By Tranisha Arzah
Peer Advocate at BABES Network-YWCA
My name is Tranisha Arzah and I was diagnosed with HIV in 1990.
Being born with HIV put a different perspective on everything in my life. When I was younger, the only thing I knew was that I was sick. So were my father, mother, brother and grandparents.
I was about 4-years-old when my mom and brother passed away. I remember going to the hospital and seeing my mother for the last time. I was disconnected from it all, upset and confused. I felt like I was being abandoned.
After that, I was taken to a foster home with my other brother (who was born negative) because my father wasn’t capable of caring for us. I think the doctors assumed I would get sick and eventually die too, because most people did back then. But I didn’t. The medications worked and I started to get healthier.
It wasn’t until I was 7 or 8 that I learned about my diagnosis and what happened to my family. I went to therapy, where they helped me understand what I had using pictures of a body and the different things going on inside it. I was so young; I don’t even remember what my initial reaction was.
I do remember comforting my brother a lot. Though he was just a toddler, he was all I had left. I would say to him, “Everything is going to be okay, Mommy had to go somewhere, but she wishes she were here with us.” As I got older, I became bitter towards my parents, hating what they did to me and my brother, for leaving me alone and scared.
But, gradually, life became better. I moved in Port Townsend, WA, where I grew up with a tight-knit group of friends. My foster mother soon adopted me and, in 2008, I graduated from high school and moved out on my own for the first time.
Living alone as a young adult with HIV was a huge struggle. I made mistakes, but learned from all of them. I wouldn’t have made it this far without the amazing support system of friends and family in my life, then and now.
Though I have encountered challenges, life has treated me well. I am honored to now work in the HIV community and proud of what I’ve accomplished. One of my biggest achievements happened recently, when I was invited to attend the 2013 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) as a Youth Scholar last September in New Orleans.
Today, I want to share my story with the world. I want to raise awareness and let people know that I have a wonderful and healthy life, and so can others who live with HIV.
I have lived with this disease for 23 years and 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.
Guest blogger Tranisha Arzah is 23-years-old, lives in Seattle and works as a peer advocate at BABES Network-YWCA. This program was founded in 1989 by a diverse group of HIV+ women who realized the issues they faced – domestic violence, fear of losing custody of their children, medical care providers who understood women’s needs, dual and multiple diagnoses – were largely ignored by an AIDS service system designed to meet the needs of upper-middle income white men. Today, BABES Network is managed by the YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish and uses a peer leadership model to empower women. Through support groups, training, mentoring and more, the voices of positive leaders are lifted up to make a difference in their own lives and in their community.