“I just want to be happy. I just want a moment where I don’t have to relive what I went through—just a day I could wake up smiling.”
Tracy Phillip’s words gripped my heart the moment they left her lips; her words never left my mind.
Phillip was diagnosed with HIV a few years ago and her life hasn’t been the same since then. She blames her mother for her fate and admitted that she wanted to punch her in the face when she received the news. The 29-year-old lives in a recurring nightmare and she longs for it to end… but when?
“I was raped by my mother’s boyfriends for the first time when I was around 10 years old. It happened a second time and then it kind of became the norm for me. I grew up thinking rape was okay because I didn’t know the difference between a good touch and a bad touch because I was never taught these things. After the first boyfriend, the second one came about and did the same thing—there were like four of them and they all abused me. I never cried about it and I never really did anything about it back then, I thought it was just okay,” she explained.
“When I got older, that’s when I decided to do something. I told my mom about one of my experiences, I did not even give her all the details; she didn’t support me. I feel like my mother needed to be on my side but she was more on his side and because of this I never told her about the other incidents,” she added.
Although she never told her mother the full story, Phillip believes her mother knew the truth all along.
“When I was diagnosed with HIV, I found out that my mom actually suspected what was happening. I was able to connect the dots. I haven’t forgiven my mom yet. It’s not something I like to say but I feel like I have a lot of hatred towards my mother because I feel like she didn’t do her job, but I still love her because she is my mother,” Phillip revealed.
Her innocence was stolen before her life even began and to make matters worse, she contracted HIV along the way. Still, she’s trying to maintain a positive outlook.
“I was sick for a long time before I discovered I had the disease. At one point, I had flu-like symptoms. I used to throw up everything I ate and I used to be dizzy all the time. I couldn’t even get out of bed sometimes,” she recalled.
She continued: A few years later I developed something called seborrheic dermatitis—it’s like eczema but it’s a lot worse. I had blisters all over my body and my skin was discoloured; the whole thing was extremely bad and it affected my life severely. I also had yeast infections more than the average person. I basically stopped living; I couldn’t do a lot of things. Deep down some part of me always felt like something was wrong but I didn’t go to the doctor right away because I didn’t have the money.”
Eventually, she had to see a doctor as the situation got worse.
“I went to a doctor but the doctor gave me medication to treat eczema and it did nothing for me. I went to another doctor and they did the same thing. I went to a number of doctors. Thankfully, the last doctor I visited was able to help me and gave me medication to treat the exact thing,” Phillip stated.
Although she was grateful for the doctor’s help her problems were far from over.
According to Phillip, “When I found out I had HIV, I literally just sat there and I cried. Only for a few minutes, however, and I said oh well, that’s my life because this kind of thing was not new to me. I had already gone through so much; I didn’t tell my mother the news the same day, though.”
“A friend told me I had to share the news with her and that I shouldn’t wait long to do it in case I got sick and had to be hospitalized. It got harder because I’m the kind of person who thinks of others before I could even think about myself, so when the individual told me I had to inform my mom, I thought she would feel like she failed completely as a mother. I never really wanted her to feel that way even if I knew she did. I knew she would have cried about it so it made me feel terrible about myself. I cried,” Phillip added.
Living with HIV is no walk in the park as you can imagine. For Phillip, it’s absolutely hellish.
“Some days are okay, you just live with it, but others are terrible. There are times when I don’t eat or bathe for days and I’m not proud to say that but people have to understand that depression is real. I’ve battled thoughts of suicide. The side effects of the medication are horrible,” she explained.
“Sometimes I have vivid dreams; dreams I cannot tell from reality. Having a nightmare is one thing, but having a nightmare when you’re on the medication is another thing. It’s near impossible to detect reality from the nightmare. It’s just so bad sometimes that I’ll actually get up and still think that I’m in the nightmare,” Phillip said with a sigh.
She continued: “When you don’t think about how badly it affects your health, it’s actually okay sometimes. But when reality sinks in you get really sad and really depressed. Catching the common cold, for example, can actually kill me faster than it would kill somebody else. I also can’t go out now because technically if I get COVID I’m just going to die, unlike somebody who’s healthy. It’s an up and down rollercoaster ride for me most of the time but I’m not the type of person who stays depressed.”
Before she was diagnosed with HIV, Phillip was “like most persons”. According to her, “I saw it as the worst thing in the world, I didn’t want to associate with somebody who had HIV.”
Now she understands the importance of having empathy. Life can humble persons at times, she noted.
“Now I see why it’s important to treat persons with the disease like everybody else because they’re human beings too. You won’t contract HIV by touching someone,” she said.
“HIV taught me how to be mature. It taught me how to handle certain situations and how to deal with life on the whole. It’s also taught me to get back up when something knocks you down. It’s not a death sentence and persons who have the disease should actually be grateful because whereas having HIV would just kill you after maybe a year or two years ago, now it’s different because there are medications to make your life last longer,” Phillip stressed.
She’s thankful for the blessings in her life, but most of all, she’s grateful for her niece who is still a toddler.
“People living with HIV need to find something or someone that keeps them going. When I see my niece for example, I’m always so grateful. She’s such a blessing to me because on days when I get really depressed, she walks in and changes my entire mood. She can’t even speak much but she would try to make me feel better. She would shower me with love and she doesn’t understand how that makes me feel,” she said with a smile as she wiped away her tears.
“That’s the only thought that really touches my soul because sometimes I get so sad and I just don’t want to do it anymore,” she added.
Phillip looks forward to a brighter future and says that there is still hope on the horizon.
“I hope that I’ll become a writer someday. I really want to encourage others with my story. I feel like some people want to give up when things happen to them, but the truth is, there is always someone who has it worse and life can get better even if it doesn’t seem that way sometimes. HIV has definitely gotten in the way of my aspirations but I won’t let that stop me. I try to make life happen as soon as possible and I try to achieve as much as I can because you never know what can happen,” she explained.
“Before I end, let me just say this. Persons with HIV should also inform their partner because you don’t want to make someone feel what you’re feeling. Remember you’re not alone in this world. If you need someone to be there for you and to remind you that you need to take your medication, then you should find someone you can rely on. You can even find someone with your situation to help you; you need to do this because it keeps you alive,” she added.
Editor’s Note: This is a true story as reported by our reporter Rae Anthony. Tracy Phillip is not the name of the person in the article. The person’s real name was held back for obvious reasons, one being to prevent unwanted attention to her, another being the avoidance to her of the stigma that is still attached to persons living with HIV/Aids in Saint Lucia.