How Ma accidentally found my ARVs : What do you when you find someone's ARV pills.
Today, we’re addressing another question I’ve been asked. I’ll specifically refer to two stories. The first relates to someone that reached out to me after she accidentally came across her cousin’s ARVs. She wanted advice on how to handle the situation. Should she confront the cousin? If she does, what’s the best way to do this. Or should she mind her own business. She did also mention that she had observed how her cousin has not been mentally well. The family doesn’t seem to understand what is going on. Knowing what she knows now, what should she do?
Ever since I came out with my story, I’ve appreciated the different people who have reached out to me. I appreciate how it has given some courage to come out with their own stories. I’ve watched in awe what the #IAmStillMe movement continues to do. While appreciating this, I’ve also come to understand how my story also evokes fear in some. “But you’re the last person I thought this would ever happen to. And if it happens to you, what are the chances with someone like me”, someone once said to me. I knew the message was not ill intended. It was fear.
This fear comes in different forms. To some, they don’t only fear for themselves, but they often see me and think about their children, their sisters, cousins. A social media friend sent me a text recently. Seeing the picture of what ARVs look like, she was shocked. She was shocked because she recalled seeing something similar from her cousin. At the time, she didn’t think anything of it. She thought it was probably a supplement. To confirm her suspicions, she went to snoop her cousin’s bag. She realized that the “supplement” was an ARV pill. She wanted advice on how she could approach the issue. Should she confront her cousin?
Before I answer this question, I need to tell you a story of how Ma accidentally discovered my ARVs. I was spending the weekend at my boyfriend’s (now husband) place. It was a Saturday morning when I received a call from Ma. It was around 7am. She didn’t beat around the bush.
“Nozi, what is this pill for?”, she asked.
I was half asleep and shocked that I was being woken up so early in the morning, to be asked about a pill. “What pill Mama?”
“Nozi! Nozi! Wake up!”. She could sense I was not paying attention, I was still half asleep. “What is this pill for?”
“Mama, you need to tell me about you’re talking about. What pill is that?”
“It’s big, pink and has an H on top. I was sweeping under your bed when I saw it”. There was an awkward silence between us. I knew exactly what she was talking about. “Nozi?!”
“Talk!”. I needed to come up with something good. I needed to come up with something good fast.
“Oh! I remember. I was taking some donors around. I had to take show them our pharmacy”. I worked for an NGO that provided services for people living with HIV. “I was also showing them the different pills we have. I must have taken one of the pills by mistake”. There was another awkward silence.
“Mhmm”, Ma eventually said. But knowing her, she didn’t sound convinced.
“Why? What did you think they were?”. I was purposely turning the tables around. I wanted her to be left with all the guilt.
“Well I don’t know. That’s why I was asking you”
“Ma, you just called me so early in the morning about a damn pill? Are you serious?”
That would be the end of the conversation.
I’m purposely sharing this story for a reason. When the two ladies wanted advice on how to approach their loved ones, I wanted to ask the following questions:
1) What do you want to gain from the conversation you want to have with your loved one?
If you want to approach your loved one so that, like my mom, they can reassure you that what they’re thinking is wrong, then don’t do it. Do not approach your siblings because you want them to tell you they’re not HIV positive and its not an ARV pill you saw. If you are in that state, rather deal with yourself and let the person be. You will only add unnecessary stress to the other person and that is unfair. Rather pretend you didn’t see anything and if you cannot trust yourself with that information, try and keep away until you have equipped yourself with necessary information to support them.
2) What is your relationship with this person?
I want to go back to my mom’s story. Influenced by her own hardships growing up, my mother has never been the affectionate type. Her parents passed away when she was young. She married in her early 20’s, but soon divorced due to emotional and physical abuse. She never experienced love growing up. I know she loves us dearly, but I think that is why she raised us tough. She gave us tough love. “I love you” is not something passed around at home. She stiffens up whenever you give her a hug. She’s really a hard person to have an emotional conversation with because she’s not built like that. It used to bother me, but I came to understand and appreciate where’s she’s been and love her, her own way.
I’m sharing this because when I was going through the most those years, Ma was the last person I could ever imagine confiding to. Now, imagine having a conversation with Ma about my ARV pills. “Oh, Ma - I meant to tell you. Those are my ARV pills. Please keep them safe for me”.
You need to evaluate the relationship you have with the other person. Are you close? Is it someone who has confided in you before? Are you comfortable around each other? If you’re not, its okay. I’ll rather advise that you focus on building that relationship to get to that place. Spend more time together. Build trust. And take it from there. Very important, while you’re doing this, AVOID DISCLOSING THIS INFORMATION TO OTHERS! You may do more harm.
3) What do you want to say?
If you feel you’re on the right track with the first two points, and you feel comfortable approaching your sibling, let’s talk about what you say? To do this, I will share what I suggested to the two ladies. It’s all about approach.
“Ndoda, the first thing you should know is that I love you. (**maybe you can even share an inside family joke about you guys growing up) I accidentally saw ARVs in your bag (wherever you saw them). I didn’t know what to make of this (it’s very important to say this because you do not know if they do belong to them). However, I’m reaching out to let you know what I am here. I’m here if you want to talk. I’m here to provide any kind of support you need. I am not sure what you need, I will let you lead that for both of us. But I wanted us to have this conversation. And do rest assure that this will stay between the two of us”.
You need to make sure you keep your word. When you offer this kind support, you need to make sure that you mean it. When you say you will keep the conversation between the two of you, it needs to stay between the two of you. While at it, if it comes out that the ARV pills belong to them and they are indeed HIV positive, it would help to start equipping yourself with more information. This will support both of you.
Very soon, I will share some quick pointers about how you can support someone diagnosed HIV positive.
Nozibele Qamngana Mayaba