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How Nathaniel Fights HIV Stigma

Posted on June 3, 2024

Nathaniel Holley was diagnosed with HIV in 2012. “When I was first diagnosed, I felt like the life I planned for myself was over at that moment,” he recalled. “I felt fear, shame, confusion, and dread.”

Nathaniel is not alone in his reaction to his diagnosis. “It throws a Godzilla-sized wrench into your life,” one myHIVteam member wrote about their HIV diagnosis.

After the initial shock, Nathaniel focused on finding ways to fight the stigma associated with HIV and get the medical care and emotional support he needed. Below, he describes several approaches that worked for him and led to his advocacy work.

Building Relationships With Doctors

“It took me a few weeks to get into care and find out exactly what was going on with my body,” Nathaniel explained. His doctor was a crucial partner in those early days: “I asked my doctor a million questions, and ultimately, I felt like I would be OK.”

Nathaniel’s relationships with his health care providers continue to be an important part of his life and health. “My doctor became my partner in my fight towards ultimate wellness,” he said. Nathaniel was thoughtful in putting together his health care team: “I built trust with them by finding doctors that enjoyed their work, and I was a patient that was cooperative, so it allowed us to build a great relationship.”

Nathaniel’s doctors “helped me understand how to best take care of myself with my diet and exercise,” he said. The lifestyle adjustments were significant but essential for Nathaniel’s well-being. He prioritized his overall health, engaging in regular exercise to boost his immune response and adopting a healthier diet to feel better physically and mentally.

Finding Mental Health Support

In addition to getting the right health care and making lifestyle adjustments, Nathaniel was able to receive mental health support following his diagnosis. “There was a community-based organization that helped me get into counseling, and that is when my life started to change,” he said. “They allowed me to get counseling for free when I needed it most.”

The actions of that organization inspired Nathaniel to follow down a new path. “I was compelled to give back,” he said.

Becoming a Leader

Today, Nathaniel leads the Freelux Project, a Dallas-based nonprofit aimed at dismantling HIV stigma and expanding health care access for people of color. Among its programs, the Freelux Project provides free HIV self-test kits through a partnership with the CDC Foundation.

The Freelux Project also hosts panel discussions and other events. The goal of the Lux Talk Panel Series is to end stigma against people who are HIV-positive and people who identify as LGBTQIA.

Stigma is a reality for many people with HIV, including members of myHIVteam. In a survey of members, 64 percent of participants reported feeling judged or stigmatized. “I can’t stand the stigma around this virus. Some use it as an insult,” one myHIVteam member wrote. “The stigma somehow makes it seem so much worse,” another reflected.

Leaning on Friends and Family

Nathaniel’s friends and family boost him both in his work as an advocate and as a person living with HIV. Knowing they love him unconditionally, even during tough times, provides a stable base of emotional support.

He also takes on the responsibility of educating the people around him about HIV. He said that in the early days following his diagnosis, “I let the people in my life know what I was going through so I could educate them.”

Envisioning a Bright Future

As an advocate, Nathaniel is committed to brightening the future for people with HIV. His organization aims to reduce stigma against people who are HIV-positive and increase access to health care for communities that often lack equitable access. Nathaniel believes that stigma should never interfere with self-care for people with HIV.

For those newly diagnosed with HIV, Nathaniel offers a message of optimism: “It’s going to be OK. Life can still be as beautiful as you hoped.”

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myHIVteam, the social network for people with HIV and their loved ones, more than 41,000 people with HIV come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories.

Have you encountered HIV stigma? What steps have you taken to get the health care and emotional support you need? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on June 3, 2024

A myHIVteam Member

Hello there, how are you doing?
Happy Juneteenth

posted June 19
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Is Nathaniel Single? 😁
July 11, 2024 by A myHIVteam Member

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