This is Camille's story, as told to Brenda Alexander.
I returned from my first trip abroad, a dream vacation in Africa. It was 1994 and I was 25, feeling on top of the world.
When I arrived home, I fell ill. My physician told me that I'd contracted Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura, also known as ITP. My doctor said that it was a side effect of Mefloquine, a prevention medication against malaria that I'd taken before the trip.
ITP had me feeling fatigued and I developed bruises all over my body. Doctors told me that some bruises may be permanent, but it wasn't likely. I was sent to a hematologist to investigate my blood and why I wasn't recuperating. I was put through a series of blood tests; one of them was an HIV test. The first time, they lost my results, so I had to retake it. Back then, results took one month to come back, which I meant I had to wait an agonizing two months for my results.
After those two months passed, I was told that I was HIV positive.
The doctor told me they wouldn't treat people who had both ITP and HIV. I was left to fend for myself. And during that time, you were considered dead with that diagnosis.
I asked if they could detect when I was infected. "You've had HIV for two years," they said.
I had been dating my boyfriend longer than two years and hadn't been with anyone else.
I knew men played the reversed psychology/blame game after being confronted about STDs so I devised a plan in case he tried the same. I contacted all former lovers and advised them to get tested. They all reported back that they were negative.
When I finally told my boyfriend, he was in denial. "The test is wrong," he claimed. I countered that the doctors ran my blood 3-4 times per protocol to ensure the diagnosis was correct and my exes were negative. He refused testing. "I won't be able to handle it like you," he said.
Six months later, he was incarcerated. While in prison, he tested positive. When we spoke, he was calm, never blaming or questioning me. Instead, he suggested we get married since we both had the virus. He knew he was the culprit. In fact, he'd messed around before.
A year prior, he confessed he'd contracted chlamydia after cheating and told me to get tested. He paid for my doctor's visit and accompanied me to my appointment. My results came back negative. The counselor suggested that I also take an HIV test but I declined. I'd already suffered enough trauma from that experience. I refused because I couldn't face a potential positive result. Had I taken the test, I could have learned about my status sooner.
The doctor prescribed the only medication available at the time, AZT. I had a friend who passed from the virus and deteriorated quickly while on AZT. He lost weight and his skin color changed. Witnessing that, I opted out of treatment. I told my doctor that I was leaving town. "Could you give me a copy of my medical records?" I asked. "I'll handle it when I move."
I left Philadelphia and walked with HIV untreated until my health began to become affected. I was scarred by the insensitivity of the first doctor.
I told two people about my status. One of my cousins told her husband. Another told her kids. A friend of mine had a friend who liked me. I went out with him and disclosed. He went back and told my friend - who had no idea. The news was too big for people.
The part of my life that "suffered" were romantic relationships. I never cared about marriage, but I wanted a lifelong partner. The difficulty in dating and living with HIV became real very - fast. I took a vow of celibacy.
It wasn't until four years later that I was intimate with someone, but it was an uphill battle. A man that I was dating for about a year (without sex) told me he'd never have sex with me after I disclosed my status. He later changed his mind. But with him, as with many, you can feel their fear during sex. I ended things because I didn't want to burden him.
Some were fine with my status because they were educated on the effectiveness of condoms. Others vehemently refused to date me. One guy even asked, "Why'd you let me kiss you?" after I disclosed my status to him.
For a long time, I reconciled that I may be "alone." So I focused on other aspects of my life.
A woman I'd met in my 20s was an avid traveler, which I admired. I asked how it was possible for her to travel to so many places. She told me, "If you don't ever believe you will, then you won't."
That stayed with me. I thought, I don't have to live a long life to live a great life.
So every day, I began to live as if it were my last.
I poured my energy into traveling. I performed and traveled as a vocalist with international bands and eventually became an HIV advocate. Without HIV, I wouldn't have been as full because I wouldn't have had the emergency courage.
Still, things were difficult. It wasn't until I was positive for about 20 years when I learned that aside from condoms, daily medication and becoming undetectable would prevent me from passing the virus onto anyone. There had been advances before but when I was avoiding treatment, I knew nothing. I became fearless. Before that, I felt like I was in a state of hiding. It was stressful and demoralizing.
I felt like a despised animal among human beings. I felt like damaged goods and less than a woman.
Today at 50, I don't have children. Many women are mothers before age 25, which was the age of my diagnosis. I took birth control at 25 to avoid unplanned pregnancies. Had PrEP been available back then, I would have planned for a family.
For women in particular with this virus, we are more likely to be ashamed or feel guilty, so we don't talk about it.
Many women share men, whether it is acknowledged or not. How many women are in on-again-off-again relationships with men? How about sleeping with married men or men who live with their current or former partners? Do they really know their status or the status of their other partner(s)?
Assumptions are made because women feel like the men they are sleeping with are men who belong to them. Trust cannot be implied when it comes to having sex.
You have to be your own advocate, especially in terms of your sexual health. This extends beyond the bedroom. Talk to your physicians. In many cases, your provider isn't likely to bring up preventative tools besides birth control. I had several doctors I saw after my diagnosis who weren't aware of my status. They didn't ask, I didn't tell, and I wasn't tested. You have to ask. They are more likely to have the conversation with you after an unfortunate incident.
Just like you take birth control to avoid unplanned pregnancy, use condoms and/or PrEP to protect yourself against STIs.
If diagnosed, life changes. Your family life will change. Your opinion of yourself will change. No matter how strong you are mentally - no matter how educated you are - there is an immediate shift that takes place. And that weight is avoidable.
When you hear my story, you probably think HIV isn't an issue anymore, considering I was diagnosed in '94. That's far from the truth.
In the 90s, we had the Magic Johnson announcement, the sudden death of Eazy E and the tears from 11-year-old Hydeia Broadbent to make us "woke" about this virus. We don't have a FACE to the virus anymore.
Many are undetectable and they don't have to disclose their status. This is why conversations are so important.
My life is amazing and I wouldn't trade my journey. I found and lost love, I'm confident and am an expert on my virus, making a future mate comfortable as I'm able to educate them. There's no longer a barrier.
People can live long, healthy lives and outlive people with other diseases. But the stigma is still strong.
HIV is equated to promiscuity, homosexuality, and drug users. That's the dangerous part.
Don't be a part of the stigma. Know your status. Advocate. As the saying was in the 90s, "If it affects one, it affects all."
This fight is nowhere near over.
For more information on HIV/AIDS, click here. For more information on where to get tested, click here.
Featured image by Getty Images
Brenda Alexander is a West Philly native with a love of the 3 W's: writing, wine and Whitney Houston. When she's not working or overanalyzing life, you can catch her praising Jesus with a bomb Gospel playlist or annoying those who love her as she listens to Christmas music all year round (her fascination with the holiday even produced a Christmas book). Her work has been featured on Mayvenn's Real Beautiful blog and CurlyNikki . Follow her excursions via Instagram @trulybrenda_
Three Influencers Show Off Their 2022 Holiday Hair Looks Using Their SheaMoisture Faves
This post is in partnership with SheaMoisture.
For Black women, there’s one compliment that will boost our confidence like none other: “Come through hair!” You know the vibe! Walking into a room with folks acknowledging that your hair is laid for the gawds, and the effort that it took to get it there, is a top five feeling. And with the holiday season just weeks away, you’ll be hearing that quite often. Between Thanksgiving gatherings with the family, Friendsgiving, company parties, and Christmas get-togethers, the opportunities to let your hair show up and show out aren’t too far away.
Apart from the holiday stuntin’, the end-of-year slow down is also the perfect opportunity to reevaluate the year your hair has had. Whether you kept it cute with protective braids, went big with blowouts, or let loose with textured twist-outs, this is the perfect time to give your hair the gift of TLC - tender lovin’ curls. Like the weather, our hair goes through seasons and has different needs depending on what we’ve put it through. Perhaps the transition into fall/winter has left your curls a bit parched and in need of some serious hydration. Or maybe your strands could use some restorative conditioning after taking it down from a convenient protective style. No matter what category you fall into, SheaMoisture has hundreds of ways that you can clean, treat and refresh your hair for a healthy shine that will bring you into the new year right. Bring your curls back to life with the nourishing and fragrant Coconut & Hibiscus line. Boosted with natural ingredients such as coconut oil, neem oil, carrot oil, and shea butter, this line is the antidote to reviving thirsty, dehydrated hair. Even better - with SheaMoisture’s custom quiz, you can get a hair analysis that will lead you to the right products for your hair needs. Say hello to sleek edges, and moisturized, stronger strands.
In need of a little hair-spiration? We got you covered! xoNecole and SheaMoisture have teamed up with three natural hair influencers to debut their holiday hair looks. Meet Ambrosia Malbrough, Jasmin Moses, and Daye Covington - beauty bawses who’ve created some incredible holiday looks that are stylish and easy to achieve. They also gave us the scoop on the SheaMoisture products they’re loving right now, as well as their 2023 hair goals.
Read on for more:
Daye Covington Kicks Her Twist Out Up A Notch With A Voluminous Updo
“I wanted to create a style that was super cute but also easy to pull together, so I went with a puff and tendril combo! It's a style that can be done on freshly washed curls or one that can be done on old hair. [It’s perfect for] when we're short for time but want to add a little razzle-dazzle to our hair before a special occasion. It's very versatile!”
“My favorite Shea Moisture product hand's down is the Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie! That is definitely a #TeamNaturalHair staple. Coconut is one of the ingredients that my hair favors. I also find that medium/light creams absorb best in my hair, so it's no surprise that I get amazing definition and moisture when I use the Curl Enhancing Smoothie. I love it for twist-outs, braid-outs, and rod set styles. Any product that can give me versatility when it comes to styling plus added moisture, that's what a staple is for me!”
“I would love to dye my hair back to blue! It was my favorite hair color, but unfortunately, my 9-5 now prohibits unnatural hair colors. I'm pushing it with this dark plum color, but I look forward to the day where I can transition into a new stage of life and go back to blue. In the meantime, I'm focusing on length retention. I've been doing well for 2022 and have had no major cuts so I'm hoping to stay consistent with my routine in 2023.”
Follow Daye on Instagram @dayelasoul
Ambrosia Malbrough Made Magic With Poppin’ And Defined Finger Coils
“[Finger coils] is a style that I don’t do often, it takes much more time than my usual wash and go. But that extra time put in makes it extra special and so worth it. The results are beautiful. It’s a style that offers many days of wear, too!”
“[Earlier this year] I did my 4th big chop. This time around hit different as a mom of two. I don’t always have the extra time on my hands to put into my hair, so the short ‘do has been convenient. I’ve realized that not all wash days are created equal even if I use the same products. However, my 4c coils are loving the products I'm using now”
“Since I’ve been having my hair dyed, I’m looking forward to trying Shea Moisture’s new Mongongo and Jojoba Oils High Porosity Moisture Replenish Hair Masque. I am currently growing my hair out and plan on having fun with more highlights and a new shape - possibly a shag cut in 2023!”
Follow Ambrosia on Instagram at @brosiaaa
Jasmin Moses Shows The Secrets To Her Jaw-Dropping Curly Ponytail
“I love doing a sleek ponytail with my baby hairs laid to a T! It helps so my hair isn't in the way when I am cooking and running errands, but it's still snatched to provoke anyone in the room to stop me to say 'girllll your hair is laid!'. I like to add a little razzle dazzle by adding my cute, naturally curly ponytail extensions. It elevates the look perfectly for the holidays.”
“It took me from my freshman year of college to now, almost seven whole years, to know what works for my hair. I love protective styles like wigs and braids because my hair thrives when I don't mess with it. When I leave my hair alone, it grows the best, so I love taking off my wig when I get home, oiling my scalp and putting my bonnet on for bed! When I do wear my natural hair out, what helps me maintain the health of my hair is to get in a rhythm with my hair. [I do] my wash days on Sunday, wear it in a wash n’ go all week, and repeat the next Sunday.”
“My 2023 hair goal is to get back to my 2021 hair length! Recently, a hairstyle damaged my hair causing me to lose 4 inches in length, which was not fun. So I’m working on getting [my hair] back to its original health and keep growing from there! I am also looking forward to trying the Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie as a one-product wash n’ go! I hear such great things about it and I think it will give me hold while also keeping my hair lightweight and voluminous. I’m also excited about the Coconut & Hibiscus Defining Styling Gel and Edge Gel.”
Follow Jasmin on Instagram @slimreshae
Ladies, This Is How To Date Smart Instead Of Hard
While recently talking to a couple of early 30-something never-been-married-before women about how much they want to settle down, and yet, at the same time, they’ve gotten to the point where they almost loathe the thought of dating, I got inspired to write this article.
Now before getting into some tips that I’m hoping will help a few folks out, let me first say that I think it doesn’t really matter if someone is 24 or 54, is a single mom or has no kids, is an extrovert, introvert or ambivert, wants to get married someday or is simply looking for companionship (check out “Single-Minded: So, What If You Like Dating But DON’T Desire Marriage?”) — dating definitely can be a bit of a challenge right through here.
In my opinion, some of it is because we’re still dealing with the aftershocks of the pandemic. Another reason is that things have become so damn transactional these days that I’m not sure if folks even get what the purpose of dating is anymore (mostly, it’s to get to know individuals better so that you can determine who is your right fit). Still, another reason is that when we do step out into the dating waters (that are sometimes raging), some of us are already a bit jaded due to our past experiences, our friends’ stories, and/or those (oftentimes) horrible tales that we hear on TikTok.
Let’s simplify it all a bit, shall we? Although online dating and long-distance relationships are continuing to thrive in their own way, the reality is that if you want to establish a solid connection with someone, chances are, you’re going to need to participate in some old-school dating on some level. So, in order to increase your chances of those encounters being truly successful for you, here are some things that I advise you to do along the way.
Be Clear About Why You’re Dating in the First Place — and Communicate ItGiphy
A woman recently told me that what’s pissing her off (her exact words) about the dating scene is, while she’s personally looking for her future husband when it comes to the kinds of men that she keeps running into, although they’ve wanted more than just a casual sex partner, marriage wasn’t on the menu. Not even a lil’ bit.
Yeah, one day, we’ll get into why more and more men are shying away from marriage — quite possibly more than ever before. For now, I’ll just say that if a person feels like they are meeting the needs of their partner while they’re also being told that theirs aren’t important, only for their partner to initiate divorce (over 70 percent of women do) and then take half of their earnings…I mean, I get why many guys are hard passing on the notion.
Anyway, because the men she was going out with didn’t want what she did, she’s been finding it discouraging to continue her dating journey. As she was talking to me about all of this, I asked her how long she would wait to bring her ultimate goals up.
Her: “I mean, I don’t want to scare men off, so I don’t really mention it at all.”
Yeah, that’s not good. Even though I get where she’s coming from, if you want to date in order to find your potential mate, you should never assume that the people you’re seeing automatically know that because not everyone is dating for the same purpose and reasons.
So, when should it come up? Not the first date because that’s basically a meet-and-greet to see if there’s anything “there” at all. However, if the second date goes well, it’s okay to say that your motive for dating is to ultimately find your life partner; that you’re not moving in fear or impatience, but you don’t see the point in dating indefinitely either. If a guy is on the same page, he’ll be fine with that.
If he’s not, he won’t — but at least you’ll both know where each other stands which can spare you from finding out that he was cool being with you but never wanted you to become his wife…three years down the pike.
Value Your TimeGiphy
When it comes to valuing time, some of my favorite quotes include "Trouble is, you think you have time" (Jack Kornfield); "Time and effort can get you anything you want in the world. But nothing in the world can get you more time" (Matt Fox); "Until you value yourself, you won't value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it" (M. Scott Peck); "The one that values his time can value the time of others as well" (Sunday Adelaja); and "Time is the wisest counsellor of all" (Pericles).
Keeping all of these in mind, another benefit of knowing why you do what you do is that it can help you to value your time better. For instance, I have no interest in dating someone who has young children. This means that it doesn't matter how fine or funny a man is, if I meet you and that is what you have going on, why would I waste your time or mine by continuing to date you?
I can't tell you how many single people have come to me all distraught because they ignored their own preferences, got emotionally caught up, and now they are trying to figure out if they should totally ignore the very things that they said they did — or didn't — want in the first place.
Bottom line, please value your time and feelings enough to know what are non-negotiables and then not go further with people who fall into those categories. It's not a selfish act. When it comes to valuing another person's time, too, it's actually a really thoughtful one.
Learn a Few Current Dating TrendsGiphy
At the end of the day, trends are simply something that's popular at any given time. As far as dating goes, knowing some current dating trends can prove to be beneficial because it can 1) provide some insight on how to potentially approach dating at any given time and/or 2) help you to detect some things that might be going on with someone while you're on your say, first, second or third date with them.
That said, some trends that are, well, trending this year include open casting and infla-dating.
As far as open casting goes, the best way to describe it is it's all about stepping out of your "type" (check out "According To Experts, We All Have A 'Type'") and instead being willing to date individuals who may not look or even act the way that you're accustomed to. Now for the record, this doesn't mean that you should compromise your standards, deal-breakers, or boundaries in any way. It's more about not being so rigid in wanting a guy who is 6'2" and chocolate that you're not willing to even consider 5'10" and caramel. Because the reality is that a good man (if that's truly what you are after) may not look exactly like you prefer, yet if he's truly right for you, making that kind of compromise really won't matter much at the end of the day. Trust me.
Another dating trend is known as infla-dating. Can you guess what it's all about? Basically, it's the kind of dating that takes into account the fact that a lot of us just don't have the coins that we used to. For instance, I live in Music City, and an article came out recently that said you basically have to work somewhere around 60 hours a week in order to afford the ever-skyrocketing rink of this place. SMDH. I wish I could say that Nashville is the exception, but it's not. So now folks are finding more creative ways to date so that they don't have to tap into their rent money or their savings account in order to do it.
And for the record, that kind of approach isn't being "cheap." It's being wise. Shoot, I know a lot of couples who are on the brink of calling it quits as we speak because one or both of them aren't financially savvy. So yeah, dating people who can think outside of the box and still create some awesome dating memories while also being able to handle their financial responsibilities and obligations in the process? That reveals a thoughtful individual who is good at adulting too. If that ain't a solid potential long-term partner candidate, I don't know who is.
Keep the First Date BriefGiphy
Listen, I'm a woman, and even I don't get all of this $200 first-date nonsense. If I was a guy, I would see that as a peak hustle, too, because there is no reason why a man who barely knows someone should be shelling out that kind of cash right out the gate. Know what else? There's no reason why a woman who values herself should want to automatically give someone the privilege of 2-3 hours of her time initially, either.
Honestly, unless you already know the person you're going on a first date with (for instance, a friendship is transitioning into something more or you've been talking to someone online or on the phone for a while and you're planning on meeting up for the first time), a first date needs to be light and not expected to go over more than an hour or so. Why? Because all that you're initially doing is trying to see if there is some chemistry and even a mutual interest to take things further — and you don't need more than a meet-up at a coffee shop or a bar for a glass or two of wine to do that.
If your immediate response is, "that's frugal AF," — I mean, if all your motive was is to get an expensive meal or reenact something you saw on some dating show on television…maybe. Yet, if you genuinely want to maximize your precious moments (not to mention energy and effort), a brief and semi-casual first date is the way to go. Besides, if there does happen to be a mutual spark, it's not like the two of you can't book a second date…hell, the next day if you want to.
Ask. Don’t Interrogate.
Reply to @jwillis808 Here’s my list! #datingtips #listofthings #dating #datingadvice
Listen, this woman said that she has a fiancé, so clearly, this method worked for her. THAT SAID, although I am a big fan of people knowing what they desire in a partner, I will say that if you plan on also coming up with an Old Testament scroll of characteristics and qualities, just make sure to keep in mind that sometimes what you want may not be exactly what you need — which is why it's a good idea to be flexible on some things. Also, the goal is not to find the perfect person but someone who is a great complement to your life (check out "If He's Right For You, He Will COMPLEMENT Your Life").
That’s why it’s also a good idea to not treat your dates like they are an interrogation. While it’s cool to touch on points that are of great importance to you, no one wants to feel like they are being bogged down with tons of inquiries.
So, how do you avoid wearing someone out on a date? Per date, think about 3-5 things that are a priority to you and ask about those. For instance, if you've had a pattern in the past of doing most of the work in your relationships, ask him about how he values reciprocity in a relationship. Or if spirituality is of the utmost importance, ask him what his spiritual practice is and how long it's been that way.
The reason why I provided these as examples is because…did you notice how they were worded in a way that still gets the results that you're looking for without someone feeling like they are being put on the spot?
I'm gonna be real, some folks end up self-sabotaging their dates, and it's because they come all anxious and hurried. You can't get to know everything that you need to know in two hours. Ask some questions, sure, yet also enjoy just learning someone's vibe too because it also reveals…quite a bit.
Expect Them to Have Expectations TooGiphy
On the heels of what I just said, it never ceases to amaze me how some people think that they can have a book of what they want in a person and then act shocked when someone comes with their own comprised list. It’s almost like the “book person” is on some “You need to be everything that I expect and more, but you shouldn’t expect anything more than me showing up because I am enough automatically.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure you can hear all of the ego that is just oozing out of that sentence, not to mention how unfair and even unrealistic that way of thinking is.
So, if you’re someone who thinks that you “are the table” (insert eye rolls here) and so there should be no questions asked of you — I already see why dating hasn’t been working in your favor.
Just like you want to see how a man can add to your life, men want to know the same thing. Going on the defensive only causes them to build up walls. In other words, prepare to be a lot of what you expect. If that’s a challenge for you…maybe shorten that list — or at least don’t articulate as much of it — up.
Emotionally Pace YourselfGiphy
What happens if, after the first date, the guy checks off all of your (initial) boxes, and you’re ready to call your mama and tell her that you think that he’s the one? Yeah, PLEASE DON’T. While it’s cool to be excited about someone, if you don’t emotionally pace yourself, the elation can have you coming off as rushing things or even being too pushy if you’re not careful.
How? Well, if you really do think that he’s a great match for you, you could start emotionally processing him that way which could cause you to have expectations that are premature: “You think I’m awesome, and I think you’re awesome, so why haven’t you texted me this morning?” or “You said that you want to do this again, so why has it been four days and you haven’t booked another date yet?” GOODNESS.
I once read a study that said that when it comes to cultivating a true friendship, it takes 40-60 hours to create a casual friendship, 80-100 hours to become an actual friend, and 200-plus hours to become good friends. And that’s friendship, so why would you expect a relationship to miraculously unfold after three dinner dates?
Almost any emotionally healthy person is going to gravitate to an atmosphere of calm and serenity. So, while it’s okay to express that you’re looking forward to where this could go, as Benjamin Franklin so poignantly once said, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” In other words, try not to allow your feelings to override the reality that everything has a time and purpose, and, as a wise person once said, “Time prevents everything from happening all at once.” In other other words, pulling on flower petals, trying to get them to hurry up and bloom, only ruins the flower.
Listen, if you don’t get anything else out of this article, please get how important it is to date from a place of mindfulness. And just what does that mean exactly? A simple explanation is when you are being mindful, you’re intentional about remaining in the moment. You’re not caught up in the past or consumed with the future.
When it comes to dating, in particular, mindfulness can be super beneficial because you’re not focused on comparing the current person with the people you’ve dated before, and you’re also not causing unnecessary anxiety and/or stress and/or drama by applying pressure on yourself or the person you’re getting to know by being obsessed with the possibilities of the future.
If you’d like to be more mindful in theory but you’re not exactly sure how to put it into practice, there are mindfulness principles that we all can stand to put into practice more often:
Reality. Reality is about what is rooted in truth and facts, not what you want or wish something to be. You can sho ‘nuff spare yourself some drama and trauma if you are someone who lives in reality while you’re dating instead of some rom-com or fairy tale that you’ve conjured up in your mind.
Accept. How would you feel if someone tried to change you? Exactly. Some people have a really bad habit of trying to “tweak folks” so that they can “make them fit” into their dating/relationship/marriage narrative. Avoid this, please. Accept people for who they are. If you can get wit it, awesome. If not, maybe they are just meant to be a friend — and that can be a blessing too.
Relax. To relax is to be less rigid, which speaks to being more flexible. When it comes to dating, this can help because if you’re willing to just let things reveal themselves as they come, that can help you to avoid overthinking or putting more stress on yourself than you should.
No one said that dating was easy. Still, if you’re a bit easier on yourself and the people you choose to go out with, each date can be an opportunity, a lesson, or a win. And all of these can be beneficial — if you choose to date smart instead of, well, hard.
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Featured image by Westend81/Getty Images