Marvelyn shares her story about living with HIV
Author and motivational speaker Marvelyn Brown had lots of support from friends and family the day before she learned she was HIV positive.
The day after the diagnosis proved to be a completely different story.
The 30-year-old will be sharing about how she was able to find love and respect for herself, despite the stigmas attached to the disease, at a special event taking place tomorrow from 5.30pm until 7.30pm.
Ms Brown, the author of The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and HIV-positive, was invited to the island by the Ministry of Health, in honour of June's HIV Awareness Month.
Speaking to The Royal Gazette prior to her arrival in Bermuda, Ms Brown explained the hardest part of living with HIV wasn't the health implications, but rather seeing people walk out of her life because of it.
“Once I was diagnosed I was telling people about it like someone would tell people if they had cancer,” she said. “I wasn't aware that people would treat or look at me differently once I told them I was HIV positive.
“So there were people around me who found out that I was positive on the same day I was told.
“The day before they were my best friends and the day after they didn't want to have anything to do with me. That's still the hardest part, believe it or not. I have lost people in my life because of it.”
Ms Brown was just 19-years-old when she learned she had contracted the virus.
After coming down with a serious case of pneumonia, she had fainted and was rushed to the hospital with a fever of 106F.
“I was unconscious and the priest was sent to see me and give me a few last words,” she said. “People were waiting for me to die.”
“Thankfully I stabilised and was taken out of ICU and put into a regular room. That's when they told me I was HIV positive. I wasn't even aware I had been tested for the virus.”
Before that the extent of her knowledge of HIV was what she learned through the film by Tom Hanks, Philadelphia.
She thought it couldn't happen to her and that the disease only affected certain people.
But she learned the hard way after sleeping with a man she loved, whom neglected to tell her he was infected with the disease.
One of the first things she had to do was properly educate herself about HIV. Sharing her story also became another way for her to find healing.
Ms Brown said: “For me to be able to talk about my experience really makes my day and put things in perspective. It means my situation was not in vain.
“It's still hard to live with. At first I was saying ‘Why me?' But speaking and writing about it has definitely given me the courage to go on.”
She was also motivated to tell her story in order to take power back from those who were gossipping about her.
Being on TV and in international newspapers allowed her to come out and talk about it in own words. “It's a form of therapy,” she said.
These days Ms Brown tours the world sharing her story with television audiences in the US, Canada, Jamaica, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, South Africa, Tanzania and Rwanda.
She has also spoken at hundreds of colleges, universities, churches and conferences worldwide.
Bermuda will be her next stop on that list and she admitted she was looking forward to the trip.
“I'm excited to be in Bermuda because I haven't been there before and I've heard so much about it,” she said.
“The work I do is very personal because I'm infected with the virus and live with it, but just the welcome I have got so far and I am not even there yet, it really makes me happy about coming.”
She hopes people walk away from the event tomorrow with less misconceptions or stigmas about the disease.
More than just hearing her story she wants people to get educated about HIV, get tested and see the value in being responsible with their bodies.
Ms Brown said her road over the past ten years hasn't been easy, but she's grateful to have found a purpose for her life.
“Before I was a 19-year-old girl who was irresponsible and on the path to self destruction,” she explained. “I had issues with my mother and things, but after the diagnosis I realised that I would have to come to terms with it, accept and love myself for what I had, no one else really mattered.
“Through all the hard times, I've found the strength to love me, so when everyone else made their own assumptions about me it really didn't matter.”
Ms Brown will be the international guest speaker at a public forum held at the Bermuda Society of Arts in City Hall, tomorrow from 5.30pm until 7.30pm.
Also on the panel will be some of Bermuda's leading professionals in HIV/AIDS patient care and a representative from STAR (an AIDS counselling service on island).
Useful website: www.marvelynbrown.com