I was diagnosed with HIV in 2008. I thought I was taking it pretty well but I wasn’t. At the time, I didn’t realize that I was acting out in response to my diagnosis. My destructive behaviors led me to get incarcerated. When I was locked up, someone from ICJ came to check in on me. She said ‘Hey, when you come out of here, we have a place for you to go. It’s an awesome place; you might like it.’ After being released, I came straight to ICJ and immediately started the TEACH Outside program. From there I went to Project TEACH. Both programs changed my life for the better.
My experiences with Project TEACH inspired my mom to enroll in the program as well. My mom has been living with HIV since 1995. Treatment and care for people with HIV was so different back then. It was terrible because she had to take a cocktail of 25 pills a day. Just getting them down was a challenge. She also had to deal with a lot of stigma, especially from ignorant people in her life.
Project TEACH helped me move through a time of depression and sadness around my diagnosis. As a Peer Educator, I had the opportunity to speak with people who actually listened. The most important thing I would tell people is to keep moving, keep pushing. Don’t let your past experiences determine who you will become in the future. Your past is your past for a reason. Despite things that go on in life, you can’t allow that to bring you down. You can’t allow that to deter you from doing what you need to do for you. I’m a prime example of that.
After my mom was diagnosed, I turned to writing as a coping mechanism and I have continued to write ever since. Writing is another way to get my emotions out; my notebook is the best listener. I hope to compile all of my poems and stories into a book one day. Perhaps my words can inspire and motivate someone else.
My goal is to be here for a while - to impact people and to make a difference through conversation. A lot of times, all a person needs is for somebody to listen. I feel like it’s my calling to empower people by talking to them, sharing my story, and letting them know that hard times are just pit-stops along life’s journey.
- Crystal McBride