed in me, who understood me. that despite my illness accepted me and gave me strength and reason to never give up.

****

That is why I’m writing this. I want to tell everyone that happiness is not the absence of problems, but instead is in attaining the solution to overcome these problems. I am not quite sure what the future beholds. But I am thankful that I am still alive. I am happy and strong and I will keep on being this way and prove to everyone that I can still find it in myself to wake up in the morning and smile despite the agony I’m feeling.

I am not to be pitied. I need to be understood.

As long as you know in your heart that you've done your best, it's all that matters. People may not understand you. But remember, it is not their expectations or opinions that define you. You do the best you can, with what you have and where you are. Live in your own truth, and even if you make mistakes, it is alright. The lessons you will learn will make you stronger, wiser and more resilient.

You can never be less of a person just because you have made mistakes in the past or you have met some wrong people. You face the consequences for those mistakes and that's enough. You learn from your past and from your mistakes and that makes you a stronger and a better person.

Whatever you did in the past, you must accept it, forgive others and forgive yourself, learn from it and move on. After all, everything happens for a reason.

In life you may be surrounded by people who judge you. Don't mind them. There's no good in dwelling on the negative. Have dignity and recognize your worth. Life must go on. Always remember that life is beautiful despite everything. Stand still and stand tall!

I have the virus but I have not lost my humanity. I may have lost my parents and my pride but I still have the strength and will to keep on. I thank God that this has happened for I know it serves a great purpose.

Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happy. Your happiness will not come to you. It can only come from you.

I will keep on striving until my grave and I will show the world that I am a person of great value and experience. Today, I am very active with my advocacy in keeping the community informed about what HIV is all about. I have been seen on national television and in the media with my urgent need to fight the stigma and discrimination that we people living with HIV are struggling with. I’m seeing myself on national television saying things far beyond what I could have imagined and putting a face to those who have been in the same condition as I am.

My work is not about bravery or showing up for publicity. It’s a responsibility and a challenge. You have to be careful with the information and the words you speak and be prepared to deal with all the criticisms that may be thrown at you, no matter how painful, insensitive or threatening it may get.

Amidst all this, I am happy to have been given this opportunity to spread awareness and expand my advocacy. Please be with me in this journey as I enter a jungle full of judgment, ignorance and prejudice. Soon we will uncover a world of acceptance, care and understanding. Needless to say I am empowered and will continue to strengthen my faith and my will to carry on with my life with this condition. 

Wish me luck on my journey because I will keep on rocking your world with new wonders and surprises. Embrace life. Embrace positivity. May the Lord heal us all?

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